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The 20 Worst Things You Can Tell Someone in Their 20s About Relationships

by Claire Litton Cohn Apr 26, 2016

1. “You have a soul mate.”

You really, really don’t. But that’s okay! In fact, it’s actually fantastic, because it means that the special amazing connection you feel with that one person? You can feel that with other people, and the depth and breadth of it will change and expand and grow as you get older and have more experiences. As Dan Savage says, there are no failed relationships. The only failure is to not date someone because they aren’t exactly perfect for you. As my good friend Ray says, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

2. “When the right thing comes along, you’ll just know.”

This can result in you staying in toxic relationships because you “just know” that you love this person. Or, it can result in your not dating someone you really like because you have some doubts about how perfect they are. Just like you don’t have a soulmate, you don’t magically *know* the right person for you…because there’s more than one person, and they’re right for different reasons. Trust your instincts, sure, but don’t let them make all your decisions for you.

3. “Traveling together is a dumb idea.”

Going on a trip when you’re young and really excited about each other is a GREAT idea. What better way to find out if you drive each other crazy? You’ll be in enforced close quarters, trying to negotiate what to do for the day when one of you wants to sit in a cafe drinking sangria and the other one wants to hit up seven museums. If you end up taking separate flights home…at least you learned something pretty valuable!

4.“If they love you, they’ll love your friends.”

People are people, and not all of them get along. If your partner isn’t even willing to meet your friends, or just hates them all without exception, that’s a red flag. But otherwise, they will probably like some of your friends and dislike others…just like you like some people and don’t like others.

5. “Lower your expectations; don’t aim too high.”

It can help to decide what things are deal-breakers for you so you can identify them when you meet someone new. You don’t have to just date whoever comes along because, hey, at least they like you. You should never be GRATEFUL just because somebody likes you. You’re worth more than that. You are not a reward for someone showing the bare minimum of human decency.

6. “Someday you’ll meet the right person and realize you really want to be a parent.”

In the first place, this is a pretty heteronormative thing to say. In the second place, just because you’re in your twenties doesn’t mean your decision to not have kids is a mistake. You can decide you don’t want kids from an early age — just like some people decide they DO want kids — and that decision can last your whole life. And that is fine. A friend spent five years trying to get a doctor to give her a tubal ligation in her twenties, because everyone she went to told her she’d regret it later and refused to do it. I can’t even begin to list the number of things that are wrong with that.

7. “If your partner does something you don’t like, you should withhold sex to show how upset you are.”

Nope, nope, nope. Not to say that you owe your partner sex: you don’t. But withholding sex to punish them, just like the silent treatment, is manipulative and doesn’t let you actually communicate and fix things. If your partner did something you didn’t like, it’s a way better idea to just tell them and talk about it.

8. “Never let him see you without makeup on.”

The movies and TV are not really helping with this one, given that actresses often “wake up” with full smokey-eye and false eyelashes. Do you KNOW how bad it is for your skin to fall asleep in full makeup? Yikes. And, frankly, partners don’t get much say in what you do with your body: telling someone to shave or not, or wear makeup or not, is strictly verboten. Your body, your rules.

9. “All you need is love.”

Love is really not enough. It is important, but you can love someone who is unequivocally bad for you, or throws all their socks on the floor when you hate that, or begs you to do sexual acts that you really don’t enjoy. If you’re being abused or mistreated, love is definitely not enough. No matter how much it sucks to leave someone that you love, it would suck more to stay in the wrong relationship.

10. “Girls shouldn’t ask boys on dates or call them on the phone.”

If you like someone, ask them out! If you really like them, call them up afterwards and ask them out again! You’ll save a lot of time by just being honest, open, and straightforward with your communication about your feelings.

11. “Be persistent. Just because they aren’t interested at first doesn’t mean they’ll never be interested.”

Helloooooo, rape culture! No means no. Continuing to push someone to date you or talk to you is a big fat NOPE. The best thing to do if someone says no is smile, say “thank you”, and let it go. You can be disappointed. That’s okay. But do not take out your disappointment on the person who said no, and definitely don’t keep trying in the hope that you can “wear them down”. Showing up outside their house at night holding a boom box over your head is not romantic: it’s creepy.

12. “You can love them out of this “drug problem” you think they have; they’ll want to clean up for you if you keep them fed, the apartment clean, and be willing in bed.”

A world of no. You can’t change anybody. Even if you think you’d be really good at it, even if they say you can: you can’t. Especially not an addict. I’m sorry.

13. “Never ask for anything. You don’t want to look needy.”

This one is asking you to deny your real and valid needs, and pretend to be something (and someone) you’re not. Humans are social creatures, and we do best when we ask others for help. There is nothing wrong with telling a person, who theoretically loves you, something they can do to improve your life. Chances are, they’ll jump at the chance…because they can’t read your mind, and they’d been wanting to do something nice for you all along.

14. “Women don’t want nice guys. Women want assholes. You can’t be too nice, or no one’s going to be interested.”

Thanks to this one, we have a whole world full of guys who think it’s okay to send rape threats to women on the internet. Nobody really WANTS an asshole, although they may have heard a lot of messages about “that’s what a real man looks like” or something. But actually, treating someone well and being kind and nice and affectionate are all signs of a positive and healthy relationship. Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t, especially if that person is an asshole.

15. “Don’t cut your hair short/be too sarcastic/be too outspoken, or people will think you’re a lesbian.”

Point number one, nobody gets to tell you how to look or act. Point number two, what exactly is a lesbian supposed to look like, anyway? And point number three, what exactly is wrong with being a lesbian, or other people thinking you are one? All of these ideas are based around the assumption that it is more important to appear attractive to potential mates than it is to be yourself.

16. “If you’re dating more than one person, it’s because you’re afraid of commitment. It’s fine to have a “slut phase” for now, but you’ll never find love until you settle down with someone.”

So long as you’re honest and above-board, and everybody knows you’re dating more than one person, date as many people as you like. You can even be in multiple committed relationships (some people call this polyamory), if that works for you. You can love more than one person at once, just as you can have more than one friend at the same time.

17. “Ask lots of questions; guys like to talk about themselves.”

So does everybody, and guys get a lot more opportunities to do that in regular everyday life. Studies show that men interrupt women about 3 times as often as the other way around…and women are seen as “dominating the conversation” when they speak more than 25% of the time. ( If someone can’t ask you a few questions, and listen politely to the answers, they’re not worth your time.

18. “Don’t show interest, you have to play it cool. Girls don’t want a guy who is too into them.”

This advice pinpoints a classic thing that men get told over and over: don’t show emotion. Pretend to be something you’re not and people will like you more…would you really want to be with someone that had no idea who you really were? No, thank you. Also it’s cruel, manipulative, and just plain incorrect. (God forbid you’re a guy who wants to date guys; nobody wants to give you advice for how to do that.)

19. “It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t like to go down on you.”

For those with ladyparts: it does matter. People with penises can usually orgasm even through just a few minutes of (boring) penetrative sex. People with clitorises? Not so much. Usually the only way you can orgasm is through direct clitoral stimulation, so if your partner won’t do that for you (and, worse, says it’s “gross”), that is NOT FAIR.

20. “Every girl is a rose and everyone she kisses or does anything with that isn’t her husband, gets some of her petals. If you date, you won’t be a full flower for your husband.”

Excuse me while I bang my head into this desk repeatedly.

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