When The Going Gets Tough, Think About What You’ve Learned
September 8, 2013 § Leave a comment
Having an emotional day, likely because my uterus is making my life miserable, though I may just be making excuses for what is probably a legitimate day of painful reflection. When my game of “let’s remember why it ended” doesn’t work, I try to focus on the positive outcomes of those failed relationships (as a good distraction from looking at myself and listing all the things I did wrong that brought about the end of things).
Alec was an incredibly calm, even-keeled, patient person. Those are three words no one would ever use to describe me. When we would fight, I was always so impatient with him, never giving him the time he needed to really think about how felt and how to express that in words. I always waited to bring up issues until I was at the point of exploding, so patience and understanding were at the bottom of my list of priorities, with yelling, crying, and venting my frustrations at the top. To be fair, the times that I did give him all the time he needed, he often ended up not saying anything. But still, I didn’t really give him a chance.
I wouldn’t say I’m anything close to calm, even-keeled, or patient now, but I will give myself credit for improving. In the last year I’ve tried really hard not to let things reach a boiling point before I bring them up. I’ve tried really hard to talk things out calmly without yelling, to keep my voice even instead of letting my emotions take over. I’ve also gotten a lot better about distinguishing when I’m mad at someone versus when I’m mad at myself. I would get SO upset with Alec, when the reality of the situation was that I was really just upset with myself, usually because I felt ridiculous or ashamed for being upset over whatever shallow or paranoid thing had come up in my own mind, totally no fault of anyone else. Admitting that you’re upset, but upset over something that is entirely your own issue, is incredibly helpful whether in friendships or relationships. I’m really glad I learned that lesson and am getting better at admitting it and talking through it.
I’ve learned that being calm, even-keeled, and patient in a relationship is incredibly important and I’ve tried to focus on those admittedly small areas of my personality. A lot of times I wish I could have started focusing on those things earlier in the relationship, because I know how hard I was on him. I realized too late in the relationship that those were things I needed to try and fix things between us. But just because I can’t make things better with him doesn’t mean I shouldn’t abandon the effort, since I know that trying to be more calm, even-keeled, and patient will benefit me (and my partner) in future relationships.
Alec also taught me that people move at different paces and react to change incredibly differently. I can make big decisions in a split second, but Alec needed weeks to think about them, to reconsider them, to weigh the options again. I tend to barrel towards change, meeting it head on instead of waiting for it to come to me while hoping that it’ll somehow slow down before it hits me like Alec did. I was ready to get engaged, but Alec probably wasn’t going to start thinking about marriage for another ten years. I’ve learned that it is incredibly important to not only realize what pace someone else is moving at, but also to realize if our paces can coexist, if somehow I can slow down or they can speed up.
I think the last big lesson I learned from Alec is that you can’t fix people. There are things you can do to help them, and I did help Alec in some major ways, but you can’t fix them and you definitely can’t force them to fix themselves. Some wounds go too deep that their painful effect can never be remedied. You can’t undo that damage, you can’t make them forget about it. Sometimes people are just broken and all you can do is love them despite that. In some ways I think I was very selfish for leaving Alec. He was mostly happy in our relationship, I think. Certainly he would have been happier had I been happier. He knew I was unhappy but didn’t know how to fix it, and really the source of my unhappiness came from his brokenness which he couldn’t help and he couldn’t fix. Once I realized I couldn’t fix him, I realized he could never make me happy, not in the long-run. It’s a tough fucking thing to realize, and it was a tough thing to accept. But that’s an incredibly valuable lesson that I learned and I try to keep in mind always.
What I’ve learned from Mark is still percolating through my mind, as our time together was quite short, though incredibly meaningful and often times explosive for better or for worse. And things ended very recently, so it’s harder to feel certain I know what I learned, as I’m still processing a lot of it.
One clear lesson is that he opened the world for me. I never studied abroad or spent a summer in Europe. I never saw international travel as something I could do on my own, or something that I could even pretend to be able to afford. But Mark did. Mark did it multiple times. He did it on his own, he did it on his dime, and he popped my little bubble of “oh, that’s not an option for me.” Looking back over the last ten years, I honestly can’t pinpoint exactly what it was that made me think I couldn’t do it. I’ve always wanted to. I love seeing new places. I love exploring. Of course I want to go abroad. Mark popped that “I can’t” bubble, teaching me that I can go abroad and afford to do it. And reminding me that I should, that I practically have to.
Something else I learned from Mark is that it’s okay to take a detour. I’m definitely career-minded. I have a linear projection of where I think I’ll be in ten years. But looking at Mark’s life trajectory, which is so incredibly different than mine, I’ve learned that a brief detour isn’t going to derail my career, and actually may *make* my career. Exposing yourself to new things and new experiences is always an opportunity to learn something new, something that will likely make you stand out more once your return to the path you’ve been on. Now, I certainly won’t be completely throwing out my chosen path, because I think it’s an incredible benefit to me that I have one at all and that I’ve been working on it for years, but I’ve learned that year or two doing something else won’t send my resume automatically to the trash bin.
There are other lessons that aren’t so clear, lessons I’m still struggling with.
Being loved by someone other than family members, being loved in such an incredibly different way, is a truly bizarre experience. I know Alec loved me as much as he was capable, but he didn’t tell me and the ways he showed me were so subtle I often missed them. Having someone love you and tell you and show you constantly is the strangest thing. It’s been a hell of a learning curve, not just figuring out what genuine love was like but learning that it could be directed at me was something very new and very hard to adjust to. Even in retrospect, I’m still learning about that experience. The hardest part is learning that someone could love me, love *me*. The skeptic in me still contests this, still counters it with really good arguments, but I’m trying to learn the lesson despite (or in spite) of that.
I’m also learning that someone can both love and hate you at the same time. It’s the worst feeling in the world, worse than disappointing your parents, worse than getting fired from a job, maybe worse than heartbreak, or maybe it hurts so much because it is a type of heartbreak. I’m also learning that it doesn’t change, that they will always hate you even though they love you. It doesn’t go away, it doesn’t get better. Some people may be okay with that kind of tension, that kind of explosiveness in a relationship, but I’ve learned that I’m not okay with it. I hate knowing that the man who loves me hates me, and I hate hating him back. I want a relationship with just love. I never want to be hated again and I never want to hate the man I’m with again. I’ve learned that the hard way now, but some things can only be learned that way.
I guess I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way.