I want you to be in love. I hope you’re in love right now. In a relationship, you will love the honeymoon period — the time before you see their faults and flaws and have to decide if you will stay with them.
If you’re in the honeymoon phase now, I know how happy you are — new relationships are the best. Even so, there are some things you need to know as this relationship starts. As it grows, return to these. I call them “rules,” but they’re really lessons — truths.
These truths have been written down in various forms by many writers, thinkers, and advice-givers. I wrote some of them in the aftermath of my own breakups, and this list has been updated over the years to reflect my evolving experience.
1. If you’re consistently not happy, you’re at the end.
Yes, you could work through it. That’s what many people try to do, and sometimes they are successful. They stay to avoid getting hurt, or for the kids, or because they’re accustomed to the life they have with their person and can’t imagine living any other way.
Even so, I do not believe any relationship is worth bearing prolonged periods of unhappiness. All relationships are terminal, one way or another. You will either die or separate. It’s important to remember that humans naturally outgrow each other. You need to be with someone who’s right for you now, not someone who was right for you many years ago. You might be unhappy for no specific reason: it may have nothing to do with your partner. You might not even be able to pinpoint what exactly is making you unhappy. Rather than look for the source, simply bear in mind that prolonged unhappiness is a sign that your relationship probably isn’t working for you.
2. Endings are not bad.
Sometimes the ending is the best part of the story. In love, we usually associate endings with pain, and some heartbreak is expected. But endings give you the chance to grow again. A breakup can be the best thing for your life. And there’s no rule saying that a breakup means you will stop loving — or having great experiences with — your special person. A breakup is simply an agreement to end a relationship, nothing more or less.
3. People don’t belong to people.
This is my favorite quote from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A relationship is simply an agreement to share time with someone. You probably won’t share forever with them, but you’re deciding to share the present moment with them, with the understanding that you can stop at any time. You don’t belong to anyone. 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 is never mandatory. You’re allowed to fly solo.
You’re allowed to have lots of sex, enjoy your body, and not commit. I’ll go a step further and say that you should spend a significant portion of your life single. 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 harder, so try not to overthink things. When you do, it may be a sign that you need some time with yourself. I’m not saying you should break up every time you overthink things. But overthinking is a reliable signal to reconnect with yourself.
I tend to worry over my relationships and invent problems where there are none. When this happens, I play a mental game with myself: 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. There is enough stuff in me that I love — I don’t need anyone in order to be happy.
6. Everyone wants a good listener, so 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 quality a make-or-break requirement. Be that person for the person you’re with.
Being a good listener means listening before speaking, even when you’re furious, and hearing 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 else 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 stat with 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 end up cheating, and then the relationship has a good chance of being ruined. Be honest with yourself and your partner about your slutty desires and try to work out some way for you to fulfill them. This is the only route that may keep your relationship alive — and doing this may actually make your relationship much stronger.
8. Be honest about everything.
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 your relationship.
9. Sex and love are two different things.
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 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 normal. Talk about it.
When you feel jealous — and you probably will at some point — talk about it. Unspoken jealousy festers and makes people mean. Talked-about jealousy becomes non-threatening out in the open. Jealousy is a sign of insecurity, so treat it as a sign that you need some reinforcement from your partner, or that your partner needs some reinforcement from you.
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 discussed. 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.
Join my Patreon! Patrons get perks.