Advice I Wish I Could Give My 20-Year-Old Self About Love

Advice I Wish I Could Give My 20-Year-Old Self About Love Hero Image

I know how badly you want a boyfriend. You are watching your closest friends couple-up and disappear. But slow down. You have a lot of learning to do and a lot of mistakes to make.

Perhaps you're a late bloomer: don't be discouraged if it takes you another 20 years to figure out how to be in a healthy, intimate relationship.

You are going to make your fair share of mistakes. There will be poor choices, brutal breakups, a traumatic divorce, unrequited infatuations. At times, heartbreak will reduce you to the fetal position on the bathroom floor, where you'll be weeping uncontrollably.

I wish I could prevent this pain and humiliation. But I won't. These are lessons you need to learn. If you pay attention and keep an open heart, you'll be thankful for the experience.

As the older, wiser version of you, below are a few tips to navigate the course a little easier.

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1. Remember: first me, then we.

Fall deeply, madly in love… with your own life. I know you wince at the thought of going it alone, but be brave. Watch Dave Chappelle skits and Wes Anderson films until your sides ache from laughter. Ride a camel through the Rajasthan desert. Bake a dozen éclairs from scratch. Spend Saturdays at the public library, reading everything from Moosewood cookbooks to Malcolm X's theories on race relations.

Enjoy your own company. Be unapologetically curious. Never lose your identity in another person's world. Trust me -- there will be no shortage of men who love a dynamic, independent and interesting woman.

2. Don't be a beggar for love.

Remember Gary? Born of rock-and-roll, he would drive you through NYC in his classic car. Together, you'd look at the skyline while listening to The Rolling Stones.

Polar opposites, you were drawn to one another with magnetic chemistry. He took you to underground tattoo parlors, introduced you to famous martial artists, and painted you in watercolor. You taught him about underground sake bars, Junot Diaz's latest literary triumph, and where to find the most authentic Thai food in Queens. Despite every trick in the arsenal, he refuses to commit to you exclusively. So, you keep trying. And trying. And trying.

Men like Gary like the thrill of the chase. A real relationship with all its thorny sacrifices holds no interest. So enjoy this dance, but don't waste too much time or energy on it. People can be surprisingly clear about their intentions. Learn to listen.

3. Pay attention when people show you who they are.

Edward was a great boyfriend — on paper. Six-figure salary. Loft apartment in DUMBO. Physically fit. Within six months, he wanted to marry you and start a family.

But something gnawed at you. He stiffed waiters on tips. He never brought a housewarming gift. His phone never rang. He critiqued constantly, complaining about your laugh, perfume and choice in hats.

Small courtesies matter. A lot. Partners worthy of long-term investment will:

• Stand on the subway so that women/pregnant/elderly have a seat.

• Refuse to talk ill of anyone, including their ex.

• Walk/drive out of their way to make sure you get home safely at night.

• Do anything to see you smile.

Believe half of what you hear and everything you see. Watch for the clues of a person's character. Place a premium on kindness, empathy, and generosity — the hallmarks of a good friend — and settle for nothing less.

4. Know that a great partner adds to your life, but is not your life.

In the breathless flush of burgeoning love, you'll be tempted to drop everything to spend time with your new paramour. Resist this urge. No one person can satisfy your every emotional need. If you make him your all, you will quickly find yourself dissatisfied-- and prone to unnecessary nitpicking of the perceived flaws in his personality. But, if you want love to foster and grow, surround yourself with wonderful people who feed your soul in a multitude of ways.

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