1. There is no carrot.
I always thought of myself as being incredibly strong. I ride a motorcycle, I always stand up for the underdog and I never wince during a bikini wax. But when it comes to sharing what is in the wells and valleys of my heart, I am like a goddamn marshmallow. There is a reason for this dichotomy. I didn't grow up in an environment where I had a safe place to be emotionally vulnerable. I'd wager that the majority of us do not. So to be able to croak out phrases like, "I need help," or "I love you" to someone that matters takes battalions of inner strength. But it takes even more courage to say the words and not be tied to the outcome or the carrot. Uttering the words is the lesson and end, in and of itself.
2. Expect to be disappointed.
I'm pretty laid-back when it comes to most things in life -- the exception being my record collection, which is dorkily arranged by decade and genre. (Yes, Nick Hornby is my soul brother). My interests and experiences are also rather varied, so when it came to dating in my post-collegiate years, I was pretty compatible with whomever came across my path. Whatever his disposition or lifestyle -- night owl, outdoorsy, intellectual -- I simply adjusted. But as I got older, dates became more of a chore, and I left them feeling deflated rather than elated. I didn't understand what was happening. Was the thrill of discovering someone new gone? Had I become less interesting? Why did I find so many men disappointing? The answer (I came to in retrospect) was that the guys hadn't changed, I had. As I got deeper into my thirties, my values were no longer the ones I was raised with, and my life purpose and interests became far more defined. Consequently, there were far fewer men who were going to fit into my parameters. And that's OK. Because after a life of expansion, while it seems contradictory, zeroing in on your passions and the people who share them will actually expand your life and broaden your horizons.
3. One day he will treat you like the waitstaff.
I went on a few dates with a guy who, while adoring and attentive to me, was short with our waiter. He never said thank you or looked him in the eye. It was if my date was Cleopatra, and the waiter was simply there to wave him with a palm leaf. And it bothered me. Then about a week later, we got together after work. He was in a bad mood after a long day, so I offered to pick up dinner. His retort was short, brusque and entitled -- just as he'd been with the waiter. You can tell a lot about a guy by the way he interacts with his mother and the elderly. But pay particular attention to the way he interacts with people in the service industry, because when he's feeling off his game, that's how he'll treat you one day.
4. Bad sex happens to good people.
I used to think that having intense chemistry on a date meant it would then spill into the bedroom. I discovered this wasn't this case after a three-hour dinner wherein my date and I couldn't help but finish each other's sentences while staring longingly into each other's eyes. When we got home, buttons went flying, we fell into each other's naked embrace and proceeded to have sex that felt like a symphony playing without a conductor. While our emotions and communication were in sync, our bodies were most definitely not. I can't speak for every woman, but for me, sex is not like pizza -- meaning, it's not always delicious. If it's not akin to a glass of well-aged Rioja -- spicy, tantalizing, with a good, strong finish -- then it's just better not to have it at all.
5. Flaky is a good attribute... for a croissant.
I've noticed that a certain age men's habits become ingrained. Sometimes they're good habits, like remembering to put the toilet seat down, and sometimes they're bad habits, like saying he'll call and then doesn't. I always thought this was a reflection of how a certain long-standing crush felt about me. But then I came to see that his indecision was actually his way of showing me that he wasn't ready to make me or my needs a priority. This didn't make him a bad guy, it just made him flaky -- which, while a good attribute in a French pastry, is not so much in a boyfriend.
6. Drama is for thespians.
Drama is not actually an emotion. It's a dimension that teenagers live in from sunup to sundown and adults create in order to live out a more heightened existence. His volatility, jealousy or temper isn't a show of affection or love, it means he is not capable of having a healthy, grounded relationship. So unless you're actively in pursuit of the Burton-Taylor Award or your own reality show, then it's best to leave the drama to the people who went to school to study it.
7. You have the opportunity to surrender.
I had a fantastic boyfriend in my 20's. He was grounded but spontaneous, accomplished but didn't take himself too seriously, and, most importantly, didn't seem to mind that I don't have an indoor voice. One evening as we were falling asleep, he rolled over and spooned me, and we fit together like South America once did with Africa. I remember "I Found A Reason" was playing at a whisper, he smelled faintly of Dove soap and his stubble occasionally scratched the nape of my neck. In that moment, I felt myself fall in love with him and then just as quickly pull away and break it off. I did this because I had a vision for how I wanted my life to play out, and, at the time, he didn't fit into that framework. I gave up real love for the illusion of control. Since then, not one thing in my life that has worked out as I'd planned: love has been elusive, dreams have died, work is hard to come by and I still live in a studio apartment. And yet, I have found utter happiness. How you may ask, can you be happy living in 400 square feet? It wasn't easy, but after learning a few painful lessons, I came to understand and finally trust that life has a plan for my ultimate happiness that is far more interesting than anything even my vivid imagination could ever dream up.
8. You can never say the wrong thing.
A boyfriend took me to a party as his friend's house. It was the "meet my new girlfriend" date. I was my charming and cordial self, kept it light, made a few jokes and then I put my hand on his friend's stomach and asked her when she was due. She replied that she was not pregnant. Oops... Not an hour later, we were talking to his best friend and I mentioned how cute it was that he'd brought his daughter to the party. He replied it was his wife, and they were, in fact, the same age. I asked my boyfriend if we could leave shortly after that second doosie, and proceeded to apologize profusely for insulting his friends. He said that he found the whole thing hilarious, and the way I always call it how I see it is what made him like me in the first place. And then we made out. I still find it miraculous that the things we try to hide from people we want to like us -- nuggets of shame, secrets too cringe-worthy to tell, traits that makes us achingly self-conscious -- are, when we do reveal them, the very things that make people like us.
9. Everyone has baggage. But some people have luggage.
In my 20's, I didn't understand that the power struggles and fights I got into with my boyfriends were because of emotional baggage we'd both carried with us into adulthood. But after some therapy and spending an inordinate of time in the Barnes and Noble self-help section, I finally got to unpacking. Don't get me wrong; I still have baggage, but now at least I know how heavy it is and what it looks like coming down the airport carousel chute. So it's important to consider, given the weight of your own, whether it's in your best interest to date someone with an entire matching set of Louis Vuitton luggage.
10. You are the love you've always wanted.
When I turned 30, I felt as if I'd finally climbed my way to the peak of a huge hill, only to look up and see that I was actually at the base of a much larger mountain. I was just beginning my life as an adult and had a whole lot more to learn. This was especially true when it came to relationships, especially the one I realized I didn't have with myself. When I set some time aside and became my own best friend, an interesting thing happened: I stopped thinking about when I was going to meet "the one" because I was in the process of making myself deliriously happy. As I began to live a higher quality life with myself, I began to attract people (and men) of real quality. Some might call this the law of attraction, but I think it's far simpler than that... I finally learned to love myself the way I wish to be loved.