I’ve cheated on every boyfriend so I may not be the best one to ask for dating advice. I’ve made every mistake in the book — enough to know that there is no book. There’s no transgression that always demands a breakup, just as there’s no reason why you can’t dump someone for being too good, too easy.
Relationships are complicated. For better or worse, today I am friends with all my exes — every last one of them. I’m proud of that. Here are ten takeaways from my years of breaking hearts.
1. If someone doesn’t make you happy, leave.
Many people stay in relationships in which they are not happy. They hope to somehow return to the days when they were happy even though those days are long gone. They stay to keep the other person from getting hurt or to keep themselves from getting hurt. They stay because they’re accustomed to the way the relationship is, the routine of it, and can’t imagine living any other way.
If you’re one such person, it’s time to leave. All relationships have an expiration date. You may be together thirty years, but at some point, the relationship will expire. That’s OK. That doesn’t mean the relationship was wasted or futile. You had a good experience, and then you stopped having a good experience once you outgrew it. That’s life.
2: People don’t belong to people.
This is my favorite quote from Breakfast At Tiffany’s, which happens to be my favorite film. Relationships are things you share with people. You are their equal, and you are free to share it for as long as you like and free to leave it whenever you like. You never belong to someone, and no one ever belongs to you. You experience each other for as long as you want to until for whatever reason you don’t want to anymore. That’s it.
3: If you don’t want to date right now, don’t.
Some folks will make many mistakes before they realize this simple truth: They want to be single, at least for the time being. If you find yourself feeling obligated to date, you’re not. If you feel like dating is the only course of action available to you in order to experience sex and intimacy, you’re wrong. You’re allowed to play around, have fun, have lots of sex, and experience casual flings before you give anyone a title like “boyfriend” — and you should.
4: Try not to overthink it.
When you get too much in your head about your relationship, things tend to go sour. Humans have a remarkable ability to create problems where there are none, and we truly enjoy conflict. Conflict is, after all, what drives the narrative of any good story.
But sometimes you can create conflict that doesn’t need to be there by overthinking. When you get in your head, let them know. That may be your cue to spend some time to yourself or spend some time with friends. It may be their cure to give you some extra attention and reinforcement. Whatever it takes, get out of your head and let yourself simply enjoy it.
5. Listen before you talk. Talk before you yell.
This is the most difficult rule on this list to follow. There’s nothing more wounding than feeling like you’re not being listened to. Don’t make your person feel that way, even if you’re furious. Listen, and when it’s time for you to speak, take a deep breath, and talk as calmly as you can. No one listens when someone is shouting, nor should they.
6: If you want to be a slut, be a slut.
Wear it like a banner of pride. Do not let cultural shaming, religion, or any lie you’ve been taught keep you from enjoying your body. Your body is awesome and you can do a lot with it if you want to.
If you want to be a slut while you’re in a relationship, tell them. Be honest. Work out some kind of nonmanogamous agreement where you can be slutty and still go home to him at night. If this is not something he’s OK with, you may have to compromise or decide that you two want different things, at which point you might realize this relationship is not the kind that works for you.
Whatever you do, you need to be honest about your desires. They will bottle up, and you’ll resent your partner for your inability to indulge them, and that can easily turn a good relationship toxic.
7. Tell the truth.
There are only two hard rules you must follow without question. You must communicate effectively and you must be honest. That’s it. No secrets.
Learn how to talk openly about what you want and how you feel. Tell the truth even if it’s going to hurt. Tell the truth even if it might end the relationship. Doing so is the kinder, truer thing in the long run. Lying erodes trust, and trust is the foundation of love.
8. Sex and love are two different things.
Don’t try to equate them, compare them, or link them as byproducts of each other. Sex is a physical thing, an animal instinct. Love is something we will never be able to explain, but I define it as an emotional and mental state in which you cohabitate happily and effectively with someone else. That might sound clinical, so let me rephrase it: Love is when you consider someone your favorite person in the world.
You may have sex with people you love (I hope you do), but you may also have sex with people you don’t love (I hope you do that too). You may love people you don’t have sex with — many people do.
Having lots of sex and being in love are not mutually exclusive experiences. Wanting more of one doesn’t mean you’re less committed or less devoted to the other. You can want lots of both and are capable of giving lots of both. There’s this false idea that people truly in love find it easy to abstain from sex with others — a lie you’ve been told by religions that worship virgins and demonize whores.
You can have both and lots of both. Having sex with lots of people doesn’t make you love someone less.
9. Jealousy is human. Talk about it.
Don’t pretend it isn’t there. When you feel jealous — and you will — tell your person you’re feeling jealous. Make it a topic of conversation. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll have made it something that can be discussed and tackled between you two as a couple. Unspoken jealousy brews and festers and makes us lash out. Talked-about jealousy will usually bring people closer together.
10. Discuss the Four F’s.
The four F’s stand for Family, Friends, Fucking, and Finance. Every few months, sit down at a table and discuss these four parts of your lives with each other. How are you with your family? Do you need more time with your family? Is your relationship with them getting better or worse? Then friends — are you spending enough time with them? Fucking — do you need more sex? Less? Want to try something different? Want to have sex with someone else? Want to have lots of sex with lots of people? Are you in a sexual slump, and aren’t sure how to get out of it? Is there any sexual problem you’re currently struggling with? How’s your performance?
The least fun one is finance, but trust me, money is important to talk about. Many people break up over money problems. Financial issues can cause a lot of stress and brew some very unhealthy relationships. How are your finances? Are you spending too much? Do you need help? Do they? What are your financial goals individually, or as a couple? What are some changes you need to make? Discussing the Four F’s honestly and openly every three months or so will lead to better, stronger relationships.