(Real Simple) -- When it comes to amore, we all have our coulda, woulda, shouldas. But maybe it's possible to have one or two fewer. This month readers share their hard-earned wisdom and advice— to save others from future heartache.
I wish I had known that my relationship status has nothing to do with my personal worth. When I was a teenager, I spent so much emotional energy thinking that I needed a boyfriend to feel confident. But it turns out you need to love yourself before someone else can reciprocate. -- Brigette Indelicato, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Real Simple: Break out of your relationship ruts
My short, unpleasant first marriage taught me that there's no need to rush things. My ex-husband and I knew each other for just seven months before we tied the knot. If we had waited longer, I doubt we would have said, "I do." Fortunately I'm now with someone who is patient. We dated for 2½ years before getting engaged, and we're waiting another 2½ years before walking down the aisle. -- Amanda C. Quincy, Massachusetts
If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self that love is not going to come in the package that you're expecting. For ages I was set on finding a tall, handsome man who liked to salsa dance and to listen to Spanish music. But as soon as I let go of these shallow desires, I met a man who makes me feel safe, puts me first, and often surprises me with romantic gestures. He doesn't speak a word of Spanish and prefers country music, but I couldn't love him more. -- Lisa Thompson, Huntington Beach, California
Real Simple: Love rules
In my early 20s, I spent night after night questioning whether the person I was dating truly cared for me. But after I met my future husband, I learned that when someone loves you, you never wonder if he does. You just know. -- Christy Huntington, Las Vegas, Nevada
A loving relationship gives you strength—even after it's over. When I found out my husband had died in a car accident, I thought I was going to die myself. But 16 years later, I am still here. I haven't remarried, but I am raising our son and passing down to him the love that my husband and I shared. -- Lucy E. Garcia, Miami, Florida
I would like to shake my younger self and say, "Never give up on love, you fool!" Shortly after coming out, my heart was broken. I believed that no one would ever love me again. Then I met Sarah: We have been together for 15 years and have a son. She's the kindest person I've ever known, and her love for me is steadfast and true. -- Carmela Ciuraru, Brooklyn, New York
Real Simple: Inspiring stories of marriages that survived
I spent much of my former marriage trying to get my husband to be more affectionate and to spend meaningful time with me. But those actions didn't come naturally to him, so I moved on. I am now with a man who doesn't need prodding. Being with him has made me realize that love doesn't have to be hard work. I feel cared for all the time and am so grateful for that. -- Sarah Miller, Yorkville, Illinois
Real Simple: 5 true love stories
A relationship isn't 50/50 every single day. If I come home exhausted from work, my husband will do whatever needs to be done in the house. On other days, I might do all the cooking and cleaning because he's wiped out. As long as you both consistently make an effort, your marriage will be a success. -- Luanne McElheney Wedd, Sautee Nacoochee, Georgia
Real Simple: 7 ways to spend more quality time with your partner
The difference between "perfect" and "perfect for me." My spouse has flaws, and so do I. But we complement and complete each other, and that's all that matters. -- Jill Waldrop, Spring, Texas
Sure, it's passionate and exciting, but young love doesn't compare to old love. Hand in hand, my husband of 35 years and I have learned to take pleasure in the everyday: wandering through the woods in our area, inhaling the scent of our garden, watching the fluttering butterflies. Our bond is deep and understanding; it brings me comfort, joy, and peace. -- Louise C. Billings, Magnolia, Texas
Real Simple: 10 ways to make your marriage divorceproof
In my last relationship, I went wherever my boyfriend wanted to go and would often change my plans to be with him. It was only when things fell apart that I saw how foolish I had been and that it's simply not healthy to let the person you're with become your entire world. No matter how in love you are, don't neglect your friends or your hobbies and passions. You need to feel OK being on your own. -- Michelle Edward, Richmond, Virginia
The bottom line: You can never really know anything about love. Just when you think you have it figured out, it blindsides you. Seven years after I uprooted my life to be with my boyfriend, he left me. That's when I told myself that I would never relocate for a guy ever again. But about six years later I broke my own rule by following the man I loved to Florida. And this time it worked: John and I are still together after nine years and very happy. -- Elizabeth Rocco, Ocala, Florida
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