They say hindsight is 20/20—but when you’re in your 20s and looking for love, it can be difficult to see beyond the immediate search for a partner. You might find yourself tripping up on the same mistakes without even realizing you’re doing so. The Date Mix asked several relationship therapists to weigh in on the dating wisdom they wish they had known in their 20s.
Self-awareness is key. “By age 30, every man should be well practiced in open, honest self-evaluation, and introspection,” said Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills child, family, and relationship psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent. Really, her advice applies to both genders: People must be comfortable examining their feelings so as not to repeat mistakes of the past. “Self-awareness is comforting,” she said, “and leads to a calm state of mind.”
False expectations will get you nowhere. Matchmaker and dating coach Amanda Rose has seen her clients approach dating expecting impossible archetypes instead of real people. “You have to realize that people are not perfect,” she said. “Do not expect a perfect tall dark and handsome man to come sweep you off your feet. True love does not usually work like that. A beautiful love is built on a friendship, forgiveness, common values and life goals.”
There’s your type, and then there’s your tribe. Wendy Newman, author of 121 First Dates: How to Succeed at Online Dating, Fall in Love, and Live Happily Ever, wishes that she had known that “I could date successfully outside of my type, but not outside of my tribe”—the latter she clarifies as “men I have resonance with and similar points of view.”
You don’t have to put up with someone else’s toxic behavior. “I stayed way too long in a relationship and marriage that was toxic,” Rose shared. “It literally broke my spirit, and I had to go through a long healing process to get to the beautiful place I am in today.” She encourages men and women to remind themselves of their own strengths, even and especially when they’re being asked to compromise for someone else.
You have to be able to cope with disappointments. By age 30, people should know that “we can’t protect ourselves or prevent life’s disappointments,” Dr. Walfish said “The best we can do is equip ourselves with coping skills to deal with inevitable letdowns without raging into a furious tantrum or collapsing into depression.”
You can still love someone even if it doesn’t work out. “I wish I knew I still could have love for those I loved in the past,” Newman said. “I don’t have to kill the love just because the romantic part of our relationship didn’t stand the test of time. I can love, find affinity for and still care about and support all of the people who I have loved in my life.” Often those people who don’t make ideal romantic partners still become family and remain in each others’ lives down the road.
You’re still learning how to flex your relationship muscles. “We don’t realize that in our 20s we’re establishing our dating and relationship patterns,” said dating and relationships expert Ravid Yosef. “We decide that we’re not ready to settle down, or that we don’t want a serious relationship, and begin dating casually or not at all, which in turn builds horrible dating habits for us that will be very hard to break in our 30s. Suddenly, we don’t know how to be in a relationship. We don’t know how to be vulnerable or let down our guard because we’re so used to behaving in a particular way. I wish I flexed my relationship muscle in my 20s so that when I did decide I was ready, it wouldn’t have been so hard to let someone in.”