Love. It goes straight to the heart and overwhelms the brain rendering it dysfunctional. Parents the world over dread the day they hear their offspring mutter the words “boyfriend”, “girlfriend”, “date”, “kissing” or…

*gasp, double gasp*

“L.O.V.E”

I recall my first date and subsequent boyfriend from way back in the 90’s… my entrance into the dating world. And the world of love and loss and living my life after the fact.

More than a few boyfriends and breakups later I found the man with whom I plan to spend the rest of my earthly life, but it took some misjudgments, mistakes and heart-wrenching errors to find him. And it was worth it. (Well, most of it anyway. There are a select few I could have done without, but that’s another story.)

So what did I learn? What advice do I have for those of you out there realizing life and love aren’t always roses and diamonds? I have a few select bits of wisdom I feel moved to share. Take note, however, that all advice must be taken with a grain of salt and put into proper perspective with regards to your own unique situation. Nobody knows your heart like you do. Sometimes you have to follow it, sometimes you have to let your brain take over. Sometimes there is nothing to do besides trust God and let him be in charge.

Starting at the start, where I wish someone had told me to begin, is…

Making a List of Requirements

From the time you were old enough to like someone “that way” you were old enough to have a list. It was likely a short list, but a list all the same.

Cute

Nice Teeth

Fresh Breath

Cool Clothes

You’ve matured and so has your list, but have you put thought into it and put it on paper? Shown it to your friends and discussed it? Until you really put the effort into the list you don’t really know what you value in a potential spouse. Without that knowledge, can you determine who is worthy of your time?

Outside Opinions Matter

Looking back on some of those “could have done without” relationships that I mentioned earlierI realize now the knowledge was there. It was the grasping and feeling and understanding of that knowledge that was lacking.

Those you keep closest to you (your core group) are often times the best measure of your relationship. Those who stick with you through all the good times and the rough have an opinion that should matter the most to you. They have the opinions you should listen to and take to heart, no matter how difficult it may be to hear. Friends and family see the good and the bad. The beautiful and the ugly of your relationship. They see it first-hand and they see it in the afterglow or tears that follow your dating interactions. They see how you are growing and changing, how you are being true to yourself or how you are compromising yourself for the sake of another. They see it and feel it. They love you and want the best for you and if you let them, they’ll tell you what they see.

Listen.

Take it to heart.

Feel it.

Time Outs

Time Outs aren’t just for basketball teams and toddlers. Taking time out for yourself and your friends is a great way to judge the strength of your relationship. Weekly or monthly “Time Outs” with your friends, even for just a night, give you a chance to each stay connected with your core groups. Introduce this at the start of a relationship and set a standard that you plan to continue this regular time with your friends and you expect your new significant other to do the same. If they balk at the idea from the get go, you should get going. That’s a sign of a possessive nature and you don’t need that drama!

Time Outs between relationships are also a M.U.S.T. Taking months of time after the conclusion of a relationship gives you time to reflect as well as revisit and revise your list of requirements based on what you learned. Taking this time to spend with friends and family also refocuses your energy on yourself and your goals. This life is yours, be sure you are tending to it and making it fulfilling in a way you can self-maintain.

Be Your Best You

Nobody else can be you, so make sure you are being the best you possible. Putting the honest and true you “out there” from the get-go is simply following the old adage, “honesty is the best policy”. The person with which you are entering into any type of relationship (friendship or otherwise) deserves to know the real you from the start. Being up-front isn’t just doing them a favor, but really is in your best interests in the present and future. The list is long and really includes every aspect of you: faith, politics, morals, food, music, social activities, personality type, vices… you get the point.

As you get older the things you value highly now may begin to diminish in importance while others rise to the top. Tastes in music and food may seem important in the early days, but later in life when marriage is a valid topic of discussion those concerns may be less significant and the areas of faith and social tendencies take precedence. Making your stance in those areas known from day one make those transitions much easier, especially when you are both on the same page… where you should be on those major, major topics.

I believe that when you are true to yourself and only present the honest and real you at all times God will put the right people into your life at the exact right time. Use your real you as a gatekeeper. You’ll know who to let in and who to best avoid.

Stand Strong

Being strong walks hand-in-hand with Outside Opinions Matter and Be Your Best You. You will know if you are being taken advantage of, taken for granted, abused or used. You might also make excuses for that type of behavior because of the way “love” goes straight to the heart and renders the brain dysfunctional. This is where having the opinions of your valued and treasured friends and family comes into play. Keeping those relationships strong will help you avoid a negative relationship. Being strong both as an individual and with the help of your core group is of the utmost importance in avoiding dangerous situations.

Being strong from the inception sets a standard and lets everyone know you don’t put up with anyone’s crap. Never let yourself be bullied. Once you’ve been bullied you’ll find yourself consistently pushed around. Like I tell my kindergartener, “Don’t let yourself be bullied. Stand up for yourself and your friends and they’ll leave you alone.” She learned that lesson early in the school year by doing what I told her and, to my knowledge, she’s never had a problem again. Be strong. If my kindergartner can stand up for herself, so can you.

Value your Decisions

Simple. Every decision you make has a consequence that you carry with you through life. Spiritual consequences – things you’ll have to forgive yourself for and then ask God to forgive you for. Physical consequences – how you use and abuse your body with activity, food and drink. (When you hit 30, 35, etc you’ll really get this one.) Emotionally – the highs and lows we all experience are dealt to us, in part, by our own actions.

Making good decisions might seem simple on paper and in our minds, but often times when it comes down to “go time” we buckle under pressure and choose the wrong path. Here’s a simple guideline for decision-making: If would be too ashamed to tell anyone, (think best friend, mom, grandma) DO NOT DO IT! Simple.

Be True to You, but Grow Too

Being true to who you are doesn’t mean avoiding change and growth. A new relationship will undoubtedly bring you new experiences. Embrace those opportunities to grow and learn. Finding someone who challenges you to do the things you wouldn’t do on your own is part of the thrill and pleasure of a relationship. Go camping, skiing, dancing and shooting. Skydiving, para-sailing, and bungee-jumping. Try it at least once, several times if it is something that could be a make-or-break type of deal in the relationship. Knowing about major conflicts of interest early on is key to either allowing the “fanatic” to lower their standards and expectations, allowing the “disinterested” to gain genuine interest, or allowing a parting of ways.

Compromise and sacrifice are major parts of a healthy relationship and marriage. The ultimate goal of any relationship is marriage and a long and happy life together or there would be no reason for dating and courtship. By determining during the dating phase what compromises and sacrifices you are each willing to make for the sake of the relationship is crucial. Acknowledging that these are lifelong compromises is even more significant. Going weekend camping on a yearly basis for the next 60 years may be doable, while submitting yourself to a weekly dance-a-thon might be a deal-breaker for you.

Know yourself. Know your partner. Consider the unity of the two. Consider the rest of your life.

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Kristin Herrera

A Country Girl at Heart, Kristin rediscovered her love for writing and can't get enough now. Claiming a small Central Nebraska town as home, she visits as often as possible to relax and re-energize. Her "home-home" is her source of peace, calm and inspiration. Her welcome note on her blog says it all: "I love to write and loose the thoughts that are rambling through my mind. This is where you'll find them..." www.countrygirlbootsandroots.blogspot.com.

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