6 Steps to Becoming a Grown-Up About Love

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The following is an excerpt from Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps, by Kelly Williams Brown. (And don’t miss the transcript of Kelly’s gchat interview with Chiara, too.)

Love is so complicated, so chaotic. But there are a few ways to responsibly approach what it is, in the end, the point of humanity (or at least the future; if everyone stopped having sex tomorrow, eventually there would be no more people).

Step 327: Accept that heartbreak is inevitable, and realize that the only way to be a full human being is to experience it at least once.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way right up front so we can move on to the delightful aspects of romance. There is nothing you can find, read or do to guarantee you find true love of prevent you from experiencing pain in the course of its pursuit.

But if you are paralyzingly terrified of heartbreak (and her sister, loneliness), then you will never really experience the good stuff, because you’ll be too consumed by the specter of the bad.

No one likes pain (emotional pain, anyway), and everyone feels it. The quicker you accept that your heart will get broken at one point or another, that you will not die from it, and that it will in fact make you a fuller, more compassionate human, the better off you’ll be. You don’t need to dwell on it, just like you don’t need to constantly think about your own morality. But you need to be at least someone cool with it.

Step 328: Don’t unnecessarily cause others’ heartbreak; don’t perpetuate or cause your own

Don’t casually hurt people who love you, even if you don’t love them. This is not good for your soul. And yes, lots of times the best way to hurt someone (or to minimize the damage, anyway) is to break up with them.

On the flip side, you need to have enough dignity and self-worth to walk away from something (or, more likely, someone) that is bad for you. If you stick around and accept less than what you deserve, that’s on you. You cannot rely on others to do what is best for your heart. It’s yours, not theirs.

Step 329: Fuck it. Love is worth it

You know this. I don’t have to tell you what love means. The pain-to-payoff ratio could be four times worse, and we’d still do it.

On to the steps! We’ll start with singleness, then move on to dating, relationships, and (sigh) breakups.

Step 330: Be cool about being single

A few people really love being single. You don’t hear it much from them, because people who are actually happy with singleness don’t spend a bunch of time telling everyone how great it is. They are too busy going out dancing and having exciting sex with attractive strangers. Or they’re the kind of self-fulfilled, joyful people who have an all-consuming yet productive hobby, like yoga or parasailing. They feel no need to defend themselves, because we’re all jealous anyway.

And then there’s the fairly large mass of people who are single who aren’t super-duper excited about it, and that’s just fine. Don’t let all the jokes about sad single people get to you. Not having a significant other and wanting one doesn’t make you a sorry cliché or traitor to feminism.

It’s reasonable to feel lonely if you’re single and don’t want to be. Sometimes. But you should also take pleasure in the freedom to flirt, and have the adventures/misadventures that will happen before you find your favorite. Ahead of you lie not only first kisses but also first-make-out-against-a-wall-for-twenty-wonderful-sloppy-enthusiastic-minutes sessions. Those are great and rarely happen after month three of the relationship.

Step 331: Learn to enjoy your own company

The valid solution to sad singleness is not an end to the singleness, it’s an end to the sadness. Buck up and learn to enjoy the pleasure of your own company. Remember, you could find the world’s more perfect dude or lady, be insanely happy with each other, and then he or she could get run over by a bus tomorrow. Be a full, intact person on your own.

The best part is, when you’re okay being alone, you choose to be with someone rather than needing to be with someone. And choosing is the key. When you fall in love, you choose them and they choose you. No one is stuck somewhere they don’t want to be. Strive for that, not partnering up out of desperation so you don’t have to be alone with your thoughts.

Bonus step: have dance parties for one when the fancy strikes. Ideally, your soundtrack will be a bunch of songs about how great you are, like Daft Punk’s “Harder Better Faster Stronger” or pretty much anything by Beyoncé.

Step 332: Ask someone out

This goes for both ladies and men. The process itself is pretty simple if terrifying, sort of like giving birth. But it gets easier with time.

If you’re interested in someone, and you think they’re interested in you, the only way to find out is to ask them out. Then you’ll have your answer. Don’t spend a bunch of time pining for someone who’s either unavailable or too dense to pick up on your fine, fine qualities. The key here is to not be ambiguous, even though it makes it even more nerve-racking, because the intention in asking someone out is to clear up any remaining ambiguity. And, mainly, to get you a date.

Here’s how it should work:

“Hey. I think you’re great. Do you want to go get [coffee/drinks/dinner] sometime?”

Don’t qualify it with if you’re not busy or you know, just a casual thing. No need to undersell yourself or anticipate rejection. Just put a period at the end of the statement. A metaphorical period, obviously, since it’s a question.