During my churchgoing days, there was a guest speaker at my youth group who told us a very interesting story. He described a man, from a different culture if I remember correctly, who showed him a collection of photos of his ex-wives. The man was fond of all of his ex-wives, and remembered them as if he was still with them. The moral of this story was that past relationships shouldn’t be remembered with disdain just because they ended, but rather celebrated for having happened at all. I myself have made this point recently on this blog.
But I only moderately agree with this, in regards to romantic relationships, or any kind of relationship for that matter. For this post, I’ll be talking about romantic relationships.
Human beings are imperfect creatures. This is why every relationship, no matter how much in common the two have, requires hard work to maintain. 99% of the time when relationships fail, it’s because at least one of the two lacked the maturity to make it work, or at least find a way to. The remaining 1% of the time, they fail because the two simply don’t feel it for each other anymore. It doesn’t take brains to make a relationship work, it takes humility. Be willing to admit when you’ve done wrong, and even when you think you haven’t, ask yourself how you might have. In all failed relationships, at least one of them is completely unwilling to do this.
But that doesn’t diminish the relationship itself while it lasted, right? I suppose to a degree. The happy memories will always be happy memories. The way I see it: People should always ask themselves, “What did this relationship cost me?”
Did it cost you your dignity? Did it cost you a tremendous amount of happiness during the relationship? A tremendous amount of money? Did you move across the country for this person, only to find yourself having to move all the way back home when it failed? Were you blessed with a wonderful child, only to have that child taken from you for no good reason?
It’s easy to develop resentful feelings toward an ex. But the way I see it is: If you’re angry about how they hurt you, just wait. All you have to do is wait. One day, they will make the next person they fall in love with miserable, or broke, or take their kids, or all the above. Sometimes, you just have to wait about 20 or 30 years, and that person will be miserable because their immaturity and selfishness has caused them to have 0 successful relationships. Whatever form it comes in, shitty people always have shitty outcomes in life. Some see it as karma, but I see it as inevitability. These people are their own worst enemy.
This is especially true when it comes to children. If a child is forced to stay with one parent most of the time (or all the time), and the non-custodian parent is actually a pretty good parent, that child will come to resent the parent who kept their other parent from them. I’ve seen many examples of this throughout my life (this is America, after all). This is often true even if the ‘other’ is a neglectful, distant, or abusive parent. Kids are innocent like that. They want to be with both parents regardless of the quality of either parent. It’s how we’re all built. But the child will become particularly resentful if the ‘other’ parent they’re not able to live with is someone they love and respect.
I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking about my significant relationships, of which I’ve had three. In total, the three of them took up about eleven years of my life, from the literal day I turned 13 to now. It’s easy to have despair when you’ve given your heart away more than once, and every time, that person crushes it. It’s easy to think poorly of the opposite sex as well (girls, you do this more than guys, admit it). But, there is one ex of mine who I can’t exactly say I remember fondly, but I nonetheless have to respect. She was the one who truly was different from the rest, and I don’t just mean from my other relationships. She was an exceptional girl, despite being morally reprehensible.
This girl was my first. Her name was Lisa. I’m not sure if I’ve talked about her on this blog before, but she and I ended when she cheated on me and then left me for one of the two guys she cheated on me with. She also treated me like complete shit while we were together, which was an on-off relationship the whole time, from the day I turned 13 until I was just shy of turning 20. Despite those things, my honest side can’t help but immensely respect her. Lisa was about 9 months younger than me, so it’s not like my respect for her was because she was much older or something.
Lisa was intelligent. I had a hard time keeping up with her a lot of the time. She figured things out much faster than me, and noticed things in day-to-day life, or about society, or about the universe as a whole, that I didn’t figure out on my own. Often when I spent time with her, or just talked on the phone with her, at one point, she always said, “Have you ever noticed…” and then she’d say something that I just never thought of at all.
Not to mention, she was also extremely self-aware. She was probably the most self-aware person I’ve ever known. Even after cheating on me, she had the self-awareness to admit, “You don’t deserve this.” She said that instead of denying her actions, or justifying them somehow. She knew what she did, and she knew it was wrong, and she maturely admitted it all. This wasn’t the only instance of this, it’s just the most significant.
Last but not least, Lisa was not overall horrible. In our late-teen years, Lisa always wanted to go into downtown Portland on Fridays to take care of homeless people. Her idea, not mine. In fact, she often said she wanted to wash feet (for her, that was extremely brave and selfless, because she found feet disgusting, let alone homeless feet). I asked her why she wanted to wash feet, and she’d say, “Because I’m not comfortable with it.” I mean, damn, how can you not respect that? She wanted to do something because it made her uncomfortable, and it would help people. Did she ever actually do it? I think maybe once, that I know of. It wasn’t something she could do every time.
So, when I look back at the years Lisa was in my life, I hate what she did to me, but I also immensely respect the girl I once knew. For a first-time love, she wasn’t half-bad. You could call it mixed feelings, instead of outright negative feelings. In my mind, it makes no sense that someone could be so self-aware and so altruistic, and yet have so little honor to stay faithful in a relationship. Some might make the argument, “You guys were 19 at the time!” But then I would make the argument that I have never cheated in a relationship, even when I was 19, or 13 for that matter.
So, back to the original point… Should past relationships always be remembered fondly, like that man from the story did with his exes? Well, that’s up to the individual. Personally, I try to remember all people I’ve known as who they were, not just the good traits, not just the bad. That’s the moral of this story (or, blog post). Remember what they were; the complete picture. Lisa was one of the most intelligent, self-aware, and even selfless people I’ve ever known, and I admit I miss that a lot. It makes what she ultimately did almost seem contradictory to her character. I had a friend named Tyler, who was one of the most honorable people I’ve ever known. These are people who had these traits before reaching an old age, which means it was always in their character. So, I think it’s safe to say I shouldn’t be involved with another girl unless she has Lisa’s brains (or better) with Tyler’s honor code (or better). If I’ve known people with any of those traits, it’s not unrealistic to look for a woman who has all those traits, especially now that my age group is older than it used to be.
Can we always love our exes? Yes, of course. I don’t still love any of mine, but that’s not because I feel I shouldn’t. It’s not even because of anger or hurt. It’s because I honestly can’t look back at any of them and think, “What a great person I lost.” Lisa had admirable traits, but how admirable was she as a whole person if she did what she did in the end? She was self-aware of her actions, she said I didn’t deserve it, but she never felt remorse for it. Remorse is the most important thing, to me. We all make mistakes, we are all human, but someone who makes mistakes (and even knows it was a mistake) but feels no remorse is not worth missing, in my opinion. I guess I miss her the most, but that doesn’t mean I miss her. Just certain things about her, that I hope to find in someone else some day.