As a late bloomer, I didn’t have the same relationship trajectory as many of my friends, and consequently turned to other resources (namely comics, movies, and good ol’ TV) for advice to guide me through the mire of early relationships.

For a lot of people, the holidays are a lonely time. With New Year’s Eve being two weeks from tomorrow, folks start thinking about who they’ll be kissing when the clock strikes twelve. So here are the relationship tips I carefully culled in my youth, to make your holidays, and hopefully 2011s, a little cuddlier.

1. Know who you are to one another.

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I can’t count the number of relationships I’ve been in where the parties involved did not view things the same way. There was that one guy who did not seem to agree that we were exclusive, and that other guy who thought the same… okay, I can count them. There were two. For a seemingly simple aspect of any relationship, definition is where many folks go disastrously awry. The most foundational aspect of a relationship is to know, and agree on, who you are to one another.

Before you all freak out on me, let me say I’m very aware that Donna and the Doctor were not “a couple.” That’s what made them so fun to watch. Rose and the Doctor were obviously nuts about each other, and Martha was nursing a serious crush from the moment the Time Lord kissed her in the hospital on the moon. (Man, I love this show.) From the moment they met, though, there was no indication that Donna and the Doctor would be anything but friends, a message broadcast from the beginning when we met Donna as an angry woman in a wedding dress. These two worked because they knew exactly what they were to one another. They were as close as two people could be, but there were no romantic entanglements, and that was fine. They were on the same platonic, adventuresome page.

This advice does not mean I think you should rush out and define nebulous things right away (see #6), but having a common ground on which to stand is essential for any relationship worth its salt.

2. Be patient.

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This is a mantra that I wish everyone would adopt for every aspect of relationships. Then again, I’ve already opened two of my Christmas presents, so I may not be the final word on patience. This applies everywhere: Be patient getting a relationship off the ground, be patient with one another’s foibles, be patient, period. You’re two different people, and no matter how in sync you may be, you will never be inside one another’s heads. There will be miscommunications and misunderstandings. Things will be a mess. Be patient.

We sat through seven freaking seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation knowing that Will Riker and Deanna Troi were, at some point, going to get the old band back together. Sure, Deanna dated Worf for a while, and his transporter-twin Thomas made a decent attempt at wooing her in Will’s place. Their history pre-dated the show, and their eventual wedding followed it, but during the series’ run, we got nothing. That doesn’t mean everyone watching didn’t know what was happening, and couldn’t see the reunion a million light-years away. Still, we were patient, and they were patient, and their patience prevented the show from being overly weighted down with unnecessary drama and missed romance. Patience yielded a three-way win here, and can do similar wonders in almost any circumstance.

3. Listen to one another and tell the damn truth. Duh.

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Talk, tell the truth when you do, and listen when your partner does. It seems so simple, but goodness gracious, does this advice go by the wayside. Being lied to by a trusted partner hurts like the dickens, and not being listened to is nearly as bad. This advice could save everyone a few huge fights, and prove savior to some beautiful relationships, but people don’t seem to want to take it. Don’t be those people. Take this advice.

I wanted these two to work out, I really did. The evolution of their relationship was one of the most natural I’ve ever seen on a television series, and they suited one another so well. Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay were doomed from their first fight, though, and their rekindled relationship wouldn’t have lasted, even if it hadn’t been marred by a big bloody tragedy. Willow didn’t listen to Tara’s concerns, lied about fixing them, and erased the woman’s memory to negate having not listened and then lied. This was all part of Willow’s downward spiral to set her up as a Big Bad, but that doesn’t mean this relationship’s destruction wasn’t painful to watch. This isn’t to say that Tara had never lied or hid the truth; when the character first came onto the scene, I thought she was going to turn out to be evil or sketchy. She turned out to be neither of those things, and I was crushed to watch Willow break some cardinal relationship rules just to sustain her addiction to magic. Don’t do magic, kiddies. More importantly, talk, listen, and tell the truth.

4. If it’s worth having, you’ll probably have to work for it. (Or fight for it, but don’t go starting fights.)

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If someone tells you relationships are easy, they’re trying to get into your pants. Relationships ask two unrelated people to coexist, often cohabitate, and that is so incredibly hard, it’s a wonder anyone’s in a relationship at all. This work involves patience (see #2), cooperation, compromise, and communication (see #3). The work is arduous and obnoxious, so it’s good the payoff is (generally) worth the work. Don’t delude yourself, though: It is a ridiculous amount of work.

