1. You don’t have to get married right now. I know a lot of people who are friends with me on Facebook disagree about this, but no one is forcing you to get married right now. I get it: We were all sold the fantasy of falling in love in college and getting married after you graduate. It’s romance and heteronormativity and a lot of things that Amurrica really loves, and for a lot of people it works. But you’re 22 and not dying of leukemia: the fantasy won’t be any less fantastic if you give yourself three or four years before you — I don’t know — make the biggest decision of your entire life just because it’s what society expects you to do. Instead, you need to make life decisions that match your responsibility, commitment and maturity levels, and if there are still Facebook pictures of you half-naked and passed out drunk on your bathroom floor, you might not be there yet. Would you trust Lindsay Lohan with a marriage?
2. On this note: LTRs aren’t a prison, and you don’t have to treat them that way. You know what pisses me off? That rhetoric at Bachelor Parties that the day before you get married is the last day or your life — because life is somehow over after you get married? (Poor you.) I’ll make sure to inform Zsa Zsa Gabor of that, who has been married eight times and keeps going back for more. No one wants to go to prison that many times, except for maybe Martin Sheen.
3. And, no getting a dog, getting hitched or having babies won’t fix your relationship. I think that Nicole Richie was a bad life example in this respect. If you flash back to 2003, Nicole Richie was a classic “wild child” of the Drew Barrymore variety. In and out of rehab, Richie was just as famous for tabloid photos with Paris Hilton and getting arrested for heroin as she was for being Lionel Richie’s daughter. However, after having a baby in 2008, the hard-partying starlet quickly turned her life around, releasing her own jewelry line and becoming something of a fashion icon. And while it’s commendable that she was able to stop flashing her vagina and become an adult, having a baby wasn’t the single thing that did that. Life is not Juno, and everything won’t fall into place for you after you push a giant screaming flesh ball out of your vagina like the boulder in Indiana Jones. Teen Mom and Courtney Love prove this, conclusively.
4. One person can’t be everything to you, and if you expect that, you are going to be miserable for a very long time. You know what phrase I really hate? The One. I hate it because it pins unrealistic celestial expectations on whatever person you by happenstance happen to be connecting your genitals with. If you live in a village with 20 other people and two are of marrying age, it’s statistically impossible. It doesn’t take skinny Jonah Hill in Moneyball to figure that out. More than that, you shouldn’t just have “one” person in your life. You should have lots of people: friends, family members, co-workers and baristas who act as a community that affirm you every day. In particular, coffee proves that I cannot get every pleasure I need from my partner, and I shouldn’t expect that. I need to be as in love with the rest of my life as I am with them, or my incessant neediness and co-dependency is going to turn the relationship into Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? You can most easily avoid this fate and be happy and fulfilled in your relationship by being happy and fulfilled outside of it.
5. Bridget Jones lied to you: you need to change. I think that the central message of this movie is nice — that you should find someone who loves you just the way you are — but there’s a danger there. As the film suggests, we should find people who can accept our faults but must also find people who love us enough to call us on our bull and help us be better people. Think about your best friends. Are they the kind of people who let you walk all over them? No. They’ll fight you when they think you are being unfair or being a bad friend and demand the best from you. Find a partner who does the same thing. You’ll love them for not putting up with your crap.
6. Love means having to say you’re sorry. Love Story was another terrible influence: You’re going to say you’re sorry all the time. You’ll say sorry when you’re wrong, when you’re right, when you don’t want to say you’re sorry, when you don’t really want to make up or even look at the other person, when you think you can’t, when you just want to go to bed, when all you want is this stupid fight to just be over. You’ll say it on a plane, in the dark, on a train, in a car, up a tree and places humans haven’t even discovered yet — like Jimmy Hoffa’s burial site. In life, you’re going to be wrong at least 50% of the time — and if you’re George Bush a lot more — so just get used to it now.
7. If you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of someone else. Too many people get into relationships as a way to fix themselves or avoid fixing themselves by fixing someone else. You don’t have to think about your own emotional wellness when you’re focused on someone else’s. But there are a lot of problems with that, because you will take any problems you already had with you into the relationship; you carry your anger, your baggage and your brokenness. How can you make someone else whole if what you are giving to them is broken? The only way to do that is to acknowledge that neither of you is perfect or able to be perfect. Instead, all you can do is try and enjoy the broken grace that life offers you and work on being the best that you can be. The only way is to try and do so together.
8. Not everything is about you. Have you ever read those Freud journals? People have issues, lots and lots of issues. Do they seem cold and distant one day or in a weird mood? That’s not always your fault, so don’t assume that it is. I know far too many people who will always blame themselves for anything that’s wrong with their partner or anything that’s wrong in the relationship. And it’s good to be accountable for someone else’s feelings, but you need to be open enough in communication to find out what those are. All you have to do is ask. Remember that in all things — because as Galileo and Bill Nye taught us, you aren’t the center of the universe or even their universe.
9. Sometimes they really are thinking about nothing. Remember that time you asked them what they were thinking about and they said, “Oh, nothing,” and you got upset because you felt like they weren’t being honest — because “Isn’t everyone always thinking about something?” Well, they probably were, but when someone says they aren’t thinking about anything, that means they aren’t thinking about anything interesting or worth mentioning. And you can spend every minute of your life overanalyzing that or picking your entire relationship apart, or you can just accept that they don’t have to tell you everything. Accept the mystery in your relationship. As Benedict Cumberbatch proves, mystery can be sexy.
10. You don’t have to have everything figured out at once. Relationships are tricky and take a lot of figuring out, especially in that crucial stage where you are trying to figure out if you’re even in a relationship. However, in the rush to label everything and skip to the part where you’re all settled and have everything set, you squander a lot of the things that make relationships so exciting. Sure, we talk about the first kiss, but what about the time before the first kiss, when you are waiting to be kissed, just hoping that they will finally just lean into you? So much of a relationship is like that, that sensual waiting, and that’s what makes them both so frustrating and wonderful. I know we all want to skip to the ending — the parts where you host game nights together and do the Sunday crossword in bed — but don’t forget to just enjoy the ride, even if that means you aren’t “Facebook official” yet.
11. Don’t try to date someone who is exactly like you or completely “gets” you. The worst dating advice was told to me a couple years ago, right after I was getting out of my longest relationship, trying to navigate the single world again and not having much luck. The advice giver told me that if I want to get a guy, I should become the guys I want to sleep with and change myself to be more like them. I think that’s silly. One of the great things about life is getting to know people who aren’t like you, who have opinions that excite you, challenge you and piss you off sometimes. They can teach you new things about the world and help you discover a new side of yourself you didn’t even know existed. If you only ever date yourself, you’ll never change. And that’s not a relationship, that’s masturbation — but a lot more expensive and time-consuming.
12. No relationship is going to be perfect, close to perfect or even in the ballpark. And that’s okay. Look at Brad and Jen. Sometimes perfect doesn’t turn out so great. Don’t strive for perfect. Strive for what feels right.