Ok, everybody. It’s that time of year. Summer’s mostly over, some of us are back at school, and now I think a lot of us are settling into normal life and we’re thinking ahead to fall and winter. Maybe you’re looking for a relationship on various apps or maybe you’re crushing on that person who sits two rows in front of you in class. So I thought I’d take a few moments to share with you some of my relationship advice, from someone who has been in some pretty crazy relationships over the years.
Remember That They’re Flawed People Too
This is probably honestly the hardest for me because I’m so used to crushing on guys in movies and books. And that’s actually pretty terrible because we only see a certain side of those characters. We don’t see them when they’re frustrating because they leave socks on the floor in the middle of the room or forget to pick up eggs even though you told them ten times to do that. Or worse, we see actual red-flag behavior presented in an adorable way (Edward breaking in and watching Bella sleep, for example). We see the best, swoon-worthy sides of characters, but that’s not how life works. In life, no one is perfect. But it is possible to fall in love with their imperfections or to love them even though they frustrate you.
I’m well aware of what my flaws are in relationships. Like when I get moody or tired, I just disappear. I can’t handle looking at my phone or answering texts and if I’m forced to, I usually say things I shouldn’t. Or like how I frequently prioritize my books/alone time/creative time over another person. I need that time to recharge, especially after a stressful day. But for whatever reason, when it comes to dating, I expect the other person to have no flaws. It’s just unrealistic.
But that leads well into my next point.
Don’t Ignore The Red Flags
I’ve done this more times than I should have. Literally all of my best friends in college hated my boyfriend of 1.5 years. (He was pretty controlling and far too serious.) One of my boyfriends told me his fiance had left him about 4 months before we started dating. (I didn’t realize how big of a red flag that was at the time…he was far from over her leaving.) Another told me flat out that he was not into PDA, would not even peck my cheek in public or hold my hand as we walked. It was a fundamental difference that we had because I need someone who can show me that support. I need that physical connection and even in private, he was pretty opposed to touching.
However, it’s my last serious boyfriend who I really shouldn’t have dated at all.
I was blinded by the fact that he was my high school crush. Built like a tank and incredibly good looking, I was just in awe that he wanted to go out with me. But by our first “alone” date, I should have run the other way–and I knew it, even though I didn’t flee. He admitted to me that he was on probation for a DUI and was without his license, so I’d have to drive him to dates. It went downhill from there. He basically wanted a mother, not a girlfriend. It was my job to nag him to do simple things like go get glasses or call to make appointments. I’d literally have to do this for weeks before he’d do it. And once he got off probation, it got worse. He started doing drugs to cope with the PTSD and nightmares he got, sometimes flat out lying to me about it or going behind my back to do them.
And yet I stayed with him because I thought he was broken and I could fix him. He’d been suicidal in the past and I worried that leaving him would send him back to that place. Not to mention his dad and stepmom were terrible people who would yell at him with me literally standing in between them. It was so uncomfortable. There was one night they locked him out of the house and he had to spend the night on a park bench.
I ended it because I couldn’t take the stress anymore, constantly wondering if he was ok. Even my family and friends, who all had different bits and pieces of the story, were telling me it was time to let this one go. What scared some of them, though, was the fact that he was such a loose cannon and they were worried he’d stalk me or try to find me. He never did. (In my opinion, that was because no one was there to nag him to do it.)
For real, though, if you see the red flags or if something doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore your instincts. Or if other people (friends, family, your dog) are telling you something’s not right about that person, at least take it into consideration. They might be seeing something you’re not.
Know Your Values
Apparently we’re getting the heavy stuff out of the way first. Anyway, when you find someone you like, like genuinely like, it’s good for you to start seeing if your values mesh. It may not seem important at first, especially if you’re caught up in the romance because your brain is releasing all that woo-woo juice that makes your body all fizzy.
But it matters. My relationships, on the whole, have fallen apart because our values were different. I already mentioned Mr. No-PDA. Mr. PTSD’s drug use was my breaking point. But my college boyfriend (the serious, controlling one) was my first real we-could-get-married relationship and we didn’t realize how important this was. He was trying to convert me through the last 8-9 months of our relationship, even though I gave up organized religion after I realized it was contributing to my perfectionism and low self-esteem. He took me to his nondenominational church on campus and his Methodist church back home and I was never comfortable, especially when they brought out the communion wine. My anxiety spiked just looking at it (I grew up Catholic and at my church they always said you should not take communion if you don’t feel worthy…and I never felt worthy. See what I mean about perfectionism and low self-esteem?). This was a defining difference that we couldn’t get past, no matter how much we loved each other.
That’s not to say people can’t amend their values somewhat. My parents actually experienced this very same issue when they were dating (it’s a running trend in my family, with 4/6 of us having ended relationships over religious differences. Welcome to the Bible Belt). Anyway, my dad was the one who wasn’t religious and my mom was, you guessed it, Catholic. But she ended up deciding that she was ok with the fact that my dad wouldn’t go to church as long as she could raise us in it. It’s all about discovering what you’re ok with and what you’re not.
