I am thirty-six years old. I’ve often wondered, like many people I’m sure, what advice I’d give to my younger self, say, twenty-year-old me, or even thirty-year-old me (I’ve learned a lot in the last six years!), or even to sixteen-year-old me (so long ago I almost can’t remember it!).
Things do look quite different than they did twenty years ago. I do wish there were some things I had known one or two decades ago. Here are a few of them.
Love doesn’t fix all the problems in your life
All too many people believe this, and I was one of them. We are brainwashed, practically from birth, to believe that finding love and finding the “right” person will magically solve most, if not all, of the problems in our life. An endless litany of love songs and rom-com movies teach us this ridiculous idea. We end up putting an awful lot of pressure on love and marriage, and love and marriage can’t always take the stress.
As a young woman, I spent a lot of time wondering why I hadn’t yet met the “right” person, or how I’d met them and then lost them, and looking forward to that moment that everyone waits for – the moment when all other considerations, from money to health to family troubles, would become inconsequential. Love – true love – I figured, would be so overwhelmingly wonderful that it wouldn’t matter whether I lost my job, or didn’t get along with my parents, or was depressed.
Don’t get me wrong – love is a great thing, and you should welcome it into your life when it comes knocking at your door. Don’t turn away from passion and romance when they enter your life. But protect them, too, by not asking them to do too much. By expecting too much from love, from your romantic partners, you can quickly ruin the very things that make love and relationships so special.
Having very high expectations about how love is going to totally transform your life is just setting yourself up for a big let down. It’s important to relax and take love for what it is, to enjoy and be grateful for what it brings, rather than burdening it with unrealistic expectations.
If you smoke, or do drugs, or eat too much, or don’t exercise, or are lazy or quick-tempered, then you are still going to be those things whether you are in love or not. I’m not saying a new romance couldn’t be the catalyst that starts you on a path to improving your life and your health. But it will be you, ultimately, who decides to change. Don’t expect some outside factor, like love, or a romantic partner, to take that responsibility off your hands.
It’s OK to be single
This is true. It has to be true, because there are a lot of single people out there in the world, living their lives, making contributions to society, having fun, enjoying themselves. Being single doesn’t invalidate you as a human being.
Realizing this helps take away a lot of the frantic pressure we sometimes feel to get into a relationship, even if we don’t really need one and even if the relationship isn’t with the right person. The wrongheaded idea that we are somehow “unlucky” or even “defective” if we aren’t in a relationship is nonsense. There are likely to be periods in your life – even rather long periods – where you are single. And that’s OK. Consider those times to focus on yourself. Learn new things, travel and see new places, become a well-rounded and more interesting person who will then be more likely to find an interesting partner someday and to have a longer and more meaningful relationship when they do.
It’s important for you to spend some time being single so that you can learn that it is OK to be single, that you can still laugh and learn and enjoy life when you are on your own.
Be comfortable being yourself
“Just be yourself” is the time-tested and true advice parents have so often given to their children who are going on a date with a new person. Because of the pressures I’ve mentioned above – the idea that love will cure all our troubles and that it isn’t OK to be alone – people become very desperate about finding a partner, any partner. This leads to pressure to act differently and even lie about yourself in order to have a better chance of “catching” someone.
People lie about their age, their weight, their backgrounds. They put younger, thinner, photoshopped photographs of themselves on dating site profiles. While it is true that this sort of mild deception has been going on as long as human beings have existed, and is part of human nature, there’s no profit in carrying it too far.
If you don’t think you are good enough to attract someone without lying, then lying isn’t going to help you in the long run. There will always be payback, some sort of reckoning in the future. One of my good friends had a horrible day as a young adult when he saw his mother’s driver’s license and realized she had lied about her age all his life. She’d first told his father she was a decade younger when they started dating, and had never come clean. My friend still remembers the shock of learning his mom’s true age – “I lost ten years of her life at that moment.”
So that old advice to “be yourself” is the best. Don’t try to be somebody you’re not, especially if you intend to have any kind of relationship with this other person. Pretending to be someone you aren’t is a lot of hard work, and you can’t keep it up for ever. Be yourself, show that you are comfortable with who you are, and you are sure to meet someone who likes you for who you are.
There’s more than one “right” person out there for you. Despite all our cultural claims about “the one,” there isn’t just one person out there for you to fall in love with and have a successful, long term relationship with. So don’t panic if some of your relationships don’t work out. When you are young (and often when you are old, too), you are trying to figure out who you are. You are also probably trying to figure out what love feels like and how relationships work (and don’t work). Give yourself the time and space to learn some of those lessons.
Yes, breakups hurt. Sometimes they leave long-lasting scars. But you can and will heal and bounce back. Even if you feel like your ex was the “right” person, don’t panic. Have faith that someone new will come along and you’ll get another shot at love. That’s how it works.