Crossing out the Ex’s

Something must have been going on with the planets because in the span of about 2 weeks recently 3 of my girlfriends confided in me that they still think about their ex-boyfriends. Two of those confessions were in the context of “Really, he was the love of my life,” past tense. Both have nonetheless moved on: one to a lower fireworks kind of guy and the other to the wrong guy from whom she is now divorcing. The third friend simply brought up her ex in the context of “Do you ever look yours up? Do you ever wonder how life would have been different?”

And to both questions I answer Yes. I have looked them up. I have been curious about what they are up to now. (In one case, with an unexpected delight, I even realized that for the life of me I couldn’t remember the guy’s last name as I typed in my google search.) I have thought about how life would have been different with them, and I imagine the following scenarios: Divorce. Lunacy. Asylum.

I suppose it says something about what kind of guys I had gone out with if a future with any of them would make me shudder like that. But it’s true, and I don’t even blame the guys; they did not yo-yo me around without my permission – nay, my groveling. “Disrespect me, please! Walk all over me now, c’mon! I don’t deserve any better!” I was a much different woman in my 20s.

Though at times I might have regretted dating some of the men that I did, I’m also aware that with each relationship I learned something about who I was and about the personalities and values that fit me best. I also tried to learn to express love and fear and anger and to build a mini-life with another person. Each failed relationship led me to Max. If I hadn’t dated the other ones, would I have been able to appreciate Max? Would I have built up the skills and self-awareness necessary to handle the intricacies of an intimate relationship?

I remember those hungry, anxiety-ridden days of my 20s when my biggest worry was Will I get married. Though I was active in my career and in community activities, nothing meant more to me then than the hope of meeting the right man. But deep down I wasn’t ready. Maybe I knew I still had some growing up to do. Maybe I still wanted to hold onto my independence. That lack of readiness combined with too many messages that I “ought” to be married translated into my pursuit of impossible relationships. I was attracted to slippery men who couldn’t give me commitment, because it wasn’t even what I had wanted deep down. When I finally realized that, I gave myself permission to be single and to feel at peace with that, and it felt great. I worked on myself, on my personal goals. That is when I got promoted in my career, when I started working out and taking dance, and when I started to build a circle of very close and good friends. I realized I could be happy and fulfilled even without a man propping up my self-esteem (and to be honest, when you look for someone to prop you up emotionally, you always end up with abusers).

A younger friend of mine with whom I had lost touch for years recently got married. She is not in love. I am not sure if she is even in like. And I wanted to tell her, But you don’t have to get married. Maybe this is coming from me now, in my early 40s, after nearly 10 years of marriage and another 10 years of dating. Is marriage absolutely necessary? Isn’t it better to be single and happy than commmitted and miserable? But I remember how she had felt. I remember what it was like to think that if you don’t take the guy now, then there may not be any other guy later let alone a better one. And the fear of being alone or being different from your friends or being a societal outcast is so, so strong when you’re single.

I think about the irony of how life has turned out. I struggled for so long in bad relationships, drowning in tears and self-pity. By the time I had healed I then spent more time beating myself up over the choices I had made. But ultimately there was a purpose in everything: the blessings that came disguised in all that heartache of the 20s were the lessons that brought me to my true love, the one that didn’t get away.

7 thoughts on “Crossing out the Ex’s

  1. I think so many women in their 20’s are afraid of ending up on the shelf, never finding “the one.” I admire you for having the foresight and courage to do as you did and put aside those thoughts and just go out there and live life to the full. What’s that old saying, you have to kiss a few frogs before you find your Prince? I think that is so very true, so yes, your earlier relationships were invaluable in helping you see your husband when he finally appeared as the right one for you.

    As for settling, if there is one thing I can teach my daughter as she grows about relationships it will be this: NEVER settle. Wait for the right person, you will know if and when you finally find them and if you don’t then you are better off on your own than ever settling for what is not right.

    Great post.

  2. I am very thankful for my ex’s for the same reason as you – without them, I wouldn’t know that I’m exactly where I want to be right now. With this lovely man at my side. I think as we age, we are surer of ourselves and our choice in life partner reflects that too. Less desperation. More certainty. You KNOW he are the one because he is right for you, not because you’re afraid there’s no one else out there.

  3. *snif*

    you are a good wife, he is a lucky husband.

    i hope he sees this.

    so beautifully placed.

    “we cannot untangle the threads that make up the tapestry that is our life.”

  4. Yes, there is a purpose to everything, and all our experiences work together to make us who we are. It’s sad to think of your friend getting married just for the sake of getting married. That is shortchanging both people in the relationship. Both partners deserve better.

  5. You make me cry happy and sad tears in the same breath! I wish I was a part of that “girlfriend” conversation on a regular basis, but I digress.

    I think all would be regrets are just the stones that form our paths. I look back and think I would handle something differently, but the answer always points to how I did things at “the time” with what I the information, experience I had, and my tool box (or capability) is much more equipped now than “then.”

    For me, I married the “love of my life” that I dated when I was 17. It was the poor guys I dated for the chunk of years following that suffered comparison, and they led me back “home” (but many days, that home base is ground zero … grr – ha – ha). In college, one of my roommates turned to me while she was getting ready for a date and said, “do you ever wonder if you already know your husband?” I thought she was boy crazy, and I didn’t think like that at all (little did I know she was a fortune teller ;-).

    Of course I have googled some of those “other guys,” and I’m not sure why. I guess I’m curious, and maybe testing myself. It’s hilarious that you blanked on a last name. I found each profile I tapped into, I was more dead-pan, expressionless. It stirred up no emotion. Maybe that’s what I was looking for — assurance that I wasn’t crazy marrying my teenage boyfriend. That silly net search was part of my path, and though we just celebrated 12 years of marriage, no matter how much I can count on him, it is up to me to reassure myself (like you referenced). But I think it might be time to take a more appropriate 41 year old wife and mother approach to “prop myself up” emotionally.

    (On another note, I find it an interesting point that you refer back to your time in your 20s, and later the sum of your now esteemed experience is 10 years of dating + 10 years of marriage = 20. Does it take that 20 year old’s lifetime of experience to reach relationship peace? Thanks for sharing, and reminding me that I’m proud to be in my 40s!)

  6. Great post! This is true of so many things! Our missteps may have hurt, but they lead us here. Having the courage to let go of what everyone else says is huge! I haven’t looked down the other paths I left behind. My life is not perfect, but I feel like I’m right where I should be.

  7. I still dream about my exes. And almost every time, the dream ends with me thinking, “But what about my husband?? He’s the one I want to be with!” And though rationally and consciously, I know he’s the one for me, it’s so nice when my subconscious reminds me of it, too. =>

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