To my lovestruck teenage friends:
First off, I'm not judging you. After all, I was you for a lot of years. And if I'm honest, sometimes I still fall into your dreamy, can't-see-past-that-gorgeous-smile ways. I know you want to be in love. And I'm sure this guy or girl in your life seems like the best thing to ever happen to you, but I have a few questions. I'm not telling you to break up with him or her. I only want to make you think. Can you at least humor me?
So first: How does he or she treat you when no one else is around? For a second, forget about how he or she acts in public. When you're alone, does he or she treat you kindly? Respectfully? Or does he or she act jealous and possessive? Does he or she put you down and make you feel stupid? Does he or she pressure you to do things you wouldn't do otherwise?
If you answered yes to any of the last three questions, ask yourself: Is that how things should be? Do I deserve to feel that way? Is this as good as it gets? In case you're unsure, let me help you out: NO!!!
Ok, so another thing: I know the idea of meeting someone over Snapchat or Facebook seems great. It's exciting and the other person makes you feel truly special. You get sweet messages and feel like someone cares a lot about you. But do you really know them, like face to face?
If you haven't met the person in personyou don't know themPeriod. It doesn't matter if you have had 100 conversations or 1. A person can pretend to be anyone they want behind the safety of their phone. Please, please, please try not to fall for someone until you meet them in person.
Whether your relationship is in person or not, ask yourself this: Does he or she seem too good to be true? Is he or she saying all the right things but deep down, you feel like something is off? Trust your instincts. You are smarter than you know, and your gut instincts can save you from a world of hurt if you listen to them.
At this point, you're either reading this saying, "Oh boy, I have a problem..." or "Wow, you couldn't be further off!" You could also be between those two extremes, realizing there are a few red flags but not wanting to admit them. Again, trust your instincts! If things are perfectly healthy- great! I truly hope that your relationship is healthy, loving, and encouraging. But I've talked to enough heartbroken teenagers to know that most are not.
Please have the courage to really think about your relationship. The choices you make now will impact the rest of your life. The unhealthy patterns and people you allow to shape you now will follow you for years to come. But if you find the strength to stand up for yourself now, you will create healthy patterns for your life to come.
Lastly, let me say this: I am NOT against love! You might think I'm some cynical hater looking to crush everyone's dreams. On the contrary, I'm a hopeless romantic. I'm sappy, emotional, and very much in love right now. But after dating in high school and some pretty unhealthy relationships over the years, I've learned a few things. I can see now that what I thought was love wasn't. Real love is patient and kind. It's not jealous, prideful, or rude. It isn't selfish, and it doesn't hold things over your head. It celebrates with you and is honest. It is respectful, trusting, and perseveres through tough times. If you aren't experiencing that, don't settle.
I know that I won't save all of you from unhealthy relationships. You're human like I am, and you're going to make your own mistakes. But I hope I can convince you to be cautious, to ask yourself the hard questions. To notice red flags and to talk to someone* about your relationship when things seem off. It is far better to get out of an unhealthy relationship early, rather than waiting around for things to change.
I promise you I am not the only one who cares about you. You are worth far more than you know. And real love is quite possible. You just might have to be patient and wait for it. But trust me, real love is worth the wait.
Thanks for reading this. I truly hope you find the kind of love that values you and treats you with the dignity you deserve. 

Your friend and fan,

*If you'd like to talk to an advocate about potential red flags in a relationship, call 1-800-382-5603 or text 'IOWAHELP' to 20121.