With a name like Love, how could you not be a hopeless romantic? As a child, Jennifer Love Hewitt -- born a week after Valentine's Day -- says she refused to believe that the day wasn't created just for her. But as an adult who's been both lucky and unlucky in love, most of it on the front page of the tabloids, the star and co-producer of the CBS series Ghost Whisperer says she's traded in her rose-colored glasses for a more clear-eyed look at modern romance. It's a view she shares in her new book, The Day I Shot Cupid: Hello, My Name Is Jennifer Love Hewitt and I'm a Love-aholic. Hewitt says she envisioned the book as a "mate and a friend in the dating process, the good angel on your shoulder."
Cupid covers everything from being comfortable going out to eat solo, to recovering from a breakup, to what guys really think of our butts (you'd be pleasantly surprised), to "vagazzling your vajayjay." (Yes, she really did it.) What it's not, Hewitt says, is The Rules for the 2010s.
"I read The Rules and all those other dating books and loved them, and I took little bits from each," she says. "But to remember 15 rules of what to say and what not to say, how to do it and how not to do it, that doesn't work. Once you're in a relationship, you can't wake up every day with a checklist of 15 things you have to do to make a man happy. Why are we the ones walking around with the checklists? They're allowed to read interesting books, and we read How to Make Yourself Better So a Man Will Love You."
So although Cupid offers plenty of romantic and sexual advice (our favorite: "Your body is a temple, not a 7-Eleven: You decide when it's open and who gets to come in"), at its heart, says Hewitt, it has one message: "You're great. You're fine. Believe that the universe has something better for you and it will come to you. We're all going to get the chance to have the great love of our life. I really believe that. But you won't do it by spending time trying to change yourself into someone you're not."
Get the Party Started
Hewitt entered the limelight young, catapulting to fame as Bailey's girlfriend, Sarah, on Fox's Party of Five series when she was just 16. Then she cemented her place in the teen-idol constellation two years later in the film I Know What You Did Last Summer. By 2000, when she was just 21, Hewitt was playing Audrey Hepburn in a TV biography and had become the most popular actor on television, according to the often-cited "Q ratings" of celebrity popularity.
So through relationships with John Mayer and kayaker Brad Ludden, an engagement and breakup with Scottish actor Ross McCall, and her current romance with Ghost Whisperer co-star Jamie Kennedy, Hewitt has learned the sometimes harsh lessons of love in the public eye. It hasn't been easy, she says.
"I used to think it should be like a romantic comedy. You'd meet your perfect mate, fall in love, and that would be the end of it," she recalls. "Now I think it's about finding the person you can put up with most. The shoe that gives the least blister. It's a letting-go process. You have to go through the steps of grief, giving up the illusion that you'd fall off your high heel one day and a guy would pick you up, and that would be it. But then you learn to find your inner strength and confidence and to understand where your boundaries are.
On the Importance of Boundaries
Boundaries are huge for Hewitt. "You have to make deals with yourself: I'm not going to have this guy in my life if he isn't good for me. No matter how good-looking he is or how great he seems, no matter how well the first date goes, I have to be ruthless about my boundaries."
Boundaries help you pay attention to warning signs women too often overlook in the name of love, says Hewitt.
"First, making excuses for his anger. Anger doesn't get better. That's never a good sign," Hewitt cautions.
"Next, not listening to what a man says. Men are really good about telling you the truth with a smile on their face within the first couple of weeks. They'll tell you who they are. But when you're sitting down with your hopes and dreams in front of you, you'll hear what you want to hear. If you listen, instead of mentally dressing him up in the suit he's going to wear to your best friend's wedding, it'll save you months and years of time."
And at first, while you're listening -- really listening -- do a little less of the talking, says Hewitt. "You might think, 'I'm going to be brave and amazing and lay it all out there.' But don't do it! Keep the mouth zippered for the first few dates. Answer questions and give a little bit of yourself, but not too much right off the bat."
Love Unplugged: The Pitfalls of Online Romance
Speaking of giving too much information: Jennifer Love Hewitt may be a modern woman, but she's not a huge fan of what the latest technology is doing to romance. "It's cool to rely on modern means to get things rolling. But if we don't stop the electronic lovin' before it's gone too far, they won't," she writes. Of sexting, she simply says, "Ew! Say no to text relationships. Take his BlackBerry away and see what he's really made of."
Amen, Sister, says psychotherapist and relationship expert Tina Tessina, PhD, LMFT. "Texting can become your entire relationship. Is that what you really want?" she asks. Tessina, author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again and The 10 Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make Before 40, says that, for some couples, the option to text, Facebook, and Skype each other has its advantages -- but you have to be a couple first.
Instead of all the gadgetry, focus on the face-to-face relationship. "You can't force it, but it's a red flag if he won't see you in person," Tessina says. "Be really careful not to let the relationship become all instant messaging and Facebook and email. It's a pretend relationship unless there's real face-to-face stuff going on -- and not just booty calls!"
Another downside of the online age: It can make you paranoid. Tessina says there's nothing wrong with Googling the guy you've just started dating to get the inside scoop. (Is he telling the truth about that hot multimedia company he founded?) But you need to practice discipline in using all the technology tools at your fingertips.
