6 Things I Wish I Knew About Dating in My Early 20s
1. Setting boundaries is healthy.
As a lifelong people pleaser, this was difficult to learn. It took practice. I want to be kind and accommodating - but not at the cost of my peace. Please never make yourself small.
You can give unconditional love and not exhaust yourself. It’s okay to say no with love. Remember, you have to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
The truth is, you set the standard for how you want to be treated. Setting healthy boundaries in the beginning of a relationship lets your partner know what you tolerate and what you don’t. If someone can’t understand your boundaries, maybe you need to reassess why you want to be with this person.
2. You aren’t too much or not enough.
I told my therapist last year that I feel like I am ‘too much’.
She asked me what I meant and I said sometimes I feel I can be... a lot. I have intense emotions and tend to overthink things. I told her I had been wondering how anyone would want to be with me. They would need to be so patient, and it feels like I’m asking a lot.
She started telling me a story about taking her dog to the groomer. She said she overheard the conversation in front of her between the lady who ran the store and a customer who was checking out. The customer asked her how much the total cost was and the groomer said, “I don’t know, what do you think it should be? What do you think is fair?”
The customer was so confused and the situation was uncomfortable. It would have been so much easier if the woman had just set her price.
Then my therapist said that’s what I need to do: “When you’re dating, show people your true self. When you know what you need, say it matter-of-factly. Like the time. Or like you’re setting your rate. Sure, some people might think it’s ‘too much’ but someone else might think it’s perfect.”
3. Sex isn’t everything.
In our society, sex is perceived to be some sort of skill or talent that we can master. That if you just get enough practice, or watch enough videos, you can be proficient.
In reality, it’s situational. It’s a conversation between you and your partner and is largely ‘good’ based on the communication of individual preferences and developing a level of comfort where both parties feel relaxed and open.
What works for one person might not work for another, so you must be considerate to your specific partner. Sex is great, and it’s important, but it’s far from everything. It might feel great, but it won’t save a failing relationship.
4. Communication and comprehension are everything.
I think part of growing older is recognizing the areas in which you can grow. Communicating clearly in a relationship was not my strong suit. When I started to explain something, and I wasn’t feeling understood - I would shut down, stay quiet, and pour a glass of wine.
Do you know the simple tool that changed my communication? ‘I Feel Statements’. Starting my statements with “I feel that…” instead of “You are…” literally changed everything. It changes what feels like an attack to your partner, to an open expression of vulnerability. Try to speak your truth with love, not sarcastically, and not as a joke. Hopefully your partner can do the same. Never walk on eggshells to communicate your needs.
With communication, hopefully comes comprehension. Communication is a tool. You can talk to someone all you want, but if they don’t understand you - it won’t matter. Understanding is love.
5. You can’t change them.
I can’t stress this enough: In the process of trying to change someone, you will lose yourself.
Have you ever been hopelessly in love with the wrong person? I was the queen of ignoring red flags in the name of romance. My friends and family would tell me how wrong someone was for me, and I would suddenly be hard of hearing. I couldn’t see what they were; I only saw what I wanted them to be or what I thought they could be. I fell in love with potential.
Of course it’s important to support and bring the best out in someone, but ultimately they decide who they want to be. While you are supporting them, remember to also prioritize the goals and relationships you had before you met them.
In a relationship you are a team, but you are also an individual. Keep spending time with your friends. Keep reading your books. Keep going to your spin classes (don't forget your Soulvation Society headband). Keep prioritizing you; it's healthy.
6. It’s okay to love someone and let them go.
My first love wasn’t my person. From the start, our relationship was tumultuous and intense. Our love felt safe, but it also felt chaotic. It was hard to see it because that was our normal. There was a time he put his foot behind my car tire so I couldn’t leave. There was a time where I jumped up and down on a bag of his favorite animal crackers when he stormed off after a fight (I don’t know her).
But, it wasn’t all bad. We had years of memories intertwined with emotions. He could make me laugh until I had tears in my eyes. He would hold me on my bad days. We traveled. We found the best pancakes in New York City. We knew each other inside out and gave each other all the love we could. But deep down, I had a visceral feeling that he wasn’t my person. We weren’t compatible and that’s okay. It doesn't reflect my worth or his.
You can love someone and still let them go.
Especially if it’s what’s best for you. At the end of the day it’s your life and you are never stuck or trapped. You don’t owe yourself to anyone.
I’m so thankful for all of my exes. I wish them the most genuine happiness. I’m thankful they walked into my life and I’m thankful they walked out. They taught me how to love better and how to communicate effectively. They showed me what I didn’t want in a relationship and what I needed in a relationship. It's a combination of my experiences that allow me to give my best love now.
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