Remember when Ron had to wear Voldemort’s horcrux around his neck and he became insanely jealous and suspicious of Harry and Hermione’s friendship? I started feeling that sort of resentment about my friends. With a self-esteem that delicate, thoughts like I’m actually thinner than Friend A and I totally kick Friend B’s ass in class so why am I single? creep up so easily. I adored my girls and had always shared in their happiness, so this small knot of jealousy was really annoying. I never thought about making the first move because none of them were making the first move in their relationships, and I wanted exactly what they had.

So the whole heterosexual courtship chess game not only needlessly mucks up romantic relationships; it also pits us against other girls, making them so many obstacles in the way of our happiness. We are conditioned to act competitively by trying to seem prettier, sexier, smarter than all other girls everywhere, all for the reward of a guy’s affection. It sucks, and it’s the perfect breeding ground for insecurity. I went from being satisfied with myself to constantly looking for the imperfections that were surely keeping me single instead of accepting that some boys just weren’t interested and that wasn’t my problem at all. No amount of resentment made guys less attracted to my friends or more attracted to me, so it was really pointless—all it did was make me feel terrible about people I really loved.

All the dating rules I’d been following fell apart when I was 19 and in my first year at university, and I realized that my boyfriend had gotten to know a performance instead of the real me. He thought I was a coy, endlessly patient girl who looked amazing all day, every day, when the truth was that I like to wear comfortable clothes, hide my uncombed hair under a turban, and swear a lot when people annoy me. At some point, people just need to be real with each other, and that point, in my opinion, should be as soon as you meet. Being yourself is important! I was setting myself up for failure by showing this boy a different person while we got to know each other, then suddenly expecting him to like who I really am when I could suppress it no longer.

How do you know if you’re being yourself? It seems so simple, but it’s actually pretty hard to figure out. I go by this litmus test: If the thought of doing something gets me excited and I smile on the inside, then I’m on the right track. Here are some other ways I’ve learned to avoid the criminally terrible advice we usually get about dating:

They say: Don’t call him (it’s always a “him” in these rulebooks) first.
But really: If you want to call him, CALL HIM. Or call HER. Waiting to gather up the nerve will just distract you, and you’ll feel better if you get it out of the way and know what your phone interaction is like. The worst thing that can happen is that you have nothing to talk about, and even that isn’t so terrible because they might be just as nervous as you. It’s never the end of the world to call first.

They say Guys always pay for the dates.
But really: It’s a good and friendly thing to do to offer to split the bill or just pay for the whole thing sometimes. I don’t expect my friends to pay for everything when we go out, so the same thing should be applied to dates. You should also just always have your own money so that you don’t have to rely on anyone for this sort of thing, but that’s another article. Splitting the bill shows empathy, and a willingness to share.

They say: If you like him, pretend you like the same things he likes.
But really: WHAT? Do what you like, always. If you happen to have similar interests that’s great, but a potential sweetie should be dating you because you are you, not a version of themselves that they like. I became a soccer fanatic overnight for one boyfriend, and learned the English Premier League like the back of my hand. Now that the relationship is over, soccer is just a reminder of the nonsense I put myself through and how my feigned fandom didn’t even keep him from breaking up with me. You can be supportive without morphing into somebody else.

If you’re dating for the first time or still getting a hang of it, advice can certainly be helpful, but it’s more important to do what makes sense to YOU, not some magazine’s idea of who you are. If you wanna call first and suggest seeing a movie, why not? Your crush might be just as nervous as you are, and relieved that someone finally said something. I’ve tried to make the first move whenever possible (texting, suggesting a date, or kissing first) because not only do I suck at being coy and suppressing my desires, I also just enjoy being dynamic and knowing that I am trusting my heart at all times. Sometimes I get rejected, but I would feel worst about never trying. Every time I tell my best friend about my latest adventure she says, “Babe, let him court you so you can gauge how he feels,” but I know that if he we are meant to be he won’t fault me for calling him first.

I’ve only had a few relationships, and even though I’m distressed when they end I’m always happy that I didn’t sacrifice myself in order to be with that person. Getting to really know someone is the most enjoyable and exciting part of a relationship, and where all of the important sharing takes place. Love is only a losing game when you try to cheat and sneak your way through the parts that make it worthwhile. ♦