Dating advice from mothers and mentors

Dating as a millennial is hard. I often dream of the romances crafted in my favorite movies—Singin’ in the Rain, White Christmas, Ever After—and have to remind myself that dating in the real world isn’t all love ballads, romantic dance numbers, and princes on white horses. I love listening to my grandmother’s love story (my grandfather was not her first engagement!) and hearing her long stories over a glass of wine about how she and my grandfather found each other, raised their family, and made it work for so many years.

Although it seems like prospects can be bleak in this swipe-right world, have faith! I asked my friends, their mothers, and other women in my life about the best dating advice they’ve ever received, hoping to identify what that special ingredient is that forms the foundation of marriages that do indeed last “until death do us part.” Here’s what they had to share.

Look at how he treats his mother

When I sent out my call for advice, this was the most frequent piece of advice I received—from my own mother, from mothers of my friends, and from my peers. The mom of one of my good friends, Mary Ellen, told me, “Watch how the man you’re interested in treats his mother, as well as other women in his life. Does he open doors for her? Speak to her in a respectful way? These tendencies reveal how he will treat you. If he’s someone who’s curt and short-tempered toward the woman who raised him, that probably won’t change as he grows older. If anything, it will become worse.”

Is the relationship balanced?

My longtime friend Olivia shared what her mother, Jennifer, told her about paying attention to different aspects of her romantic relationships: “A relationship is like a three-legged stool. There’s one leg each that represents the emotional, physical, and spiritual side of the relationship. If the relationship isn’t progressing evenly, the stool’s legs won’t be even, making the stool (relationship) unsteady and prone to falling over.”

Remove distractions

Often, when a relationship is in its early stages, there’s a flurry of activities, dates, and exciting new experiences to share. As Mary Ellen, who has been married to her husband, Jim, for 28 years, put it in another gem of advice, “Once you take away all the fun dinners and dates, is this a person you can sit down and have a conversation with?”

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the newness of a relationship and all that comes with it—like that special dinner at the hard-to-book restaurant and subsequent picnic under the stars—but when it comes down to it, the extraordinary moments don’t make up the majority of a relationship. Knowing that the person you’re with is someone you can talk to without all the trappings of social events and spending money is key in determining whether a relationship will last.

Date someone with other interests

“You’re my everything.” It’s a sentiment I hear repeated again and again in my favorite movies (here’s looking at you, Twilight). While the sentiment might sound beautiful, being someone’s “everything” can create a lot of pressure and fear of failing to meet high standards. My mother—who just celebrated her 30-year wedding anniversary with my dad—has taught me this since I first started dating back in high school. She tells me, “You’re dating another human being, not a doormat. Don’t be with someone who lets your interests, friends, and wants dictate the relationship while letting his own go by the wayside.”

While there’s a fine line between being independent and neglecting a relationship, it’s important to date someone who is able to appropriately balance different parts of his life. Does your significant other have friends outside of your circle? Does he have his own passions and hobbies that are separate from yours? Diversity of interests brings depth and layers to a relationship—what better way to be close than to learn about a part of someone else’s world?

Practice patience

Once the shiny newness of a relationship wears off, it’s easy to start questioning. Worries like “Why haven’t we said ‘I love you’ yet?” can cloud the joy of getting to know another person. While it’s easy to get wrapped up in what a relationship “should” look like or feel like, the reality is that every relationship has its own timeline.

Lori—my grade school Girl Scout leader and mother to Jamie, one of my best friends since kindergarten—told her daughter, “Be patient; people show their love in different ways.” Maybe you and your boyfriend haven’t said those three special words yet, but he’s taken time out of his schedule to visit your grandparents. People show their love in different ways.

Grow together

So you’ve met a nice guy and gone on a few dates and things are … fine? You enjoy spending time together, but aren’t sure if the relationship is progressing. A friend’s grandmother shared, “If you’re trying to better yourself and the other person isn’t, it’s like you’re standing up and they’re sitting down in a chair. It’s a lot easier for them to pull you down than it is for you to pull them up.”

Any relationship, romantic or otherwise, will have challenges. If you’re actively trying to make changes in your own life, you want a partner who will grow with you, rather than sitting back and letting you take the lead.

What is the best dating advice you’ve ever received? Share it on social media with the hashtag #VerilyMothersKnowBest, and you may be featured in our daily email (sign up here)!