What I would say to the 25-year-old me
Some people are smart about things like life and love. I can think of several friends, for example, who got together with their partners in their twenties; in love as young newlyweds, they seem even more so now. These couples have managed to grow closer over the years as they faced life’s joys and sufferings together. Others aren’t so fortunate. Of the less lucky ones, a number of us get it wrong at the starting gate. I fall into that category–a self-reforming loser in love.
I have spent far too much energy metaphorically kicking myself for the time I spent in a damaging relationship (Momentary digression: If I could have literally done it, I would have. But try kicking yourself. Sadly, it can’t really be done.) If I’ve learned anything over the past two years, however, it’s that energy is finite; it’s not worth spending it all going down emotional rabbit holes. When I go to that dark place, where I see that time as the “lost years,” it only takes a quick look around to be reminded that without my past, I wouldn’t be here now. Most pointedly, I wouldn’t have my beautiful daughter.
Truth be told, sometimes I do indulge in a trip down that rabbit hole. Once there, I am filled with a yearning to go back in time and shake some sense into that young woman about to make some ill-fated choices. If I could, here’s what I would say to the 25-year-old, less-craggly-but-dumber me:
1) Don’t let the “shoulds” rule your life. Should be married before 30, should have kids before 35, should be in a serious relationship by 25. Shoulds were my undoing. Conversely, one of my college friends did the opposite. She seemed to let her life unfold and see where it took her without a set agenda. As she entered her thirties, several of us wondered when she would find someone. We worried she waited too long. But we were wrong. I’m happy to say that a few years ago, she married a longtime friend who became the love of her life. Leading with your heart, living your life fully and being true to yourself should trump any and all societal “shoulds.” She’s proof.
2) Put “sweet” on the top of your list. Wow, some women get this right off and some just . . .don’t, especially not young women. Why do so many otherwise-smart women choose not-nice jerks? I had a few chances in my early twenties to be with men who treated me beautifully and each time, I blew it. How did I equate arrogance and aloofness with desirability? Too many James Dean movies? Sean Penn movies? I was nearly 40 before I learned that sweet needs to be right up there with smart and funny as one of the top attributes to look for in a partner.
3) Avoid the big talkers. Showing trumps telling. Go for a guy who shows you he cares in dozens of little ways every day. I’m not suggesting you seek out a mute. He should also be able to tell you how much he loves you–but telling without showing amounts to a whole lot of bull–and resentment. No one wants to feel like she’s been played.
4) If you feel like Gumby when you’re with him, he’s not right for you. Of course, it’s good to sometimes be flexible. But if you feel like you need to be double-jointed to bend as much as he wants you to, something is amiss. Step back and view yourself from the balcony: Are you a different version of you when you’re with him than you are with your closest friends? Do you feel like you can’t fully relax when you’re together? You should be able to exhale when you’re together, not after he’s walked out the door.