He didn’t look angry or hurt when I finally showed up, forty minutes late. He just laughed and ordered us a drink.
“What happened?” he said.
“I fell asleep.”
He laughed. “You really do look like you just woke up.”
We started talking about the book he was reading, which he’d brought with him. I went on to offer my explanation, how I’d tried to take a nap after work; I didn’t want to look tired on our first date.
There were a lot of things he could’ve done. He could’ve left. He could’ve guilt-tripped me. He could’ve pouted. Instead, he let it go and we had a great time. He could do that because I was telling the truth, not trying to make up some excuse. That night said a lot about both of us. Basically, neither one of us were into nonsense—not yet at least.
Nonsense kills relationships faster than anything.
We wound up dating for almost two years. What ended us wasn’t his cheating or insecurity. It wasn’t his judgmental, overbearing parents. It was how we dealt with those problems.
We didn’t fall out of love. We didn’t stop finding each other attractive. We had all of that. We just became cowards.
Nonsense comes in lots of different styles.
Fear is one of them.
Here’s what it looks like to cut the bull:
Stop acting like the person you think everyone wants. Show them the person you want to be in a relationship.
That’s the person you’re going to be for a very, very long time. You can’t keep up a charade for years on end.
Been there. It’s exhausting.
Focus on how you make each other feel.
That matters the most.
You’re going to be around each other a lot. You’re going to see them on the best and worst days of your life. You’ll be going to parties together, and weddings together, and funerals together.
They’d better make you feel good.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
Get rid of all the junk.
Some people drag all kinds of junk into their relationships.They import expectations and fears.
They make up all kinds of rules. I’ve known some couples who tried to decide how many dates they should go on per month, or which restaurants they’re allowed to eat at by themselves.
It’s all nonsense.
You need some rules in a relationship, but a lot of people make up too many to compensate for their incompatibility. Rules can’t show you how to love someone, or treat them like they matter.
If your relationship depends on twelve rules just to get through Monday, you’ve got a problem. Maybe there’s someone out there for you who doesn’t require an owner’s manual.
Call them out.
If someone does something that bothers you, tell them. Don’t sweep it under your heart. It’ll always come back.
Call yourself out.
Most of us know—at least on some level—when we’re diluting ourselves with bullshit. Cut it out. Learn how to be honest with yourself. It’s an ongoing process, something you get better at every day.
Don’t humor anyone.
Don’t laugh at their jokes if they’re not funny. Don’t treat them like a genius if they aren’t. Fragile egos can’t survive real relationships. If you start coddling someone, you’re going to get stuck doing it for the rest of your life, or until you finally decide to dump them.
Let them have secrets.
You don’t need to know everything about someone you love. You don’t need to know every single fetish they have, or every style of porn they like. You don’t need to know all their passwords.
Letting someone have secrets means you trust them.
Don’t put up with lies.
There’s a difference between secrets and lies. A lie is what someone says (or doesn’t say) to cover up something they know would end your relationship. You can’t get more selfish than that.
Someone who lies to you doesn’t love you.
Even those little white lies start to do damage after a while. If you constantly have to lie to someone to protect their emotions, then you’re not in a real relationship. You’re in a trap.
Don’t put up with cheating.
Cheating never just “happens.” They let it. They put themselves in situations where they know they’ll lose control. When they justify their cheating, they’re also trying to convince themselves it was okay. Part of them always knows better. They just don’t listen to that part.
Don’t fight over nothing.
We tell ourselves lies like, “Every couple fights.”
Actually, they don’t.
Couples have debates. They have discussions. They express frustration and anger. They don’t have that many fights.
The worst fights are the ones you don’t even care about. Your bad mood just hits theirs like an opposing storm front. You feel vindictive, so you turn everything that bothers you into a weapon. You want to hurt them, just so you can see them in pain. Or maybe you want them to see yours, and getting angry is the only way you know how.
Fighting is an excuse to not work out your problems with each other.
Don’t over-complicate sex.
If you want to sleep with someone, do it.
Some people are naturally great at sex. Others aren’t. There’s good news. You can read about it. You can practice.
You can talk to an expert.
Give them space.
Nobody really wants to spend every single minute with someone, no matter how much they love them.
Some people need a little time to themselves.
Others need a lot.
Keep your promises.
Little promises matter just as much as big ones. It’s one thing to promise you’ll wash the dishes then forget. It’s another to do that every night for a week. That said, nobody can keep 100 percent of their promises. When you have to break a promise, apologies are worth more than excuses.
Get used to screwing up.
Life goes so much better when you just take the blame you deserve. Hiding from a mistake makes things worse.
Know when to quit a relationship.
Our entire lives, we’re told never to give up.
That’s also nonsense.
Sometimes the worst thing you can do is keep a relationship on life support because you’re afraid of what comes next.
Don’t waste your time on regret.
Life’s full of lessons we wish we’d learned sooner. Hey, we didn’t. We learned them the slow way. Maybe they were lessons we couldn’t pick up from hearing someone else’s story, or reading some book.
We all have our own versions of lessons and truths that we should’ve known up front, ones that look obvious to everyone else. They weren’t obvious to us until we lived through them.
The most effective lesson is usually the simplest:
“Don’t do that again.”
Keep it simple.
Half of a healthy relationship is just getting rid of your personal hangups, and all the rules and expectations we force on each other, ideas we picked up that have no real value or purpose.
It’d be easy to end on some cliche like, “You can’t teach anyone how to love you.” But that’s wrong. That’s exactly what dating is—teaching. You’re showing someone how to love you, and they’re showing you. Be a good teacher. Be a good student.
If you love someone, keep it simple.