I have a confession to make: I’m a reformed boyfriend-hopper. When I was younger, I jumped from one relationship to another with wounds bleeding in the open air and not a single care in the world to stop me. I let the beauty of my future cloud the pain of my past. I walked into new relationships with a sewing kit in hand, prompting new lovers to fix the damage done by previous ones. Still, I have to admit, I had a pretty good thing going for a while, and looking back, I’m pretty happy with the outcome. I may have emotionally slutted my heart around, ignoring all signs I should have been single and healing, but each guy taught me a few valuable lessons, and I think they’re all worth sharing.
Lessons I Learned From My Exes
1. People can make mistakes without the intent to hurt you.
It’s important to remember that not every person who hurts you does it on purpose. Everyone is on their own life’s journey, and sometimes that means they have to screw up to learn life’s lessons – just like the rest of us. It was a hard lesson to learn, but it helped me get through life and the pain caused by those I love. Not everyone is out to get you.
2. Life is about growing together, however long that bit of growth lasts.
Relationships aren’t about bringing each other down, they’re about growth. Every person we meet contributes to our growth as individuals in some way. The ability to walk away from something – no matter how horrible of a relationship it was – and be a stronger, better person for it, is extremely valuable.
3. Kindness is one of the most important things in a relationship.
And it’s something that disappears the longer you’re together. If you’re able to be kind to one another, you’ll be more likely to see fights from the other perspective. You’ll also feel more cared for. Kindness doesn’t seem like it belongs on top of your list of relationship priorities, but putting it there will benefit more areas than one.
4. Every person likes something different.
We all feel safe with a list of answers; a set guide to the type of person we date that will put all of our relationship dilemmas in clear-cut, black and white. Well, the cold, hard truth is that every person likes something different. The way you look, what you do in bed, how you live your life… nothing is written in stone (not by the same partner, anyway). That’s why your safest bet is always to just be yourself.
5. Living your own life makes your relationship stronger.
I am lucky to have learned this lesson early on in my life, as it’s done wonders for my relationships and it’s something I still write about a lot. You can’t be a successful half to someone else when you, yourself, are not whole. If and when the relationship ends, you can’t expect to heal and move forward if you have nothing to go back to. A healthy relationship is not harmed by you investing in your own life, it’s enriched.
6. The signs of abuse.
I wrote a very personal account of two abusive relationships that made me the ‘badass’ I am today and pushed me to start this company. Both relationships taught me about abuse differently, as one was physical and the other was emotional. And although both were hard to endure at such a young age, I was able to learn the signs and stay far away from them in my future relationships.
Read: The Many Colors of Abuse
7. If you support each other, you avoid being selfish.
Some lessons come to you immediately, others take years to absorb. This particular lesson came down harder than many others because it seemed, at the time, that I was looking out for myself. The truth is, had I played my role in supporting my partner, I would have gotten everything I needed from him in return.
8. Sometimes exes are just that: Exes.
You think you’re the only one to ever worry about a lover’s ex? Haunted by the one thing their relationship will always have over yours: history. Well, I assure you that you’re not. Exes bring out even the deepest insecurities in the most secure relationships, but it’s important to remember that 9 times out of 10, they’re really just exes. I learned to believe that their relationship ended for a reason, and that’s just that.
9. Explore life, together.
You meet someone special and once the honeymoon ends, you find yourselves sitting on your couch on your nights off, and rarely going on adventures. You think, “Meh, who has the time? We did so much when we started dating, what’s the point now? We’re so tired…” Well, I learned that pushing each other to go on adventures together will not exhaust you, it’ll bring you closer and actually energize you. Really walk the path of life together and your souls will be tempted to do the same.
10. Emotional reliance on other guys is cheating.
I hate to admit this, but I spent a lot of my life being an emotional cheater. Instead of reaching out to a partner who was ignoring me, I filled the void by connecting with other men. Instead of severing ties with someone who was mistreating me, I leaned on the shoulders of other men while I waited for my boyfriends to ‘come around’. I learned you can be friends, even best friends, with other men, as long as they’re not standing in for something that is lacking in your relationship.
