I have only been in love once.
While I have had my fair share of relationships, only one has left its mark on my heart. I was 19 when I met him, just a sophomore in college, who had done a few too many shots with her sorority sisters before ending up at a party at the hockey house.
He was a 22-year-old, 6-foot, smooth talking, blue-eyed hockey player. I fell hard for him.
I ended up leaving with him that night, and woke up the next morning unable to even remember his name. While random hookups rarely turn into relationships, we officially became a couple a few weeks later, and fell in love a couple of months after that.
It was blissful at first.
Two years into our relationship, I found out I was pregnant. We did what we were “supposed to do,” and bought the family starter pack (a house and an SUV). We began discussing marriage plans. Both of us subconsciously dragged our feet on getting married, and would quickly change the subject whenever wedding plans were brought up.
In hindsight, I am so grateful that we did, as it saved us from having to go through a divorce. We ended up splitting after five years together.
Moving out and starting a new life, while still having to interact due to co-parenting, was difficult. It took almost a full year for me to emotionally heal, and to sort everything out in my head.
The last time I was single, I was 19 — just a child. So much has changed since then.
I have changed. The way people date has changed. My life has changed.
I now have a career, a child and responsibilities. My life back then revolved around alcohol-fueled nights and having as much fun as I could. Now, my life revolves around a sweet, 3-year-old boy who depends on me for everything. Needless to say, the way I date now is the complete opposite of how I dated back then.
Dating as a single mom is so much more complicated than it was pre-child. I don’t have the free time to go out whenever I want. I am wary of those I choose to date because there is a lot more on the line now.
I never want to go through the pain and heartbreak of another failed relationship, nor do I want my son to have to experience any of that.
For this reason, I have spent countless hours in self-reflection, trying to pinpoint exactly where things went wrong in my past relationship, so that I won’t make those mistakes again.
This is what I came up with:
1. I never set standards in the beginning.
Men love to chase women; it’s in their DNA. A woman who they actually have to work for is much more exciting than a woman who gives into them easily.
This doesn’t just apply to sex. I am an easygoing person by nature, and find it difficult to be assertive.
However, I’ve learned that setting the bar high at the beginning of a relationship will make clear your expectations of how you should be treated.
My first date with my ex was at Subway.
Granted, we were in college at the time, but there was never any effort to try and impress me. That set the bar for our entire relationship.
I got flowers only a handful of times in the five years we were dating. Even once we had careers and had the money to go out on dates, it was never a priority. If you settle for “Netflix and chill” on your first “date,” don’t expect to ever get asked out to dinner.
I have now set a rule for myself: I will not go out with a man for the first time unless he asks me out to dinner (or something along those lines).
The reasoning behind that is this: Asking a woman out to dinner takes more guts than asking her out to drinks. If you go out to drinks, you typically spend less money, you can get a good buzz going if things become awkward and it is easier to dip out if it goes bad.
When a guy asks to take me out to dinner, it shows me he thinks I’m worth taking a risk on. It shows me he thinks I deserve the extra effort.
I’m not expecting an extravagant, $100 dinner by any means. I just want to know he wants to impress me as much as I want to impress him. This sets the precedence of the relationship.
If there is minimal effort being put in at the beginning of a relationship, I can tell you now it is only going to get worse as the relationship progresses.
I want to be with a man who never stops trying to make me happy.
2. We didn’t pick and choose our battles.
If you’re going to be in a long-term relationship with someone, you’re going to fight. I don’t care how compatible or how much in love you are; it’s going to happen.
The biggest piece of advice I have for you with regard to fighting is to pick and choose your battles.
The dirty dishes left in the sink time and time again may drive you nuts, but trust me, it’s not worth nagging over. Learn to communicate your frustrations in a positive way. It may seem like your partner is leaving their towels on the floor of the bathroom just to piss you off, but that (usually) isn’t the case.
We’re only human, and we are bound to do things that irritate those around us. Learn to accept your partner’s flaws and let it go. If you truly love him, you won’t let something as trivial as a messy bathroom turn into a fight.
3. We let the romance fizzle and stopped trying.
As many couples do, once we became comfortable with each other, we became lazy.
I have nothing against lazy nights in consisting of sweatpants, takeout and movies. In fact, I love those nights. You certainly should feel comfortable enough with your partner to know you don’t always have to put on a full face of makeup and look your best 24/7.
However, there is a huge difference between “comfortable” and “lazy.” Never stop trying to be the best version of yourself for your partner.
Guys, don’t ever stop romancing your woman. Ladies, don’t ever stop trying for your man.
This might have been the biggest downfall in our relationship.
When we were first dating, I cooked extravagant dinners for him, dressed up for him and went out of my way to do little things for him. I folded his laundry and cleaned his apartment. It made me happy to make him happy.
I don’t remember what exactly brought it on, but I began to feel my efforts were very one-sided. I felt taken advantage of.
So rather than having a conversation with him about this, I just stopped trying. If he wasn’t going to make an effort to love me, I wouldn’t make an effort for him.
At the end of our relationship, he was lucky to see me out of yoga pants once a week. We were barely having sex, and when we did, it felt forced. I stopped cooking for him because I felt he was too picky and critical of my cooking.
We were both miserable.
We became selfish, which is the ultimate downfall of relationships. I have vowed to myself that I will never allow myself to become hard-hearted again. The next man I date will get the best of me, even when it isn’t easy.
4. We began putting other people and things before our relationship.
Once we came to the stage of indifference, we began doing our own things.
He’d come home from work and sit in front of the TV all evening, watching SportsCenter. I would sit on my phone checking Twitter. We wouldn’t interact.
Our communication suffered because we wouldn’t unplug. When we were stressed after work, we didn’t turn to each other. We turned to our phones or TV shows or books to escape, rather than talking through our problems.
Many of our problems could have been avoided if we simply had an honest conversation about them, rather than shutting down to avoid feeling anything.
Weekends were a struggle, too.
We used to go out together and spend time with mutual friends. But because we would usually end up fighting, he didn’t want to spend time with me.
Most weekends consisted of him golfing with his friends during the day, while I was at home with our newborn son. When he’d return in the evenings, I would promptly tell him I had made plans for a girls' night because I wanted my turn to escape parenthood and responsibilities for a few hours, like he had been able to.
This became our weekend routine. It was so incredibly messed up.
Looking back, I realize if we had poured as much time into our relationship as we had into our separate friendships, we probably wouldn’t have had so many issues.
We wanted to do our own things that made us happy, rather than finding mutual interests. Again, it all boils down to being selfish. You simply cannot have a healthy relationship unless both parties are giving 100 percent of themselves.
I learned the value of open, honest communication, and how crucial it is to make the one you love a top priority. Life is going to get busy, and you’re always going to have other things in your life that demand your attention. But take the time and effort to make your partner feel like they’re your priority.
They say hindsight is 20/20. Looking back on everything, it’s no wonder we failed so miserably.
My 19-year-old self was nowhere near mature enough to nurture a healthy relationship. I don’t regret how things turned out because I know now that we weren’t right for each other.
I’m thankful I was able to learn these lessons at an early age and with the wrong person for me, rather than learning them later and, consequently, losing out on the man of my dreams.
Relationships aren’t always rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes they really, really suck. But learning to work past the rough patches and giving 100 percent of yourself — even when you don’t want to — is worth the effort.