I try to look at every experience as a positive, in some way at least. Whether a dating experience ended horribly or it didn’t meet my hopes/expectations, if I can learn something then it was a good thing for the experience to have happened. And I do truly believe everything happens for a reason, even if at the time the reason seems unfathomable.
On every date I’d been on in the past year, I had learnt something – about myself, about dating in general or about men. The biggest learnings though had undoubtedly come from Canadian DJ and Filipeen. Arms gets an honourable mention because he was such a treat.
There were two lessons with Canadian DJ. The first was an incredibly positive one. I realised I could actually feel something for someone again. That wasn’t something I’d been entirely sure of since the end of my marriage. I was so scarred from that experience that for a long while my heart (and my vagina) had felt nothing. Remembering those feelings of heart flutters, hopes, excitement and burning loins (legit wrote that thinking I was Joan Collins) was like a re-birth for me. Knowing you will feel something for someone again was so encouraging for me.
The second lesson was that making allowances for someone’s behaviour based on what they’re going through (in his case his divorce) didn’t allow me to take care of myself and, instead, I put him first. And especially having come from where I’ve been in the past, I’ve realised I should always be my number one priority.
And as Julia puts it, it’s not always about making decisions which will make me happy in the short term, but decisions which when I look ahead two, or five, or ten years I know will be the best for me. As much as short term it could have been fun with Canadian DJ – who doesn’t want a trip to Mexico? – the red flags were already there in abundance and did I really want to live through another divorce, albeit not mine this time?
It could have been years of struggle and who knows how it would have ended up. That process changes a person so much. I know, I’ve been there. In trying to be sympathetic and kind and a good person, I allowed someone to be less than good to me. Be kind to yourself first, so you’re able to continue being kind to others. Putting yourself first does not equate to selfishness or unkindness towards someone else.
With Filipeen, it was a lesson in standing up for myself and not letting someone make me question myself and my self worth, especially when their sense of me seemed so warped. Don’t feel like you’ve got to be agreeable just so you don’t rock the boat. If standing up for yourself is going to tip the boat over, especially if it’s already listing, then let that motherfucker sink.
On reflection of this situation afterwards, I realised it was far more about him, than it was me. And I randomly happened on this quote, which felt incredibly apt – “If you are willing to look at another person’s behaviour toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time, cease to react at all.” – Yogi Bhajan
Deciding what your standards of acceptable behaviour are is critical. Just because you’re not married & he’s not cheating on you & sexting people (i.e. me using my ex-husband as a yardstick), doesn’t make his behaviour ok. That’s not the only form of poor behaviour & anything that’s not as bad as that isn’t necessarily good. There’s a whole scale of shitty and unacceptable behaviour.
If I wouldn’t accept it for one of my friends, then I shouldn’t accept it for me. If I wouldn’t accept me doing it to someone else, then I shouldn’t accept it being done to me. And if by respecting someone else so much I end up disrespecting myself, it’s my actions that need to change.
As much as learning lessons is an enriching part of life, when it’s a painful experience to get to the lesson it’s natural to feel like you’d maybe rather have avoided it and either learnt the lesson another way (tip – there is no other way) or never learnt the lesson at all (tip – all these lessons are invaluable, deal with it).
I always ask myself how I can make sure I don’t find myself in the same situation again, not repeat the same mistakes or, rather, put my newly learnt lessons into practice. But you do the best you can with what emotional capability you have/the information you know at the time. And trying to never let the pain be repeated can mean you look to change some of your own inherent qualities.
As much as I can look at past experiences and think “if I hadn’t let it go so far so quickly” or “if I’d just stood back a bit and tried to get a better measure of the person” or “maybe I shouldn’t have given so much of myself”, ultimately I don’t want to become guarded. I don’t want to question my decision making ability. Especially when you cannot control what is coming at you from the other side of a relationship. You cannot control how honest or vulnerable or committed the other person will be.
Change is also unsettling. Adapting to a shift in your life – whether it’s a relationship, physical environment, career – takes time and can be challenging. This is particularly true when the shift involves another person, a human being who, for a certain time anyway, brought some love and light to your life. But there is something poetic about the ebb and flow of people into and out of your life.
However, a change which when it happens can seem so significant (whether that’s someone coming or going), can seem so irrelevant when looking back in a few months / years /decades. Being able to remember that these, at the time, pretty big / meaningful / painful life events will eventually all just become small threads in the fabric of your entire life can help with providing some perspective and letting you take a step back from the minutiae of the overwhelming feelings. In the end they’re all just really good stories in your life book.
And uncertainty is a given when getting into a new relationship. Which is unfortunate, because I like to have a handle on things. I like to know what’s what and know what’s not. It’s important for me to have a sense of control, feel like I know what to expect and be able to prepare myself.
I’ve always been sort of like that but the control requirement really got out of hand when my marriage unravelled and I felt like I didn’t have a handle on anything – my emotions, my husband, my life. It was a scary feeling.
So post-separation and divorce I held on for dear life onto any control I could get because it made me feel safe, it made me feel less vulnerable, it made me feel like for the first time in a long time at least I got to make proactive decisions rather than reactive decisions.
