What my first year of dating has taught me

Possessed Photography (@possessedphotography, Unsplash)

I am what you might consider a “late bloomer” when it comes to the world of dating and romances. I suppose it came with the territory. I grew up in a traditional Chinese family. Even looking at boys was forbidden. Dating was certainly out of the question. I didn’t really mind though; I had too much work and too many problems to think about boys anyways.

So I entered my twenties largely inexperienced and oblivious about love. Most of what I understood about relationships came from clichés sprinkled across the Internet, dating woes observed second hand from friends, and general understandings that seemed to have permeated the modern day narrative of love. I have cried with friends, listened to their relationship sorrows, and sympathized with their boy troubles. I was the friend who gave advice though I had no experience of my own.

I remember wondering why relationships must be so intricate. What dilemmas can be so complex that two generally good people are not able to meet at a consensus? What decisions can be so conflicting that someone who has always proven themselves to be reasonable and resilient is not able to just decide and then to accept?

The last year has been one of surprisingly many romantic developments for me. I still have never technically dated, as in no long term, serious relationships. Maybe that casts doubt on the legitimacy of some of what I have to say. Nevertheless, this is the year that I went on my first real date and kissed a boy for the first time, plus a number of other things in between. I would like to share some of the lessons I have learned along the way.

I consider myself an introspective, sensible, and maybe sensitive soul, though that last adjective is one that I don’t like to readily admit. I mention this because I think that may give some perspective on the lens through which one might read the rest of what I have to say.

The following is a list of some things my first year of dating has taught me.

I don’t really mean this in any serious way, though. Just that somewhere, somehow, I am attractive to someone in some way. I can’t exactly quantify the extent or type of “desirability” but I don’t think that really matter anyways. When you don’t date, you don’t think of yourself as someone that others may want to date. You realize that is not completely true when you start to do it.

Turns out there is not a whole lot to it. Smile. Laugh. Ask about family, childhood, past dreams, and future hopes. Look beyond the concrete details. I like getting to understand people and why they are who they are. You may too.

Let your body move and laugh along the way. We are often confronted with so many dramatized and romanticized ideas of sexuality. Until you’ve had an experience of the nature for yourself, that may seem like all you know. In truth, the reality doesn’t measure up in some ways but also exceeds it in others. In the end, I think it’s always good to just experience physical intimacy as naturally and as comfortably as you can. Let the rest take care of itself.

There is a saying that goes “In life, there are no losers and no winners.” It’s kind of the same in dating. Still, I spend a considerable amount of time concerned about never losing the upper hand. Don’t be the first to text, don’t seem too eager, don’t lose your cool. Be easy, breezy, and fun. I actually think in retrospect that this is a futile effort. Interest should be a two way street and sometimes vulnerability is genuine and sweet. It is okay to let your guard down.

Filippo Ruffini (@pipporuffini, Unsplash

Sharing yourself with a person and giving them the chance to tell you that you’re not right or not enough is uncomfortable. The two acts often even seem paradoxical. You want to share the joys, the grievances, and even the boring parts of your life with someone because those are the little aspects that make up who you are. You know that, inherently, there isn’t a whole lot about those things that is especially special. Yet, you are special and maybe this person will be the one to see it. But also, they might not be and that possibility hurts. If they ever confirm that fear, it stings. It’s a constant battle that we all fight but fear should not be a reason to stop fighting.

How do you tell someone who has yet no obligation to nurture your ego that you are afraid they might hurt you? How do you address and seek validation for your own feelings while taking care to not offend their feelings in the process? How do you do all of this while maintaining your own dignity and preserving the state of a relationship? How do you know if showing all your cards is even the right thing to do? I can’t say for certain if honesty is always the best policy but someone who retaliates against you for your sincerity is probably not worth stressing about anyways.

Treat people with kindness. Simple, right? It actually becomes much harder to do so when feelings and pride get in the way. Try your best to not let it. It’s okay to slip up sometimes but correct your wrongs when you can. In all other times, just take care to be considerate.

