08/02/2012 03:47 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 'Don'ts' I Would Tell My Younger Self

Photo by Luke Williams

I don't have any regrets in my life. Actually, let me rephrase that with a bit more honesty: I don't have many regrets in my life. If I was to go back in time and make some different decisions, you can bet that I would. I am proud of the person I've become today, control issues, quirks and all. I think that my mistakes and experiences falling down in the different aspects of my life have shaped my values and built my inner strength. However, if I could have a heart-to-heart with my naive, impressionable self, this is what I'd tell her:

1. Don't give your heart to boys who don't respect it.

One of the growing pains many girls go through is learning that what feels good at the moment can have long lasting, destructive consequences in the future. Growing up, I did not have a strong sense of self, nor did I grasp what real empowerment felt like. I had no clue who I was and I definitely didn't love myself. So I tried to become whole and find my significance through men. I become addicted to unhealthy guys who didn't want to commit and didn't have much regard for my feelings. I lied to myself, telling myself that I was okay with these situations, and secretly tried to find acceptance and validation through dating these "pretty on the outside" dudes. After having my emotions, heart and self-esteem trampled on over and over, I developed major defense mechanisms.

To this day, I am trying to reverse my habit of pushing people away and rejecting people before they have a chance to reject me. I think if maybe I learned a little earlier on to give my heart to only those who were open to receiving it and giving theirs back, I wouldn't have as hard of a time allowing healthy relationships to flow in my adult years.

2. Don't think you can change a man.

I probably could have saved myself a lot of frustration, passive agression and circular arguments if I had asked myself this question before diving deep into a relationship: If I had to spend the rest of my life with this guy exactly as he is now, would I be content and happy with him just the way he is?

Without a doubt, my answer to that question in all my past relationships would have been a firm "NO." In fact, I invested in the future potential of each guy I dated and as long as I saw tiny markers of progress, I felt that I was going in the right direction. However, I didn't contemplate such a question, partly because I didn't want to know the answer. So I spent a good part of my time in relationships justifying and making excuses for the fundamental differences in lifestyle, timing, values and life vision. The lessson? Men do not change. Or, in author Tracy McMillan's words:

[Men] may improve a little, or even a lot, but if a guy is a Labrador retriever, the only thing marriage can do is make him a better Labrador retriever. He'll never turn into, say, a Doberman pinscher.

3. Don't ignore red flags

How many times have we felt that something really wasn't right, but we ignored it and believed what we wanted to? I've done this numerous times, both in friendships and relationships. I learned the hard way when I chose not to see the red flags of a girlfriend who ended up being a lying sociopath. I also learned the hard way by ignoring signs with boyfriends who had serious skeletons in the closet that eventually came out in hurtful and destructive ways. It's hard to know when it's your gut and when it's your own cynicism that is causing you to feel that something is wrong with the picture. I have dated men who I think really had the intention of being committed, loving partners. But when there is so much emotional baggage that has been festering for decades inside a person, eventually the toxicity beats good intentions. The lesson I've learned is to do a values check -- if there are signs of behaviour that are against your fundamental values in the beginning, you can be sure that those signs will only become more developed behavioural patterns in the future.

4. Don't EVER get involved with a taken man.

I'm proud that I have never crossed a boundary with a man who was already taken. But I do admit that I developed feelings for one. I lied to myself that the man was just a friend and that the time spent with me and nice things he did for me were really just platonic gestures. It wasn't until I realized that I had developed full-fledged feelings for the man that I saw myself for the hot mess I was. Thankfully, at that point my moral senses kicked in and I stopped all contact before any boundary could be crossed. I would have been a part of harming another woman due to my own selfishness and disregard, and that is something that is irreversible, not to mention pretty awful to have in your karma bank.

Crossing the boundary with a taken man is a lose-lose situation. You end up single (in a large majority of cases of infidelity, the man never leaves his wife), you feed into the taken man's method of escapism to solve his own issues and you hurt the other woman who never did you any harm. No ifs, ands or buts. No justifications that it's okay because the guy was in a bad relationship, anyway. It's not your job to ease his marital problems or deep-rooted issues of self-worth, nor is his road to enlightenment a path that should be shown by... you.

5. Don't let a guy be the center of your universe.

My whole life I have been dreaming, missing, wanting, pining or getting over a guy. I haven't been in many long-term relationships, but when I have, boy did I invest absolutely everything in to them. I realize that I loved the man more than I loved myself. And in that imbalance, I centered my universe around him. So when the relationship didn't work, my entire world and sense of self came crashing down. It's taken me a long time to learn that it is unhealthy to have one thing be your everything. Perhaps if I knew this last point, I wouldn't have to even mention all the other ones, as it all boils down to this: love yourself more.

When you truly love yourself, feel confident, empowered and content regardless of the man who is in or not in your world, when you feel at peace regardless of what city you reside in or an overlying hum of calm regardless of the highs and lows of life, you make decisions that create health and abundance in your life. Probably because your decisions aren't rooted in fear and insecurity. If I could tell my younger self, and even the woman today who often forgets, I would tell her,

"Love yourself more, and the rest will fall into place."

Amy is a relationship and lifestyle columnist.