Growing up, my mother was a lot of things for me: Loving. Stern. A role model. A disciplinarian. A sage source of romantic wisdom? Not so much. Dating advice was bypassed in favor of legal advice (my mom is a lawyer), and practicality and independence were held at a premium. Her advice on men often came as more of a warning than a guide. She had strict notions of what I should strive to achieve in my life: First comes college, then comes a career along with financial independence, and later you can set your sights on marriage and a family.
When I was younger, my mother told me that she had no interest in being my friend – that she was only concerned with being my parent. Only now does she feel as if she has succeeded in raising an independent adult, and we are finally allowed to be friends. As much as I hated that back then, I can absolutely see the value in it now. Sure, it may not be a fool-proof parenting method, but I turned out reasonably okay.
It took me growing up and moving to New York to realize that my mom’s advice actually was quite sage romantic wisdom, in its own way. I'd like to impart some of this advice to you. Also, full disclaimer, as with most mother/daughter relationships, I followed absolutely none of this advice. Maybe you will.
1. DO NOT write down anything that you do not want people to know.
Since a young age, I’ve made it my mission to document everything on paper (for that memoir I'll someday never write). I always ignored this wisdom: I didn’t learn my lesson when my high school boyfriend read my diary and found out I had cheated on him. I also failed to learn this in college. This is still the soundest piece of legal advice my mom has ever given me, but I fully understand that in writing this article I am systematically ignoring it. Maybe I’ll amend this one to: if you’re going to keep a diary, make sure you put a lock on it? Also, this advice came before social media, so its importance has increased twofold. Be careful with what you put online, i.e. if you don’t want someone to know what you did on that trip to Cabo, you probably shouldn't share it on the internet.
2. DO NOT make any important decisions while drinking.
Not only is this stellar advice, it's the kind that I almost never took. I'd say a good three-quarters of the terrible decisions I've made in relationships had a booze factor in the equation. What is it about drinks that make everything so damn dramatic? I get that this advice also has a legal context, as in don’t drink and drive, don’t pass out in a strange place, don’t get married in Vegas, but really for a twenty-something dating in New York? I’d say it had far more relevance than she could have possibly known. Important decisions can be small: whether or not you go home with someone you met five hours ago on Tinder, or if you should take off your bra at that bar and hang it on the ceiling (you shouldn’t). These are the kind of things that haunt you on the internet. The kind of things that can make you feel bad about yourself even if you really, really like yourself. So once again, listen to my mom, because I didn’t.
3. Stay away from men who are (insert hillbilly twang here) "really nice when they're not drankin'."
My mom was the city prosecutor for the town I grew up in. Many of her cases dealt with domestic violence, and let’s just say my hometown isn’t particularly known for their "high quality" gentlemen suitors. What struck me when I moved to New York was the irony I found in her warning, the sheer amount of men I encountered that were ONLY nice to me when they were "drankin'." My experiences were, at times laughably, so different from the warnings she threw my way.
In New York I was dealing with a different kind of beast: Manhattan men were nothing like the good ol' boys from my mom's courtroom who wanted to take their aggressions out on an
undeserving woman. They were power players, men who wanted to take their aggressions out in a battle of egos - always maintaining an upper hand in situations of the heart.
The many experiences I had with men who would sweet talk me, make promises and pile on affection during alcohol-induced nights on the town were numerous and devastating. What made it all the more striking was my ability to fall for it time and time again. The promises of relationships, of commitment, of a future and at times, even of love, would fill me up at night with hope only to be crushed by the cruel sober morning. I acknowledged that I was smart enough to not stand for physical abuse, yet I accepted emotional abuse from countless men who would leave me dull and filled with a different kind of pain.
4. Peace of mind should be your top priority
When I was younger, I remember a Girl Scouts "mom and me" activity where I had to rate what mattered to me most in order of 1-5. On my list I had my friends and family on top, followed by money, a cool job, a mansion and a cool car. On my mother’s, at number one, she had "peace of mind." I remember thinking how LAME that was. Not money? Not friends? Not a huge house and a killer job? I've honestly thought about that answer a million times over the years. It didn’t really ever occur to me how accurate that was until my very first New York panic attack. You know the kind you get in your early twenties when you realize you’re done with school and have absolutely no direction and college taught you nothing? No? Just me? This is when it really clicked. You might have the friends and the fabulous city party life. You might look great from the outside but still be miserable inside. My mom taught me that without the peace of mind, none of those things matter, because if you can’t enjoy being alone with yourself then who’s really going to want to be around you?
5. It’s better to be alone than to be with someone who makes you feel lonely.
While you can be lonely anywhere, New York is different: people are everywhere and though you may have many friends, it can feel like an incredibly lonely place. It’s an odd feeling, to be surrounded by humans constantly and not have any real connections. It makes it very easy to casually date, if only to have someone to eat dinner with. I’d fallen victim to this probably more than most. I had lots of friends, but was always looking for something more. I’d date people who were completely wrong for me. People I barely even liked. I’d give third and fourth chances to guys who didn’t deserve it and continue to associate with boys who treated me like they were waiting for something better. This was a message I wish I had taken more seriously. I gave away little pieces of myself to so many people that at the end of the day I didn’t have much left for me. I worried about other people liking me instead of doing things that I liked. I held myself to a lesser standard, and it took years to recover from that.
I’m sure there’s plenty that I’m leaving out, but these are the ones that really stuck with me. Ones that at some point in my life gave me an a-ha moment. I never really knew that any of it would be helpful at the time, and I’m absolutely sure that none of it was explicitly asked for. But that’s the beauty of a mother’s advice – it's generally unsolicited. They give you their experiences. Lessons learned from their own mistakes. Ones that you will inevitably make one day, because as you will realize at some point in your twenties (to your general horror) that you do become exactly like your mother. And in my case, all I can say is, thank God.
Sidney Morgan-Petro is a seasoned trend forecaster, currently living and working in New York City. She developed a passion for fashion and writing at FIT and has worked across editorial content and product development for the better part of a decade. She is currently the Senior Retail Editor at WGSN, and is a regular contributor to news publications such as The Washington Post, NPR, MarketWatch and Bloomberg. Follow her on Instagram @sidlouise or on WGSN's blog here.
Photo courtesy Sidney Morgan-Petro
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This essay is shared in collaboration with It's Not Personal, a growing anthology and collective that creates opportunities for women to share their dating experiences in a positive environment. The project aims to progress society's conversations around singlehood, relationships and everything in between. For more information, be sure to follow It's Not Personal on Instagram join the Facebook group, and send art and writing submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.