The advice many of us receive after a failed relationship is: learn the lesson. What did this relationship teach you? How will you approach your next relationship differently? Personally, I think this type of self-reflection is healthy and helpful. When entering your next relationship it’s important to have some idea what you want out of the relationship, what you bring to the relationship and what you want your partner to contribute to the relationship.
If you poke around on this little blog, you’ll quickly realize that my last relationship did not go well. The relationship was a mistake. But it happened. And it ended. Unfortunately many people seem as if they’ve remained stuck in the “happening” of an especially damaging, unfulfilling or heartbreaking experience. They are mired in the sludge of the past and insist on projecting their past onto their future suitors.
Yeah, my last relationship blew chunks. (I don’t use that phrase nearly enough). But it ended. We don’t talk. It’s over. Sure it took me a few months to gain clarity but that’s part of the break-up process. But, as a general rule, when it comes to relationships and dating, I adhere to the wise words of the fallen R&B angel Aaliyah: “If at first you don’t succeed/Dust yourself off and try again.” (Can we all agree that that song really holds up?)
But as I’ve waded back into the dating pool over the past several months, I’ve noticed an alarming trend. Granted, this “trend” may have been the norm during my 20s but I was coupled up and didn’t notice. (On a related note, since I spent most of 20s in relationships, “hook up” culture makes no sense to me. “So…you mean you guys don’t get brunch together? That’s stupid.”) Almost every man I’ve encountered here in DC has had some issue involving a past relationship. These issues manifest themselves clearly and quickly in the courtship process.
The Online Dating Profile -On Valentine’s Day, I deleted my OKCupid profile after six months of disappointing results. First, there is something fundamentally wrong about a free dating website. There has to be some monetary barrier to access your potential future spouse (and as for potential one night stands, there’s already an app for that. It’s called the bar.). When online dating is free, it becomes a smorgasbord of creepy guys who take bathroom selfies and send you offensive and/or gross messages. (For example: “Can you send me a picture of a belly button. Nothing sexi [sic]. I just really like belly buttons.”) Second, I encountered an alarming amount of profiles dripping with veiled references to failed relationships. For example, numerous profiles explained that these men were not interested in “games” or that they couldn’t deal with someone who they just couldn’t “trust”. I’m not a fan of “games” or untrustworthy people either but I don’t explicitly think these directives need to be included in an online dating profile. The quickest way to come off as a man scorned is to list all the things you’re NOT looking for in a woman. Must NOT cheat on me. Must NOT be embarrassed to be with me in public. Must NOT talk down to me. Frankly, reading many of the profiles made me feel uncomfortable. I was tempted to write a few of these guys to tell them to keep their head up and that it would all be okay. I’m in the market for a guy that will return my text messages and is not condescending but I don’t include that in my online dating profile. Why? Because that would send the direct message that my ex didn’t return my text messages and was condescending. Including this type of information says less about what you’re looking for in a potential partner and speaks volumes about just how pissed you are that someone did you wrong. Instead of putting your exes crappy qualities in an online dating profile, shouldn’t you be reveling in the fact that you’re not spending time with someone who talked to you like you’re a 12 year old? (For example…)
The Ex Talk – I’ve had multiple dates explain just how heartbroken and emotionally compromised their ex-girlfriend left them. They’re gun shy. They don’t know if they can handle opening themselves up to anyone ever again. First, I get it. The first few months after a break up, it’s natural to feel that you can’t open yourself up again. The very idea of enduring the pain of another break up seems unbearable. The only reasonable solution seems to be taking yourself off the grid entirely and living a quiet life down Mexico way or someplace less life threatening like North Carolina. (It’s rustic! You could get so many DIY projects done down there. Mason jars! The cost of living is much less than here!) But, at some point, you wake up and realize: “Hey life isn’t so bad. No need to move to North Carolina. I already have a ton of mason jars that I don’t even use now!” It seems as if many of the men I’ve encountered haven’t yet awoken to that amazing epiphany. Instead they’re quietly reliving the excruciating pain of having each thread of their heart ripped apart. Sure, they’re out on the date. But, they’re very vocal about the fact that they’re just not sure whether they’re ready, available and willing to be in a relationship ever again. (Which begs the question: “Why on Earth did you call me to set up this date?”) I’ll cut someone slack if the break up is recent. But there’s a limit to the suffering. If you’re lamenting a lost love from 2011, I have no sympathy for your heart and you, my friend, need to build a bridge and get over it. You can’t continue crying over some old flame from Obama’s first term. I endured two break ups in 2013, I don’t lead with that fun fact in the opening minutes of the first date. That type of information is not endearing or interesting, it’s creepy and weird. My exes aren’t on the first date, I am. As such, I talk about myself and get to know the person I’m with. (Duh)
[And before you mention it, I have considered the possibility that these guys are bringing up their emotional vulnerability during dates as a cover for “I’m Just Not That Into You”. Possibly men think if they attribute an excuse to emotions it will resonate more with women because we’re so “emotional” and we’ll get it. But many of these conversations have happened at the beginning of the first date. While I’m sure I could lose a guy in 10 days, I don’t think I could lose him in 10 minutes.]
