Over my 10+ years of writing and coaching I’ve seen every kind of struggle in finding love there is: the pain of being ghosted. The frustration of dating flakey people. The agony of trying to decide if this is the right relationship for you.
And the truth is clear: love isn’t simple.
I can’t offer one simple formula or catchy aphorism that sums up all the secrets of the human heart and solves your entire romantic life.
But there are some invaluable lessons I’ve learned along the way.
So if you want to return to some hard-won wisdom at any time, here are 5 of the biggest truths about love and relationships that are worth keeping:
1. Be open about who you meet, but very selective about who you invest in
Most people in their love life are too picky at the wrong time. They are incredibly dismissive when it comes to who they might meet, and then when they find the one person they actually like, they give them their heart immediately.
The smart way to date is the opposite: meet many people, and then get picky about who you give your time and emotion to.
2. Value character as much as you value chemistry
Hollywood and romantic fiction has taught us that if love isn’t making your heart do back flips and leaving you breathless with every encounter, then you’re not doing it right.
I’m all for passionate, even lust-fuelled excitement in the honeymoon phase of a relationship. But too often we place this heady excitement above any assessment of the long-term virtues of the person in front of us.
Are they good at doing what they say? Can they be loyal? Do they encourage you and bring kindness to your world, or do they bring complaints and put their needs above you?
The more we realise character and chemistry belong on the same pedestal, the happier we’ll be in the relationships that we choose.
3. If it’s a choice between being respected and being liked, choose being respected.
Of course, it’s possible to do both.
You can be respected and liked at the same time. But other times, there is a choice: do I follow my people-pleaser instincts and say what this person wants to hear? Or do I respect myself and express my true needs/opinions even if it might irk them in the moment?
It could be expressing a boundary, stating a need we have, or calling someone out on bad behaviour: whichever it is, if you do it in a kind and respectful way, you’ll only be respected more for it.
4. Disinterest is a turn-off. When someone gives you less, you should be less interested
Too often we get told that great love requires challenge.
And challenge can be fun: if it’s in the form of someone who inspires us to be our better selves.
But if someone is actively showing disinterest (or ignoring us entirely), that should always be a turn-off!
If there is one lesson I would give to save a million lives wasted pining for the wrong person, it would be this: someone not wanting you should actively make you lose interest.
Why? Because this person, however wonderful on paper, CANNOT fulfil your needs by definition. They have failed one of the essential conditions of loving you: the desire to actually be there and show it.
5. Choose a partner you can have a 50+ year conversation with
I have to credit the New York Times writer David Brooks with this one. He once said: “Marriage is a 50 year conversation”.
Once you see it that way, you start to make very different choices about who to spend your life with. You realise the folly of choosing someone simply for their status, their looks, their job, their perceived glamorous lifestyle.
This isn’t to disparage wanting a partner who makes you happy in all kinds of ways, but it is a reminder that in between all the glossy brochure Instagram highlights of trips to Italy and ice cream on the beach, there’s the actual experience of living together. Talking over dinner. Hanging out after work. Taking a lazy stroll together on a Sunday. Dealing with children together. Spending time with each other’s friends and family.
And that leads us to the real question: is this someone I can spend THAT much free time with? Am I in love with their soul? Do I love hearing what they have to say? Can they speak to my mind? Do they “get” me and make me feel like home?
If you start there, you’ll find it’s much harder to go wrong.
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