Dating and relationships don’t really get easier as you get older. But one thing that comes with age is wisdom. And with the right wisdom about dating and relationships, you can make dating easier.
That’s why you should pay attention to these bits of advice if you’re under 25. Save yourself the possible years of heartache, regret, and frustration by starting out with a better foundation.
These words came from a dozen women over 40. Some have been married and are now divorced or widowed. Others never married. But they all came to the same conclusions.
Trust your gut
Red flags. A whisper in the back of your mind. A strong feeling that something isn’t quite right but you can’t put a finger on it. These are all symbols of the same thing: a gut feeling that this person or relationship isn’t right for you.
But all too often, especially as younger women, you ignore that gut feeling. You feel like you need to have verifiable proof of something in order to walk away from someone. But you don’t.
If you’re seeing red flags, hearing that little whisper, or have a strong feeling that something’s off, trust it. You don’t need to wait for absolute proof. That feeling is enough.
Be willing to wait
All your friends are married and you’re the only one still single. You’ve had dozens of relationships and you just want to settle down already. You hate dating and just want that one person you can be with and put dating behind you forever.
There are plenty of reasons you might be anxious to find your forever but there’s one big reason to wait: it won’t last forever if it’s not the right person. If you rush into things with someone you don’t know that well, or settle for a relationship that isn’t what you really want, it won’t last or you won’t be happy — or both.
Take your time. Be patient. Be willing to wait. When the right person comes along, you’ll know it. And you’ll be glad you didn’t rush because you’ll finally have the relationship you want — and it will last.
I’ve mentioned before that I have a New York Yankees t-shirt that I never wear — bought because I once dated a guy who was a fan. I have no interest in baseball at all but I faked it for the relationship. And it wasn’t worth it.
When you pretend to be someone you aren’t in order to be with someone, you end up unhappy and unfulfilled — and your partner will feel lied to and betrayed if (or when) they learn the truth. Even if they like the real you, the feeling of betrayal may cost you the relationship. But if you’re authentically you, you’ll find someone who loves you exactly as you are — and that’s worth waiting for.
And if you don’t know who you are, take the time to learn before you try to find a partner. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find a match if you don’t know what they’re matching to. Date and get to know yourself so you can step into the world of dating knowing precisely who you are and who you’re seeking.
Self-respect over feelings
Love doesn’t require you to tolerate lies, abuse, infidelity, mistreatment, or any other bad behavior from a partner. If you have to do something that causes you to lose your self-respect in order to keep a partner or relationship, walk away and keep your self-respect.
And it’s not just self-respect. If you can’t respect your partner, you should also walk away. The reasons don’t really matter. If you can’t respect yourself or your partner within the relationship, then you should end the relationship.
It won’t be easy. The feelings are real and it can be hard to walk away from them. But in the end, the feelings will one day fade. Getting your self-respect back is a lot harder.
If you broke up once, let it go
Ah, the one who got away… it’s a great plot for a romance novel or a romcom, but in reality, it’s not usually the happily ever after you’re looking for. When relationships end, there’s usually a good reason. And those reasons don’t typically go away just because time has passed.
Most of the time, we don’t go back because we hope things will be different. We might say that’s why. But the real reason is usually just that they’re comfortable and familiar. We may not have been happy with them, we may not have what we want with them, but we know what to expect with them — and that might be better than dating and waiting for the one, we think.
What if they have changed — or you have? Yes, people can and do change. And there are some (rare) instances where a couple can come back together after one or both of them have changed. But if you consider the idea, make sure you go back in with eyes wide open.
Heal your wounds so you match for the right reasons
You match with people who see you the way you see you and vice versa. If you’re wounded and have low self-esteem, you’ll match with people who either feel the same way about themselves or who see your wounds and low self-esteem and want to use that to their advantage.
Take the time to heal old wounds. Whether it’s recovering from a breakup or going to therapy to deal with childhood traumas, working on these things help you be in a better place so you can match with someone who is truly a good match for you, rather than someone who’s a good match for the wounds you both have.
Do you need to be totally healed to date? Not necessarily. But pretending that everything is fine and trying to ignore these unhealed wounds is going to lead to unhealthy relationships, so you should at least get started on the healing.
If they can ignore your tears, they aren’t worth it
It doesn’t matter if you had a bad day at work, a fight with your best friend, or are upset with your partner, if you’re crying or otherwise clearly upset, they should care. If they don’t care, that should be your cue to walk away.
Of course, this doesn’t mean they should always drop everything to be there for you. There may be times when they can’t be available. For example, a partner deployed in the military may be unavailable except for certain times. Or perhaps your partner is in an important meeting when you’re upset.
But even in those cases, a partner who cares about you will reach out as soon as they can to check on you. If your partner can sleep, ignore your calls when they’re not busy, or otherwise pretend you don’t exist or aren’t upset, this is not the person you want to be with.
Don’t use a relationship as a vehicle out of another situation
Marrying a boyfriend to get away from an abusive parent. Moving in with someone you’ve been dating for weeks because your landlord increased your rent and you can’t afford it. There are numerous ways people can use a relationship to get out of a bad or unhappy situation. But it’s a bad idea.
Whatever is happening in your life, getting into a relationship is not the way to make it better. It might be an immediate solution, but it won’t be a long-term one. Eventually, the relationship will be the situation you want to get out of — and then it becomes a pattern of using relationships as vehicles to get out of situations you don’t want to be in.
Find healthier, more appropriate ways to handle unpleasant, unhealthy, or unhappy situations in your life. Let your partners be just your partners, not your saviors.
Love doesn’t have to mean marriage
This was perhaps one of the biggest things I had to realize for myself. Growing up in a family where marriages lasted for life and family is everything, I firmly believed that love meant getting married. And it wasn’t until I let that go that I was able to embrace real happiness in my dating life.
You can love someone and be committed to them without being married. You can live together or live separately. You can have children or not have children. Relationships come in all shapes and sizes and the key to a happy one is making it one that works for you and your partner.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and do something unconventional. Create the relationship that you and your partner want, even if it’s one that no one else has. That’s the path to lasting love.
Above all, be true to yourself. Look for the partner and relationship that complements your life. If you can do that, your dating life will be happier, healthier, and more fun than you could have imagined. And when you find the love of your life, you’ll have no problem closing the door on dating and embracing a future filled with everything you always wanted.
Wendy Miller is a Single Mom Coach & meditation teacher. She helps moms use mindfulness and meditation to create the life they really want. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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