1. Your heart has value. Only share it with people who are, at the very least, kind, funny and honest. Those are non-negotiable. Do not place your heart in the hands of anyone who delights in embarrassing you, treats you as if you are undeserving of love or otherwise leaves you feeling worse about yourself.
2. We're all allowed some insecurities. When you give someone your heart, you might discover you have ones you didn't know about. You might notice the ones you thought you had under control rearing up like snakes intent on poisoning your relationship. You might need to, as they say, do a little work on yourself. Most of our hearts have been damaged before, but try to hand yours over somewhat repaired instead of still bleeding. Take measure: Did you grow up feeling loved, protected and as if your home was a place of joy? Or did you flee to Humboldt to nurse your wounds? Are you comfortable taking yourself out to ATL for a Sunday evening movie? When's the last time you went to the beach alone? Do you constantly compare yourself to others and believe you're lacking? Do you find yourself repeating mistakes because your heart stays on the same path despite your brain's pleas to go the other way? Are you able to walk into Good Relations and pick out a new best friend without getting the shakes? You don't have to be perfect! But the more whole you can be before trusting your happiness to another, the healthier for both of you. We pick better people when we feel good about ourselves.
3. Trust your friends. If their instincts are to protect you from pain, listen. If the new person in your life insists you leave the people who've known and loved you for years, run. For example: You're happy-houring at Oberon with your pals and your date walks into the room. Does your heart soar or sink? If a grin appears on your face before you could even think to smile, life is how it should be. If your neck tenses up and you find yourself cataloging possible offenses, you've placed your heart with someone who doesn't deserve it. Take it back firmly and walk away.
4. Knowing that the health of your heart depends on another is scary. You might find yourself more attuned to perceived threats than usual. You might overreact. Rare is the person in love who hasn't done something stupid because of it. Minimize the damage and potential lasting embarrassment by having any angry/sad/accusatory conversations in person or talking on the phone. Facebook and texts last long after the emotional rush has worn off. (Confession: I have so regretted getting into an argument with a friend via FB messages, that I snuck onto the computer and deleted our entire conversation. Which is also a shitty thing to do. We should own our words, but it's easier when they exist only in the actual atmosphere, not the virtual one.) Plus, we live in a small town — keeping drama private is hard enough. Go public and be defined as that crazy person forever. Point being, when you find yourself panicked or enraged, vent to a friend or a very private diary or journal. Spew forth. Write furiously. Then take about 18 zillion deep breaths, muster your maturity and have that tough talk like a grown-up.
5. Odds are, you'll get hurt. It happens. (See: Entire history of art, music, storytelling, literature, etc.) Kind people have cruel moments. Funny people twist comedy into criticism. Honest people trip up. Smart people make mistakes. All you can do is your best.
BONUS: You've entrusted your heart to someone and so far, so good. So good, in fact, that you're considering a domestic arrangement — marriage, maybe, or cohabitation. Congratulations. But know this: Love is not enough. You have to take a hard look at long-term expectations and practical day-to-day functioning. Are you a stuff person and he's a space person? Do you put in a 60-hour work week while she lies on the couch reading Savage Henry from cover to cover? Are you taking out direct deposit advances because you want a new dress while he wears shoes until his feet slide out the holes? Do you dream of storming Manhattan someday and she dreams of homesteading in Petrolia? Are you unenthused about monogamy and your partner counting on it? Even initially charming differences easily become fodder for divorce. Avoid future headaches and heartache by sorting all this stuff out beforehand.