This article first appeared on SHE'SAID' and has been republished with permission.
Let me stop you right there…
People have always loved giving me advice. I’m not sure why – maybe because I have resting friendly face? – but for whatever reason, whether I’m catching up with an old friend or making small talk at a party, people feel compelled to share their best pearls of wisdom with me, as if I’m desperately in need of them.
I’m certain it’s well-intentioned, but after a while, I start to wonder – how come everyone thinks they need to tell me what to do all the time? It’s not as if these people have their lives particularly together, or are smarter or better than me. They may be luckier, not having been dealt some of the blows life has handed me, but that doesn’t mean they know more than I do about life, love, relationships, or my own personal heart.
In fact, as a person who writes about relationships for a living, I might be one of the people least in need of all this well-meaning advice, which usually amounts to clichés and can even veer into the territory of outright insults. What I need – what most of us need – is for people to hear me, and to trust me. I don’t need you to fix anything for me, or tell me what to do. Just love me. So if your wisdom is along the lines of any of the following, I’m begging you – keep it to yourself.
1. ‘You have to love yourself before someone else can love you’
Look, I understand the sentiment behind this. Part of being a good partner to someone is taking good care of yourself. But love isn’t something you should have to earn by loving yourself enough first. I love lots of people who don’t love themselves very much; love shouldn’t be conditional on someone’s self-esteem. So let’s retire this basically meaningless saying, shall we?
2. ‘You get the love you think you deserve’
If this were true, then George Michael would still be alive, he’d be straight, and we’d be living happily ever after on a remote Greek island with our brood of gorgeous children. Life, while often beautiful, is also random and cruel, and what people end up getting usually has very little to do with what they do or do not deserve. Knock it off with this nonsense.
3. ‘You’ll find someone when you stop looking’
This is probably true, and not just because I met my boyfriend after I’d given up on dating and showed up to meet him slightly hung over, wearing a dress I’d picked up for one dollar at a stoop sale and had been wearing since the night before. Things tend to show up when you’re not looking for them. But telling this to someone who is searching for love is just mean. You can’t stop looking for something you really want, just like that, hoping it’ll appear once you quit looking. It has to be a place you come to on your own.
4. ‘You’re too sensitive’
People will often accuse you of being too sensitive on the heels of doing something to hurt your feelings, which is a little bit like gaslighting. What they usually mean is that they’re uncomfortable with your feelings and wish you’d stop feeling them. But guess what? We all get to feel whatever we feel, for as long as we need to feel it. I’m not too sensitive; maybe other people are too insensitive.
5. ‘You’re amazing, you just need to believe it’
I do believe I’m amazing, thanks. It hasn’t made everything fall into place for me the way you seem to be implying it will. Also, if you think I’m so amazing, how come you feel the need to give me advice? Clearly you think there’s something missing in my life and I need help.
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6. ‘You’re scared to be alone’
My therapist gave me the best answer to this one. He says humans aren’t meant to be alone; that we’re designed to live in community and to have intimate partners. “Of course you’re scared to be alone,” he told me. “Being alone is miserable!” Hearing my therapist say that was extremely validating. I’ve been alone a lot in my life. I can handle it. But yeah, I hate it. And that’s okay. Anyway, did you ever notice that the people who tell you this are usually coupled up, whether happily or unhappily? Exactly who is scared to be alone, here?
7. ‘Being in a relationship won’t make you happy’
Yeah, I know. I was married for 10 years. I’m aware that being in a relationship can suck in lots of ways. And I know happiness is an elusive thing that can’t be magically handed to you by someone else. I don’t want to be in a relationship so I can be ‘happy’ all the time. I want a partner – and that’s an entirely different thing.
8. ‘You just need to _______’
Fill in the blank; I don’t need to hear it. Being supportive is great – I have wonderful friends and I feel very lucky to have so many people who care about me. But almost all of the time, the best thing a friend can do is listen to me, validate my feelings, and trust me to make the right decisions for myself. Unless I specifically ask for your advice, I don’t want it. But your love and respect, I’ll take anytime.