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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

#91: Why I Can Thank My Exboyfriend For My Marriage

If you've successfully survived puberty you probably have a long list of lessons you've learned about love and relationships. You have an idea of what love looks like, how long it lasts, who finds it, who deserves it, why you lose it, and what's a fair exchange in order to have it.

All of our opinions about love and marriage are based on our own experiences with love, loss, and loneliness. They are not necessarily very wise or true ideas but they feel about as real and true as our own breath.

I've had one Major Adult Heartbreak in my life, and it involved: (1) me, about 6 years younger and more naive than I am now; (2) a funny, gentle, “old soul” who I'll refer to as "D"; (3) a year of rainbows and happy sighs with D; (4) some talk about marriage and (5) a little brunette in D's grad school class who he ended up liking more than me.

After my relationship with D was pulled out from under me, I was left completely winded and traumatized. I had the following Big Bad Love Lessons etched into my heart:
  • Love can leave you at any moment, even when you've tried your best
  • No one can be trusted. 
  • You can't even trust your own feelings – just look where they got you.
  • People change their minds about you and there's nothing you can do about it.
  • There is always the chance that your partner will find someone "better" than you...and act on it. Because good people cheat, too.
  • Your partner can say one thing but be feeling something completely different. You cannot force people to be honest with you.
  • Love does not "conquer all". There is no such thing as "soul mates". Sorry John Lennon, but love is NOT all you need. Nice girls DO finish last. And being in a relationship is just a disaster waiting to happen because people are bound to disappoint you. So why bother?
  • Loving someone won't make them love you back.
  • No matter how much you care for a person, they may never care half as much about you.
If you haven't already jumped over a bridge in despair after reading all of that, I'll admit that I learned some empowering, beautiful, and positive lessons from my breakup with D, too.

But the Big Bad Love Lessons are the ones that cling to me and keep me down. They keep my heart in a cage. They were the ice cubes under my cold feet. They were the baggage I carried when I met my husband Brian over 5 years ago.

So I've come up with a theory. My theory is that for those of us who have been through hell and back (which is pretty much everyone with a heartbeat), you marry the person who gives you hope that those scary and nasty Big Bad Love Lessons you've picked up from your Big Bad Ex aren't necessarily true. Your partner/ spouse is your little mustard seed of faith, your shimmering silver lining.

I've mentioned in a previous post that the first word that comes to mind when I think of Brian is reliable. I know – it's not a very endearing or interesting adjective. And for a fun-loving goofball animator, it definitely doesn't do his sense of humor or creativity any justice. But when I met him at age 25, I was steps away from the edge of an emotional cliff, and the one thing I needed in my life was to know that:

While everything changes and comes to an end, some people can be counted on most of the time. And when you think about it, that's all you can ask for. These people are the most reliable when they're great communicators- that way when they're having trouble being reliable, they're brave enough to admit it and ask for help.

Lucky for me these people do exist in human male heterosexual form. It's hardly a romantic idea, but this is precisely what I needed to keep me from giving up hope on love. And this is what Brian, along with many other things, has to offer.

I know that our marriage and love will evolve over time. I know that on some days we will want to jump ship, abort mission, and be free from each another. Those feelings are part of life. But thankfully the one thing we do really well is effectively communicate our asses off. We talk about big feelings, scary feelings, and shameful feelings. And while I can't rely on Brian to always find me attractive, or always like me, or always want to put up with my baggage, or never ever mess up and cheat on me, I can at least count on him to always be in communication with me. I can count on him to stick around and put up a good fight instead of automatically running away into the arms of someone to whom he doesn't owe any honesty or bravery. Fighting the good fight in the name of your marriage is what it means to be an *emotionally reliable* spouse.

Had I not met D my priority would not have been to find someone emotionally reliable; I would have been focusing more on being with a smart, sensitive, cultured, and hilarious playwright, like D, who may not be emotionally reliable but at least he was impressive as hell and perfect on paper.

