Sometimes I think I make the wrong people pay for what hasn’t worked in past relationships, as if I’m living some sort of relationship hangover. In other words, the current love interest pays for the misdeeds of the former, just as the former paid for the failings of the one before.
The guy who has never lied to you says something that ignites memories of the guy who did. The date who bails on a single evening elicits a decision never to see him again, because of the one who constantly flaked… then dumped you altogether.
An overreaction – inappropriate words or behaviors, which minutes later, you regret.
Some refer to this as breakup baggage, but that’s too simplistic. I think it’s more accurate to say these are emotional responses that are misplaced, but triggered by incidents we simply don’t forget.
When Things Go Wrong
I’m certain I have inadvertently made men pay for the fallout from my marriage. I imagine I’ve been on the receiving end of equal parts “payment” for what has gone wrong in their relationships. But I’m trying not to beat myself up over these lapses – not my own, not anyone else’s.
Don’t we always absorb lessons from what we experience, and try not to repeat our mistakes? Don’t we also pay for the mistakes of others – including parents, siblings, spouses, or bosses? Isn’t a relationship hangover to be expected in any of these cases – and not necessarily the result of endings?
Nothing to do with relationships is cut and dry, of course. For example, if we’ve been burned by infidelity, we will (hopefully) be more attuned to signs. Unfortunately, our epiphanies don’t appear in an orderly sequence with immediate improvements to our judgment. And it is only with the long view that we see where we went off track. Consequently, we can identify the path we don’t want to take again; better still, an option we do.
What We Learn From Past Mistakes
We all learn from our mistakes if we’re lucky, though it may take some of us years for the lessons to crystallize into a revised approach that is more comfortable. The beauty of experiencing several relationships before making a significant commitment is, among other things, what we learn about ourselves.
We learn what we like and what we’re good at. This may include our physical “type,” what we find pleasing in bed, the ways in which we are good at loving another person, and how we like to spend our time with that person in a relationship. We may also come to an understanding of how much we are willing to sacrifice (and compromise), how much time we like to spend together (and apart), and how important the approval of others is to us – integrating our special someone into family gatherings, work events, with children, with friends.
As in any relationship, we deal with false steps – trusting too quickly (or too slowly), revealing too much (or not enough), expecting too much (or too little), and finding some differences unmanageable while others are met with greater flexibility than we thought.
If and when the relationship ends – we make note and hopefully, we work to understand where we need to be a “better self,” and also, make better choices.
We All Pay for the One Who Came Before
One former boyfriend was affectionate, funny and deeply caring. When we met, I hadn’t felt much in the years since my marriage ended, and he hadn’t been in a serious relationship in a very long time. We clicked immediately, our romance progressed in storybook fashion, and we adored each other.
There were problems, sure. But one that began to grate on me over time was this: He had difficulty saying “I love you,” though in his own way he let me know how he felt, but I ached a little when I said “I love you” and he beamed, but couldn’t speak the words.
So was I paying for one of his failed relationships that came before? Was there something in his childhood that was the cause, that he couldn’t put his finger on? (I asked; he had no answer.)
In the relationship that followed, I was hungrier than I realized for a man who could articulate his feelings clearly and without hesitation. Out the window went my usual good judgment about taking my time, and in part because he said the words, I fell hard and fast. We burned brightly for awhile until his passion turned (as quickly) to someone else. I was deeply hurt.
After that? For four years, my heart was locked up tight.
Where We Are, Who We Are
When I consider the man in my life now, his capacity to trust, his willingness to compromise, the amount of time we spend together – often in discussion – I recognize that he is a choice that nourishes me in ways that I haven’t been nourished before. (The upside to those relationship lessons.)
His desire to share himself and his life with me – to talk and laugh – is heaven. Will it always be this way? I have no crystal ball, of course. But I see clearly that my ex had no such desire to participate so fully in a “coupled” life. He was a loner, and preferred the company of his buddies.
The clarity with which I draw boundaries in our relationship?
In marriage, I gave too much and I gave up too much. I said nothing until it was too late. In this relationship, I speak my need for boundaries – certainly more than ever before – and I stand up for what I love. This includes necessary time alone and significant time to write, though these lines in the sand can be difficult for my partner.
In some respects, the man in my life at present is paying for my ex-husband’s shortcomings or more precisely, the shortcomings of the dynamic between my ex and myself. After all, it takes two to make a relationship falter and two, both invested, to make it work. Then again, in me he has found areas of compatibility that did not exist in his marriage, and he insists in ways that are important to him.
Perhaps a better way to view relationship experience is this: Though we may exact a price for what we learn, however imperfectly, we also benefit.
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