Updated: Feb 2
I recount the memories as if they happened yesterday. My mom’s warnings were continuously repeated in my ear at least a good year before I set foot on campus. Call it the classic “Don’t drink!” or “When you find yourself at an off-campus party…” or “Remember to wash dark clothes with cold water ONLY” type conversations. The ones where you keep nodding in agreement to visibly show you understand, being given a plethora of different scenario examples and how you would handle them to protect yourself. And I knew the basics, kinda.
My mom also made known the familiar expectations of what to do when a cute boy walking in my direction catches my eye or vice versa. How to talk, how to respond, how to act, how to banter.
Don’t let boys take advantage of your feelings. Don’t date boys who refuse to show up for you. Don’t date boys who make empty promises.
I’ve heard it all, promising my parents I’d make good choices in love..to turn around my freshman year, shakily dialing my dad’s number at 3 AM on a school night, and crying over a boy who didn’t even know my favorite color. Or even cared for that matter. Plus, we had like one brief exchange and I fell in love after a day.
But as a maturing 20-year-old dealing with her first real and painful breakup, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned about dating is your wants and needs in a partner, along with your dislikes and red flags, tell us so much more about ourselves than we realize.
Along with therapy, friend and familial advice, and plenty of relationship PODCASTS.
Our boundaries, our turn-ons and turn-offs, our communication styles, our attachment styles, and our love languages - How we allow our partners to treat us can mirror how we internally feel about ourselves. Meaning, you might carry the need of meeting your partner’s inner circle before taking the relationship more seriously and expect nothing less. Or, if you possess a low value of self-worth, you’re much more likely to settle in a relationship, maybe even relishing within the fact that someone you find attractive feels the same way.
And I’ve been there. I’ve been weak in the knees and refused to stand up more times than I'd like to admit.
In our social media-crazed society, we’re taught to believe this idealistic image of what romance is supposed to look or feel like: a 100% flawless union between lovers with sparks ablaze, frozen in time, with doves cooing every time you look into each other’s eyes. There won’t be any differences between you and your partner, with zero conflict, disagreements, or disappointments.
Even “the one” can harshly grind his teeth in his sleep. To deny someone of their imperfections is to also deny that person of their humanity.
In reality, every relationship is different in its own way and it doesn’t have to make sense to other people. It only has to make sense to you and your partner. And there’s truly no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to distinguish a healthy relationship between two people, as long as it doesn’t involve any kind of abuse.
You’re allowed to be different and so is your partner. You’re allowed to listen to different music, have different hobbies, and come from different backgrounds. But what makes a genuine connection is choosing to see and accept your partner for who they truly are, flaws and all, and not who you think they should be. Also, communicating those differences, big and small, make all the difference and gives those clearer insights into who you are as a person.
It also depends on how much ‘difference’ you can tolerate in the relationship or within your partner, also correlating between your needs, wants, and expectations. Romantic love is conditional and it’s okay for some ‘differences’ to be deal-breakers, that just happens to be the painful reality of dating and relationships.
And you truly won’t know what you need in a partner until choose to put yourself out there and date around. The best way to heal relational wounds is by engaging in relationships, even risking exposing some of the most vulnerable pieces of yourself during the process.
You’re going to give some people your heart who don’t deserve it nor know how to handle it. And you’re going to be let into others’ lives with who you might not be quite ready to take the next step. Or, at all.
And that’s okay. Think of it as another step in your journey to discovering your identity.