But after having loved and lost, I now want good old meat-and-potatoes Brian. He might not be perfect on paper, but he is my house made of brick. He is my safe haven. He is the family I've chosen for myself -- the imperfect, messy, fun, and always-there-waiting-for-me-no-matter-how-far-I-roam house on a hill.

So back to my theory. What Big Bad Love Lessons did YOU learn from your ex? And how does your current partner or spouse bury those darn things in the ground? How has your criteria for a husband or wife been influenced by the Major Adult Heartache of your life?

Image by Starry Eyed Kid


  1. I super duper heart this entry!!!! Definitely will be something I will reflect on. I"m so glad you found your reliable little Brian. HUGS.

  2. I've learned that through being cheated on and dealing with my husband's sexual addiction, marriage is really about helping to refine one another. It's not easy and I do at times want to "jump ship" as you say, but I try to love like no one has ever loved before and hope that in time it will pay off for me.

  3. For a decade or so I only dated within my religion. I dated older guys that were Jewish, had careers, had their own place, and were either my age or older. When I met my husband I thought he was wrong for me. He didn't have a good job, he lived at home, he was younger and he wasn't my religion. I had basically dated different versions of the same guy over and over again and wondered why they all ended the same way. Here we are 4 years later and he has an awesome job and we're married despite the age and religious differences. I used to think I could have a boyfriend checklist but that's just silly. It never worked. The older, supposedly mature men were horrible.

  4. Damn, new fave post!

    You know how much this one would resonate with me and it does.


  5. @ Steph - Thanks, girl. You're making me kinda curious about what your Big Bad Love Lessons are vs. what your marriage tells you about love.

    @ Anonymous - Wow, that is so incredibly powerful and inspiring. Love the idea of refining each other, being brave enough to stay on board and love like no one has loved before, and having faith that this courage can only bring good things your way. All the best to you!

    @ Poet - I know, isn't it so crazy how you end up with someone who doesn't quite fit the checklist? What I realized is that while our guys may not match up with our checklist of EXTERIOR qualities (shared interests, same favorite music, age - I thought I'd end up with an older guy, too- and same religion, etc.), they make up for it in terms of our INTERIOR checklist (character, heart, etc.).

    @ Moz- I thought you'd like this one. :)

  6. I love this.

    With me, my ex was a nerdy computer type who had a bit of an inferiority complex over my intelligence (which he would never admit to, or even admit that I was on par with him, let alone smarter) and wanted things His Way or the Highway. This included picket fenced house in the suburbs (no), kids (eh), for me to be a Happy Homemaker (HELL NO!).

    There's nothing wrong with any of this, of course, it just was not Me, and never would be. I got the distinct feeling throughout our relationship that he was trying to "tame" me into what he wanted, and the longer I was with him, the more I resented him for this.

    I knew pretty solidly what I DIDN'T want after breaking up with him, which, I think, is far more important than knowing what you DO want. Because, sometimes, what you think you want and what you actually want are two different things. However, what you don't want tends to be a lot more certain. I did not want suburbs. I did not want someone who didn't want pets. I did not want someone who wouldn't do things with me in favor of sitting home all the time. I did not want someone who would treat me like an inferior to make himself feel better. (As you can see, some of these things are worse than others!)

    you marry the person who gives you hope that those scary and nasty Big Bad Love Lessons you've picked up from your Big Bad Ex aren't necessarily true.

    This, exactly. :)

  7. Thanks for sharing, irisira.

    And "Exactly!" to this: "Because, sometimes, what you think you want and what you actually want are two different things." Word up.

    It takes a lifetime to figure out what you want, but all it takes is one bad break-up to know what you definitely don't want.

    Also, it's an interesting process trying to figure out *why* we end up in Big Bad Relationships in the first place. (It was a long road of analysis and self-help books for me!) How/ why do we let things go on so long despite the warning signs? Why were we drawn to this kind of person in the first place? I've found this kind of reflection to be super helpful in my current relationship.


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    He will make it his life long mission to cherish and please you...

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