We get lots of trash relationship advice in our 20s and one day I am going to make a list of the absolute worst of it but right now let’s talk about the advice we receive from our mothers that, if we had listened, would have saved us so much drama.
The relationship between mothers and their adult daughters can be a complicated one. You go from being a 16-year-old child, who thinks your parents cannot possibly understand you or what you are going through, to a 20 something single girl who cannot believe how often your mother was right. I will be the first to admit, my mama was right about a lot… more than I would ever admit to her face. She was right about friends, foes, and men – even these new age ones because, girl …still men. Since she has been so right about the ways of the world I have started to listen (better late than never) and there are a few lessons about relationships that have proved to be true more often than not.
Let it Break. People change under pressure, especially when you introduce the weight of kids, aging families and new debt where there was none before – its life basically. I asked my mom “how you do get a glimpse of how a partner will handle the hard stuff?” After nearly a year of perfectly crafted dates and fun times, how can you see how the relationship will handle the possible bumpy road ahead when it has really been sunshine and rainbows up to that point? Her answer to me was “Let it break”. She does mean throw it out the window, she was saying “take the kids gloves off” and let life happen a bit. Be less of the “Stepford Wife” we tend to be when it’s all new and shiny. Let the arguments play out, have the more hard conversations, share some of the ugly stuff and let the uncomfortable happen– all while paying close attention. The point is not to cause harm to the relationship intentionally. Again, you are not causing fights to watch the other person squirm, you are just doing less of the dancing around touchy subjects that we do to “keep it chill” when we are still trying to be “the cool girlfriend“. You can be “cool” later in the relationship if you wish but right now you want to get a glimpse of who you are dealing with long-term and be watching for red flags. Does this person fight fair? Is he explosive or simmering? When you are discussing certain topics, is it an equal exchange of ideas or is he talking at you? Do you feel judged? When you are both angry, are you still a team or has it turned into something else? What kind of language does he use to talk about other women? And then, are the outcomes red flags for you? Doing this does not ensure perfection down the road of course, but it at least allows you to get a better sense of who a person is when things are not as easy.
It’s never too late to change your mind. This is one I carry in my back pocket all the time – for everything! It was one of those afternoons where mom was chatting on about things from her college years, I was half listening but perked up at this self-reflection, she said “as a young woman, she felt like she had to “go along to get along’ and she wanted me to know that I can always change my mind…even at the last-minute”. I stewed on this one and thought about all the times, I wanted to back out but felt committed to a date that did not feel right, a party that did not feel right and now as an adult a job/task that did not feel right. I am not sure if this is a girl thing but the ideas of “not making a fuss”, not waiting to spoil the fun and “going along to get along” sure feel like things women struggle with more than men. For the rest of 2017, let’s do less of that. The word “NO” is a complete sentence even if you previously said yes. This should be on a post-it someplace.
You have to teach men how to treat you. I encounter this less now because the older you get the more natural it becomes to just stand in who you are and let them either rise to it or not. But as a young woman dealing with young men, this was pivotal. I was a teen going on group dates at the mall when my mom pulled me aside one day to tell me “When you are going out with a guy, make sure you demand the respect of meeting his parents properly – don’t let him sneak around with you”. This small lesson yields to so much of what we want girls to know today. You set the tone of the relationship with what you accept from another person. To an adult woman, this means speaking up when you’re offended, not responding to “u up?” texts at 2 am when you want a relationship, and being ready to walk when the red flags go up because… loving another adult human into submission it not a thing (see: #HurtBae).
These are just a few of the many things I learned and held on to as I grew up. They have proved to be true beyond romantic relationships but hearing them in this context allowed me to begin having more healthy relationships. Feel free to share some of the pearls of wisdom you gained from your mother in the comments below.