Last month I celebrated my 25th birthday – a milestone – as my body promptly reminded me the next morning when I was begging for chicken soup as my last meal on this earth (I’m a vegetarian). So as my ovaries start their slow but sure journey towards shrivel-dom, I thought I’d make a list – some comforting manifesto proving that my entropic quarter-century has, at least, yielded some wisdom. And what’s a more sophisticated criteria to draw from than the tumultuous love life of a 20-something and the sex that follows or, more likely, precedes.
What I came to, instead, is a realization that, while I may know better, I’ve learned very little. So here’s a list of things I know, in theory, and would avoid if I used self-reflection for good, not evil. Indulge me as I tell you what not to do and then, promptly, do it again. There is a word for that…
1. You Have Sex With People Not Paper…Unless You’re One of These People (in which case let’s discuss, I find your psychology fascinating).
On an instinctual level, you know if someone is right for you very early on. Right in a way where you want to talk to them until 3am…and then want to touch their body parts until 6. Justifying the shit out of what a great guy he is to your friends will not make part deux of the equation materialize. If you have a lot of fun kicking it together but prefer to remain clothed throughout – that’s totally awesome – you now have a new Groupon activity partner but, sadly, not a love prospect. In any relationship, keeping the sexy alive in the long run will be a challenge – starting a race on empty is just bad planning.
2. Red Flags are Not, In Fact, Decorations.
When someone shows you their true colors, believe them the first time. I love that saying. Unfortunately, when someone keeps on doing the same annoying shit over and over no matter how many times we’ve talked about it, I tend to think they’re just joking. Oh, they! Truth bomb: we are creatures of habit, patterns and agreeing to things we don’t plan on doing to avoid conflict. If someone does something once, they will probably do it again. Maybe they will change, eventually – when the timing is right, when their schedule isn’t crazy, when Republicans stop discussing my vagina, when they find a person who they think is worth changing for – you will know, and soon, if that person isn’t you. Stop wasting time slapping wrists and move on. It should feel organic and easy – more lazy river, less tumble-dry cycle of frustration.
3. Your Place Is Always Better Than Their Place.
Flawless argument: you get to put on comfy pajamas, wash your face, sleep in once they bounce and not pay for a cab. Not sexy? Neither is bad skin or wearing Spanx at 8am (in this scenario the shenanigans happened after a red carpet event where you wore a slinky dress, clearly). Maybe I don’t live in the moment, maybe I’m selfish, maybe I just know that these little traumas can add up to haunting guilt over all your parents have sacrificed to send you to college. Then again, it’s usually a good story.
4. You Will Probably Never Know Why Someone Did What They Did, So Stop Dissecting.
The inside of our brain (even those of us on the minimal side of the cray spectrum) is a fickle, dark labyrinth that we ourselves probably have trouble navigating, let alone you. People do weird shit for weird reasons and, most of the time, don’t pause to self-reflect – so you doing the analysis for them is a fool’s errand, ya feel? Maybe there was an accident that rendered them incapable of communicating but, more likely, they just don’t like you enough to explain which always sucks but, on the off chance they have a specific reason, you don’t want to be basing your self worth on it anyway. Which leads to ––
5. Don’t Base Your Self Worth On Someone Else’s Opinion or Non-Opinion Of You.
I know, what a platitude, but it’s so fundamentally true that maybe if we hear it enough, we’ll start believing it. As my meditation teacher used to say, “It’s extremely hard to find happiness inside yourself, but it’s impossible to find it anywhere else”. I then proceeded to date my meditation teacher – which definitely confused some boundaries (sub–lesson: don’t date the person you entrust with your spiritual journey) but, even though he was a shitty boyfriend, he had a point. If you base your self-image on external forces and reconstruct it with every new person that comes into your life, you will never be at peace. So stand tall, dig in your toes, close your eyes and remember that you very much deserve to be here, happy and loved…and not just sometimes. Do this often. Reading the Desiderata helps. The fact that they didn’t treat you in a way that reflects this is either because they didn’t see it or they didn’t want it – both of which stop being your problem the second you start loving yourself.
