5 Pieces of Dating Advice for My 21 Year Old Self

Now that I’ve reached the ripe old age of…let’s just say my late twenties, I have begun to take stock of many aspects of life.  Relationships can definitely be a key to a lot of happiness and now that I am in a really loving and happy one, I’ve decided to look back on my dating life and try and mine some things that could have been potentially useful to know when I was younger and dating in DC. I’m not sure I would necessarily do anything differently because I think I learned from each person that I was with, but if I were to give advice to myself 7 years ago when I first moved to a big city after college, here’s what I would say:

1.       He’s never going to change. If he’s not treating you the way you want to be treated in the beginning, it’s not going to change in the future. By treatment I don't mean is he taking you out to the nicest restaurants but rather is he being considerate of your time, effort and energy. People will get away with only what you let them get away with.  If you don't like how you're are being treated, you have to be willing to walk away.   Your power isn't changing someone else's behavior, your power is walking away.  You can and you should rather than hold out for someone else to change. 

2.       After each relationship, or guy that you date, engage in some self-reflection. I think it’s important to assess and evaluate each relationship (even if it’s just a couple dates or instances of “hanging out”) to understand what you liked and didn’t like, so that you don’t have repeated instances of dating the same type of guy that’s never going to work out past the first couple of dates.

3.       Time is your most valuable resource and it is extremely limited. Therefore, it’s important to be honest with yourself about what you want or else you’re just going to be wasting time. When I was single, dating and in my early to mid 20s, I almost felt like there was some stigma around wanting a relationship. It wasn’t cool to admit to your friends or others that you were looking for a relationship and certainly not to the people you were dating. But until I admitted that to myself, that I wanted an actual relationship and I didn’t want to just date guys for fun and no further purpose, I didn’t get anywhere. Once I was clear to myself about what I wanted, I finally started dating guys that wanted the same things as I did. I stopped wasting time on guys that weren’t on the same page and that made me more available to date guys that wanted the same things as I did.

4.       Your friends’ opinions are important but don’t let their opinions serve as the be-all end-all.

Friends are great, but there are three main issues when you get a friend’s opinion. 

First, your friends may get a biased view of your relationship (good or bad).  For example, we tend to either paint everything as great or tend to only discuss things that went wrong.  As a result, your friends may have incomplete information about the guy you’re dating. 

Second, friends are very protective of you and while this is great it can also lead them to make quick judgments. 

Third, and finally, your friends' advice will be shaped by their their own lens of experience.  They may look at certain behavior and associate that behavior with X or Y outcome based on their own unique lens.  For example, when Matt and I first started dating, he would often stop texting me around 8:30 pm.  A friend told me, he is probably hanging out with other girls and can't text you.  But as I got to know Matt better, I realized he just went to bed really early because he had to get up really early as well.  This is an example where my friend's past experiences led her to view his behavior through a negative lens, when really that's not what it was. 

At the end of the day, you need to be comfortable and confident enough with yourself that you can trust that you know what’s best for you (provided you’re engaging in self-reflection). It’s nice to have others’ opinions, but in the end, it’s your relationship and your decision to stay in it or not.

5.       Focusing on yourself means a commitment to self-improvement and radical honesty.  I remember when I was single, a lot of people would say to me, just focus on you and don’t go looking for a relationship. Truthfully, I think that type of advice doesn't do justice to the link that exists between how happy we are with ourselves and how happy we are with others.  

If you want a relationship, you shouldn't ignore that! But the other truth is you are never going to find happiness with another unless you are first happy with yourself. So what does that mean?  Well, it means developing ways to cope with stress and boredom by yourself.  It means pursuing passions because they bring you satisfaction on their own.  Mostly, it means that being with the world you've created to include your hobbies, interests, passions and friends is far more preferable than being in a mediocre relationship.  This is the radical honesty that we need to engage in, answering the fundamental question: are we happy with ourselves?  

As always your thoughtful comments are appreciated.  Special thanks to Matt, who helped with some insight for this post. <3