I’ve made plenty of relationship mistakes in my life that we both can learn from (trust me).
An open letter to my 8-year-old daughter,
Hey, kid. It’s your mother here. You know how great I think you are, and how much I love you. You know I admire what an incredible mind you have, and how funny you are, and that I think you’re beautiful. What I can’t believe is that you’re almost 9, and in 4TH GRADE. Woah. Before either one of us knows it, you’ll be starting middle school, and hitting (gulp) puberty, and it will be time for you to start falling in (puppy) love.
Relationships are a tricky thing, and getting into them can be scary if you don’t have any guidance. Lucky for you, I’ve made plenty of relationship mistakes in my life that we both can learn from.
- Don’t be embarrassed if you like someone and they don’t like you back.
When you hit middle school or high school, and you start to have crushes on people, don’t worry about trying to hide your feelings or wonder if you’re cool enough to like the person you like. If you like someone, it’s OK to show it. Having warm feelings for someone is a gift, one that is meant to be offered to the person you have the feelings for. If it turns out that they don’t feel the same way, that’s OK. Hopefully they’ll express that kindly, but even if they’re jerks about it, don’t take it personally. There’s nothing wrong with sharing a little bit of your heart’s love with somebody. If they don’t like you back, someone will. Don’t take that kind of rejection as a sign that there’s something wrong with you or that you’re not good enough. Just view it as a simple compatability issue and move on with grace.
- Don’t lose your virginity too soon (or for the wrong reasons).
Having sex with the right partner at the right time for the right reasons is a wonderfully positive, fun experience. However, there isn’t a human being alive who hasn’t had at least one negative sexual experience, and that’s because sex is a very intimate act people engage in while highly vulnerable. It’s a delicate thing. So before you decide you want to go all the way with someone, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, and that you feel truly ready. You might be ready to have sex if you feel safe, secure and loved in a relationship, if you’re physically and emotionally mature enough to understand how sex deepens the bonds between people and therefore changes the relationship, and if you know your partner feels the same way. Some of the wrong reasons to have sex include wanting to be cool, feeling lonely and needing affection, feeling a need to lash out or rebel, or just wanting to lose your virginity before “it’s too late.” It’s never too late! Watch “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and you’ll see what I mean.
- Don’t make finding a romantic partner the primary focus of your young life.
Know this now: love will find you. Because it is already within you. So you don’t have to worry about finding someone to spend the rest of your life with when you’re just a teenager. There will always be love in and around and throughout your life, so allow it to buzz about you, and grab it when the time is right. Don’t try to chase it or catch it. Focus on your gifts and how you want to share them with the world, and trust that all of your relationships will unfold as they should over time. You will meet all the people you need to meet out in the world by simply living your life. (But I mean try online dating if you feel like it. Just don’t use Tinder to hookup. Or do. But then remember what my dad always used to say: “If you can’t behave, be safe!”)
- Don’t get married too young.
People live such long lives now. And since you plan on adopting instead of having children of your own (though that may change), there’s no rush for you to get married and have babies. Even if you decide you do want to have a child of your own, you have well into your 30s to do so without worry, so you don’t have to get married right out of college. (But you do have to go to college. How else are you going to become an engineer/fashion designer?!) Take your time and realize that if you get married, you’re participating in a serious legal agreement … that is very expensive and sometimes difficult to get out of, not to mention terribly painful to end. Try to be as sure as anyone can that you’re entering a partnership that will last. That kind of assuredness comes from the ability to clearly examine things, which is developed with age and experience.
- Don’t try to fix someone.
There’s a fairly common expression that says, “People don’t change.” That’s not entirely true. People can change. And some people do. But many people don’t. Furthermore, no one changes because someone else is trying to change them. People can only change themselves. If you’re with someone you feel a need to “fix,” that’s a sign that you should get out of the relationship in the hopes of finding someone you like just the way they are. (It’s also a sign of co-dependence, but let’s hope you won’t have problems with that, Miss Independent!)
- Don’t stay in a relationship because you’re scared to be alone (or worried that you can’t take care of yourself).
No unhappy relationship is worth staying in. Period. Ever. Never be afraid to leave a relationship because you think you’ll be even more unhappy by yourself or that you won’t be able to make it in life without someone to take care of you. It’s not true. You have the power of the whole universe inside of you. You are just fine and you always will be. You have everything you need.
- Don’t rationalize away or ignore bad or toxic behavior.
If you’re in a relationship with someone, and they’re hurting you, get out. You know the rule: relationships (romantic, familial and platonic) are supposed to add to your life and make you feel good. They are not supposed to be stressful or make you feel bad about yourself. Ideally, a relationship should be good 70% of the time, maybe even more. If it’s not good more than 50% of the time, run. Run as far away and as fast as you can. If it’s hovering somewhere in the 60% enjoyable range, try to work on it, but if it doesn’t improve, say goodbye. Emotional abuse or manipulation leads to feeling confused and not being able to trust yourself. Never stop trusting yourself. If you lose the way in a relationship and can’t find your own voice anymore, talk to your friends and let them help you find yourself. Pain is not love, love is not pain. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
- Don’t stay with someone longer than you should.
If you know it’s time to end a relationship but you find yourself making excuses (remember: it’s always almost a holiday all year long), tell yourself to snap out of it. Don’t waste time being unhappy. It doesn’t serve you or the person you’re with.
- Don’t forget that the most important relationship in your life is the one you have with yourself.
RuPaul said it best: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” You know the difference between selfishness and self-love. Don’t ever stop taking care of and loving yourself. Once, when you were 6, you made a drawing that said, “Love Yourself Every Day.” I hope you’ll still feel that way when you’re 66! And 86! And 106.
- Don’t give up on love.
It’s easy to think that as we age, and relationships keep ending, that romantic love is an impossible ideal and that the only real hope is to dive into bitterness and close your heart up forever. But it’s not true. I feel like I understand more about love now than I ever have, and I hope I can keep learning. I can’t wait to watch you learn, too.