The Hard Love Lesson I Learned in My Thirties
People come into your life for a reason or a season…it’s that simple. It’s a straightforward truth but one that has taken me my entire adult life to understand and accept. I still don’t have all the answers, nor will I ever, as to why this is, and the eternal optimist in me really struggles with this truth. As friends, family, and romantic partners have floated in and out of my life over the years, it has become clear that there are no guarantees in life and in love. This may sound bleak, but the optimist in me still finds hope in this truth. If I can take off my rose-colored glasses and change my way of thinking, then I can look at the time I had with a specific person as a blessing and grow as an individual from the lessons I learned. Looking back on previous relationships, it’s easier in hindsight to identify why that particular person was in my life at a specific time. The lessons to learn from these relationships aren’t always as easy to identify when you’re in the thick of it. As someone who wears her heart on her sleeve, I get attached easily to the people that I care about, so it’s hard to not take it personally when someone you care about disappears from your life. When this happens, it’s so easy to hold onto feelings of being hurt or anger and resentment. Or perhaps you stay up way too late at night like me, asking yourself why that person isn’t a part of your life anymore. Why does this person that was once such an important part of my life no longer want to share their time with me? Sometimes you’re lucky, and you find the answers to your questions. Other times, the “why” remains a mystery, and you can make a conscious choice to accept that fact and move on with living your life to the fullest or you can live in the past and torture yourself with unanswerable questions. I’ve taken both approaches, and believe me, the former is much better! 🙂
While I’ve had friends and family that have floated out of my life just as easily as they came into it, I’m going to focus for now on the lessons I’ve learned from my romantic relationships, as that is what’s fresh on my heart these days. I’ve had three serious, long-term relationships in my adult life. The first one I’ll aptly name my “high school sweetheart.” We started dating at the very young age of sixteen and were together for a total of eleven years. We got married when we were 22 and were divorced by 27. When I reflect back on our time together, it feels like I’m looking back on someone else’s life. I don’t recognize that younger version of myself anymore. Our being together was more of a seasonal thing. We were so young when we started dating and hadn’t truly developed as individuals yet. Our ways of thinking and viewing the world were still being shaped by our life experiences. But most importantly, to the ultimate demise of our relationship, we were complete opposites who couldn’t find any common ground. The important thing about common interests is that they hold you together on those days when you just really don’t like your partner or dare I say it, when you’ve lost that loving feeling! But if you don’t have any common ground to fall back on, what is there other than disdain for the person you share a bed with?!? They say that opposites attract, but I learned that they do not necessarily last. In our case, our differences only became exaggerated over time, which created an irreparable chasm in our relationship. My formerly loving high school sweetheart had turned into a narcissistic workaholic who spent eighteen hours a day programming and the other six hours playing video games. It got to the point where he wouldn’t even acknowledge my presence at home, let alone even touch me. If he did speak to me, it was to criticize me and verbally assault me. I had become a shell of my former vibrant self and didn’t recognize the woman I had become. By staying with him longer than I should have, I let his hurtful words break my spirit, and I lost my sparkle. So, the extrovert buried deep within me (who gains energy from being around people) got tired of being alone and torn down by the person who was supposed to be my biggest supporter. There’s nothing worse than feeling alone and unloved when you’re in a relationship! So, I joined a salsa dancing team to get out of the house and stop feeling sorry for myself and to make new friends. He didn’t like that I was out of the house so much (even though when I was there I was always by myself), so this new-found “hobby” of mine only drove a bigger wedge between us. After six months of going to marriage counseling by myself, I finally decided enough was enough and got up the courage to leave him and my joke of a marriage. So what did I learn from my failed marriage? That staying in an abusive and neglectful relationship is so not worth it just to save your marriage. I can sleep easy at night, because I know I did everything within my power to make it work. I learned that when your gut says it’s time to go, don’t waste any more of your precious time on staying with someone that refuses to change.
I’ll call my second long-term relationship my “best friend.” He came into my life for both a reason and a season. I have nothing to criticize him for, because our relationship was based on mutual respect and admiration. He helped me realize that I did in fact deserve to be loved, and he was my biggest supporter. I could share anything with him without the fear of being judged. We had lots of adventures together, traveled the world together, and danced salsa until our feet fell off! Unfortunately, we were not a romantic match for one another. My only crime was staying in that relationship for too long, which seems to be a running theme for me. Like I said before, I get attached easily to people, and because there was so much love and respect in this relationship, it was hard to let go. However, by holding on to something that wouldn’t last, I closed myself off to the opportunities of finding a better match for me, a match that could not only be my best friend but also a love match!
My third and most recent long-term relationship did not end well at all. I’ve dubbed him in a previous post the “perfect on paper guy.” He came into my life for a short season, but I’m not sure if I’ve figured out the reason yet. Don’t get me wrong…I definitely learned a lot about myself in the aftermath of my text message breakup (read more about that here), but why was that relationship necessary? After the demise of my relationship with this “perfect on paper guy,” I’ve come to realize that I tend to put my wants, needs, and interests on the back burner, all for the sake of compromise and making a relationship work (and to avoid confrontation at all costs). Because I’m a very adventurous and open-minded individual, it starts off innocently enough, because I like exploring the interests of someone I care about. However, over the course of our two-year relationship, as I sacrificed my wants, needs, and interests for the sake of keeping things sailing smoothly, I didn’t realize that in reality what I was doing was sabotaging my relationship. By not sharing the real me with him, we could only ever wade in the shallow waters of our relationship. There wasn’t even a deep end for us to dive into and explore, and I am partly to blame for that. I was so focused on making him happy and making the relationship work, that I lost myself along the way and in turn, sacrificed my opportunity for a deep and meaningful relationship. I know now that if someone doesn’t love you for who you truly are, then that person isn’t the right one for you (and why would you waste your time on that person anyways??). So I guess that was my reason…I just needed a dose of tough love and a reality check! There are no guarantees in this short, precious life. Therefore, we have to make every moment count, and that means being true to yourself and living life to the fullest! I can’t waste any more time living up to someone else’s idea of the perfect me, even if I’m the one that created that perfect idea of me.
So, after what feels like a lifetime of people coming in and out of my life for various reasons and seasons, I do feel like I’m a wee bit wiser after much recent self reflection, and I’m finally living my life to the fullest on my own terms! There may be no guarantees in this crazy little thing we call life, but the eternal optimist in me is still hopeful that I’ll find the perfect match to share the next long season of life with. She’s still there with her childlike idealism and enthusiasm for life…she’s just taken off her rose-colored glasses and sees the world much more clearly now.