It has always baffled me why people are so divided on the issue of Valentine’s Day. Named for a 5th century Christian martyr who, interestingly enough, was tortured to death, the holiday has become an annual smorgasbord of overpriced novelty chocolates and somewhat tacky gifts. Some people genuinely love this holiday, viewing it as an opportunity to do something special for someone they love. Others, meanwhile, find the whole affair to be absolutely wretched and want nothing to do with it.

I find myself falling somewhere in the middle. I don’t hate Valentine’s Day but, at the same time, I don’t really see a need for it either. It’s just another dumb holiday appropriated by companies to sell products through the power of social pressure. That said, if having a specific day dedicated to romantic endeavours inspires some people to act where otherwise they’d be too intimidated or nervous, more power to them. Relationships are rarely simple and can often be a confusing, even intimidating, prospect. Often the only way to learn the strange ins and outs of romance is from experience, and these are 10 things I’ve learned:

1. I think I like you
When you find yourself drawn to someone, the biggest impediment to starting a relationship, for many of us, is asking the person in question. We love to invent obstacles that sabotage our romantic aspirations before they’ve even begun, the fear of rejection looming large over the simple truth that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. You literally have nothing to lose in most cases by just asking, so be brave and just ask. You might be surprised by the answer.

2. I only like you as a friend
It should come as no surprise that there is a world of difference between a friendly relationship and a romantic one. Nevertheless, a common pitfall many of us fall into, and I count myself among this number, is mistaking the affection of a friend for something more significant. Having a good friend confess feelings for you that aren’t reciprocate is a difficult situation to find yourself in and, while nobody wants to be rejected, it is much better to just accept that you misinterpreted the signals and move on. A strong friendship can easily recover from what is, after all, a simple misunderstanding.

3. I’m sexy and I know it
Being sexy isn’t hard, despite what conventional wisdom may tell you. You don’t need a rocking body or perfect features to be attractive. A huge part of being sexy is just being comfortable and confident with the person that you are. Big boobs or a six pack can definitely turn a few heads, but they’re rarely the first thing people think of when asked what they find sexy. You can be fat, skinny, tall, short or completely average in every way. Personality always trumps physicality.

4. It works in the movies
Those of us with little experience of love are often loathe to ask for help from those with it so, instead, we tend to fall back on movies and books. However, attempting to replicate fictional scenarios in real life rarely works as expected. Comparing your partner to hard drugs is just plain creepy and submitting yourself to someone’s borderline-sociopathic sexual kinks is asking for trouble. Just stick to interactions that normal human beings would have.

5. It’s the thought that counts
If you’re trying to do something nice for someone you care about, put some thought into it. This may sound obvious. It should be obvious! And yet, many of us just fall back on well-worn clichés like flowers, food or novelty underwear. These gifts say one thing – “I don’t know what you like” – and it doesn’t reflect well on you. It doesn’t have to be huge or break the bank. It just has to be personal. My significant other likes jelly beans and pirates. These things are easy to find out and well worth it.

6. I miss you
The chances are good that you won’t be spending 100% of your time with your partner, but this is alright. In fact, it’s probably quite a positive thing. There’s nothing worse in my experience than couples who become a single functional unit, completely loved up and utterly nauseating to be around, especially when they are inevitably separated and completely cave-in on themselves. By all means, miss your partner when they aren’t around – It would be strange if you didn’t, frankly – but understand that you can still be your own person while in a relationship. You managed to get by without them before you met them, and you even managed to get them to be interested in you, so you must be pretty interesting!

7. It’s a choice (not an obligation)
We all want our loved ones to be happy. If you don’t, you probably don’t really understand the meaning of the term ‘loved one’. However, while you can’t choose your family (usually), you do choose your partner. The idea of loving someone unconditionally is a popular concept that has worked its way into many a tale of romance, but it is also total rubbish. Relationships are entirely based on conditions and you should never feel obliged to stay if you feel those conditions are not being met, assuming your expectations are reasonable. If you want out, you absolutely have the right to get out. Just remember that it goes both ways, and that your own behaviour is not beyond reproach.

8. I have to tell you something
Many common problems couples face stem from a failure to communicate. Despite the best efforts of science, human beings are not psychic. Talking to your partner isn’t just for figuring out what to have for dinner or what to watch on telly. It’s a vital part of building and maintaining a relationship. No partnership is perfect because no human being is perfect, and discussing your problems is often the only way that anything can be resolved or mitigated. It doesn’t matter how big or small the problem is. A problem is a problem, and having some support or a trusted second opinion can be immensely helpful and comforting, so talk to each other.

9. It’s important to finish your fights
I’m not going to say that you should avoid fighting with your significant other, or that fighting is even necessarily always a bad thing. Sometimes, tensions flare. This is quite normal and often can serve as a useful safety valve if handled well. However, you should always try to resolve your fights. This is NOT the same as winning a fight, however. Sometimes, they’re wrong. Sometimes, you’re wrong. Sometimes you’re both wrong! What is important is that the fight ends because, otherwise, it will just fester and lead to further arguments. It’s much better to fight now, get to the root of the problem, calm down and make up. I am not saying that every fight has a simple solution or that there aren’t some fights that will never end well, but a lot of arguments can be resolved with a bit of effort and some mutual understanding. A lot of them are quite stupid when you really think about them.

10. I Love You
I’ve heard it said that people overuse the phrase “I Love You”. I sympathise with this, to a degree, but I also find it slightly disingenuous. Personally, I think that a lot of people fail to appreciate the significance of what this particular phrase can really mean. Saying you love pizza is not the same as being in love with someone. Heck, saying you love someone isn’t the same as being in love with someone. Granted, genuine love is impossible to explain or document. It’s entirely subjective. I just dislike how the word ‘love’ has become synonymous, and almost interchangeable, with the word ‘like’. It cheapens the meaning of the word and blunts the impact the sentiment should really have. If you are fortunate enough to find someone who inspires such feelings, and fortunate enough to have those feelings return, that should be bigger than Italian food, so make sure that they know just how much they mean to you.

Relationships are weird, crappy and awesome. I highly recommend some.

Photo Credit: EJP Photo via Compfight cc