Getting into a new relationship, however, doesn’t provide any of that – even in the best of circumstances when you know yourself, when you don’t doubt people’s honesty and when relationships don’t seem like a potential black hole of disaster (wow, I sound so positive!). But in my circumstance, when I can’t even answer the question “what are you like in a relationship?” it provides a whole extra level of uncertainty to the already pre-existing unknowns. So that’s… fun.
I don’t know what I’m like in a relationship because I’m not the same person I was when I was last in a relationship. It was over 5 years ago (jeeeeeez I’ve never seen that written down before!) and it was my painfully broken marriage. The experience of that situation changed me in ways I didn’t even realise until a few years ago and there’s definitely been elements I’ve tried to scrub from the memory bank. So my “truth” of how I was in that relationship is unlikely to be anything like how I’d be as a partner now, for so many reasons. And how I would be now, after so much change, is anybody’s guess.
A fairly unsurprising residual from my marriage, which broke down due to infidelity on my husband’s part, is of course the fun time feeling that is insecurity. While I never questioned that the severe misgivings in my marriage were his doing and not mine (albeit I don’t suggest I was the 100% perfect wife), women particularly seem incapable of not taking on an incredible – usually, unwarranted – amount of self loathing/self doubt in circumstances where cheating has occurred and I was no different. Was I not good enough, was I not smart enough, was I not attractive enough, not good enough in bed…
It’s indescribable how much it can eat away under the surface, like rot infiltrating the foundations of what looks like an otherwise stable home. And sometimes the “stable home” may only realise the extent of the rot when it comes time to potentially welcome a new dweller in.
Trust is the other bitch. It’s the thing that you hear so much about – you can’t have a relationship without it, you need to earn it, it’s a mutual thing, once it’s gone you can never get it back. Very little is spoken about trust in a superlatively positive way.
So when you realise that you’ve developed such a strong sense of mistrust, it’s difficult to figure out how you’re going to get around it when you meet someone new. And when I say mistrust, I mean in everyone. Every single person in your life. To the point that you genuinely think your friends are lying to you when they say they can’t go to a movie with you. And it’s no reflection on them. It’s you, it’s your mind, it’s the mental abuse you suffered when you knew something wasn’t right and someone you loved lied straight to your face. Over, and over, and over. About the biggest things and the smallest things. Did you sleep with her? No (I have a text from her saying otherwise and he later admitted it). Did you forget to take your lunch to work today? No (I’m staring at it sat in the fridge).
So how do you set yourself up for a new relationship when you already don’t believe a single thing that anyone says to you. And now you’re supposed to trust a stranger who wants into your bed and into your life, and you’re not sure which is their main priority.
I’d also moved to a brand new country, a whole other continent no less, so is dating here different? Are relationship roles/expectations the same as back in the UK? I don’t know how dating in this day and age works!
I also came here by myself, with my family thousands of miles away, so does that impact what I need/want from a partner? Do I need more stability, a ready made family given that I don’t have my own here. I don’t know, I don’t know if I would still be looking for those things if I did have my family closeby.
I’m also now 30 plus… so you’re looking for different things than you were in your twenties. It’s not all “oh I’ll just see how it goes”. I don’t have time for that. Your patience and your tolerance are a lot lower in your thirties I’ve found.
Based on the above I know it sounds like I lack self confidence, I don’t trust a single soul, I’m in a weird new place and I’m old… this isn’t all strictly true.
I spent a lot of time, and money, working on the self confidence and the trust issues, not least learning to trust myself and my gut again, so they’ve definitely had some repair work. My new location has given me an incredible new lease of life in the best possible way and the extra years of experience (we don’t use the word baggage) are invaluable.
Technically I could/should be in a much better place now than ever before to get into a relationship. And I don’t actually argue with that. But I do have an additional level of unknown. having changed so much in the last few years, Friends and family who have seen me through it all, have commented on how different I am. Thankfully, always in a good way, that I’m so much happier. But that change means I don’t know who I am in a relationship. I don’t know what to expect of myself.
So I’m trying to figure it out as I go and situations like Canadian DJ and Flilipeen, while painful and difficult at the time, are all part of that and I’m thankful for the lessons they provided.
(Sorry for the lack of jokes in this post, dating after divorce ain’t all funny stories and sex-ploits.)
4 thoughts on “As Long As There Are Lessons”
A lot of what you say reverberated with me. Also divorced at 26, I struggled with the following relationships. Catching myself in the same traps. While it wasn’t iinfidelity that tour us apart, it was something that happened later in another relationship. I’m guilty of being very forgiving and sacrificing as well.
The biggest thing I’ve learned is to know what you want and to not come down from it. It’s scary as hell though!
I’m so glad you connected with it 😊 Knowing what you want is definitely the first step, learning to demand it for yourself is the bit I’m still getting to grips with… And it’s hard when the characteristics we have – being forgiving & sacrificing – aren’t inherently bad, until they’re detrimental to our wellbeing.
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This is deep, thanks for sharing your lessons with us. I already feel a little more wiser!
Thank you Grace 😊 I’m glad my lessons can help others!