6. Friends With Benefits is Just a “Meh” Movie.
Actually two sub-par movies released unstrategically close to each other. In real life, you’re more likely to lose a friend than gain a boyfriend. Someone always starts liking someone more. It’s not a very taking-control-of-your-sexuality notion but what it is, unfortunately, is a time-tested fact. If you want to do it, by all means, it can be super fun. Just know that things will never be the same. Even if you’re watching bad movies together like you always used to after deciding that the whole boning thing was making things too complicated, in the back of your mind, you will always think: “Yep, we banged”. More importantly, however, if it’s begun to cross your and your pal’s minds it’s pretty much inevitable. So, hey, they will just have to be re-categorized as a good friend whose private parts you’ve seen and, if not, plenty of friend fish in the sea, right? Hope the sex was good.
7. Think of Someone You Treat The Same Way. Reevaluate.
You know how we’re all mistreated and misunderstood because it’s so fucking unfair that they did this to us when we treated them so well? Well, I’ll put my money on it, you have someone in your life that you either do, or would, treat the same way. You probably just don’t think about it because…you don’t care. Identify this person, think about why you treat them like this and what that says about the space they occupy in your life (as a side note maybe work on being a better person), then decide if you’re okay occupying this space for someone else. Chances are you aren’t.
8. Sex Is Neither Fish Bate Nor A Doggie Treat.
So don’t use it to lure ‘em in or as positive reinforcement for being good. Men are not fish or dogs – although, agreed, both metaphors can be earned in certain situations. I repeat, not in this one. I had sex on the first date with a guy I would later move in with (wine!). I’ve made it a point to wait, and things have fizzled out soon after the big hurrah. Lesson? If someone likes you it doesn’t matter at what point you let them into your little cave of wonders. And if this subject is treated as an end goal/focal point of a progressing relationship (and your dude isn’t a 16-year-old virgin) then, girlfriend, that is suspect. Sex is fun whenever (wherever) you feel ready for it. It doesn’t have to be a thing unless you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. You know when it stops being fun and starts being icky? When it’s part of a barter economy.
8b. Also, Don’t Keep Having Sex With Someone to Justify Having Sex With Them
That annoying little voice that is threatening to push you off the rational balcony into a shame spiral (and that wrote books like this) because you had sex with someone you really maybe shouldn’t have, is also the voice that is going to try to convince you to keep doing it so you feel less guilty about it. There is some creepy, subconscious dialogue that tells us that if it’s a thing, if it happens multiple times, if it’s some semblance of a “relationship”, it will justify you adding a number. Do you see how crazy that sounds when I say it out loud? Own up to it being a mistake, draw conclusions and try to sleep with someone you’ll want to sleep with again the next time.
9. Not Shaving Your Legs (Etc.) Is Not a Form of Birth Control.
If I had a razor for every time I thought not shaving would prevent me from making bad decisions, I would have a lot of friggin’ razors. Not like so many that I could sell them – I’m a lady! – but a very reasonable supply. Lesson: shave your legs and then don’t make bad decisions because you are pretending to be a responsible adult. And if you decide to YOLO-it after all – at least you won’t have to go on the defensive, explaining your hygiene choices or, worse, the offensive: “by the way, hair is natural and it’s not my fault you’re part of a porn-molded generation that thinks women should look like little boys – why do you like little boys?!” Then it just becomes an awkward female version of “I swear, this never happens” where I know that you know that I know that it does.
10. It’s Better To Be Alone Than Wishing You Were Alone.
Period. If you are inviting someone over in the middle of the night for the sole purpose of warming your bed, you probably shouldn’t. You probably don’t like them and, if they agree to rush over on call, they probably like you. So don’t be cruel, do yourself a favor and catch up on Breaking Bad. You will be grateful you did in the morning and you will be topical at the water cooler.
Maria Melnik is a writers’ assistant on cable show about pirates, which has had a profound effect on her understanding of the morality spectrum. When not pillaging, she enjoys long, immobile, hours on her couch with her televised and fictional love affairs, punctuated by some (more narratively-disjointed and wine-fueled) real ones. You can follow her shamefully recent Twitter debut at @_mariamelnik.
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