The One Piece Of Dating Advice I'd Give My Younger Self


Jenny Penland

A few days after my birthday, my 23 year old friend asked newly 32 year old me if I could give her one piece of dating advice. What would it be?

Without hesitation, I told her to just do whatever the hell she wants.

And I hope she took it to heart, because I really, really meant it. And I really, really hope you hear me too.

You cannot force lessons or growth; not on yourself, and certainly not onto others. You have to go through your process. We learn by a series of successes and failures what does and doesn’t work for us. And over time, that alters our tastes and our desires. Ideally in a way that becomes progressively deeper, and meaningful, and healthier. But more often than not, your path won’t be linear. And you’ll instinctively fault yourself for not learning sooner.

So you’ll pretend to care less than you do. You’ll pretend to be less invested than you are. You might lie and say you know things won’t work out, when the truth is, you want them to. You might force yourself into a box, under the thumb of an ever-changing dating rule book.

But after an (unspecified, unique-to-you number of) knock-down drag outs, you’ll realize that the people who are meant to fit will fit with the real you. Some learn this after first or second round; some have to touch the fire a few (hundred) times before they see how hot it burns.

And it’ll hurt. It’s raw, and revealing, and it’ll really, really hurt. But it means you’re in the process of repair. Pain is an intrinsic part of evolution.

So what then?

Be okay with being hurt. Don’t be ashamed of it. Just do whatever the hell you want, and feel whatever the hell you feel. Say what you need to say. Live the width of your happiness, and your anger, and your sorrow… and above all else, your love. Love unabashedly, unconditionally, authentically, and without fear.

If someone doesn’t appreciate you, or is in any degree repelled by you loving them – then take comfort in knowing that person isn’t right for you. And yes, maybe you could have delayed that reality by concealing yourself, or playing the game… but eventually, you would be right back where you are now. The mask would itch, and you or he or she would rip it off.

Learning who and what and how to love can be a messy process.

But know that all the heartaches and mistakes, if learned from, will better your ability to love yourself and love others. And the better you learn and love yourself, the better able you will be to learn and love the right person.

So instead of focusing on how to make something work, or how to make someone care; and instead of worrying about this colloquial, imagined (full of shit) ticking-clock…focus rather on the ways that love, both good and bad, helps you grow.  

Experiencing unrequited, or toxic, or lost, or failed, or untimely love can shape you like no other. Positively, if you let it.

So when things fall apart, take time to reflect on how that situation changed you for the better.

Look at what you learned: All the qualities you’ll one day hope are emulated in the “right” person.  All the boundaries you formed from the downfalls and douchebags.

Your rock bottom is so much lower now.

Your threshold is so much greater.

Look at how much better you know and accept yourself, for having gone on and gone through — and why?  

Because, without fear of foolishness – you felt whatever the hell you felt, and did whatever the hell you wanted to do.

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