what i wish i knew about dating when i was younger

Dating and sexuality can be hard to navigate at any age, but they can be especially hard when you’re first starting out and still figuring out what you are (or aren’t) into. So, we reached out to 22 dating experts, bloggers & matchmakers to give us some insight into their early dating lives with the question, “If you were having a conversation with a young person who had not started dating yet, what would you share with them?” Their answers cover everything from self-confidence to consent and everything in between – check them out below!

vijaya chikermane

Executive Director, Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention | Twitter

Saying yes to yourself.

I think the most important person you date when you’re young is yourself. It’s when you realize what you like doing, the places you like being, and who you like being with. Sexual exploration is an exciting and important part of this. Knowing what turns you on can help you feel confident about your body and set your physical and emotional boundaries. More than anything, knowing what you like allows you to surround yourself with people who make you happy.

In the midst of all the shame and judgment so many young people feel, especially young women, loving yourself and unapologetically choosing love from others is both bold and necessary.

elizabeth brandeis

Registered midwife and President of the Association of Ontario Midwives | Twitter

As a midwife, I provide information to help the people I work with to make choices that are right for them.

When you’re dating, you have to make a lot of choices, too. Just like choices in health care, different people will make different choices when they’re dating, depending on their own individual needs, desires and feelings.

My advice? Don’t ever feel you have to make a choice just because it was a choice made by someone else you know. Try to make choices that are based on your own desires, feelings and intuition, not based on feelings of obligation or pressure from others. Also, just because you made a choice once doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind. Whether it’s a choice about who to date, whether to see that person a second or third or hundredth time, whether or not to have sex, whether or not to have sex with other people, make sure you feel those choices are yours.

Some decisions are very hard to make and it’s helpful to find someone you can talk to and count on for information and support. Whether that’s a trusted friend or family member, or a support program like Planned Parenthood or YouthLine, having someone to talk to when you need advice or are making tough choices can really help you feel like you’re not alone.

carlyle jansen

Owner of Good for Her | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

If you like someone, ask them out. There are no rules about who can ask whom out on a date. If someone declines your offer, don’t take it personally. There are many others out there to date. If you are not finding people you connect with at school or work, do activities that reflect your values and interests to meet like-minded folks: a sport, a political/environmental/cultural group, a hobby or other activity you enjoy.

Go slowly. If you like them and they like you, there will be a next time when you can take another step. Don’t be rushed by someone else or compromise your needs and boundaries for their affection or attention. Sometimes you don’t know you have hit a boundary until you have gone past it. It is way easier to recover from a boundary you realize was crossed by a little than by a lot.

Take care of yourself. From where you meet, to making sure that someone else knows where you are and with whom, from asking for consent to obtaining, discussing and using whatever safer sex products are the best choice for you. If someone puts you down or suggests that there is something wrong with you, listen to your gut and find someone else to date who makes you feel awesome about yourself. You are worth it!

There are no right or wrongs when it comes to dating. Each situation is different. Talk to friends or adults with similar values about what they have learned in their experience, read about dating from other youth at places like Planned Parenthood Toronto, scarleteen.com, sexetc.org or books like The Little Black Book for Boyz/Girls written by other youth in Toronto. Follow your head as well as your heart. Focus on yourself and what you want to do and don’t worry about what others are or are not doing. You will have some fun times and will learn as you go. We all made choices that we realize weren’t the best. Go easy on yourself if you make what you consider a mistake. If you think that something not quite right happened, talk about it with a counsellor or trusted friend or adult. They can help you figure it out.