Things about me that I know for sure: I read into anything and everything far too much, and I dwell on ideas. In fact, I often get fixated on a theory until I write it all out or talk it through with someone and can finally make sense of the thoughts in my mind. That made me sound more neurotic than I probably actually am. Awesome.
I have this print hanging in my bathroom that reads, “Non, je ne regrette rien“. Roughly translated, it means “no, I regret nothing”. As much as I’d like to believe that I live with this belief every day, I don’t. I over-analyze my actions, words, and thoughts until I’ve forgotten why I’m doing it at all, and I criticize myself endlessly.
One thing I’ve been thinking through quite often lately is past relationships. I don’t look on my former boyfriends with much favor, even though a couple of them really are good people. For two years, I’ve been working on trying to remind myself of the good things I absorbed while with them.
The first serious boyfriend I had was someone I had been friends with for a long time. We had grown up through high school together in church, and he was the perfect person to start venturing into romantic relationships with. We dated twice, neither time being very long, because high school relationships are unpredictable. I was moving off to college and was not a very good girlfriend because I hadn’t learned to communicate my thoughts and feelings yet, but I still look back fondly on the brief few months we had together. From him, I learned that love letters and rocks collected from mountaintops can mean so much more than shiny presents. I learned to enjoy stargazing and night time strolls. I learned about music that I still listen to today. I credit my first boyfriend as the tender-hearted soul who first introduced me to Damien Rice. I learned how tender innocent love can be.
My first college boyfriend was somewhat of a train wreck, but he meant well. We met through university concert choir, and our entire relationship seemed to center around music. My best friend and I had decided to go see his band perform right before Christmas break, and after he got my number at his show, we didn’t go a day without talking. He was older, experienced, and musically talented. The relationship was exciting, but wasn’t meant to last. I caught him in the middle of big lies at least three times and would run away instead of talking out our issues because I still wasn’t mature enough to deal with difficult communication. From him, I caught the love of live shows. I learned how to appreciate the different parts of a song and the technicality of writing music. I learned the simple joy of having a boyfriend make food for you, even if it’s just bacon and eggs. Most importantly, I learned that I could be desirable, even during the awkward first year of college.
That relationship lasted a bit longer than it should have, but after a few months, I had moved on. I had met the man I would marry. We started off as a fling. He had never actually had a girlfriend until me, just a string of girls he had partied with. We spent three months together before I had finally talked him into “defining the relationship”. It was another month before we got into an argument and his rebuttal was that he loved me. Soon, we were on a love high and nothing could separate us. When he got offered a good sales job in Dallas, he proposed in front of both our families, and that sealed the deal. We were going to be forever. We got married eleven months later, and soon after that, we had returned to the town we had gone to college in and settled down. There were bad times, abusive times, but I’ve written about those experiences before, and here is not the time nor place. Things eventually got so bad, so damaging, that almost exactly five years after we had first met, I told him I wanted a divorce. During that, I learned how to accomplish things on my own. My parents don’t particularly agree with divorce and were occupied with a death in the family, so I was left to navigate it by myself.
If I were to sum up my ex-husband in a couple words, I would label him the ideal salesman. He’s verbally charming and knows how to present his product in a way that appeals to all kinds of people. So from him, I learned people skills. I’m excellent at the people part of my job because I observed him for so long. I learned how to make things sound appealing. On a surface level, my favorite thing that I learned from him is how to appreciate beer. High-quality craft beer has become one of my go-to hobbies in the past few years, and I can fully admit that I learned the basics from him. On a much deeper level, however, I learned that people aren’t always as they seem. They can present themselves to the world one way, yet live a different private life. I’ve learned not to trust the people who seem too charming.
Several months later, I reconnected with a special person from my past. We had a different sort of relationship. He was in Alaska. I was in Germany. We spent the few hours that we were both available attached to our phones or computers. Communication was key. We shared poems, had intellectual debates, listened to each other’s favorite songs. We had a fourteen year friendship set on fire by infatuation, and it was the first time I was able to experience the joy that comes with being understood in a relationship for the first time. It was also the first time physicality wasn’t a deterrent in building an emotional and mental connection with another person, so the kind of love we experienced was refreshing. I discovered beliefs and ideas from Kahlil Gibran, Oliver Sacks, and independent rappers from the Midwest who actually had songs that spoke to me. I was appreciated for my contribution toward theoretical discussions, and I was encouraged to share my singing (a thing I hadn’t done in seven years). I learned that I was worth more than just a nice smile, a female body, and comforting words. I learned that I was smart, funny, someone’s dream girl. However, we were both damaged in very similar ways. We were damaged without having time to heal, and we leaned on each other to soothe that pain. Because of that, I learned that healing takes time, and mistrust will arise in a relationship when both parties struggle with the same problems. Eventually, I learned true and gut-wrenching heartache.
After not going more than six months relationship-free, I decided to step back and reevaluate what I wanted. There were men that were temporary during that time, but there were no true romantic relationships. I learned a lot about myself during that year of being single. I learned that I am a subconscious self-saboteur. I learned that I liked the idea of people falling in love with me before I was ready to love someone else because it made me feel worth something. I learned that I didn’t actually share the deepest parts of me with anyone, so I was unable to fully connect with another human being. I learned the first steps in becoming vulnerable.
I spent a year like that. I spent a year learning how to actually accept love from another person, but most importantly, how to love myself. When I spent an entire night talking to a man that I worked with outside on my front porch until the sun came up, I realized that I had also learned to trust. Sharing some of the biggest hurts in my life to someone that I only knew in passing showed me that I had allowed myself to become vulnerable. This man became my boyfriend, and during that time, I learned how healthy love can be when there’s a backbone of complete and utter trust. I learned that someone could actually see all of my flaws and not love me in spite of them, but could view my flaws as reasons to love me. I learned what it meant to be understood completely, and I’ve gained so much confidence and assurance from that understanding. Now, that boyfriend has become my fiancé. With that stage comes more learning. I’m now learning how to be in a committed long-distance relationship with someone who I’m used to being with every single day. I’m relearning communication skills sometimes based solely on words, because facial expressions and physical presence aren’t always present. I’m learning to stop being so stubborn in my independence and to allow the person that understands me best in the world to show his love for me in ways that make him feel like he’s making a positive impact on our relationship. I am learning to allow this relationship to actually be a two-way street.
I suppose it all comes back down to trying to be a person who can say they regret nothing. It’s being able to completely own all of the decisions you’ve made and accepting what happens next, regardless of the outcome. I’ll need to consistently work on being someone who can be proud of their experiences and decisions, but making that a life goal is one of the healthiest plans I believe a person can have.