"It used to be you'd go home from a date and, if you were excited to see the guy again, you had to resist calling him too soon," Hewitt says. "Now it's not just 'I won't call.' It's 'I won't text, I won't check his Facebook status or send him a Facebook message, I won't check his Twitter feed.' It's too much. Seriously, technology has messed dating up royally."
Knowing When to Leave a Relationship
Perhaps the worst mistake women make, Hewitt says, is getting caught up in a fantasy. "Reality is so important. It's not as much fun and doesn't feel nearly as good, but fantasy isn't going to take you anyplace real."
Tessina says Hewitt's advice is on the mark. "We're really good at talking ourselves into wanting what we have instead of waiting for what we deserve," she says. "One good way to get out of that: Get this person around your friends. They won't have the investment you have, so they can see more clearly, and they'll tell you if he doesn't seem right to them somehow."
Hewitt admits that she herself has often made the love-life mistake of not knowing when to get out. "When it's not right, you feel it. You know it. Not enough people -- women in particular -- trust their gut. The only person you hurt by staying in a relationship that's over is you," she says. "That's when you really have to say, 'Life is short. Do I want to spend it unhappy, or do I want to spend it full and happy, even if that means looking at the riches in my life not as the man next to me, but my girlfriends, my home, my health?'"
This is not to say that Jennifer Love Hewitt doesn't still believe in romance. You can hear the smile in her voice when she talks about one of her most memorable dates. "I think the best dates are the ones that go all over the place. One time I went and ended up cleaning the Plaza Hotel at three in the morning. Really! It sounded like a fun, goofy, romantic comedy thing to do. We went in and I was like, 'Hi, can I vacuum?' We had a great conversation while we were doing something silly. So if you're ever at the Plaza Hotel, check out how clean the ballrooms are!"
Jennifer Love Hewitt: "Love Your Body"
A couple of years ago, Hewitt famously clashed with bloggers after pictures of her wearing a bikini on vacation prompted them to denounce her as being "fat." "To all girls with butts, boobs, hips, and a waist, put on a bikini -- put it on and stay strong," she wrote at the time. Ten weeks later, she popped up on the cover of Us Weekly nearly 20 pounds thinner, generating even more chatter.
The "ideal" Hollywood body-image is damaging, Hewitt says. "It's hard enough to be a woman and find your inner confidence when, every time you look at the TV or a magazine or the movie screen, you see these perfect people who seem like they can eat anything. But I'm in the business, and I know these people don't eat. And they're in the gym just as much as I am."
"Yes! It's a constant beauty competition in this town. People are working their butts off, literally," Hewitt says.
"Sure, there are some, the Angelina Jolies and Penélope Cruzes, who are just drop-dead. But know that when you look at most of these people and they look so amazing, they're working on it all the time. And it takes two hours of hair and makeup and airbrushing and retouching. We're in the business of glamour and being the world's eye candy. But that's just what it is: candy."
If that candy inspires you to go to the gym and work a little harder, all well and good. But if it makes you doubt yourself, the effects can be brutal. "You've got to love yourself before it's too late. We have to remember that women usually worry about what they look like for other women, not for men," she says.
"If you have confidence in yourself, it doesn't matter if you're Gisele Bündchen. We have to stop thinking we're not good enough. If you walk into the room thinking, 'You would be so dumb not to leave with this tonight,' you're going home with the guy."
Jennifer Love Hewitt's Dating Dos and Don'ts
So what are the best bits of wisdom Jennifer Love Hewitt has gathered through years of good dates and bad dates, dumping and being dumped, falling in love and losing at love, and starting again?
1. Always buy a new top or dress before a date. It will make you feel like a million bucks.
2. Go on that first date looking like who you are. If you want to play a part later, you can have fun and even vamp it up. But if you're going to ask him to be real with you, start off by showing him your real self.
3. Don't be too open on the first few dates about your hopes for the future. (Never say, "I can see us spending the rest of our lives together.") By saying too much too soon, you could sabotage a potential relationship before it starts.
4. Listen to what a guy tells you about himself. If he says he doesn't want a serious commitment, believe him. Too many women dress a guy up in the suit they want him to wear and then say, "Why didn't you tell me this?" He's thinking, "But I did."
5. If the relationship was good, you would still be in it. But it wasn't, so you're not. But your time together mattered: You can take what you've learned to your next relationship.
Learning From Ghost Whisperer
Working on Ghost Whisperer, with its tales of death and words left unsaid, has taught Hewitt to focus less on the superficial and make the most of moments and people, she says. "I get caught up in feeling like I'm here forever. But it's a very grown-up, responsible thing to try to end your conversations and your days with the people most important to you knowing you haven't left anything unfinished or unsaid. That's one thing I definitely learned from my boyfriend -- he's one of those people who does that. He really lives life knowing it's short, but it is full of so much excitement and adventure if you're just willing to grab it."
Hewitt and Kennedy, along with their co-stars (who include Camryn Manheim and David Conrad), will be grabbing a lot more adventure in upcoming episodes of Ghost Whisperer. About her character antiques dealer and medium Melinda Gordon she says, "I have to admit that even I'm a bit confused. Ever since my husband died and came back in another man's body, I've been perplexed," she laughs. "I've been used to being in a show where Melinda understands things people don't. Now my character's son has come into the picture, and he understands things that I don't. There's definitely a lot of danger, and there will be a lot of emotional unraveling on Melinda's part. How does she protect her kid from something she doesn't know and doesn't understand? It's going to be scary!"