Six Lessons from the Worst Relationship of My Life
Sometimes, you are going to date a real clunker. This clunker relationship will leave you shaking your head in bewilderment. Why did you stay so long? Why would you tolerate such abuse? Could your intuition be so lacking?
My clunker was Dale. On the anniversary of our break-up (almost three years ago to today’s date), I can honestly say that it was the worst relationship of my life and the best thing that ever happened to me. After our relationship crashed and burned, I went on a self-imposed hiatus from dating (a “guy-a-tus,” if you will). For six months, I licked my wounds. And, took my lumps. Instead of cataloguing his litany of sins (there were many), I looked inwards at what I could learn and how I could improve. There were many invaluable lessons that brought me miles—yes, miles—closer to finding the love of my life, Bill.
Heartbreak, I believe, can be a break-through. From this stunning failure, I learned:
1. Relationships, especially in the beginning, should not be hard.
Chemistry and attraction draw you to another person. Compatibility allows you to grow closer and move to the next level. True compatibility is warm, ebullient, easy and familiar. Be wary of any relationship—especially in the beginning--that requires too much effort towards conversation, connection and understanding.
2. Family upbringing matters.
Dale would often take me to visit his parents. A suffocating tension blanketed his family home. His father ruled with an iron fist. His mother rarely laughed or smiled. They greeted one another with icy civility, never exchanging hugs or kisses. Is it any wonder that Dale was slow to compliment and prone to long periods of stony silence? We learn from our families how to love, bond, and forgive. While no one has a perfect upbringing, it is encouraging if someone has made peace with their past.
3. Friendships matter.
In the 7 months we dated, Dale’s phone never rang. He rarely got invited to parties. I never met anyone who would vouch for his character.
There is difference between being a shy introvert (perfectly acceptable) and a misanthrope (unacceptable). Be wary of dating anyone without long-term friendships. Relationships—friends, family, colleagues—are the place where we practice skills of communication and intimacy.
4. Trust your instincts.
Dale, especially in the beginning of our relationship, was the epitome of the doting boyfriend. He took me to expensive restaurants. He planned weekend trips. He called me on a daily basis. Despite his displays of kindness towards me, my intuition nagged. I felt I was walking on eggshells in his company. My stomach often hurt. My dog pulled backwards on his leash when we approached Dale’s front door.
Your heart and body send powerful signals. Learn to heed them. Want to develop powerful intuition? Build a consistent meditation practice. By quieting your mind and external stimuli, you’ll hear your intuition much more clearly. Have the courage to follow it.
5. Set high standards.
It is one thing to be tolerated. It is another to be accepted. Learn to love and accept your partner’s flaws. Demand that you also be accepted for all your glory. Ambivalence slowly gnaws away at love. Refuse to be with anyone who asks you to change your personality or how you exist in the world.
6. Laughter and forgiveness go far.
Disagreements and misunderstandings are going to happen even in the best of relationships. Refuse to be with anyone who holds grudges, has a temper or forces you to be wrong. Commit to being kind, even in the face of conflict. Disagreements can be the catalyst to a closer connection and set important boundaries.
What about you? Have a relationship that makes you wince? What lessons did you learn from it?