Last weekend I found a box of my old college diaries, and I discovered some of my earliest dating advice to myself. Want to hear it? 😉
Apparently I was scratching my head over what to do about a boy I’d been close to but was now pulling away. I wrote:
If I like and admire him, I need to remember that and talk to him as he once was, not as he is now [apparently I didn’t like who he’d become]. Because talking to him as he was will make him who he was; you have to pretend and take things as if his old self had said them.” (??)
Here’s the bit that made me laugh out loud:
Men love women who make them feel young and special. (Wait a second. He doesn’t make me feel young and special.)”
I was doing exactly what I teach women NOT to do:
I was prioritizing my feelings for him over his feelings about me.
When we’re young, we still believe that we can control people.
I had that magical belief that I could treat this boy like the boy I remembered, and he would magically transform back into the person he used to be.
But we all grow up. We all change.
We can never go back to the way things were.
And I’m glad of it.
All these decades on, I can look back at my younger self with amusement. I wish I could tell her that she was wasting her time on a boy who wouldn’t be part of her future.
So let me ask you:
What do you wish you could tell your younger self?
Was there anything that now makes you scratch your head and wonder, “How did I ever believe that?”
Here are 3 love whoppers I used to believe.
1. “When it’s love, it’s meant to be.”
The first thing I wish I could have told my younger self is that there are many kinds of love, and not all of them have to lead to marriage.
I’ve been in love many times throughout my life, and each time was different.
There was that insanely romantic swoon-worthy first love. There was love that grew from going through an intense period of my life with someone. There was love that sprang forth from a meeting of minds.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to prioritize romantic love less.
I no longer believe that love for a man is “better” than love for an old friend. I just enjoy loving the people in my life. I don’t want to restrict the experience of love by limiting it to the relationship between romantic partners.
bell hooks defined love as “a combination of care, commitment, trust, knowledge, responsibility, and respect.” We can create those bonds with people and places and pets and so much more. Love is a way of life.
Knowing that love isn’t a feeling that happens to me, but rather a choice that I make, has given me the certainty that I am in power in my love life.
We make love too small of a thing when we call it a “feeling.” Feelings come and go. They’re not a strong foundation for a lifetime commitment.
I wish my younger self would have held those feelings a little more lightly.
2. “Relationships are a woman’s responsibility.”
The second thing I wish I would have understood back then is that relationships are not the woman’s responsibility.
Relationships are a partnership. Men are as responsible as women are.
In fact, when women take all the responsibility in a relationship and men take none, the relationships are less satisfying and less stable.
But that’s what I saw growing up.
I saw women serving the men by making them delicious food and looking after them and making sure they had everything they needed. I didn’t see the men doing anything.
The men worked. They came in to eat and sleep, and then they left again.
I didn’t see them complimenting their wives, or romancing their wives, or making sure their wives were comfortable. I didn’t realize men could do that!
And I would have fallen right into a relationship like that if I hadn’t gone out into the world and seen so many other ways to be.
I saw beautiful relationships where the men took really good care of their wives. If their wives needed help, they helped. If their wives asked for something, they got it. Not in a subservient way—these weren’t men taking over the woman’s role—but rather in a respectful way. These men were partners.
As I’ve grown older, it’s become even more important to me to have that kind of partnership.
We all get older. We have to deal with health issues. We can’t do what we once did. You don’t want to get stuck with a man who doesn’t know how to take care of you or take over the basic housework.
Someday you might get sick, and you’ll need someone to look after you. What will you do if your guy doesn’t have the skills or inclination? Hopefully you’ll have female friends or family members who can step in. Hopefully.
But to me the essence of love is wanting to look after one another. It’s not the woman looking after the man and having no one to look after her.
3. “Marriage is the end of the road.”
The third thing I wish I could have told my younger self is that life is a grand adventure, and relationships are just part of the ride.
As a young woman I was told over and over again that my purpose in life was to grow up, go to college, work for a bit, then get married and settle down and have children.
Marriage was my destination. Until I got married, I would always be a kid waiting to get tapped on the shoulder by the man who’d finally make me a woman.
But marriage doesn’t make anyone an adult, and it’s not the final destination of anyone’s life.
Life is so much bigger than that one romantic relationship. You are so much more than the man you’re with.
Life is about work and creativity and contribution and soul. Every day, you impact people. Your existence changes the world.
At the end of your life, you will think back on all the experiences you’ve had. You’ll think fondly of the men you loved. But you’ll also think about all the people who’ve touched your life, people who changed you, people you’re grateful to have met.
Relationships matter. Relationships make us who we are. Relationships support us as we go about the important work that we are here in this world to do.
But a relationship is not your purpose.
Love might be your purpose. I know love is a big part of my purpose.
And anything so great and vast and beautiful as love is too wild and unruly to be limited.