Dating Advice From A Single 20-Something

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dating_checklist_slide1_annaIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
If you’ve only ever been in happy, healthy relationships — congratulations. You've won the jackpot. Unfortunately, that is not my story, and it may not be yours, either. If it were the case, then we wouldn’t spend so much time wondering if monogamy still exists, looking under our couch cushions for spare change and chivalry, or dubbing ourselves the hook up generation, would we?

Truth: I am completely addicted to dating disasters. Let’s see, where should I start? Oh, yes, there was the junkie who cheated on me with not one, but four of our coworkers. The emotionally unavailable bartender who suddenly moved to Mexico with his girlfriend. The Russian exchange student who took me on a date to the 99 cent store. And, how could I forget the divorced dad who talked to me about his experiences at Burning Man for seven hours straight?

I’ve always accepted the love I thought I deserved, and I usually found that love around 2 a.m. in a dingy bar. If you were to ask any of my exes about me (if they’d fess up to dating me at all) they would probably say: “Oh Ali, yeah, she’s the worst.” Some might use more colorful language, like “evil succubus” or “had sex with my younger brother” or “so insecure she sleeps with her makeup on,” but that is neither here nor there. Admittedly, I haven’t been the greatest girlfriend,or fling either.

After going through my last breakup, I finally paused to ask myself why I’m always falling for real winners. It was high time to acknowledge my role in this string of failed relationships. Instead of blaming the boys, it was time to analyze Alison.

1. Owning Up To Past (Destructive) Relationship Behaviors
After many years of research (read: dating), I learned that “demanding,” “always right,” and “severely codependent” weren’t qualities that people were looking for in a mate. My twenties were a shit show — an endless stream of flings and one night stands, bad boyfriends ,and even worse breakups. I was drawn to drama. I thought love wasn’t love unless it was complicated, loud, or forced. Perhaps, that wasn’t it at all, but then, I had no idea what was. At 30, who did I want to be for someone else?

For far too long, the only thing I was providing my partners with was baggage, and that certainly wasn’t going to make me a catch. In order to be a desirable partner, I actually had to possess qualities that could enhance the life of someone else. I had to take action.
dating_checklist_slide2_annaIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
2. Creating New Relationship Goals
First, I would be trusting. Given my past investigative tendencies, I might’ve been wise to seek a career with the FBI. In a relationship, when I became jealous, my social media stalking skills skyrocketed. However, I've learned that this ugly habit is detrimental to the health of relationships, as well as my sanity. A secure relationship cannot exist without trust, and nothing is less attractive than jealousy demonstrated in the form of stalking and snooping. Trust is the foundation of a healthy relationship.

Second, I would communicate openly. I never knew how to ask for what I needed without getting angry; instead of asking questions I just jumped to conclusions. In order for my relationships to be successful, I’d have to learn to communicate my needs and concerns openly and honestly. And, I’d have to learn how to listen.

Third, I would show affection.
Instead of waiting to be shown affection, I would try showing it. I would give more readily of myself without keeping score.

Fourth, I would be vulnerable. I believe we're all seeking to connect and be understood, especially by our partners. Talking about my interests and values with someone — without fear of judgement — is what I have to trust will ultimately create a deeper, more meaningful connection.

And lastly, I would be giving. Making other people happy makes me feel better, so I was determined to start doing it more. I’d spent a lot of time being demanding and selfish in my relationships, and that had gotten my nowhere but heartbroken. It was the little things: cook dinner, plan a date, say "I love you" regularly. And, as a side note, showing someone you care is not a sign of weakness.

3. Demonstrating These Qualities In All Of My Relationships, Romantic Or Otherwise
Since I was single, the only thing to do with this list was start putting it into practice in my daily life. At parties, I sought out conversation with strangers, which led me to make interesting new friends. I expressed my love for family and friends by telling them I cared for and appreciated them. I asked questions at work when I needed answers, and gave help to those who required it. I showed affection on dates without being self-conscious, and I became open and uninhibited with my emotions. Slowly, I started becoming less of a brat and more of an adult.

4. Creating A List Of Non-Negotiables To Help Me Find A Good Partner
I used to to think I had my dream guy all figured out. I once gave myself a headache using tips from that dating rules book, The Secret, to land my man. I came to the realization that there are a few things I want for sure: My ideal guy smells good and will watch horror movies with me all night. He’ll have my favorite snack (Swedish fish) stashed in his cupboard.

It took me a long time to realize I had to value things other than sexy stubble and bad boy tattoos in a partner, but once I did, I was ready to make an all-important checklist.
dating_checklist_slide3_annaIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
So here it is: my dating checklist. (It only took me about two decades to come up with it).

No Red Flags: I’d have to trust my gut, because it’s usually spot-on. If a guy tells me that there isn’t a title to describe his love for me, that isn’t code for he’s super into me; rather, it means we have no semblance relationship whatsoever.

He Needs To Be A Friend—A Best Friend: At the end of the day, I want to date my best friend, someone to share inside jokes that make us laugh until we cry, someone who’ll lie next to me in bed when I get a cold, not caring that my nose is dripping snot and sex is the last thing on my mind.

He’s Also Got To Be My Teammate: I want someone who will support me unconditionally when my boss is an asshole at work, just as I will for him. I want us to have each other’s backs — even when I’m complaining about how bitchy and irrational my best friend in the world is being.

Nice Is Good (Yes, Seriously!): No games, no drama, just unlimited kindness and respect in both directions.

Witty Conversations Spell Sexy: There’s this great John Water’s quote: “We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.” Nothing is more attractive than an intelligent, curious, open human being who challenges you to grow and learn, and that’s what I want in my future partner.

So, where am I now? Single with standards — with the knowledge that I have a lot of good stuff to offer a partner. I’m happy to report that the quality of all my relationships has improved because I learned to value how I treat both others and myself. While I used to shy away from closeness and intimacy, I am now a vulnerable, communicative person.I taught myself how to listen, how to be patient, how to take conversations below the surface.

For some people, this might come naturally. For me, it took time and deliberate effort to become the person I wanted to be. By examining my past behaviors, I was able to amend the destructive ones and gain a better understanding of how I should be treating others and how I should be treated in return. I’m improving myself and changing my own energy; already, I’m attracting a whole different caliber of people. We’ll see what happens.

Ali Segel is a former elementary school teacher and current freelance writer born and raised in Los Angeles. She enjoys all the foods and all the Netflix. You should probably check out her blog, Earth, Wind, & Unhired, or follow her on Twitter @OnlineAlison. She's still single, but is finally out of her parents' house.