10 Things I Learned From Taking Charge Of My Own Dating Life

I used to think romance was like a gentle river current: once you were in it, it just carried you effortlessly towards a happily ever after. Chalk it up to too many Disney movies, but once I realized that I had the power to steer my own dating life, everything changed. Taking charge of love is something I should have done way sooner. Here’s what I learned.

I don’t need to wait for him to make the first move.

Maybe I internalized too much of standard dating culture or maybe I just really liked the feeling of being pursued, but after one almost-relationship after another, I realized that sitting pretty and assuming a guy would take the lead was getting me nowhere. Men couldn’t read my mind—I know, shocker. I found that asking guys out not only made me more confident, it set up a more equal power dynamic from the get-go.

There’s no guy I “should” be dating.  

I used to date the same way someone would prepare for a dinner party: mostly for show, and presentation was everything. I was scared that dating someone too short, too goofy, or too “whatever” would make me have to defend my choice to my friends and family. But here’s the deal: I’m dating the guy, not my friends and family! All that matters is that the guy is enough for me and makes me happy. This attitude has helped me have amazing experiences with guys I would’ve otherwise automatically rejected because they didn’t fit a certain mold.

Being upfront about my needs doesn’t make me high-maintenance.

I had an irrational fear that communicating what I wanted would make me a whiny, entitled nag who complained about everything. That’s so not true! Keeping quiet only meant that guys didn’t notice what I needed, and I’d just get more and more resentful. I’ve found that good partners actually want me to speak up because they want to know what they can do to make me happy. If a partner ever invalidates my concerns, I’m outta there—no gaslighting for me, thanks!

Relationships aren’t like a bad essay; there’s no drastic editing needed. 

Sure, people can change slightly to make their relationship stronger. But I spent way too long trying to reinvent myself to be exactly what I thought my partners wanted and it almost destroyed my sense of self. I realized that a lot of this stemmed from a low opinion of myself, but nobody was doing me a favor by dating me! I know that I’m not perfect, but I’m pretty damn cool, and there’s no reason for me to revamp my personality to please someone.

I’m allowed to say no.

Part of taking the reins of my own dating life means I have executive veto power; just because someone asks me out, it doesn’t mean I’m obligated to say yes. This attitude has saved me from a ton of awkward, uncomfortable dates and I can’t believe I didn’t figure this out sooner!

I make time for other relationships.

I used to think that being with someone meant that you had to spend 100% of your free time with them. Not true, boo! I will make time for my partner, but I refuse to bail on my friends and family. They’ve been with me through the good and the ugly and my life is way less colorful without them in it. Realizing I have power in my dating life let me assert that other people are important to me too, and I don’t sacrifice those relationships just because I’m in a romantic one.

I live for me, not anybody else.

The way I dress, the things I love doing, the food I indulge in—none of that has to be curated to make myself attractive to someone else. And there’s so much power in that. I live to make myself happy, from indulging my passion for crazy-printed rompers to my not-so-secret love of country music. If all that appeals to someone, great! If not, I don’t lose any sleep over it.

I prioritize my alone time and passion projects.

Before, I felt like I’d have to rearrange my entire life to make my partner the center of it. Work plans? Canceled! A day to watch Netflix and be lazy? Rescheduled because he wanted to go see a movie. Frankly, it got exhausting because I felt like I never had time to myself—and as a closet introvert, I desperately needed alone time. It was also tough for me to spend time on things I loved, like writing or reading, because I’d feel guilty for not spending time with my partner. No more!  Nowadays, I set firm boundaries on how much time I’m willing to give to someone else. Doing this is not only important for my own mental health, but it makes me a better partner in the long run.

I’m not afraid to call it off.

In previous relationships, I always felt like I was passively along for the ride. These days, if something’s not right, I speak up. If it doesn’t change, I’m out like a third strike! I refuse to waste time with someone who’s selfish, sloppy, or who I’m just plain bored with. Being single and satisfied totally beats dragging my feet in a mediocre relationship.

I was good before the guy and I’ll be good after him.

It used to be super hard for me to not tie my entire identity to the person I was with. I loved being part of a twosome: it felt like we were on this incredible team, always having each other’s backs. Then would come the inevitable breakup, and I suddenly had no idea who I was anymore! It was pathetic. Now, whenever I’m in a new relationship, I remind myself: I was amazing and valuable before I met him, and I will continue to be so no matter what happens.

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