"36 things I wish I knew about love and men when I was 20."

This post has been written in specific reference to heterosexual love, in response to many young women who have contacted Tracey Cox for love advice. 

1. Settling down with your first love isn’t as stupid as you think.

Many of the best relationships are those where couples got together early but also allowed each other to grow separately.

2. Life’s too short to waste on iffy/undecided men.

If he can’t decide if he wants in or out, he’s never going to be committed enough anyway.

3. Stop making excuses for men.

Adopt the “He’s just not that into you’ philosophy that says if he’s interested, he’ll be interested. Don’t kid yourself. Bad boys are mostly idiots who happen to be good looking enough to get away with bad behaviour. Fun to play with in your early 20s, so not worth the angst past this.

4. Nice guys aren’t boring.

Don’t mistake drama for love. Rollercoaster highs and lows aren’t passion, they’re a sign of incompatibility. Calm is good.

5. Jealousy won’t stop people cheating on you or leaving you, it encourages it.

Who wants to live with someone who’s suspicious of their every move? Constantly doubting how someone feels about you and saying ‘You don’t really mean that’ makes them doubt themselves. You’re craving insecurity but it’s your insecurity that will push them away.

The Three Things relationship theory. Post continues below. 


6. Wait one year before trusting fully.

Most people give themselves away within 12 months. Aim high. The ‘safe bets’ are just as capable of dumping you or treating you badly as well as the riskier but more appealing partners. You might as well go for what you really want.

7. Stop expecting love to look like what you thought it would look like.

Who you end up with will probably look and be nothing like what you thought. Give people a chance. You’re probably nothing like they were imagining either.

8. His relationship with his mother will tell you most of what you need to know.

If they get on well but he’s cut the apron strings, it’s looking good. If it’s a messy mix of hatred, resentment and co-dependence, get out of there because you’re never going to be invited in.

9. Relationships aren’t everything.

You don’t just get love from a partner. Close friendships, family, pets, career, books, box-sets, travel, food, wine – all give us pleasure.

10. Just because your father left you, doesn’t mean all men will.

They aren’t him.

11. Love isn’t enough.

You also need good communication skills, empathy, a desire for it to work and the flexibility to mould yourself around each other for love to work long-term.

12. If you’re trying really hard and it still isn’t working, you’re in the wrong relationship.


When you find the right relationship, it’s easy because you’re working with each other. Some couples are a toxic mix: you both bring out the worst in each other.

13. You won’t find the right relationship until you are ready for it.

If you’re bitter, cynical, too vulnerable, heartbroken or really messed up in any way, take a break. You’ll subconsciously sabotage everything you touch.

14. If you’ve split up and got back together more than several times, you’re incompatible
and being drawn back for reasons other than love.

15. Be careful what you wish for.

As adults, we all try to recreate the over-riding feeling we felt during childhood. It’s what we’re used to and what makes us feel comfortable, even if that feeling was a negative one.

16. Nothing is less attractive than desperation.

But it’s not being desperate to admit you’d like a relationship and/or kids.

17. Change is good.

The definition of stupidity is repeating the same experiment and expecting a different result. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

18. The man who has a few, good, long-term relationships under his belt is going to be a hell of a lot more potty-trained than one who hasn’t.

19. Would you go out with you?


If you wouldn’t, sort yourself out.

20. See what’s really there, not what you want to see.

If all your relationships fall apart for the same reasons, see a good therapist. They could solve in weeks what will take you a decade.

21. Even if it all falls apart and you’re left heartbroken, at least you were brave enough to give it a shot.

It takes courage and confidence to allow yourself to fall in love in the first place.

22. You both need to feel you’re getting a good deal.

It doesn’t matter if one’s better-looking, richer or wittier, what matters is the balance. Ironically, it’s the person who is getting the better deal who ends up leaving because they never feel good enough.

23. There isn’t a man shortage but there is a ‘good man’ shortage.

The ratio is 10:1 and not in our favour. For every ten smart, successful, attractive, funny, kind woman there’s one man who fits the same criteria and he’s nearly always married to one of your friends. I have no idea why.

24. Alcohol makes things harder, not easier.

At least if you’re both remotely sober, you’ve got half a chance of figuring out what the hell went wrong.

25. It’s fine to go to bed angry if you’re drunk.

Nothing comes from arguing drunk, other than saying things you can never take back. Sort it out when you’re sober.


26. Don’t tell people what you don’t want them to do, tell them what you want them to do and you’ll get results.

27. If you don’t do anything apart, you’ll have nothing to talk about when you’re together.

28. There are worse things than physical infidelity.

The man who cleans out your bank account, walks out when the going gets tough or is a bad Dad is just as bad as a cheater. If you’ve forgiven more than one infidelity, you’re giving your partner permission to do what they want for as long as you’re together. Two strikes and you’re out.

29. Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?

If either of you are more interested in scoring points than settling the issue, you’ll spend your relationship watching your back.

30. Having children turns both of you back into children.

The way you were brought up, hugely influences how you’ll be as parents. This is why new parents look at each other and think, ‘Who the hell is this person?’. Staying together purely for the kid’s sake only works if you’re at least good friends. They’re better off seeing both of you happy separately than learning bad love habits from parents who clearly can’t stand each other.

31. What you don’t know, won’t hurt you.

What you do know, will. Spying on your partner will inevitably turn up something you don’t want to see and can’t ask them about because it’ll drop you in it. We’re human not perfect. Does it really matter if he’s a bit flirty with a female co-worker? Wasn’t it easier not to know?


32. It’s utterly terrifying being in love because you can’t love without being vulnerable.

You aren’t the only one who’s scared.

33. There’s nothing wrong with being needy, so long as you’re with someone who enjoys being needed.

Ditto being strong and independent. If there’s something about you that you don’t want to change, find someone who sees it as a positive not a negative.

34. Stop analysing and start enjoying where you are.

You’ll both relax and give the relationship a chance to succeed.

35. Look for someone who loves you in the way you want to be loved.

Everyone loves in different ways, some with words, others touch or action. In good relationships, couples figure out each other’s love language and speak it – even if it’s not their own.

36. The three things that get you through the truly shitty times: a sense of humour, strong chemistry and an ability to see things from their side. If you’re over 30 and still blaming your past for your life now, get some therapy.

Don’t mix up what’s happening now with what happened back then.

This post was originally published on, and was republished here with full permission. 

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