Yep, it’s shocking even to me, but I’ve been in three serious-ish relationships, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from each of them, for better or worse. Apparently not enough to get me into a stable, mature, happy relationship now, but hey, baby steps, right? Or, in my case, steps of a preemie who only has one leg. But steps nonetheless.
a cautionary tale what I’ve learned from my three longest relationships.
1. The First “Real” Boyfriend
And the first college boyfriend. This one was unexpected, and sort of a whirlwind, perhaps because of my inexperience. I first saw him in one of my music classes, and really took note of the way his hair flipped just the smallest amount at the ends. I liked it more than makes sense. I clocked him, and then inadvertently ended up at a party at his apartment the next weekend. It started with that drunken night and ended a semester later.
I learned from my relationship with him to let someone tell you they love you without freaking out, or reading too much into it, or over-analyzing it. Don’t worry that it’s too soon or too serious. Just let them say it. It’s a wonderful thing, to be loved. And don’t doubt it. You can concoct in your head a million reasons why it’s not true–the same million reasons you don’t love yourself–but just accept it.
I also learned what it’s like to be blindsided–to be so completely taken off guard in being broken up with, that all you can muster is a resolute, composed, “ok,” as you turn around and walk away. I learned that it feels like the wind has been knocked out of you, but that you actually turn out ok. That it’s actually a lot easier to let go than you first thought.
I learned what it felt like to compromise certain parts of myself to try to fit in; with the relationship, with his expectations, with his family of friends. I thought I was learning what it meant to be a girlfriend–that it meant being demure, soft-spoken, delicately attractive–all the things men want. Little did I know, I had it all wrong.
I learned, unbeknownst to me at the time, what it was like to be the last girlfriend before the fiancé. I learned what it was like to be replaceable. And I learned that was ok. Perhaps, most of all, I learned that being in a relationship is a messy thing–it’s exciting and overwhelming, disappointing and surprising; it’s ever-changing and it’s supposed to be.
2. The Second, Most Serious Boyfriend
We met while studying abroad, the semester after things had ended with the first boyfriend. Again, I was drawn to him immediately when I saw him–he looked different. And we were friends for a long time first. With him, I learned the value of true friendship in a romantic relationship. I learned it’s a solid base to build on.
The first time we kissed was so good–simply, it was so good. After that, it took a while to really solidify our relationship, but once we were in one, it turned out great. Yes, we definitely hit road blocks–namely having to do with other people; the people we were surrounded with. I wish I had known at the time to care less about what other people were doing and saying and to not let it affect me or us. But that is one important thing I learned from my time with him: to take things people do and say in stride, and not get so caught up in or rattled by them. To come back to your anchored self, unmoved by external influences. And that will make for not only a more peaceful solitary existence, but also less tension in your relationship. But I also learned to still not compromise on things that were really important to me, and that I had a right to ask for the things that mattered to me.
I learned that it was ok to be myself. I learned it was possible to feel comfortable in my self around someone else, and they could love me for it. I learned how to do the long distance thing, and how heartbreaking it is to have to leave someone, or when they have to leave you. I learned that at a certain point, distance makes a relationship impossible. And that you can break up and still have nothing but positive feelings for someone.
I learned what it was like to lose a friend. I learned what it was like to want to hold onto a connection that he didn’t also want to save. I thought we could stay close even after we broke up, but, I learned, not everyone has that approach. But no matter what conflicts we had, our relationship was good; it was solid, and he was a good guy. He was good to me and for me. I don’t think I was as good to him–I learned what parts of me were immature and selfish. But also that to be unforgivingly myself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I learned that imperfection is lovable and human.
3. The Third, Worst Boyfriend
This is one of those that I so wish I could’ve seen coming. I went in blind and suffered for it. But maybe that’s just the way of things–I mean, how could I have known what I was getting into without getting into it? And in some ways I am grateful for this terrible experience, because I feel like I walked through a fire and managed to survive.
From this one, I learned that it is painful and unsustainable to try to meet standards that you don’t, at your core, want to meet. I learned that trying to be good enough, trying to be enough for someone, is so misguided and false. It won’t last. And, furthermore, you shouldn’t be with someone who you feel like you have to please, and fit some mold for. I learned that should be a red flag–feeling insufficient for or because of a person.
I learned not to jump quickly into a relationship with someone, because really it takes more than a lifetime to truly get to know them, and to be able to trust them. I learned that I shouldn’t have to apologize for myself–that I am far from perfect and I’m often wrong, but that I deserve a place at the table. I learned that if he has mommy issues, that’s my fucking cue to exit. I learned that bars aren’t reliable places to meet good people.
I learned that I should’ve paid attention to who he surrounded himself with. And should’ve took time getting to know those people, too. I learned that shallow concerns, materialism, vapidity don’t matter. I learned I want nothing to do with those things, and don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who is so concerned with them.
And most importantly, I learned that you can feel like you’re drowning in or because of a relationship, or because of the loss of one, but you will be OK. The pain will pass, and what once felt like earth-shattering betrayals and impossible losses will start to feel as insignificant as they truly are in the bigger picture of your life, and will only serve to fortify the inner strength you already have. I learned that being alone is ok, and often better than the alternative. I learned I don’t need anyone else to be ok, and that I can really do so much better.
And I am still learning.
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