Advice to My 20-Year Old Self About Love
This article was first posted on Mind Body Green.
I know how badly you want a boyfriend, as you watch your closest friends couple-up and disappear into the relationship ether. But, slow down. You have a lot of learning to do and a lot of mistakes to make. Since you’ve always been a late bloomer, don’t be discouraged that it will take you another 20 years to figure out how to be in a healthy, intimate relationship.
You are going to make your fair share of mistakes along the way. Poor choices. Brutal breakups. A traumatic divorce. Unrequited infatuations. At times, heartbreak will reduce you to the fetal position on the bathroom floor, weeping uncontrollably. As much as I wish I could prevent this pain and humiliation, I won’t. These are lessons you need to learn. If you pay attention and keep an open heart, you’ll even be thankful for the experience.
As the older, wiser version of you, below are a few tips to navigate the course a little easier.
1. First me, then we.
Fall deeply, madly in love… with your own life. I know you wince at the thought of going it alone, but be brave. Watch Dave Chappelle skits and Wes Anderson films until your sides ache from laughter. Ride a camel through the Rajasthan desert. Bake a dozen éclairs from scratch. Spend every Saturday at the public library, reading everything from Moosewood vegetarian cookbooks to Malcolm X’s theories on race relations.
Enjoy your own company. Be unapologetically curious. Never lose your identity in another person’s world. Trust me-- there will be no shortage of men who love a dynamic, independent and interesting woman.
2. Don't be a beggar for love.
Remember Gary? Born of rock-and-roll, he would pick you up at 10pm in his refurbished vintage Cadillac and together you would drive through NYC, looking at the skyline while listening to The Rolling Stones. Polar opposites, you were drawn to one another with magnetic chemistry. He took you to underground tattoo parlors, introduced you to famous martial artists, and painted you in watercolor. You taught him about underground sake bars, Junot Diaz’s latest literary triumph, and where to find the most authentic Thai food in Queens. Despite every trick in the arsenal, he refuses to commit to you exclusively. So, you keep trying. And trying. And trying.
Men like Gary like the thrill of the chase. A real relationship with all its thorny sacrifices holds no interest. So enjoy this dance (to your detriment because the stable, communicative men just seem so blah), but don’t waste too much time or energy on it. Men are clear about their intentions. Learn to listen.
3. People show you who they are. Pay attention.
Eric was a great boyfriend—on paper. Six-figure salary. Loft apartment in DUMBO. Physically fit. Within six months, he wanted to marry you and start a family.
But something gnawed at you. He stiffed waiters on tips. During a weekend visit with friends in the Hamptons, he didn’t bring a gift. He complained that you laugh too loud. He told you to find your own way home from the hurricane evacuation shelter where you had been volunteering because the wait to get his car (from valet parking in his building) was too long.
Small courtesies matter. A lot. Real men (the kind worthy of long-term investment):
- Stand on the subway so that women/pregnant/elderly have a seat.
- Rub your back when you are sick.
- Walk/drive out of their way to make sure you get home safely at night.
- Do anything to see you smile.
Believe half of what you hear and everything you see. Watch for the cues of a person’s character. Place a premium on kindness, empathy, and generosity—the hallmarks of a good friend—and settle for nothing less.
4. A great man adds to your life; he is not your life.
In the breathless flush of burgeoning love, you’ll be tempted to drop everything to spend time with your new paramour. Resist this urge. No one person can satisfy your every emotional need. If you make him your all, you will quickly find yourself dissatisfied-- and prone to unnecessarily nitpick what you think he is lacking. But, if you want love to foster and grow, surround yourself with wonderful people who feed your soul in a multitude of ways.