Within a month of moving to San Francisco for college, I went from a raging introvert who skipped senior prom to a serial dater. Absolutely nothing about me had changed - I was, and still am, a chubby and bespectacled nerd, but learning attractive people were happy to get a drink with me inflated my sense of bravado.
For two years I went on more first dates than I want to count - occasionally, more than one date a day. Rampantly dating everyone from techies to anti-tech activists suited me, and I enjoyed being single and free to do so. There were some people I dated monogamously, but something was usually wrong - the timing, our chemistry or some fundamental difference in expectations.
Things are different now. I’ve retired from my serial dating ways and as of today, Valentine’s Day, I’ve been dating my kick-ass boyfriend Jack for 350 days. Though I’m happily half of a dynamic duo now, I learned a lot running around San Francisco with a slew of attractive people. Here are the most important lessons:
1. Trust your gut
Ignoring your intuition is never a good idea, but it can be especially damaging when it comes to relationships. Dating requires at least one other person and you’re not only risking your own safety and sanity by ignoring your gut feeling, you also hold a part of yourself back while you’re mutually exploring new emotional intimacy.
2. Know your worth and don’t accept less
I was on a date when I made an offhand remark apologizing for the size of my butt. He immediately retorted, “No, don’t apologize for that.”
I was taken aback and immediately thought back to how many times and ways I’d apologized for how I look and act. I resolved to change how I treat myself. I stopped getting involved with people who didn’t appreciate all of me and it made a positive difference in both the quality of people I was dating and how I felt about myself.
3. Be direct and tell people what you want
I can’t stand it when people aren’t straightforward with what they want. There can be some uncertainty when you first meet someone, but after getting to know each other you need to have an adult conversation about what you both want, be it exclusivity, casual dating or platonic friendship.
4. There’s no wrong way to date someone
The old rules of courtship are moot and that’s okay! I’m really sick of those irritating Thought Catalog articles with titles like ‘5 Reasons Why Modern Dating Killed Romance.’ It’s nonsense.
Dating has adapted with the times and it’s okay to evolve. It doesn’t matter if you split the check, if you’re polyamorous, if you make out on the first date or spill your worst secrets on the second. As long as you’re honest with yourself and your partner(s) and, at the end of the day, happier dating that person, you won’t go wrong.
5. Seriously - there’s someone out there for you
After dating for a while, my insecurities about possibly not being liked melted away. Once I stopped worrying about finding someone who would like me, it was easier to let my guard down, get to know people and develop mutual bonds.
Building a relationship isn’t just about someone liking you, although that is important; it’s also about both of you wanting a relationship you can grow together. It’ll work out with someone who wants you and shares your relationship goals.
6. Be present with people
There’s nothing worse than when your date is clearly distracted - usually by a smart phone, stress at work or, if they’re really a jerk, someone else. Similarly, pay attention to what other people are saying and doing, or else you might miss a chance to connect.
7. You don’t owe people anything
If your date is rude, obnoxious or just not your type, you don’t owe them anything. A courtesy ‘I don’t want to see you again, good luck in the future’ message is considered polite if you’ve been on more than one date, but that’s it. You don’t owe them an explanation, a second chance or approval on their Facebook friend request. You’re entitled to your feelings. This goes double if they’ve violated your boundaries.
8. You’re entitled to be attracted to your partner
There are a lot of good people in the world who you might click with, but that doesn’t mean you’re suited to be romantic partners. I’ve noticed that this is an issue when it comes to online dating because profile photos often don’t tell the whole truth.
You’re entitled to be attracted to the person you’re dating. Don’t commit if that’s lacking - it’s an issue of incompatibility that will inevitably cause issues down the line.
9. Fight for something good
When you know you’ve met someone good and they feel the same way, fight to be with them. Dating is relatively easy, but connecting is hard and when the feeling is mutual, it’s occasionally worth it to take a risk.
I didn’t expect my boyfriend and I to last this long. Within a few months of getting together, he was accepted into UCLA’s master’s program and it was clear we would have to break up when he moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.
I definitely cried a lot in the shower, bleakly wondered why he had to be so freaking good at playing trumpet, and listened to About Today on repeat. I decided to stay with him in the meantime because I wanted all the time I could get with him.
It wasn’t always easy to be happy and in love when I knew there was a deadline on our relationship. However, he never seemed anything less than worth it and I learned to fight for the happiness I had available to me.
Due to an awful job market, I was forced to move back in with my Los Angeles-based parents just as he started his semester. It wasn’t planned, but we’re still together and delighted with each other.
I wish you all a happy Valentine’s Day - no matter your relationship status.