11. They will choose you, but don’t make them.
When a man truly loves you, he will likely choose you over other things and people – if you force him to. What you don’t realize is that every time he does, he begins to build resentment toward you for it. I have seen this time and time again, and have been guilty of this myself, but you can’t test the strength of your relationship by making your partner jump through hoops at every turn. If you force him to choose too much, the day will come that he won’t choose you.
12. More than once a cheater, always a cheater.
An ugly lesson I had to learn was finding the balance between “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” and “Everyone makes mistakes.” I learned that if someone has a reputation for cheating on his girlfriends, you probably won’t be any different. I also learned that if you take back a cheater and he does it again, he’ll likely do it for the rest of your relationship. It is not up to you to change anyone – because that’s a heavy weight to bear – and you should never rely on the perceived strength of your love to beat the odds.
13. Laughter will carry you through.
The older I got, the higher up ‘sense of humor’ rose on my list on non-negotiables for the relationships in my life. I always found a way to note imperfections in those I was attracted to physically, but the guys who I could laugh with through the dark times are the memories I’m most fond of. Laughter is something that will stay with you, no matter how much weight you gain or how old you get together.
14. When someone wants to have time for you, they’ll find it.
This guy who was super into me was all about spending time with me until we slept together. Then, Poof! He went 3 days without answering a single text or phone call. When he finally did, he gave me some bullshit excuse about being in the woods (in Santa Monica) with no reception. I am happy to share those details with you because it was that moment, at the tender age of 21 or something, that I learned that if a man wants to make time for you, he will.
15. Forgiveness is for the little things too.
Let go of as much as you possibly can without sacrificing your well-being and self-worth. If you hang on to the small things, they build up and turn into resentment – and resentment is a sharp, sharp blade.
16. Men have insecurities, too.
Which means you cannot verbally and emotionally abuse men because you assume they can take it. I learned early on that I had a way with words and I made them my weapon of choice the moment I realized their power. But it wasn’t until I started to really connect with my boyfriends emotionally that I learned they were just like us: insecure and dealing with their own loads of shit. Pressing those buttons is the same as a guy talking shit about your love handles to get a rise out of you. Healthy love means being respectful of each other’s weaknesses and acting as more of a shield than a weapon.
17. Money is a big reason relationships fail.
When one lacks it or has too much of it. When one controls the other because of it. When it’s supposed to be shared, but it’s still not a fair balance. When one works to provide for the other in a time of need, and the other sits on the couch scratching his nuts while he watches baseball. You get the point. Have your own money, split shared bills, and never rely on anyone longer than you need to climb out of a financial black hole. Oh, and if you’re the one who has it, don’t ever use money to control the relationship.
18. Cards out on the table.
Don’t ever start a relationship by lying about your intentions, especially if the person you’re about to start dating has made it clear he’s not looking for anything too serious. The moment you pretend to be on board is the moment you embark on an uncomfortable journey of lies – and the veil will drop eventually, because it always does.
19. Your relationship is a reflection of how you see yourself.
We allow others to treat us the way we believe we deserve to be treated. Looking back, I’m not surprised that I got involved with an emotionally abusive guy after being with someone who raped me. I knew what I was getting myself into and that the new guy was known for being a sleeze, but I went anyway. The type of guy I dated didn’t change until I changed the way I saw myself.
Lessons come every day, in every shape and color. I know that if I really sat back and thought about my past relationships deeply, my list would be much, much longer. I have known some amazing men in my life and they, along with the not-so-amazing ones, have played a large role in the person I am today. We get so wrapped up in our own egos when relationships end that we fail to absorb the beauty they brought into our lives while they lasted. I think it’s important to be present at every moment of every love story so we can walk away wiser, happier, and a little more in tune with our path in finding love.