Maybe it has something to do with being an immigrant but my mother has always been practical, realistic, and just a tad harsh when it comes to dating advice.
If I had to sum up all her dating advice into one line, it would be this — “If he isn’t ‘the one’, move on and don’t waste your youth”.
Don’t get me wrong — she believes in love and romance (she’s not that far off the deep end) and she’s has a successful 35-year marriage to show for it.
But her advice to me has always been tinged with a healthy dose of practicality.
Your Youth Is Limited — Don’t Waste It.
My mother has this concept that it’s important to find someone while you’re still young and have great skin.
Be at the peak of your physical attractiveness and youthful appearance so it’s easier for someone to love you. This way, when the wrinkles settle in — and the ill-temper and bad habits along with it — your relationship has had time to stabilize and grow a stronger foundation.
The first few times she told me this, I brushed it aside and rolled my eyes.
Now I reflect back on it. It’s a funny concept — perhaps routed in traditional customs of marrying off daughters before they’re “too old”.
It’s a bit controversial and definitely left me feeling a bit pressured with each birthday that passed. But I recognize the overall good intentions behind her words and wonder if it’s why I was never really into the “casual dating” scene.
You’re Only Dating Right Now.
When I was 20 and struggling to work through relationship problems with my then-boyfriend, it felt like the world around me was crumbling.
Perhaps an exaggeration due to our age — it seems young to me now. But at the same time, we were in the same major, same minor, and quite literally had every university class together. We were also partners on three different class projects so this break-up would not be a clean split until the end of the semester.
We were young but still trying to make things work. We had some fundamental differences in opinion about money and career that we were sure we could overcome. But more importantly — or so it felt back then— we had lost the spark in our relationship.
During this period of turmoil, I remember my mother nonchalantly reminding me that I was only dating this guy — I wasn’t married to him.
While she never explicitly suggested I dump any of my boyfriends, she was always there to remind me that sometimes it’s alright to let relationships fail.
Rip the Band-aid Off.
I definitely understand their appeal. Not necessarily the cycle of dating, then breaking up, then dating again — that’s not particularly fun or enjoyable. But I understand how hard break-ups can be.
You’re left feeling raw and vulnerable, lonely and sad — even if you’re the one who initiated it. Getting back together with that person, no matter how dysfunctional the relationship may have been, feels better in the short term than licking your wounds as a newly single individual.
But I’ve never let myself do it.
I’ve always treated each break-up as the end of the road for that relationship. A one-way street that I can’t drive backward on. U-turns are explicitly forbidden.
This accomplishes two things for me.
First, it means that I think long and hard and seriously about a break-up. I have to be sure there’s something irreconcilable about the relationship before I pull the plug.
And secondly, it forces me to continue looking ahead into the unknown instead of behind me at the relationship I knew but shouldn’t be a part of anymore. It removes the “maybe if we gave it one more shot” train of thought so I can focus my time and energy on healing and moving on.
This sounds wise and sagely and all. But I’m pretty sure my dear mother inserted this one into my head too, just in a sneaky enough fashion to make me think it’s my own idea.
If He Isn’t “The One”, Move On.
And, saving the best for last, the piece of dating advice my mother repeated to me the most— “if he isn’t ‘the one’, move on and don’t waste your youth”.
Easier said than done. After all, how do you know if he’s “the one”?
Personally, it’s been easier for me to figure out if the guy isn’t “the one”.
I don’t believe in soulmates. I think there are multiple people you could happily be in a relationship with, and that chance, time, luck all play a pretty key role in determining who you might end up with.
I know this doesn’t sound romantic. But the flip side is that I’d like to believe at the start of every relationship, you at least think this person might be “the one”.
Inevitably, I reached a point in my past relationships where I realized that I didn’t see a long-term future for us. Sometimes I wavered in my decision, debating if it was something that we could work through, or maybe that the issue really isn’t that much of a deal-breaker.
But every time, it was my mother’s words that reminded me not to settle for someone I already knew wasn’t right for me.
When you read this, do you wish your own mother imparted similar dating advice to you when you were younger?
Would it have helped offer you a roadmap through the already confusing and uncertain world of dating? Do you wish you had a strong mother who saved you from looking back, wondering why you wasted so much time on a relationship you knew was already doomed?
Or do you feel like she took her generation’s handcuffs and placed them on me?
Do you feel like she imposed her traditional thoughts about women and marriage on me? Do you feel like she stole the experience of casual dating from me by adding to the already overwhelming social pressures on women?
What kind of dating advice would you impart to your daughter?