After 16 years of dating I’ve come to see myself as a sort of relationship connoisseur. I am usually in a relationship because, well, I like to be. I prefer life with a partner, even if that partnership is temporary and even fleeting; or sometimes unhealthy and even heartbreaking. I prefer relationships because I am driven by connection and emotional intimacy. I seek understanding of myself and of other people because it is through emotional context that the world makes sense to me. I realize to anybody unlike me, that whole statement sounds, well, ridiculous and confusing. That’s fine, we all have our things we’re good at and our things which terrify us but we do anyway because we need to. Love terrifies many of us, sometimes enough to avoid it all together. Taxes, multiple choice tests, instruction booklets, and death terrify me in the ways my friends and clients have described their fears of love to me, so I can sympathize with the harsh feelings if not their cause.
Anyway, my love of love: of falling into it, being in it, managing it, and even navigating my way out of it; has brought about many insights about life and people and the topic of love itself. I like to write about the topic though I rarely share this writing. I’m working on changing that.
For now, I hope to share some of the lessons I’ve picked up for the sake of young girls coming after me. Specifically, this is for my nieces, since they are the closest thing to offspring for me, and I know what both my sister and I want for them more than anything is a safe, healthy, happy journey through and to lasting love. These lessons come from the blending of all the things I learned from her and from my own experiences as I have worked my way through this bumping, winding, never clear, usually scary, always amazing, maze of relationships.
Lesson #1: you don’t know at this point who will be important later in life, and which relationships you should have tossed or saved. The only thing you can do is make sure your character remains good, you learn from mistakes, and stay true to your values. Just be nice. Always. Always be nice. And always apologize. Everyone makes mistakes, there is no shame in admitting them only in denying them. You never know which boy you find annoying or ugly now will end up making boatloads, bulking up, and finding you later in life. It will be good for him to remember you as the nice, genuine, drama-free girl who has no enemies.
Lesson #2: Tell the truth to your Mom. She’s been there. She’s done it. She’s seen it. She’s thought it. And she will help you through it. Use your supports. Often the more important something is, the fewer people we tell. Let people in, and we promise we will love you and help you, no matter what bone-headed thing you may have done.
Lesson #3: Life is a series of good and bad luck, disappointments, achievements, heartbreak, jealousy, bitterness, happiness, excitement, nerves, and tears. It is always changing. So appreciate good times because nothing lasts forever, and have hope during bad times because things WILL turn around. That being said, you are in control of far more than you give yourself credit for. So if you want something to change, then just DO IT.
Lesson #4: Don’t do it. Sex, that is. (Here is my advice, as a counselor/aunt on the topic: Don’t do it in high school. Risks are too high, knowledge is too little, emotions are too fragile. Make that your black-and-white, no exceptions, rule. Once you get into college, things get trickier and complicated, emotions become real, love becomes (maybe) real, and everyone needs to find the best path for their own heart). Here is my advice as a woman: whatever you do, think it through thoroughly, educate yourself on exactly what your plan is and what the risks are, and make SURE your partner is as careful and as caring as you. No exceptions on that one, ever. No man is ever worth compromising your values and precautions. Those who are worth it will not put you in a position to feel you have to choose. It is a number you cannot erase, so every number, no matter how low or high, has to count for good. This is one type of regret that is nearly impossible to live down, move past, or grow from, so be careful with your body and with whom you share it. Be so careful.
Lesson #5: You will make mistakes. You will make mistakes in love. You will have your heart broken. You will survive it. Everybody on the planet suffers heartache. Everyone causes heartache. Do not hold on to anger, resentment, hurt, or torn confidence over what somebody else did or said to you in your relationship. We are all coming from different and confusing places. While they hurt you, you hurt others, and you’ll usually hurt each other. Sometimes it is without knowing. Sometimes it is purposefully. Always it is out of a nasty combination of love, pain, confusion, selfishness, and frustration. So forgive them and forgive yourself. With each hurt, learn the lesson you were to learn, and move on.
I am certain that learning how to love is unending. It is unfortunate (or maybe the opposite?) that one thing we need as much as water and air and food and safety is one thing we are so terribly inept at doing. To love is to be unbelievably vulnerable, admit mistakes and actual character flaws, constantly work, and constantly experience growing pains. To do this genuinely and honestly and with our whole hearts though, is the most beautiful human experience we can give ourselves.
Best of luck girls, it’s a scary ride but you’ll be grateful for it.