“I’m Just So Damaged” – Since I’ve been in DC, I’ve heard this phrase (or some variation thereof – “I’m scared”, “I’m so vulnerable”, “I’m cray”, etc.) from at least four different men. Maybe I’m part of a generation in which men are very in touch with their emotions and/or personal limitations. Maybe men in the Midwest don’t emote while East Coast guys are ready to get emo at the drop of a hat. Maybe I attract emotionally damaged individuals. Or maybe (and I truly hope this isn’t the case), I’ve reach an age range where the single “available” men are not married because they’re grappling with the ghosts of ex-girlfriends past (yep – that was another McConaughey reference).
If the latter is the correct answer, my prospects for finding a potential life partner at this phase of my life are doomed. For the sake of not being a Debby Downer and for my own sanity, I choose not believe that. Just because someone broke your heart doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again. Granted, it’s not guaranteed that you won’t end up heartbroken crying into your beer. The only thing that’s certain is that you’ll never find your potential life partner if you don’t even get in the ring. We’ve only get one shot at life, it makes no sense to remain guarded and closed off to relationships simply because someone else was a shit head.
Falling in love is awesome. The pain of heartbreak fades. The purity and amazement of falling in love is something that endures. And (as an aside) if you truly love someone and that person is a worth a damn then that love remains and changes form. That love becomes another part of your consciousness that you can look to and will make you smile. (I know some of you are reading and thinking: “Uh. False. I don’t have any love for my ex.” Mind you I did mention that the love remains in a non-romantic form if the person is “worth a damn”. If he cheated on you with ten women or was an emotionally abusive loser then, yes, I get it and I don’t have love for him either).
This is not to say I don’t have empathy for the men I’ve encountered. I get it. I’ve been hurt. I’ve been humiliated. I’ve cried at the gym. I’ve cried on the floor. I’ve cried in a sandwich shop in front of co-workers (That was awesome). I kept my brother on the phone for hours crying. (Now, that’s a good older brother for you). After my first serious break-up, my entire family flew to Indiana to console me. I GET IT. But there comes a time for moving on. Therapy. Yoga. Spin class. Trashy TV. (After every break up I rewatch the entire series of Sex and the City — I think it helps) Wine! Friends. Gossip blogs. Sports. Karaoke. More therapy. Wine!! Writing. Break-up Playlists (Click here if you need one). Nothing changes if you remain stuck in the past. You can’t change the outcome by focusing on it. You don’t move on. And you certainly don’t find your next match. And, even, if you do go on dates or start a relationship, if you haven’t made peace with your last relationship, all the issues from that unhappy union will come creeping into your new situation after the honeymoon phase wears off.
We’ve all got baggage. How we deal with our baggage determines whether it shrinks into a carryon or remains three oversized suitcases. I choose to actively deal with mine because I like love and relationships can be pretty cool. I’m just looking for a guy who is committed to doing the same.
But I think the iconic thespian Matthew McConaughey puts it best: