1. What we want
This seems simplistic, but it’s probably the most complicated element in the whole scheme of things. We can think we know what we want, and Hollywood does a really good job at filling in the blanks and whispering seductive little suggestions in our ear — I defy you to find someone with a heart who didn’t pine for what Allie and Noah had for at least a millisecond — but really, the only way to find out is to try. Sometimes, we get it right in one go. Sometimes we don’t. And sometimes what we want changes, and that’s okay as long as we’re honest and mature about that. But still, it’s important that we’re honest with ourselves about what we think we deserve and what we’re looking for.
2. What we don’t want
Equally as important are the things we’ve tried, but for whatever reason can’t cope with. They happen, and as long as they’re reasonable, there’s nothing to feel inherently ashamed about them. It’s not right to judge an entire group of people based on one bad experience with someone else, but maybe if you think you don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who works in finance, what you’re really saying is that you don’t want to date someone who has to work such long hours, so it’s important to keep perspective here. But in every break up, you can at least find a lesson in what went wrong. We learn these things the hard way, and the benefit of a past full of exes is that it helps narrow down what you want by process of elimination so that when you finally do find what you want, you know you’ve found it.
3. How to truly care about another person
We should know this already, but it’s still surprising to to find out the lengths to which you’d go for someone you truly love. Would you wake up at 3 am to pick them up from the airport? Would you wake up at 3 am to meet them at the airport even if neither of you has a car and you have to take the subway back together? Often, caring about another person means putting not only their needs before our own, but putting their wants before our own as well. And when you’re in the right relationship, not only is this not hard, but it comes naturally. A good relationship gets us out of our selfish tendencies. A good relationship reminds us that there are more important people in the world than ourselves.
4. How the little things are really what make up another person
It’s all the things that everyone else sees but fails to notice that make our significant others special to us. Not just what their favorite movie is, but why it’s their favorite movie. What their favorite childhood memory is; what they like to wear when they feel most comfortable about themselves; and why they think their favorite color, favorite food, and favorite song are the best of all — those are the kinds of things that we often overlook as friends. When we’re friends, they don’t matter so much. But learning about why somebody likes the Police, rather than just knowing that it’s their go-to Karaoke song, goes back to the simpler days of preschool when we’d decide someone was our best friend because they liked the same crayon we did. These things matter in that they knit together to create the very unique human being you love.
5. What our ultimate deal breakers are
We all have a tipping point, and sadly, sometimes the only way to find out what is going to set us over the edge is to deal with it. But beyond a list of things we don’t want, this is the one thing we know we can’t stand for. This is the thing we absolutely won’t compromise for. And we don’t have to. More than personal preference, these are our personal standards. You may not want to date someone who wants kids right at this moment, but it could be a deal breaker for you if they’re not willing to consider what you want, too. It could be a deal breaker for them that you’re not willing to consider what they want. We all have lines that we have to draw eventually.
6. The importance of highs and lows
In a relationship, someone else will see you at your absolute best and your absolute worst, and they’ll love you anyway. You learn to love someone at their worst and at their best as well, and being able to take the bad with the good is the hallmark of what lasts and what doesn’t. You have to fight every once in a while so that you can learn to apologize and make up and move on together. Because that is what adults do. You learn to not hold grudges after you see someone at their lowest, and you learn that you are still worthy of love and affection and kindness even when you’re at your lowest. And you also learn how to be happy for another person, to celebrate with them when they do well, and what it feels like to want to share your happiness when you do well. Sharing that high is one of the best parts about love.
7. Who you are
It’s so easy to want to change for somebody, to pick up their mannerisms, to drink when they drink and eat what they eat, to watch the shows they watch — and sometimes, it turns out that you genuinely do like the same things. Still, it’s important to remember where the edges that separate you from your significant other are drawn, and it’s important to place value not just in the things they love about you, but in all of the things you love about yourself, too. We usually go into relationships hoping that this one will last, and sometimes we’re lucky and right, but sometimes we’re not and things splinter. Knowing who you are helps you pick up the pieces and stitch yourself back together. After all, one of the most important relationships you’ll ever be in is the one you have with yourself.