This originally appeared on The Frisky. Republished here with permission.
I feel pretty good about my path toward a forever-partner. I dated a lot of guys, had numerous long- and longish-term relationships and a lot of premarital sex. I don’t believe that marriage is “the end” of your emotional or sexual growth as a woman, but I’m also glad I did everything I wanted to do as a single gal. That plan might not be right for everyone, but it was right for me. I’m happier than I’ve ever been and I have no regrets.
I knew that my husband was the right partner for me when we decided to get married. A particular joy of being newlyweds, though, is that I discover new reasons all the time. But there’s been another happy surprise, too. Settling into each other has also been hugely clarifying for me about men I’ve dated and even loved in the past. It’s almost like having a fresh pair of eyes to look at myself and mistakes I made. Truly, being with the right guy has taught me so many things in retrospect about the wrong ones.
Here are six bits of relationship wisdom that my married self would like to tell my single self:
1. The right guy isn’t going to see you as a liability. All of us carry around reasons in our head for why no one should ever love us, date us, or marry us. We do this whether we’re single or coupled or, heck, maybe even married. Some of the reasons are wounds from our childhood, some are wounds from past relationships, and some are wounds from our own neuroses. One of the reasons I knew Kale was right for me was that every time I shared something new that I worried might scare him off, it actually made us closer. Nothing scared him off. There’s a huge amount of trust involved in telling someone about your sexual preferences, or family’s alcoholism and drug addiction, or your student loan debt, and them not only sticking around but saying, “I still like you. Hey, I think I like you even more because you handle your shit!” The payoff for your vulnerability is that you are bonded to someone who knows everything about you, including the deep dark stuff you hide in the corners. True acceptance is really the cornerstone of love and makes the relationship strong.
2. A huge amount of consistently enjoying sex (at least for me) is the good connection you have outside of bed. Sometimes I have envied people who choose to only enjoy sexual activity with people to whom they’re securely bonded. This is not to make a dig at casual sex. I’ve had some great casual sex. But I’ve also observed that my sex life is consistently happier and more enjoyable now that I have a constant, solid, secure connection with a man outside of the bedroom. Fun sex is more fun. Romantic sex is more romantic. Hot, dirty sex is more hot and dirty. In retrospect, I can now see that the “meh” feelings I had about sex with past partners were actually a canary in the coal mine for relationship problems (which had nothing to do with sex, but nevertheless affected our sex lives). Had I known that a better partner and better sex existed down the road, I would have thrown in the towel earlier on crappier relationships. OK, I just mixed metaphors, but you know what I mean.
3. Men who insist on you being really “feminine” oftentimes really just want you to be weak. Be wary of men who complain about women not being “feminine” enough and especially wary of men who want you to be more “feminine.” They might couch it by saying they wish you wore more dresses (or more makeup, or whatever), but I’ve come to the conclusion these sorts of men really want you to be weak. They don’t actually care whether you wear a dress or not. They care that you don’t threaten them. Some guys see femininity as weakness or passivity and they want you to display it as proof. But the right guy will make you feel really feminine if you yourself feel really feminine. You won’t feel the obligation to put on eyeliner, or something, to play act at femininity as a twisted, fucked up performance for him.
4. You are kinda involved in the other person’s family, too. I didn’t realize while I was dating how much a person’s family and family problems impact their relationship. This is especially true for men who refuse to acknowledge or deal with their problems with a therapist. I dated guys who had bad divorces and messy relationships with their exes. I dated guys with severe mommy issues and guys with severe daddy issues. I dated guys whose parents were unfaithful and torn apart, or on the brink of splitting up, and they had a lot of resentment and fear. When I was dating these guys, I reluctantly accepted that their family’s shit was stuff I was going to have to deal with, even though sometimes it was stuff that brought me a lot of anxiety (like the ex with the messy divorce). I also reluctantly accepted that these guys were so justifiably hurt, angry, and resentful, but refused to examine their feelings. That’s just the way it is, I thought. I’m glad that I ended these relationships when I did because the breakups came as a huge relief. (So the opposite side of the coin for what I just wrote in #1 is true as well: you won’t see the right guy as a liability, either.)
5. Trying to help other people help themselves rarely works. For better or for worse, I am the Queen Of Adopting Wounded Birds. I have a lot of concern and empathy for people I care about, so I try to help solve their problems when I genuinely think I can help. Sounds nice, right? Noble, even. Well, not really. In fact, some people find that dynamic downright annoying and most people don’t want help. They want to do things themselves (except—spoiler alert!—oftentimes they don’t want to do jack shit). Overall, I wish I had gotten less involved in other people’s mental health shit. I do genuinely believe that certain ex-boyfriends could have benefited from seeing a therapist, or in one case, perhaps even going on anti-anxiety medication. But it’s not my place to try to get anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. All you can do is convey your needs and fears to someone; they will do with that information what they choose.
6. Don’t settle. Really, don’t. ”I can do better than this” is toxic for a relationship. It’s toxic to the person feeling it and it’s toxic for the other person. We should be partnered, for the short-term and the long-term, with people who we feel just right about being with. Don’t stay with someone who you see as a liability; don’t be with someone who you think isn’t good enough for you. I’m so, so glad that I didn’t settle for past relationships that weren’t so right for me but where marriage was on the table. I’m even glad I had to go through a really horrible breakup. I wasn’t glad about it at the time or for a long while afterward. But now I can see that it was a blessing in disguise. It meant I was single and online dating at the same time Kale was single and online dating. If I had settled in the past, I would have missed out on the best person to ever come into my life.
Email me at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.