Scott Pilgrim could teach a lot of lessons about a lot of things. He’s a great model to look to if you want to learn how not to be responsible, upstanding, or not a tool. Through the comics, perhaps more than through the film, Scott learns how the world actually works. It, well, it works. People have to work at jobs for money, bands have to work at their music to not suck, and people have to work at relationships for them to succeed. Some people have to work harder than others, and those people want to date Ramona Flowers. Scott works on relationships in more subtle ways, but the big, obvious one is the wailing on his Ramona’s seven evil exes.

5. Some obstacles will seem enormous. They usually aren’t.

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Have I mentioned that people are generally incompatible? Well, consider it mentioned. There are a million variables making people what they are, and you will never find a person with whom all your variables perfectly align, so stop looking. The object of your affection will always have weird opinions about money, or have a habit that drives you bananas, or be a sexual orientation that isn’t oriented towards you. Often, these kill a relationship in its infancy, and life goes on. Sometimes, though, a relationship has everything going for it, but there’s one seemingly insurmountable obstacle preventing what you imagine perfect bliss to be like. Guess what? That obstacle probably isn’t preventing anything. No one is exactly who you want them to be. Know this, and go be happy with someone you love, despite that part about them you hate.

Mal Reynolds and Inara Serra live together, sort of, and work together, sometimes. More often than not, they’re bickering, bantering, and bitching about each other’s career of choice. He’s a thief, which she has issues with, and he’s not too keen that she’s a Companion, no matter how revered in society they are. These are genuinely petty when viewed against the obvious love they have for one another, and the good they do for each other as human beings. I know they got together neither in series nor movie, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t in a romantic relationship in millions of fan fictions, or in their hearts.

6. Don’t force something if you’re already happy with the way things are.

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This seems to go against things I’ve already said (see #1), but it differs in a slight but vital respect. If you’re both happy, and your relationship, as is, is working, don’t push to change things. If neither of you wants a label, don’t label it. If nobody cares about marriage, why bother? If you’re enjoying your sexually tense and exciting adventures, but neither of you feels like you need to define them as anything concrete, there’s no reason to do so. Your relationship is your own, and ultimately what makes you happy is what works.

In my mental encyclopedia, there’s a sweet little picture of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully next to “tension, sexual.” It didn’t prevent them from doing their jobs, rather it seemed to enhance their working relationship. It certainly made the series more exciting, and upped the ante on a show where the stakes were already pretty high. The joy of this tension was its lack of resolve; while they eventually jumped into the sack, I prefer the days where no one really talked about it. It was a functional relationship, it made them as happy as it seemed they could be, and it was maddeningly, gloriously without a label.

7. Be honest with yourself if it truly isn’t working.

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Sometimes, everything can seem perfect. Your partner is incredible, your conversations are scintillating, they’re your physical ideal, you get along like whoa. That doesn’t mean it will work out, or is in fact currently working. Sometimes, there’s an indefinable piece missing form your relationship puzzle. If you can’t find it, maybe it’s not there to be found. Even the most seemingly flawless relationship can fail, and we need to be able to accept that and move on.

Jon Osterman and Laurie Juspeczyk had it all. They were young (well, she was), good-looking, and in love, they were supported by the government, and he happened to be the closest thing to a god walking the planet. We all thought they would make it. Then he begins losing touch with humanity, and she realized being with a god can be a little creepy. Then their communication fell apart, then the world fell apart, and then the movie didn’t end as well or as interestingly as the comic did. A relationship may look ideal on the surface, but there can be serious trouble lurking in its depths. You are ultimately responsible for your own happiness. If it isn’t working, be honest with yourself.

8. People will tell you it won’t work out. Don’t necessarily listen.

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The caveat to this bit of advice is if everyone is saying, “No, seriously, get out,” and you’re sporting bruises, or can frequently not remember where you were last night, then listen to your friends. Get out.

Now that we’ve all been sufficiently after-school-specialed, let me say that other people are dumb and petty. Old folks and relatives have been known to say helpful things like, “you’ll never make it!” Particularly enterprising friends may lay wages on how long a relationship may last, and I would never, ever, be so heartless as to lay down five dollars on an obviously doomed marriage of some friends-of-friends, ever. People are jerks, though. They like to cut you down. I know I’m not telling you anything new, we’re all on the internet.

I’m not saying ignore your instincts, or shut everyone out. If you feel you are in the relationship you should be, though, if you feel respected and loved and whatever else floats your boat, then screw ’em.

Looking at all the couples on this list, who would peg Homer and Marge Simpson as the one that would last? They dated in high school, got pregnant, and got married. She’s repressed, and he suffers from a genuinely dangerous level of idiocy. Yet they’ve endured misadventures that would tear other couples apart, and still come back to each other every time. I can only hope any relationship I’m in can weather a storm as well as Homer and Marge’s can.

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