Love Advice For My Formerly Hot Self

beautiful woman blowing out candles on birthday cake

A no-longer-twentysomething's wise love advice to her younger self proves useful to us all.

They say that negative emotional experiences are more likely to ping pong back and forth in your brain for years than the positive ones, even if there are many more positive ones in play. I know that's true for me.

I'm 43 and have been married for nine years now, but I still carry some choice memories from my dating life: the time I was felt up by a boarding school pothead for the benefit of his buddies, who were spying through a keyhole (age 16); the years I stayed with a guy for too long because he worshiped me, even though I didn't return the favor (22); the time I was dumped over a transatlantic call from a Spanish payphone as I stood in front of the most magnificent cathedral in Andalucia (25); the year I broke the heart of a thoroughly wonderful guy who so didn't deserve it (29); and the era of the dashing Brit who morphed into a hideous bigot when he was drunk, which turned out to be often (at age 31.) Then came marriage, which has an entirely different, but no less steep, learning curve as dating.

My memoir, My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches from Just the Other Side of Young (Ballantine) is all about life since I recently discovered I am a not-young woman, and all the tremendously cool aspects of being this age that no one tells you about. In that vein, below are five things I wish I'd known about love and romance when I was younger, the knowledge of which serve to make me wiser and happier in matters of the heart now than I was then (or at least give me pause before I repeat my mistakes—hey, older and wiser doesn't always mean smarter). What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self?

1. In relationships, there's work, and then there's work. I hate it when people say, "Well, relationships take work," in response to what feels to you in the moment like an intractable problem between you and your sweetie. Of course relationships take work. But it doesn't follow that any amount or type of work is worth doing in order to stay in or save a relationship. Working to overlook his love of fluorescent orange cheese and peanut butter crackers? Absolutely. Working to find a middle ground when it comes to different styles of handling money? Sure. Working to do stuff that goes against an aspect of yourself that you value because you feel desperate not to lose your partner? Nah-ah.

2. There's change, and then there's change. This follows from #1. A partner can change his or her attitude and behavior, his or her underwear and a handful of his or her annoying or even illegal habits. But no one can change who he or she is fundamentally, even with an ultimatum or life-changing experience. Knowing the difference can be tricky, but if you've hit a wall with an issue, ricocheted off it only to hit it again and again, it's time to cut your losses. Sex Advice To My Younger Self

3. There's nothing magical about marriage. My parents divorced when I was a teenager, but nonetheless there was a period in my late 20s and early 30s when all my friends and I had the back-of-our-minds' goal of finding a guy to marry, as if it would be somehow transformative. Marriage can be fantastic, especially and particularly if you're with someone who loves and respects you and is willing to join you in hacking through the inevitable underbrush of problems that arise. But you're still you after you say "I do"—the same you who isn't sure she knows what she wants to do with her life, the one who has issues with her mother and will likely never know how to use all that Le Creuset cookware she got as a wedding gift. It's lovely to have someone to travel through life with, but it's still life, and the common denominator is you. Which is why you should…

4. Explain, but don't justify. The older you get, the more "you" you become, and that has to be more than OK with the person you're with—ideally, it should be delightful. If that person wants to know why you feel what you feel or said what you said or need what you need, and asks in the spirit of understanding you, by all means, explain yourself. It will bring you even closer. But if your answer is questioned to the point that you're on the defensive, a simple, "Because that's how I feel," should suffice.

5. You get to pick. I spent too many years when I was in my 20s being approached by men, and believing that if they liked me (and were not obviously headed for prison, at least not for a violent crime) that I should at least give them a chance. All too often, I didn't ask myself if I really liked them until after we were involved enough that someone's feelings got hurt when I ended things. Eventually I figured out that I could have a bunch of things that were important to me in a man, and that I could choose. Turns out, I make pretty good choices. How To Fall In Love With Mr. Good Enough

What love and relationships wisdom would you impart onto your younger self, if you could?