Why Your Romantic History Is Not The Worst Disaster Everby Kristine Gasbarre on December 02, 2011
I did a bad thing.
When a friend starts a G-chat with this, she’s got your attention. This week my friend Lena confessed to me what she felt was a misstep so severe that it made Jerry Sandusky look like an Eagle Scout: last weekend the European guy she’d met at a work conference early this year, with whom she’s been texting and emailing on-and-off since, took her to an out-of-state wedding. She flew there to meet him, they sat at at the couples table, held hands, shared a hotel room, and at the conclusion of the night, as my friend put it, they “did dirty things together.”
Me: Dirty? Or GREAT??
The relationship, Lena contended, is bad because she’s 99 percent sure this guy doesn’t want marriage, while sooner or later she does. But it’s good because it’s gotten her out of a rut — a rut that, as she sees it, has consumed the entirety of her 30 years of living.
Lena E: I’m just kinda bored/lonely, so I keep talking to him. It’s not like I have anyone else lined up, you know?
Lena’s like a lot of us singles who hold a deep-down, negative belief about our aptitude for relationships. For most of us, it lies so deep within our subconscious that we don’t even realize that we’re trying to break into a relationship operating on this: “I possess the most clueless, humiliating, amateur, least desirable romantic resume of anyone else.”
From the research about single Americans that I’ve done over the last decade, I’ve concluded that a lot of us feel totally doubtful about our capacity to enter a sound, committed relationship. I’m just not a relationship person. Or, The only time I was ever in love resulted in a disastrous breakup. Or, I just don’t know how to make people like me. Something must be wrong with me.
A lot of us singles believe that our married friends are hogging all the desirable traits and that we, on the other hand, are giving off some kind of spiritual stink that makes us impossible to love. They’ve cracked the code, and the way we were raised or some torrid heartbreak from our past has landed us completely in the dark. You know, the nasty half-joke that you’ll die alone surrounded by nine cats? Yeah. I’ve said it too. We don’t consider that the only thing we need to change is how we approach relationships — it’s so temptingly dramatic to just drop all the alluring attributes we have going for us like a wet paper bag of groceries and cling to the notion that I must be lacking something because I’m still single.
But Dr. Jenn Berman, licensed psychotherapist, author and host of Cosmo Radio’s Love & Sex Show with Dr. Jenn, says that if you’re moping about everything that goes wrong for you in relationships, you’re actually missing the whole point of dating.
(Catch that? Go back and read that last line. This could change the way you think about love.)
Dr. Jenn says that beating yourself up because you’re still single and such a crappy dater that you probably always will be is “very detrimental both to our self-esteem and to our abilities to learn from a relationship.” Here’s where we self-pitying singles are going wrong: “A big part of the problem is that we tend to think about relationships in black and white terms,” Dr. Jenn says. “[We figure,] Either it was a success and we got married, or it was a failure and we didn’t.”
So, so true.
“But the way we want to think of it,” she continues, “is that in each relationship, we’re supposed to learn something from it.” By definition, dating is a process for the individual to determine what they’re best suited to give and what they’d like to gain from a relationship. At no point does it involve a quick success vs. failure diagnosis. As individuals, we make it productive by understanding that with every attempt, we’re getting closer to our most natural fit.
I think of it like the Hot & Cold game we all used to play as kids, and lately with guys, I’m getting very warm … because I’ve dated a lot. Dr. Jenn has another metaphor that makes the purpose of dating clearer: “If you’ve ever played darts, you make your next move based on your last move. You say, ‘OK, that was too far to the right, I need to go further to the left.’ And that gets you closer to the bullseye.”
We all know someone who may have hit the bullseye on their first try, but don’t curse them — chances are, your relationship skills down the road will be way better than theirs are. Dr. Jenn says those of us with a more seasoned dating history actually enjoy an advantage in the long run.
“You are supposed to have relationships that don’t work out,” Dr. Jenn says. “I think that’s actually a really good thing. Having dating experiences and relationships that don’t work is one of the most important parts of becoming ready for a longterm relationship like marriage.” (And, research continues to suggest: it’s the marriages between people who wed well after their twenties that tend to go the distance.) We can gather tons of insight about ourselves by interacting with lots of different kinds of people, and the more you date, the more prepared you are to find that solid fit. “Being open to learn from [past] relationships is what makes us more capable,” Dr. Jenn says.
Before we signed off, Lena told me that she doesn’t understand why she and her European beau can’t get on the same page.
Lena E: He says he loves talking to me every day, and he likes having an overseas lover.
Me: OH MY GOD YOU’RE THE OVERSEAS LOVER.
Lena E: I KNOW. hahaha
Me: Dude, cash out and walk away. That is effing brilliant.
Lena E: But it’s not going anywhere. It’s meaningless.
Then it was time for me to set her straight.
Me: You went to a wedding in a cool city, you hooked up with a guy who possesses an irresistible accent, and you’re the OVERSEAS LOVER. That’s not meaningless. I would go back four years and re-live my breakup with my English ex just to have him call me that.
Lena E: Really??
Me: YES! Promise me, no matter how old you get, that you will always remember that one day, someone called you their overseas lover.
Lena E: I promise. I won’t forget it.
Lena might not marry The European, but every relationship gives us a new piece of identity that’s worth holding onto for life. If you’re bummed or panicking that you haven’t got a love locked down, just try this: stand up, move across the room and look at your romantic past from a different angle. Chances are you know a lot more about loving than you give yourself credit for.
Kristine Gasbarre is the author of How to Love an American Man: A True Storyand a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Follow, friend and visit her at www.kristinegasbarre.com
[photo credit: flickr, Aussiegall]