At 20 years young, I was indulging in a Parisian spring for “study” abroad. (The universities were on strike, très French.) By fall, I was back at college, anxiously counting down the days until I would be 21, like all of my friends. Back then, my “love” life was a consistent rotation of classic DFMOs, nights spent with my college dry hump buddy of years, and the fall-asleep-spooning-a-chicken-finger move I grew so fond of. (Sub a baguette for the chicken finger while in Paris.) Yes, there are dating tips you should know by 20, and I can give you them, but they certainly don’t come from my college years.
After college, I moved to New York, where I felt like a freshman again. There were older, slightly more mature and successful men everywhere. In this pre-dating app era, I would actually date people I met at bars and clubs. (Yes, I went to clubs then.) Dating was a blast. Sometimes, we would quite literally run into Leo. *Swoons*
Next, I fell in lust and then love (ish) with not one, but two different actors, before realizing dating an actor was my nightmare. I found my way back to non-performers when Tinder was born, dated people for stints that ranged from two months to a year and change, and got hung up on someone I still think about today.
I’m 29 now, and I’m just embarking on a new 51-date experiment to get back out there, but I wouldn’t change all these experiences for the world. (OK, well, I guess I would have made that last heartbreak my boyfriend.) While I am full of sass and feminist thinking, I always defaulted to what the man I was dating was looking for. Up until recently, I had never stopped and thought, what am I looking for? What do I want? I haven’t relationship-ed a lot, but I’ve dated a lot, and I’m starting to get the hang of it. And guess what? Every bit of advice I received from older, wiser women turned out to be true. It only took me nine literal years to start heeding it. Here are 10 pieces of dating advice that you should hear by the time you’re 20.
1. Be With Someone Who Values Communication
“Choose a [partner] who values communication and likes sharing [their] feelings,” says dating expert Evan Marc Katz. If you want a partner who will text you back and not leave you hanging, don’t settle for someone who is only playing games.
2. Don’t Pretend To Be “Chill”
“If you really want to start a relationship off right, show that you’re interested. Don’t play games. Once games begin, they never end and someone always loses in a game,” says dating expert John Keegan. I personally spent far too many years trying to be the “cool girl” — it never works.
3. Ask For What You Want In Dating
You can’t complain about a f*ckboy if you said you were cool with a casual hookup, you know? Stating what you want upfront means risking that the person you are dating doesn’t want the same thing, and that can hurt. But wouldn’t you rather cry a little bit now than cry a whole lot down the line, after you’ve wasted even more time on someone who isn’t right?
4. Don’t Prioritize Someone Who Doesn’t Make You A Priority
“Waiting is weighting. Waiting on someone to respond or initiate communication weighs on you, so don’t wait on them,” says dating expert Chris Armstrong. If they stop initiating? Move right along. You’re worth more than that.
5. Don’t Change Yourself For Someone Else
“[Stay] true to yourself,” says sex educator Eileen Kelly. “Don’t bend for others. I think that’s something you learn as you grow older.” I’m not religious, but amen. At the end of the day, if you end up seriously dating someone, the gig will eventually be up, and your true colors will show, so why not be yourself from the beginning?
6. Dating The Right Person Should Feel Easy
“You should be able to live your normal life without any problems when you’re dating,” says drag comedienne and writer Miz Cracker. A healthy relationship should feel easy and won’t leave you in consternation night after night over missed texts.
7. Don’t Stress Your Relationship Status
Being in a serious relationship is not a necessary component to having a happy life. And on that note, if an ex starts dating someone new, “remind yourself that it’s not a competition,” says Dr. Susan Edelman, a board-certified psychiatrist specializing in women’s issues. “Relationships don’t work out because of timing, compatibility, and other factors that are also important.”
8. Sex Is Power, So Be Transparent
Sex involves a lot of power dynamics. It’s important to make sure you and your partner are on the same page, no matter how casual the relationship is. “Empower both you and your partner and be transparent in your motivation(s),” says sex therapist Stefani Threadgill.
9. Heartbreak Sucks, But It Will Help You Grow
Here’s the thing about dating: Don’t take it too seriously. Worst case, you will end up with a broken heart, but looking back, my most productive and creative periods in life have come after times of deep heartbreak. “It is not how long you wait before you move on and look for love again — it is how effectively you used that time to get brave enough to examine yourself psychologically,” says Dr. LeslieBeth Wish of lovevictory.com.
10. Treat Dating Like An Experiment
Treating dates like a way of gathering information about yourself and what you want and don’t want “allows you to de-emphasize the other person and empower yourself,” says behavioral scientist Clarissa Silva. Dating takes effort, but it shouldn’t be overly stressful.
At 29, I’m finally pushing myself to date as an experiment (a literal one that you can hear about on this podcast). I’ve been going on lots of dates, and I have not been spending too long with anyone I’m not sure about. (I used to hang onto people I dated for dear life.) The goal is to find the right match, but in the meantime, I’ve learned to stop measuring my own worth on who “picks me.” Remember, there are two people doing the “picking” in any courtship situation, and you have just as much say in whom you want as any lovely human you go on a date with. Be transparent, be kind, and have fun out there.
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