The Most Important Love Advice I Plan To Share With My Daughter
Everybody’s experiences are different — but here’s what I want her to understand as she heads out into the world.
The other day, I was cleaning up in the kitchen while my six-year-old daughter had a playdate with her older friends, who were upperclassmen among the elementary school set. While petting our animatronic cat and snacking on popcorn, they discussed their crushes with endearing frankness that made me grin as I shamelessly eavesdropped.
“Well, last year, I liked Byron, but he’s only so-so this year. Now I like Ken.”
“Ken? Isn’t he the one who chases you at recess?”
“No. I chase him.”
To my surprise, they turned to me and asked who my crush was when I was their age. Expectantly, and with the condescension that youth often confers on their has-been elders, they said, “You’ve had a crush before, haven’t you?”
Have I! In kindergarten there was Ben, with his bowl cut and solemn expression; in second grade there was P.J., whose arms freckled like golden constellations; in fourth grade there was Jesse, with his broad, mischievous grin. I was a romantic kid, prone to daydreaming about the boys in my class, overwriting the stories I knew about them (peels glue from his fingers, likes to make fart noises with his elbow) with more interesting ones. I loved having a crush for the heady feeling of possibility.
Now, as a happily married 30-something, my crushes are more about playfulness. Daniel Dae Kim, Dev Patel, and Bradley Cooper (but only as Jackson Maine in A Star is Born) aren’t actually going to come knocking at my door. Those crushes are safe; they are about impossibility. It’s hard, I think, for my daughter and her friends to imagine me as a person in the midst of heartbreak and tempestuous affairs. It’s hard for me to imagine it.
But of course, I did my share of crushing and dating and breaking of my own heart. I’ve walked away from relationships with scars and lessons that still shape me into the person I am today. I’m no expert in love, but I’ve accumulated some hard-won pieces of advice that I’ll be glad to share with my daughter (or her friends), should they ever ask.
I wouldn’t change my past experiences (for the most part). But I can share what I know to another generation, who will surely be fumbling as I did (as I do!) with matters of the heart. Of course, this is no comprehensive list and it won’t capture every nuance of every situation. You’ll have different advice to share with your kids. What’ll matter most to them is knowing that they are not the first to experience (or get through) the morass of dating and love. Here, a handful of things I hope to share:
- Avoid anybody who wants you to be a smaller version of yourself. In the past, I’ve been with partners who weren’t interested in seeing me grow. Rather, they seemed to get satisfaction from witnessing me at my lowest, so they could “save” me — or so they could have company in their misery. These are the ones who will scoff at your goals if they don’t align with theirs, the ones who’ll counter every moment of your success by “taking you down a peg.” These might also be the ones who refuse to see your evolution as a human. They’re not necessarily bad people; they just haven’t emotionally evolved enough to be true partners. Let ‘em loose.
- Choose a person who shows genuine interest in the things you love. One of my friends likes to say: “Don’t yuck my yum.” I love this phrase, because it underlines the necessity of supporting a loved one’s weird obsession, as long as they aren’t harmful to anyone. This doesn’t mean the person has to share your interest. You don’t have to share theirs, either. But the ability to ask questions, engage, and pay attention is not only a courtesy, but a sign of respect. Of course, this should also be reciprocated. Learning to listen is one of the most valuable skills in dating and relationships.
- Share the labor of the household — emotional and physical. I’m confident we’re raising a generation of men who are better equipped to understand the value of domestic labor, so perhaps this advice won’t be quite as pertinent in a few decades. Part of the key to an equal partnership is the ability to see the other person’s contributions: meal planning, scheduling vacations, mowing the lawn, handling the household investments, buying gifts for family members. Really, we all want to be seen for what we bring to the table. And when we understand that there’s no “default” when it comes to roles, we can move closer to balance, which is essential in any relationship.
- Understand that not all romances are meant for life. Some people are there for a reason, for a season. It’s hard to understand this, since we gravitate to the idea of love as a permanent destination. Someplace where you can kick up your feet in the hammock and reap the rewards you’ve sown. And hopefully, that does happen, if you want it. But the relationships that end (not fail! We don’t use that word when it comes to relationships.) are still meaningful for what they are. The warm memories are there, within the pain, and they are always worth holding onto. I was once wildly infatuated with a man who moved across the world. We barely had anything between us — and certainly no promises — but I held onto the idea of him for far longer than I should have, to the point that I almost blinded myself to the possibility of a future with my now-husband. I wish I’d just appreciated my time with that other man for what it was — delightful, passionate, temporary — instead of trying to shape it into something I thought it should be.
- Try to end a relationship on positive terms, if possible. This is one piece of advice I’ve never been able to follow myself. It takes a long time for me to exit a relationship, and when I do, I burn it all down. This isn’t a sustainable way to go through life, nor is it particularly good for one’s emotional growth. Apologize and take accountability for what you could have done better, then try to (genuinely) wish them the best. Maybe even forgive them, once you’ve had a chance to heal. Of course, this is not always possible; in some cases, a disruptive, clean exit is how it should be. But in the cases where you still believe in the other person’s inherent goodness, try to communicate that, even as you’re on your way out. I promise it’ll give you inner peace that’s far preferable to the roil of anxiety you’ll get if you run into them on the street.... Or so I’ve heard.
Thao Thai is a writer based out of Ohio, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Los Angeles Review of Books, WIRED, Real Simple, American Progress, Catapult, Cup of Jo, and other publications. Her debut novel, Banyan Moon, comes out June 27. Follow her on Instagram and sign up for her newsletter.