Alright, let’s lighten this up.
Be Genuine and Have Fun on First Dates
First dates are hard, especially if you’ve never really been on many. (My very first real date was to the movies to go see Twilight with a guy from my sociology class. I was so awkward.) What I’m finding are the dates that went the best were the ones where I was trying to be myself and where we were doing something. Movie dates are fine, but the ones I remember most were the ones where I had fun. And that meant being engaged with the person I was with, not lost in a movie world.
Let me give you a few examples. With Mr. No-PDA from above, our first date was to a chocolate shop. We were there for like 2 hours enjoying the chocolate and talking. It wasn’t dinner, it wasn’t a movie, but I got to know him really well really quickly.
I’ve also been on two bowling first dates and let me tell you, it’s really good for killing some of the awkward because if you can’t think of a conversation starter, go bowl a frame and then ask a question. They can answer and then bowl their frame.
Also it’s a good way to be a little competitive, laugh at yourself, and see how they handle losing to your undeniable prowess at the game. I just went on a date in July like this at it really helped me loosen up because I didn’t have to constantly keep the conversation flowing. We could get some of the awkwardness during the game and then we went to get dinner after and had a great time. We spent like 1.5 hours at the restaurant talking and it was so much fun.
I know it’s tempting to hide some of your less-attractive qualities on a first date and I’m not saying you should go in heavy with the crazy, but you also want that person to know what’s important to you. I don’t ever hide on first dates that I have a wide variety of interests or that I’m well-read. It would be disingenuous to pretend that I don’t read as much as I do or that I can’t talk about Harry Potter or history or stand-up comedians for hours.
If You Use Apps, Find One That Fits You
My brother and I have been trying to find dates for a while. I used Tinder for a while, which is how I met Mr. No-PDA as well as Mr. PTSD and Mr. My-Fiance-Left-Me. It wasn’t a complete wash, is what I’m trying to say. I had some really good times with all three of them, as well as a few other dates that never went beyond a date or two.
But I was getting tired of Tinder this summer. I want a real relationship and a lot of Tinder users do not. It wasn’t matching what I wanted and I was–predictably–having a hard time finding people I would even consider going out with, let alone someone who would be good boyfriend material.
I happened to hear about Hinge in a joke on the Patriot Act with Hasan Minaj. He made the joke that a Hinge profile takes longer to fill out, but you get better results than Tinder. I was intrigued. I downloaded the app and soon discovered I kind of did like it better. My brother found a date through Bumble and likes that one.
You probably won’t luck out and find true love on the first date. If your experience is anything like mine (dear God, I hope not), you will probably get frustrated sometimes and swear that there’s no one out there for you and you’re going to spend your life as a single Pringle (which, sometimes, actually sounds amazing). But that doesn’t mean you need to give up. Sometimes just switching apps can improve things.
Beware the Stereotypes
This is actually a two-fold warning.
1.) When you’re swiping through profiles, it’s really easy to start stereotyping people based on what you see in their pictures. Thanks to Mr. PTSD, I’ve started thinking that all gym rats are like him. I mentally cringe when I see guys post gym pics on their profiles. And honestly, it’s probably not fair that I immediately swipe left on those, but I have that stereotype that they’re probably vain and a little dumb–and might only care about me if I will go to the gym with them.
People are far more complex than they appear on the surface. I know I am, so why should anyone else be an exception to that?
2.) I see this every time I start dating someone and I hate it with a blazing passion. I wish I had a better response to it. What I’m trying to say is that even inside a relationship, you need to be at least partially aware of the stereotypes of boy and girl roles. Because in our society, it’s like the men are expected to be grown children and the women are meant to be their mothers. It’s not a partnership in any sense of the word. I’ll do nice things for a guy like bake cookies or do his dishes on occasion if he needs the help, but I will not fulfill the role of mother to him. If I’m expected to take care of myself, surely he can do that too. When I start not getting what I need from that relationship and I spend most of my time treating him like one of my students, that’s when I walk away.
It’s also worth saying that there are “dating rules” out there that you’re “supposed” to follow. Don’t kiss on the first date, it makes you look easy. Don’t call them until a day or two later, you look desperate otherwise. Look, it’s all crap. You do you. If there’s a moment and you’re feeling it, go for that kiss. If you want to let him/her know that you had a great time on a date, tell them! After my July bowling date, I came home and immediately texted him to let him know that I’d had a great time. (I tend to hide my emotions very well without trying, so I wanted him to know I’d had fun. And I really wanted to see him again.)
Alright? Just be yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been looking for a long time for that person or if you just happened to randomly bump into the hottest guy you’ve ever seen in the hallway, be open to the experience. Even a really bad date can be a funny story later. (In When Harry Met Sally, Sally mentions going on a date where a guy plucked out one of her hairs and flossed with it at the table.)
Ok. Glad we’ve had this talk. If you have any questions, Auntie Holly is more than happy to help. I’ve seen/heard/been through a lot.