In our teens and early 20’s, we tend to have a much more idealistic view of relationships.
We’re bombarded with media messages that say, to achieve true success, one must attain “The love trifecta” – get the guy, get the ring, and live blissfully ever after.
On the flip side, being single (especially as a female) is often perceived as a type of “plague.” If single life were akin to the Oregon Trail game, being single means you basically have Typhoid. Written in thick, white font, you’d see the painful truth blasted across your blocky computer screen: “Your wagon is broken, along with your love life.” (Sorry to readers in their 20’s who probably have no idea what I’m talking about).
Good Old Rom coms also set us up for unrealistic expectations of relationships. For us ladies in our 30s/40s who watched all those swoon-worthy 90’s teen movies, we expect that our (Freddie) Prinze (Jr) will come cruising into our lives any minute, just to tell us we’re ALL THAT. (Again, sorry to millennial folks. Google is your friend.)
Where is the slow motion car ride into the sunset? Where’s Judd Nelson victoriously thrusting his fist in the air, ecstatic that he got the girl? Where’s the insanely wealthy dude, with a heart of gold, from “Crazy Rich Asians” ready to sweep us off our feet?
As we chug merrily along in our 20’s those images quickly fade away, as we’re hit with the cold, harsh reality.
Relationships are… beautiful, destructive, fulfilling, draining, complicated, boring, spiritual, superficial, self-sacrificing, self-indulgent, dysfunctional cluster fucks of human partnership.
Prior to becoming a wise “older” woman, I was a girl in my 20’s just trying to find my way. In my mind, a break up meant l was, well, “broken.”
Self-talk is a powerful thing, so powerful, in fact, that you can rewrite your history, and bring yourself peace, just by changing the WORDS you choose to describe your past. I used to be consumed by the fact that I considered my relationships as FAILURES. It took me a while to realize that choosing THAT word set my mind down a path of mental destruction. It was time to flip the script, and flip the bird to all that negative self-talk.
Until recently, reflecting on all my ex’s had been a mixed bag. In recounting past events, I found myself often playing the victim, something we all tend to do when trying to sort out, and make sense of past pain.
It took many years, and many sessions of deep self-reflection for me to take ownership of the mistakes I had made. In the past, I had justified bad behavior with: “Well, if he hadn’t done X to me, then I wouldn’t have done Y.” Well, here’s the thing I didn’t realize: I’m COMPLETELY responsible for the Y, no matter what X is, or was.
Since this is practically turning into a math lesson, let’s take this to the “relationship classroom.” I had a lightbulb moment once I realized that I could go back into my past, and rewrite my breakups as actual lessons, not failures. With each relationship, it seemed that I had “graduated” to another level. If you’re confused (like I was in the beginning)- Here is a break down:
EX #1: Degree: Associates in “First Serious Relationship”
Minor: Learning that your first love, isn’t always your only love
First love is always an awkward, exciting, butterflies in your tummy type of training ground. I met my first boyfriend when I was 19 and… bam! I fell hard and thought all my Rom Com fantasies were coming true (that actually turned out to be somewhat accurate – think of Meg Ryan faking that orgasm in When Harry Met Sally…that happened, A LOT.)
We stayed together for a few years, which was much longer than we should have. I knew we were evolving in directions that weren’t compatible long-term, but my little heart didn’t want to ruin the ending to, what I thought, could be a magical love story. So instead, what ensued was an immature breakup of accusing each other of infidelity. At the time I felt victimized, and it took several years for me to accept my role in this break up- I had subconsciously contributed to all the fighting. I knew I wanted to leave the relationship, I just didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger, until he did it for me.
I was ready to GRADUATE to something more mature. (Cue Pomp and Circumstance as I walk to the podium, er I mean, to the next guy.)
EX #2: Degree: Bachelor’s in “Learning to set Boundaries”
Special Honors: Forensics Investigator in catching his shady ass cheating
There’s no way to sugarcoat it- Getting cheated on is fucking devastating. It can cause irreparable damage and bring a previously stable relationship to a screeching halt.
My “degree” in this relationship was well earned, because well, sadly, it happened over, and over, and over again. I’ll re-phrase that, I ALLOWED, it to happen. After being in a pulseless relationship that had lost its spark (Ex#1) I fell butt crazy in love with #2 and convinced myself he was THE ONE.
And with that, I became accepting, and made excuses for things I never would have imagined myself tolerating. “He’s a young guy…I bet the girl instigated it…I’m sure he’ll change once we get married.” Ugh, my current self is cringing right now. (I want to get in a time machine and slap the shit out of THAT stupid girl).
I somehow believed that every “Oops, I banged her again” would be the last time, even when all signs pointed to the contrary. To make matters worse, I became obsessive about going through his stuff, to “catch him in the act.” Turns out, I was just wasting my top-notch sleuthing skills on someone who ended up leaving a used condom by the bed (funny story- we didn’t use condoms). Seems any first time gumshoe off the street could’ve cracked the code on that one.
That was the turning point, and my degree in finally saying “Enough” was earned.
I was ready to GRADUATE to a healthy relationship. (Cue Celebrate Good Times…come on!)
EX #3: Degree: Master’s in Rebound Relationships
Specialization: Recognizing a commitment phobe
The classic adage: “The best way to get over someone, is to get under someone else” didn’t seem to work in this case, because (shocker!) I wasn’t even close to being healed after totally toxic #2. Looking back, I think I got clingy much faster than I should have. In my warped mind, #3 was somehow on the hook for my past relationships not working out. This one HAD to work, because well, um, third times a charm, three’s company?…shit, I was desperate and willing to say, do anything to make sure this one went “all the way.” I ended up staying in this relationship longer than I should have, despite the fact that Rebound guy obviously didn’t share my vision of the future. He did kind of look like Jake in Sixteen Candles, but sadly, we never kissed over a lit birthday cake, in the dark, in one of the cutest onscreen scenes ever. (I’m still keeping my hope alive for that happening someday).
SO after all this self-reflection, I’m ready to take all my knowledge, and throw my cap up into the sky. (Screw the graduation music and play some Cardi B- She Bad!)
I’m ready to GRADUATE with a degree in fully, whole-heartedly and madly loving myself.
I’m a strong believer that every women needs to go to “Break up College” and study her past relationships. What degrees did you earn? What did you learn about yourself? What boundaries did you set? What did you value? What were the deal breakers? What were the factors working against long-term compatibility? How will you take these degrees/lessons into the future?
And once you complete your self-exploration, don’t forget to have your ceremony — just skip the cap and gown, and graduate to some wine and amazing food instead.