Ryan Franco (@ryanmfranco, Unsplash)

Often the hurt that others impose on you is just hurt you’ve held inside of you all along. It’s not them, it’s you. We all have insecurities though. Being mindful of this helps mitigate some of the pain and helps you remove that feeling from the person themselves. I think it might help in making some more rational choices because it might really just all be in your head.

It’s easy to go with the flow but the tide may also take you to a place of no good options and many bad consequences. What is fun in the beginning may not always remain fun and at some point you will have to choose or risk less than ideal endings. Maintain some idea of what outcomes you are comfortable with and be mindful of that as you make decisions.

I used to think there is no reason why two people who got to know each other cannot remain friends. Sometimes people fit into your life in specific boxes and you really don’t have to try to fit them into boxes that just don’t fit. Maybe it feels better to keep someone around but the pleasant thing to do might not always be the right one.

Justin Luebke (@jluebke, Unsplash)

You want to be careful about what you say and what you do. You think saying and doing the right thing might give you an optimal outcome. If you experience an undesired outcome, you might get angry at yourself for having made the wrong move. If only you had done that other thing instead. Sometimes I overthink and I overanalyze. It leaves me paralyzed, paranoid, and full of regret. However, none of us are fortune tellers and none of us can ensure the optimality of any decision before we make them. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to put emphasis on something that you cannot change or control. Trust your instincts and if you end up in a place you don’t like, trust your instincts and the results of them still.

They give you the butterflies. They have so many amazing qualities. They are attractive. They make you feel special. You feel so many emotions but not all of them are reliable indicators that you actually, truly like somebody. Try asking yourself how you feel when you spend time with them and how much you can be yourself around them. I know this too can seem vague but every time I’ve been honest with myself about this, I’ve been able to much better wrap my head around my feelings. It helps me decide if I should hold on or let go.

I get it. You feel hurt and you feel slighted. You have always tried to do the right thing and you try so hard to be a good person. How could they have done you so wrong? Your feelings are valid. But I think if you take a step back, you’ll see that their feelings are valid too. They are generally good people too. They have a right to act the way they do, even if that means they mess up and hurt you. You can be angry with them but learn to forgive them as well.

The relationships that hurt the most and that you remember the most are the ones in which you feel slighted. Maybe those were the relationships where you were the more emotionally invested one. It would be unfair to neglect the relationships where you had been inconsiderate, where you hurt someone, and where you walked away. Remember these because it reminds you to be humble and to be more careful next time. It also gives you a window through which to see the side of the person who has hurt you. Again, you are good and they are good also.

People have expectations for who they want to be with and sometimes you may not fit the mold. That hurts because maybe it is a fact that you were just not good enough in some aspect. That truly doesn’t mean anything though. You can take it as a gentle reminder to work on aspects of yourself that you want to work on. The other aspects that make you who you are? Leave them. Maybe they are not good enough for this one but more than enough for the next one. People all have different preferences. No one preference can be a holistic and objective evaluation of your worth.

Priscilla Du Preez (@priscilladupreez, Unsplash)

It is your friends who help you piece together your myriad of complex emotions, doubts, and insecurities. It is also your friends who will be there for you to pick up the pieces of whatever part of you that might end up broken. Don’t take them for granted and appreciate them in good times just as much as in bad times.

How does that saying go? “There’s plenty of fish in the sea.” People say it because it’s true. If you’re honest, you probably know it too. I get it though, sometimes fishing is the last thing you want to do. Still, think about the amount of joy that someone has brought into your life. Think about all the joy that someone else can bring into your life. Think of how many people are in the world to bring you that joy. In its own way, I think that can be an uplifting thought for bad times. Just keep swimming.

Cristian Palmer (@cristianpalmer, Unsplash)

twenty one years old. living in boston, massachusetts. senior at cornell. majoring in computer science. living life and writing about it.