You will remember this time as the golden period, the time before you saw all the faults and flaws, before you had to choose whether or not you want to stay with them. I know how happy you are — new relationships are the happiest parts of life.
Even still, there are twelve things you need to remember as this new thing begins. As it grows, I encourage you to return to these rules. They’ve been written in various forms by many writers and thinkers. I wrote some of them in the aftermath of rough breakups and this list has been updated over the years to reflect my evolving experience.
1. If you’re not happy, you’re probably at the end.
Yes, you could work through it, and that’s what many people try to do. They hope to return to the golden period. They stay to avoid getting hurt or for the kids or because they’re accustomed to the relationship and can’t imagine life any other way.
I don’t think any relationship is worth bearing prolonged periods of unhappiness. All relationships are terminal in one way or another — you will either die or separate. It’s important to remember that humans outgrow each other, and when that happens, the pieces no longer fit. You need to be with someone who’s right for you now, not someone who was right for you many years ago, because you’re not the same as you were then.
2. Endings aren’t bad.
Sometimes they are the best part of the story. In love, we tend to associate endings with pain, and some heartbreak is expected. But endings give you the chance to grow. A breakup can be the best thing for you.
3. People don’t belong to people.
This is my favorite quote from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A relationship is simply agreeing to share time with someone. You probably won’t share forever with them, but you’re deciding to share the present (and maybe the foreseeable future) with them, with the understanding that you can stop any time. You don’t belong to anyone and no one belongs to you.
4: You don’t have to date.
This should be obvious, but some people make many mistakes before realizing they want to be single. Dating isn’t mandatory — you’re allowed to be solo.
Forget any religious or moral instruction you’ve been taught. You’re allowed to have lots of sex, enjoy your body, and not commit to one person. I’ll go a step further and say you should probably spend a significant portion of your life this way. Important, necessary growth happens when you’re single.
5. Overthinking may be a sign that you need to reconnect with yourself.
Humans enjoy conflict and are good at making things difficult. Try not to overthink things. When you do, it may be a sign that you need more time with yourself. I’m not saying you should break up every time you’re overthinking — that’d be absurd. But it can be an effective cue to spend more time with yourself.
I tend to worry over my relationships and I invent problems where there are none. When this happens, I play a mental game with yourself — I imagine leaving him. If I did, what then? What do I have? Where will I go? I’ll be devastated, but what will keep me going if I walked out right now?
Doing this helps me remind myself that I am enough for my own happiness. My heart will break, but it’s broken before and I’ve recovered and moved on. There is enough stuff about me I love that I don’t need anyone in order to be happy. When I start thinking this way, it’s a cue that I need a little space to focus on myself.
6. Everyone yearns for a good listener. Be one.
You’ll never understand how important it is to listen until you date someone who really listens to you. From that point on, you’ll consider this characteristic a make-or-break requirement. Be that person for the people you’re with.
Being a good listener means listening before speaking, even when you’re furious, and hear what your partner has to say. Wait. Digest their words. When you’re ready to speak, do so as calmly as you can.
7. If you want to be a slut, be a slut. That doesn’t mean you have to be single.
Don’t let shame, faith, or anything you’ve been told keep you from enjoying your body. If you want to be a slut while you’re in a relationship, tell your partner. You will need to work out some kind of non-monogamous setup where you can be a slut and still go home to them. If they’re not OK with this, work out a compromise or break up.
If you want to be a slut, being a slut should be your top priority. If you prioritize your monogamous relationship over your natural urge to be a slut, you’ll probably end up cheating, and then the relationship has a good chance of being ruined. Being honest with yourself and your partner about your slutty desires is the best step forward, and trying to work out some way for you to fulfill them is the only route that may keep your relationship alive — and doing so may make it so much better.
8. Tell the truth.
Trust is the foundation of a healthy relationship and trust depends on honesty. Learn how to talk openly about your thoughts and feelings. Tell the truth even if the truth will hurt. Tell the truth even if what you say might end the relationship. Not telling the truth is the surest way to let your relationship turn toxic.
9. Sex and love are different.
Don’t equate them, compare them, or link them as byproducts of each other. Sex is a carnal, physical thing, an animal instinct. Pick any definition of love you want — we’ve been trying to explain it for hundreds of years and are still no closer to a definitive picture — but you don’t have to look hard for evidence that love can be experienced without sex, and vice versa.
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 this, too. You may love people you don’t fuck — many people do. Love and sex can (and should) be experienced independently of each other, and you might enjoy these different experiences with very different people.
10. Jealousy is human.
When you feel jealous — and you probably will at some point — talk about it. Unspoken jealousy festers and makes people cruel and nasty. Talked-about jealousy becomes non-threatening out in the open. Jealousy is usually a sign of insecurity, so treat it as a sign that you need some reinforcement from your partner.
11. Discuss the Five F’s every few months.
The five F’s stand for Family, Friends, Fucking, Finance, and Feelings. Every few months, sit down and discuss these five parts of your relationship. Total honesty is required.
Family: how are you doing with your family? Do you need more time with your family? Less time? Friends: are you spending enough time with your friends? Are there friendships you want to develop more? Fucking: do you need more sex? Less? Want to try something different? Want to have sex with someone else? Want to have sex with lots of people? Finance: not an exciting conversation, but money must be discusssed. Many couples separate over money problems. Communicate where you are financially and where you want to be. Do you need help? Does your partner need help? What goals, if any, do you have as a couple? What upcoming plans require saving money? Feelings: must any grievances be aired? Have your feelings changed?
Discussing these Five F’s every few months will keep your relationship healthy. This may be the conversation where you decide to part ways. If that happens, it’s the best time to do so. You’re sitting down calmly — no shouting, no slammed doors. Everyone wants a breakup like that.
12. Choose your own happiness first.
As RuPaul says: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love anyone else?” Here’s my version: if you aren’t happy, you won’t — and can’t — make someone else happy. Choose your own happiness first, even and especially if doing so leads you out of the relationship you’re in. Your happiness comes first, not theirs.
This final rule doesn’t pretend to define what happiness is, nor does it help you choose your preferred happiness from a list of choices — only you can do that. But once the happier way is known, that’s the route to take. If someone truly loves you, they’ll want you to be happy, even if that means letting you go.