The title of this post pretty much sums it up. I may be better off stopping here and signing my name at the bottom.
Lucky, or unlucky, for you I won’t. I may not be married or heck, even in a relationship at the moment, but I’ve had my fair share of experience in the relationship realm. And like we all hear, with every relationship you learn something. There’s a lot of truth to that.
I’m a firm believer that each person you date helps prepare you for the man or woman you are going to spend the next 50+ years with. So, pay attention. During the times when you feel like you’re so in love your heart could explode, to the moments you feel lost, confused and downright crushed by the outcome of that failed relationship; it’s all helping to shape you. When I said, “Let’s make a masterpiece out of the mess”, this is part of it, friends.
I still remember the first boy I thought I was in love with. I knew him since 7th grade. He had dishwasher hair and reddish scruff on his face at all times. His laugh was contagious and he helped me sneak out of my house for the first time (sorry again, Mom). He gave me the feeling of living on the edge; something I’m not good at. I had a crush on him for years, but he was too risky. We both played on the same travel soccer team and he was one heck of an athlete at my high school. Don’t make fun of that. Soccer is huge in the Midwest, thank you very much. September of my junior year, we were fishing at his lake. The trees were turning that bright orange with a twist of red – the beauty of fall. We sat on the edge of that weathered wooden dock, talking about the stars that could only be seen at that spot in the neighborhood. That night we decided we didn’t want to be friends anymore. We dated for 1 year and 3 weeks. Then he went off to college and cheated on me with girl named Lisa. My kid will not be named Lisa. I was shattered. Ask my mom, ask my high school English teacher, or pretty much anyone at Castle High School. Young love is fun. Easy. It’s all about sharing that blue locker in the main hallway, meeting up during class periods, even if it means taking the long way and barely making it to class. It’s about going to dances together and finding ways to be adventurous. But it can also hurt your naive heart. Your first “serious” boyfriend shapes you and your expectations in many ways. I often tell young girls I mentor to pick boys wisely because, in a way, it frames the type of men you are attracted to from that point on.
Then you go to college and it gets a little more real. I think most people assume they will marry their college boyfriend or girlfriend because that seems to be a common pattern. I, being a hopeless romantic, was no different. I dated the same guy throughout most of my college experience. He was shy and witty. He made me laugh. He played football, yet remained humble. He had a southern drawl that was out of this world. We didn’t work, clearly. Yet, the pain of that relationship lasted much longer than previous boyfriends, likely because of the expectations I falsely held. We girls can create love stories in our heads better than the movies. He and I recklessly and emotionally went back to each other for a few years after breaking up. We never dated again, but talked off and on. Out of comfort mostly. That stopped when he started dating his now wife and when I started dating someone else too. (Just in case either one of you are reading this) That’s the danger of relationships that have potential. I’ve seen how much they affect future bonds. If you can avoid it, don’t let your emotions continue to linger. Clean cuts are tough, but healthier.
Then there’s the relationship that teaches you the most. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet someone who takes care of your heart. This type of person will make you appreciate what good love looks like. Yes, you will both have major flaws, but he or she will demonstrate that giving up when it’s hard isn’t an option. I went through a really challenging time when I dated that guy in Nashville. It was when I was struggling with anxiety. He stuck it out with me. Actually, he was my backbone during it all. I knew he had my back. I trusted him in a way I’d never experienced before. I was able to be vulnerable, knowing I didn’t have to be the perfect person. He became my best friend. He wasn’t the “one” for me, but he gave me a pretty good framework for what I should hope for in the future. I have more respect for him than most men. I’m so thankful for that time in my life.
I tell you those three stories because each one played a major role in how I look at and behave in relationships. I’ve dated since then, but all three of those guys taught me something valuable.
The first experience trained me how to have a backbone. It also taught me to trust my gut. When I feel like someone is too risky, I don’t even allow myself to go there. Trust your head before your heart gets involved. It was terrible getting over being cheated on, because it brings out insecurities you didn’t even know you had. Now when a man treats me poorly, I look at it for what it’s worth. When someone shows you how they feel, believe them. Words sound pretty, but actions show the real beauty…or lack there of. I’m not saying I don’t get disappointed when I realize a guy I’ve been spending time with is full of it, but I don’t sit in that moment nearly as long, and I sure don’t let that person creep back in my life. I take that back. I did once, but as soon as we started dating again it crumbled; like it should have. Tip: This actually applies to friendships as well.
The second person made me realize that building a fairy tale in my head doesn’t make the cut. You can’t create a future out of something that isn’t really there. There has to be substance and common interests. You both need the desire to serve each other well. You can’t settle for someone or something because the timing seems right. I’m so happy he and I didn’t do that. Honestly, it was the best break up. Not because it wasn’t difficult, but because we understood it simply wasn’t a forever fit. I still remember sitting on the back of his Chevy tailgate, crying because we both knew we had to move on. We cared deeply for each other, but our beliefs didn’t line up. He was wonderful, but not the person who made the best me come alive, and vice versa. Another very important lesson I learned is how selfish it is to continue to loop someone into your life when you’re lonely or hurting. It prevents one, or both of you, from moving on with a healed heart. It’s even more selfish if you know deep down you’ll never get back together. Keep that in mind the next time you feel like reaching out to any ex after a fresh break up or an episode of the Sunday blues. Don’t be that person.
As for the Nashville guy, well, I believe God sent him as a gift during a time when He knew I needed someone who came from a family that had hard times and never gave up on each other. That’s how I will always look at that relationship. God restored my belief that He has a purpose to his plan and that was part of it. That relationship also taught me how to be selfless. There were times he needed me to step up to the plate, and I did. Sometimes I was giving 90% and he was giving 10% and other times the roles were reversed.
That’s how I perceive what marriage should look like. I don’t want the perfect person, I want someone who is raw, real and selfless. I pray for someone who isn’t going to flee when we have a bad week together, and in the same regard, someone who can get back to a healthy and loving place without building resentment from those difficult moments.
Like I said, I’m not a relationship expert. Perhaps I should consider taking that tab off the header of this website, but maybe, just maybe, having relationship experience is just as helpful. I’ve seen people who date one person their entire adult life and it works out seamlessly. For the rest of us, I hope we don’t give up or give in. Don’t hold a significant other to unrealistic expectations, but don’t get discouraged when the frog doesn’t turn into a prince just because you kissed him. No one is perfect and that’s where the beauty of it lies.
I LOVE love,