The Pitfalls of Trite Advice

You have probably heard all kinds of trite relationship advice over life because it’s a staple of conversations about relationships. You may even give trite relationship advice sometimes, because sometimes it’s useful. But it’s important to see the advice for what it is and consider whether what you’re repeating makes sense or not.

Here are some examples of relationship advice that people give without being thoughtful about what they’re saying or why they’re saying it:

  1. Opposites attract.
  2. Find someone who has the same interests as you.
  3. People will find you more attractive if you’re passionate about something.
  4. If they care, they’ll text you all the time and be jealous if you’re spending time with someone else.
  5. You can’t love someone unless you love yourself first.
  6. Love means never having to say you’re sorry.
  7. Everything happens for a reason.
  8. There are plenty of fish in the sea.
  9. Once a cheater, always a cheater.
  10. There’s a pot for every lid.
  11. Love conquers all.

Some of these, like there are plenty of fish in the sea, are designed to help bolster self-esteem, move past painful moments, and open up to the possibilities. Others, like opposites attracts, are used to validate someone’s interest in a specific person. Both of those instincts are fine. But some of them, like love means never having to say you’re sorry and love conquers all, are just wrong and pave the way to unhealthy relationships.

When we’re talking about relationships in sex ed classes, though, we need to move away from all of these trite pieces of advice. Instead, our goal is to work collectively towards a complex and nuanced dialogue about the good and bad, the possibilities, the needs of give and take that a healthy relationship requires, and more. So instead of giving trite advice, here are things to say instead:

  1. Lots of people like being in a relationship with someone who has different perspectives than they do.
  2. Lots of people like to do things they love with the person they’re dating. Sometimes those are activities that both people started off loving and sometimes one of them introduced the other to the activity.
  3. Having your own interests and loves is an important part of being a healthy person regardless of whether you’re dating or not.
  4. When someone cares about you, and expresses that in a healthy way, they will pay attention to you but they will not hold you back from spending time with your friends and family or from doing the things you love.
  5. You can love someone and they can love you. It’s healthy and good for you to love yourself, but that doesn’t have to come before you can accept love from someone else.
  6. Love means many things to many people, but love can never takes the place of a healthy relationship and communication dynamic between two people.
  7. Sometimes, especially in retrospect, it makes sense why things happened a certain way. Sometimes things don’t make sense. Understanding which one is which is sometimes and easy and sometimes hard and people may end up feeling differently about whether something falls into one category or another. Making sense of the world on your terms, from your perspective, is important. Letting other people makes of the world on their terms, from their perspective, is also important.
  8. If a relationship hasn’t worked out well for you, it’s important to let it live in the past and move on. That can be hard to do. You can make the choice to find new and beautiful relationships and activities.
  9. It’s important to trust what someone tells you about themselves, through their words and their actions. If there is something that they have done in the past that bothered you, you want to have a conversation with them about it and let them know why it’s not something that you want to have as part of your relationship.
  10. Many people are in happy, healthy relationships. If that’s a goal you have for your life, it’s likely you will be able to achieve it for at least parts of your life. There are also people who never really meet someone who they want to be in a relationship with or are only in relationships for short periods of time. There are other ways to have a happy, healthy, full life than being in a long-term romantic or sexual relationship.
  11. Love can feel amazing! It’s important not to let love get in the way of making sure your relationship is also healthy.

One of the things you’ll notice is that this second list of things to say is much longer than the first. Nuance and depth inherently takes longer than trite advice. And that’s okay. It’s why really high-quality sex education can’t be rushed.