Recently I read a great interview with Dan Savage right here on The Huffington Post. He's the dating advice columnist and gay rights advocate who started the "It Gets Better" Project, a truly remarkable, brilliant and life-saving endeavor. The interview is fascinating and inspiring, and I recommend it, but I'll cut to the chase: toward the end of the interview, Savage gives, causally, the best piece of relationship advice for anyone -- gay, straight, young, old, married, single... you get the idea.
His interviewer, Joshua Kors, mentions his own frustration with dating. Will Kors ever meet the right woman and stop making the same mistakes?
Savage offers this piece of advice:
I think the best thing for you to do is just live your life. Live a life that's worth living, one where you do what you want to do, pursue your passions. That way, if you meet someone, they'll be joining a life that's already really good. And if you don't meet anyone, you can still look back at the end and say, "You know what: I lived a really great life."
Kors says, "Makes sense."
Keep going on dates. And don't get bitter, either about women or the dating process. ... Life doesn't owe you anything, and I think it's up to all of us to go out and create a fulfilling life for ourselves. Like, my husband Terry, he left the house an hour ago. We have a life together. But if he never comes back, I still need to have something here, a life of my own, one that's fulfilling in itself.
There it is, folks, in a nutshell, the best (and often hardest to listen to and actually live) dating and relationship advice ever.
And it's quite possibly the secret to life.
We must not allow ourselves to be completely defined by our relationships, by our point in space and time only relative to someone else's point in space and time. Oh, how I wish I could go back to my 24-year-old self, knock the Cosmopolitan out of her hand, shake her silly head vigorously, and yell, "There is more to life than boys! Really! Take some of that energy you're wasting on them and concentrate on you! Your dreams and goals, you silly nitwit! (And why are you wearing that?!)"
When I think of all the time I spent pursuing or worrying about being pursued, or flirting with guys and getting them to pursue me, all so that I could immediately lose interest, or have my heart broken, or agonize over relationships, or wish I was single when I wasn't, or wish I was part of a "whole" when I wasn't -- aughhh!
That's all I can say: aughhh.
And now, when I see my single friends, or my younger friends and sisters, and how much time and energy they devote to their boyfriends, girlfriends or lack thereof (and how many Facebook status updates have to do with their boyfriends, girlfriends or lack thereof), I want to tell them the same thing (minus the nitwit part... usually). Yes, of course relationships are important. Yes, of course you want to find love and happiness, and yes, of course you want your boyfriend to fulfill some part of you and your girlfriend to call you back -- but what else?
What else is important and meaningful in your life? What else fulfills you? How much do you love and respect yourself, as is, through only your eyes and no one else's?
I know how I would have answered that question 10 years ago -- or earlier, back to high school, even -- and it makes me sad. I wish I had met some brilliant therapist or advisor who could have helped me learn about enjoying my own company, enjoying just the twosome of the world and little old me. And the threesome of me, myself and I.
I wish I had appreciated so much more those relationships that didn't revolve around sex and attraction and "am I worthy now?" but rather around love -- my dear girlfriends. What a waste of time, I think now, that my best friend Amy and I spent so much time getting ready to "go out" together, when now I realize that she was the best part of that time in my life. And I thank God, the universe, the great turtle in the sky that I still have her, and my other life-saving, life-affirming friends.
I know, I know. Relationships are a part of life; I mean, it's a natural, biological imperative, right? We want to mate.
And find a mate I eventually did -- for life (I hope). I've grown up a lot, of course, as we tend to do. But when I became a mother and got married, I was still figuring out who I was. I never made time for myself to just be. And it's been a long, long road to finding some kind of comfortable place of being together with someone without completely merging into an identity of "us." I'm happily married (though it's not like a 24/7 state of peaceful bliss, right, Honey?), but there's more to me than my marriage, and there's more to my husband than our marriage, and that's how it should be. It keeps our relationship stronger.
And if we ever did get divorced (which I don't think we will), I really hope that my whole sense of self would not disappear with that loss. I'm taking a good look at my life right now to make sure of it.
Thanks, Dan Savage. I heard you, and I hope so many more people do, too.
A version of this piece appeared at BettyConfidential.com.