Growing up as the only girl in a household full of boys, the only daughter of very young parents, we just didn't talk about things like love. Sure, I got the basic/old fashioned advice like how to avoid getting pregnant and how girls shouldn't call boys or shouldn't pay on dates, or shouldn't give boys the "wrong idea," but not the things I really wanted and needed to know... not the things I ended up having to learn the hard way over years of trial, error, bad marriages and even worse divorces. Yes, divorces. Plural.
Would I have made different choices and had better luck in love if I had known more about love? I'll never know. But what I do know is that as a counselor in a junior high, I often sit with girls whose hearts have been broken for the first time, and with others who wonder if they'll ever find "the one." And these girls are just as confused as I was all those years ago.
Here are some of the things I tell them; things I wish someone had told me years ago.
1. Love should be easy, but it will also be hard. In a good way.
When it's right you will know it, because it will be easy; it will feel like it flows somewhat effortlessly. You won't have to ask questions like, "Does he like me?" or "Will he call?" because you will just know in your heart that he feels the same way you do. There will be little or no drama about it. No angst. It will just feel right. And good. But, and this is a big BUT... it won't be "easy." Relationships with other people bring up fear -- in them and in us. And when people are afraid, they sometimes do dumb things, like pick fights and give someone the silent treatment. People will tell you that relationships require "work," but I think what they require is not really work so much as focus and nurturing and the willingness to stick with things even when they're hard. So it won't be all rainbows and unicorns. But the effort will be worth it -- when it's right.
On the other hand, if you find yourself crying more than you're laughing, or giving and giving without ever getting... it is probably not right. If that's the case, then you need to let each other go to find someone who is.
2. You must love yourself first, or else you will never believe that someone else can.
Maybe you've heard this: "before you can love others you must love yourself." A lot of people say this, but not too many people explain what it means. What it means to me is that until you can love yourself, you will never believe anyone when they tell you they love you. So you will always distrust them and you will become very needy trying to get them to convince you of something that they will never be able to convince you of.
Here's an analogy I like to use: if you walk into a house and you hate the color of the walls, no one is going to be able to convince you that it's a nice color. They can come in and rave about how beautiful the color is, how lovely it looks in the sunshine... but if you don't believe it because you can see it with your own eyes and you think it's hideous, then you will never see it the way they do. And you will just think they have bad taste, that there is something wrong with them for liking something that is clearly ugly. This is the same with feeling love for yourself. If you can't accept all parts of yourself, even the parts you are not happy with, like your zits or your temper, then you will never be able to believe it if someone tells you they love you. And they will get really tired really fast of having to constantly try to convince you.
I believe the first step in your quest to find someone to love, who will also love you back, is to love yourself -- all of you, your darkness and all your light. That doesn't mean you don't work on yourself to make yourself better. It just means you start with acceptance: accepting and loving yourself exactly the way you are even if you do want to work on some things. That way when someone says they like you, you don't automatically think it's because they have bad taste; you can understand how they can like you because you like you too.
3. There's a reason males are called the "opposite sex."
I'm not sure if it's true that men are so different from women that they could be from a different planet. But I do know there are huge differences in how males process things vs. how females do and if we expect men to act like women emotionally, we will be hugely disappointed and resentful a lot of the time. There are entire books written on this subject; too much to go into here. But the bottom line is that women still need to have girlfriends in their lives to vent to, ponder the same subjects over and over and over again, get fashion advice from, etc. Just like you don't expect your dog to act like a cat, you can't expect a man to act/think/relate like a woman. Don't ditch all your girlfriends just because you have a new guy in your life! They will add to your life in ways men never can. Which leads perfectly into this next topic...
4. Just as in life, strive for moderation and balance in your love life.
When you are first in love, it can feel like you are possessed. You can't eat, you can't sleep. All you want to do is be with your new beloved. That's normal, but not realistic for any length of time. Just like you can't eat candy or cake all day every day and still be healthy, you can't devote every waking moment to your significant other and be healthy. You both need your own time apart -- time with friends; time for school or work; time for separate interests or hobbies; time to be alone.
A balanced life is like a balanced diet: each different part gives you the different things you need to keep you healthy.
Also, it really is true what "they" say: distance makes the heart grow fonder. It's good to miss each other. It makes the time together that much sweeter!
5. In order to have healthy love in your life, you must have self-respect.
I believe in the law of attraction: like attracts like. It's a law of physics. And while I don't know a lot about physics, what I know for sure about the law of attraction and love is that self-respect attracts respect. So many girls think a boy won't like them if they have boundaries or limits. I was one of those girls. But the fact is, the opposite is true. When you stand for something, others will respect you for it. They will see that you love yourself and take care of yourself and it will inspire them to do the same toward you. There's a saying, (not sure where it comes from) that if "you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." Figure out what you stand for and live your life that way. The ones who respect that are the ones worthy of keeping around.
Check out Joyce's blog at www.joycelinder.net. or her book "Parental Guidance: a School Counselor's Guide to Understanding and Raising Today's Tweens and Teens."