7 Lessons I’ve Learned From Dating In My 20s

Opposites attract, except when you have absolutely nothing in common.

I’ve always been the type of person that would date almost anyone. Originally, this was because I had incredibly low self-esteem and would go with almost anyone who would have me, but later it was because a) I found out that way I liked getting to know a wide variety of people and b) I’m kind of a slut. I still think it’s great to meet people who are different, have different perspectives, challenge you and open you up to experiencing life in new ways. But there’s a huge difference between “they know how to salsa dance and I’ve never done that before!” and “we have nothing to talk about over dinner!”

In my experience, people who date become more alike over time and you build common interests, so it’s not that important that you have everything in common with each other. Jerry Seinfeld found out the hard way that dating yourself is awful, because you’ll just hate you. Instead, what you should look for is someone you form a nice Venn Diagram with — where it’s like the two of you are SO DIFFERENT but you have all these core things in common. I personally thing that it’s best to eschew all pop culture things (except Nickelback = dealbreaker) and focus on someone you have common values with instead, like people who didn’t vote for Mitt Romney.

That’s the part of the Venn I want to share with someone.

PEOPLE ARE NOT PROJECTS.

God, I’ve learned this the hard way. I’ve dated people in the past because I thought I could rebuild them, make them faster, stronger…etc. Do you know how fucked up that is? Getting into a relationship out of a place of judgement? Looking at someone whose tastes you could colonize like a White Savior? What this does is set you up as the superior in a relationship or the teacher, like Ian McKellen in Apt Pupil. It’s an incredible dick move and says a great deal about how you value your self and your own interests over those of your partner, who is a person who is allowed to like whatever the fuck they like. Even if it’s Nickelback. Sure, whatever.

And if you’re dating someone in order to change them, you’ll find out the hard way that people don’t change, so your entire raison d’relationship is a total lie, and you’re in it for wrong reasons that will go nowhere. Besides, people who are only willing to change someone aren’t going to be that willing to change themselves or allow another person to push them to be a better and more caring person. You think that you’re doing it because you care about other people, but if you’re engaging in this dating behavior, honey, you’re the one who needs to change.

They are not their job.

Have you ever dated or been attracted to someone based solely on what they do for a living? Of course, we all have, or else Charlie Sheen and Janet Reno would never get laid. When they were young and putting stuff in their hope chest (yeah, I did that), they dreamed of the person that it would be before, and we all pictured a laywer, a doctor, a sexy nurse or a profession represented by one of the Village People. Looking for your ideal mate doesn’t change, and when they casually drop that they happen to be a doctor or a pediatrician at a bar, you automatically snap to attention. Do my boobs look perky? Am I wearing the right underwear? When was the last time I went in for a check up?

It’s not a money thing. We’re attracted to someone we think is making a difference in the world and doing something with their lives. But the thing is: it doesn’t matter if they’re the CEO of a non-profit, the director of the CIA or a waiter at a Stookey’s. All of these people have equal potential to be a good or bad partner for you, and just because they are technically doing good in the world doesn’t mean that they’re a good person. I’ve dated plenty of young, upwardly mobile twentysomethings with cool jobs at saving-the-world non-profits who couldn’t even figure out how to text me or call me on a regular basis. These things do not correlate.

So, don’t worry so much about what they do. Focus on who they are. Besides, that Stookey’s waiter could open their own restaurant someday, and everyone knows there’s nothing sexier than someone who cooks.

Pay attention to the major red flags.

Whenever we’re dating someone, we have a tendency to ignore major warning signs like the fact that they always bail on you while you’re sleeping, refuse to meet your parents, own a lot of realistic life-size dolls or have their dead mother in a rocking chair. It’s because we want to believe the best in other people and are very good at lying to ourselves. “Their mother is totally alive! We have so much in common. We could just talk…or not talk…for hours.”

But after awhile, you need to wake up and smell the rotting corpse. These things are easy to ignore — the long nights they spend at the office, the fact that they never introduce the two of you as a couple or that they never seem to return your calls or texts right away — because we don’t want to give up or go back to being single, which can be difficult. We’ve invested all this time and energy in finding a mate and it’s depressing to think of being fed back through that cycle again or ever going on another bad OKCupid date. But it’s better to be honest and deal with it now. Not only will it help you to be more realistic about your partner’s limitations as a human being (who might just be busy and still loves you!) but it will also save you from a lifetime of frustrations if you end up married, civil union-ed or commitment ceremonied to the person with the life-size sex dolls.

Stop overanalyzing text messages.

While you learning to start paying attention to the things that are important, it’s time for you to put down the cellphone and stop obsessing over why they decided to use ellipses at the end of their message or if that smiley face means they are actually happy or just pretending to be happy to spare your feelings. You know what? They could have technically meant anything by that text message. That text message could be secret spy code or a coded message from the Illimunati. They could be lying about everything and actually be their evil twin brother, Marco.

So if you get a text saying that Fred (if that even is his real name) is going to the store to buy food and asks if you need new eggs, don’t worry if that’s a coded message saying that he doesn’t want kids. Use that analyzing prowess to go do something productive instead like trying to figure what’s going on in Eraserhead or finally finishing Infinite Jest. Use your powers for good.

Don’t worry about labeling so quickly.

I can see why people care so much about this, because the in-between times between dating and BEST RELATIONSHIP EVER can be confusing, and you want to put a label on it for sanity’s sake. Darwin, Adam and the entirety of the English language prove we love putting names on things, so when you co-attend a party, you know what to call them.  Are they your friend, your special friend, your partner-in-crime, your nubile sex slave or your gay bandido? You screaming inside: “WHAT DO I EVEN CALL THEM?” Um, how about their first name?

Look, I like certainty, too. I get it. I’m one of those people who like everything a certain way: I have to use the same type of pens to write everything in or I go crazy. If I don’t go to the gym for over a week, I feel sad and soggy, like a blob person on Jupiter. I need to iron all of my polos before wearing them, because if I ever run into Rachel Maddow and there’s a wrinkle in my polo, I might just die. DIE!

But getting into a relationship shouldn’t be like that, something to be obsessed and fussed over like a dying houseplant or that zit on your nose that won’t stop flaring up. The early parts of dating — the honeymoon period — should be the fun, wacky part that you get to idealize when you’re old and they’re passed out on the couch next to you and you only have CSI and Two and a Half Men to keep you company. Don’t worry so much about what this person signifies to other people if you happen to be seen together and worry about getting to know them and what they mean to you.

Are they a jerk to other people? They’re probably also a jerk to you.

I used to be one of those people who got off on having a boyfriend/girlfriend/ziefriend who was too cool to be nice to other people, like my friends, family members or pet. He had a leather jacket, perfectly tussled hair and was in a band. Who cared if they showed up to my family’s Friday night dinner or knocked on the door before he walked in. They were like Jess from Gilmore Girls or Sam from Clarissa Explains It All. They were too cool to bother with knocking or polite things like that. Did Sid Vicious knock? No, because knocking affirms capitalistic patriarchy. When you knock, the man can hear you.

But it turns out those little things like knowing your mother’s first name or not being an asshole to every single person you two interact with is helpful, because you don’t want everyone you know to vehemently disapprove of your relationship. It feels like you’re dating Charlie Sheen or the Unabomber. And most likely, if they’re not that nice to everyone else around you, they’re not that nice to you. It’s not that you’re special or different from everyone else. It’s that they hate the world, and that someday will include you, if it doesn’t already. Selfish and mean isn’t sexy. Selfish sucks.

Also, if you’ve seen the end of Sid and Nancy, it’s further proof why you should just run. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

image – TC Flickr

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