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A guide to letting your guard down

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

To thine own self be true

Everyone wants to avoid unnecessary heartache, but sometimes the only way to find a great love is to dive on in.

The dating world is full of conflicting messages about what you should and shouldn't do at various phases of the relationship. We recently visited with Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist and author, to get her surprising take on dating, relationships and when to let your guard down.

It turns out that letting your guard down is both easier — and harder — than our culture sometimes insists it is.

Don't be afraid of vulnerability

The larger conundrum that lies behind the question of when to let your guard down is really about potential rewards versus potential risks. Vulnerability requires risk. Vulnerability is also required for the reward of finding and keeping a great love. Dr. Durvasula believes that single women should rethink risks, and instead view vulnerability as a statement of courage. She adds, "So what if he hurts you? While it may seem like the humiliation of breaking up is insurmountable — it's not. You will get over it. If your senses tell you to take a chance, take it. You don't want to regret what you didn't do, but rather what you did do. Great loves are only found by taking a few chances."

Stakeholders versus personal intuition

Every woman needs to cultivate at least a few healthy friendships, whether those friends are men or women. And when possible, it's also important to develop good relationships with family members who provide caring advice and support. Problems can arise, however, when these stakeholders begin to drown out your own intuition. Well-intentioned friends and family can sometimes provide so much dating advice, perhaps colored from their own experiences, that it can feel difficult to hone in on your own opinions and feelings about your date. Dr. Durvasula states, "Love is an instinct; listen to yours rather than someone else's."

One important caveat: if you have a steady stream of relationships that have proven to be emotionally, physically or otherwise abusive, your intuition may need some tweaking through the loving care of a friend, family member or therapist.

Avoid "dating projects"

"I am not a big fan of people treating dating like a project," says Dr. Durvasula. "In our controlled world, we treat everything like a job. But some things, like love, don't ascribe as well to that." Any woman who has spent time in the dating world knows that there is gads of advice about how a relationship is supposed to move forward, including timelines on when to say "I love you," when to share a first kiss and when to get engaged. But the fact remains that no two relationships are the same. Some escalate smoothly over time, and some are a crazy rollercoaster of emotions that end up in a Vegas wedding. Dr. Durvasula believes that no one knows your relationship the way that you do, so it makes sense to follow your own timeline for letting your guard down. Just listen to yourself.

More on love and dating

5 Reasons why it's OK to ask a matchmaker for help
Tips for a first date that will ensure a second date

Date disaster: Mistakes you don't realize you're making

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