Erika Ettin: Dating advice from my dad
The first time my dad gave me dating advice was my freshman year of college. After a very short-lived relationship — or whatever you call a two-week PG-13 love connection when you're 18 — I called my mom to sob to her when my crush broke up with me. Mom wasn’t home, so I got Dad.
Dad, in all his wisdom, said, “Boys are stupid.” Honestly, it wasn’t the worst advice he could have given me!
Over the years, my dad’s love advice hasn’t come regularly, but when it does come, I listen. I want to share a few lessons in love I received from my dad that seem oddly relevant to anyone in today’s dating scene.
1. It’s all about receptivity.
This is a piece of wisdom my dad happens to say on many occasions. Just as important as you liking someone else, you have to know whether they are receptive to what you have to offer (or, your "essence"), too.
It happens all the time: You like someone, so everything they do is cute. In other words, you’re receptive. (“He texted me at 8 a.m.! He really likes me!”)
You don’t like someone, so everything they do is annoying … even if they’re doing the same exact thing. (“He texted me at 8 a.m.! Um … give me some space, dude. Needy much?”) You’re not receptive.
In order for a relationship to work, there has to be mutual receptivity. Of course you’ll never love everything about the other person — nor should you — but the relationships that thrive are the ones where each partner is receptive (and appreciative) of what the other has to offer.
2. Be open-minded about who you date.
Whenever my dad calls me, I answer, “Is everything OK?” My mom is usually the one who calls, so I always worry a bit when he does. I once wasn’t able to answer and got a voicemail. When I listened to it later, I had to laugh.
At the time, probably 15 years ago, my parents thought I was being too “selective” about my dates. They wanted to see their daughter in a relationship, as most parents do. In the voicemail, my dad said, “Hi Eri. I love you. All men go bald. And you know what else? All men have earwax. So go out with them.”
My dad is clearly the jokester, so he was just being goofy with the earwax comment. But I got his point.
We often talk ourselves out of things or make assumptions because of one little hang-up. “He works here, so he must be this way, so I won’t like him.”
It's better to give yourself the chance to turn something down if, in the end, it's not what you want. But you might as well open more doors at the outset because maybe hiding behind the one thing that doesn’t seem perfect is a great person.
I have learned a lot since then, both from personal experiences and from running my business. I advise my clients to come up with a handful of nonnegotiables — perhaps religion, education, etc. — but beyond that, have some wiggle room. Because does a little extra hair on top of someone's head really matter in the end? It sure doesn't.
3. People get older — and wiser.
My mom often tells my dad that he’s like a fine wine: He gets better with age. They have been married for over 40 years, and my mom constantly notes that my dad has mellowed out over the years. (Let’s not even mention that my parents like to refrigerate red wine — a travesty!)
While this isn’t necessarily love advice, I always think it’s fun to note how my parents’ marriage has evolved over the years. They went from being neighbors to being partners to being in a long and loving marriage. They're now happily retired.
In dating, it’s important to remember that everyone ages and has a past. And that’s a good thing. Rather than basing your judgment solely on someone’s past, instead, think, “What have they learned? Are they a better person because of it?”
I obviously hope neither of my parents ever needs to be in the dating scene again, but I work with many clients around their age. And I see all their previous experiences only as an asset in the process. People collect experiences and wisdom over the years. It's important to be open to seeing it.
This week, my parents will be celebrating their 43rd anniversary. This article is a tribute to them and to my dad especially, for all the advice along the way — even if I didn't want to take it at the time.
(Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge , where she helps others navigate the often intimidating world of online dating. Want to connect with Erika? Join her newsletter, eepurl.com/dpHcH for updates and tips.)
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