10 Things I Learned over Dinner with an Ex-Boyfriend
I learned 10 things tonight over a two-hour dinner with an old boyfriend, and none of them had to do with the menu, music, or current events.
This year, beginning with my birthday in March, has been eye-opening, heart-wrenching, and … full of spiritual lessons. Really, I’m ready for a break, but the insights and lessons keep coming. Please, Gods, let me done with the Year from Hell by March…even though I’m terrified of what I might learn over the next 3 months.
A few months ago in prayer, I asked a whole series of broken-hearted questions. Within days, that prayer was answered and is still being answered, bit by bit. One of the ways it has come to me is in the form of a man from my past who is, in many ways, a reflection of this year’s pain and desperate attempt to understand. Side by side, I can see what a man from my distant past has in common with a man from my recent past–a loss far harder than my divorce–and I can now understand better what happened long ago as well as more recently. It has been eerily like looking at one man’s present and another man’s future.
Here’s what was revealed to me tonight:
1. A person cannot truly change until he has hit rock bottom–without me.
I have once again seen the results of someone hitting rock bottom and making a decision not to continue self-destruction and, well, destroying everyone around him. Being able to sit in front of me and show me first-hand that he’s changed could never have happened until he’d lost it all and had to pull himself up all by himself and decide to reclaim his life. I think of others whom I have thought had hit rock bottom and now realize they haven’t. Of course not. How could they hit rock bottom when I was still there to pull them through, pick them up, carry them–all out of lovely, sweet, enabling love? They have to hit rock bottom, lose everything, before they can change–truly change–and they have to do it without me around. Why? Because no one I love will ever hit rock bottom as long as I’m around to cushion the fall.
2. A man who cheats because he desperately needs to feel better about himself will always cheat if he feels bad about himself.
I hate the thought of “once a cheater, always a cheater.” I do believe and I do know people who’ve broken the code and become faithful, loving partners. But I understand now…better…the real reason for the cheating, and the lying and manipulation that come with it. It’s a drug. And as long as a man (or woman) feels bad about himself, he will medicate with affairs and flirtations that give him that quick fix that often comes with what the polyamory community refers to as “new relationship energy.” The next woman–and the next–provides a reminder that he is still attractive and the last woman wasn’t just a fluke. Soon enough, if he still suffers the same self-esteem issues, he’ll need someone new, and that doesn’t mean he’ll be willing to let go of the previous relationships. Instead, he just adds another woman to his collection. The only way a cheater can become not-a-cheater is to resolve his own issues of worthiness.
3. I have underestimated my self-worth, but not in the way you might think.
I look back and realize that I’ve given up relationships that I could have held onto. And it would have been simple. Look the other way. Make excuses for him. Accept the things that made me feel like worthless crap. Stay on the emotional rollercoaster ride that had me questioning my sanity. At the time I walked away, kicking myself, my reaction was that surely I must have low self-worth to have gotten into the relationship to begin with. Instead, tonight, I realize that I value myself far more than I gave myself credit for. I’ve heard it said that women will stay with men who are bad for them because the guys treat them just slightly better than they think they deserve. To my surprise tonight, I realized that I must feel I really do deserve better or else I’d still be in a progressively unfulfilling relationship full of amazing promises. The other thing that drives this message home for me is that women I have admired and always thought to be far stronger in constitution that I am…are with the men I’ve left behind, knowing what I knew when I left.
4. Every man in my past comes back into my life at some point.
I’ve known this for several years, but I’m speechless to see this knowledge in action. They all come back, and I know that in my heart, but they don’t always come back in the same shape they left. In fact, rarely. In a way, it is like raising the dead. The shorter the period of time, the more recognizable they are. Usually, the longer the distance in time, the greater the likelihood that I won’t want them back, or at least not in the same way I once wanted them.
5. What brings two people together never dies.
As I was reminded tonight, what brought someone together with me never dies, never leaves. It can be walled away. It can be hidden away. It can be ignored. No matter how many things change, though, the essence of what brings two people together is never gone. That always means there’s hope for two people who’ve parted to reconnect if they’re in the same vicinity again. Sometimes the hurt can be forgotten or healed. Sometimes. I’ll let you know when.
6. You can still love a dirtbag, but you don’t have to be married to him.
That’s something a marriage counselor said to me a decade ago, but I remembered it in conversation tonight. You don’t break up with someone and then the next day break off those deep emotions and forget you loved him. No, you still love him the next day, the next week, the next month, and for a long, long time thereafter. Any relationship that was deep will not lose the love overnight, not if it was real. And that love lost is an open wound that still bleeds. When I told my counselor a decade ago that I thought I should go back to the man I’d left because I still loved him, my counselor explained that the love doesn’t just vanish, and we need to acknowledge those deep feelings of love, even when the relationship is over. However, loving somebody doesn’t always mean that being married to them or in a relationship with them is a good idea, particularly if your needs aren’t being met.
7. You can never take up where you left off, but you can have a fresh start.
When we long for someone we’ve lost, miss their company, feel the sharp edges of the chasm that remains when they’re gone from our daily lives, then we want to go back to exactly where we were before good turned to bad to gone. With the passage of time, that’s less likely and new experiences and lessons have filled the gap in communication. You can’t go back to where you left off because you’ve both become different people. But you can approach it as a fresh start, based on whatever the original appeal was between you, and get to know each other as new persons…who may or may not choose to pursue a friendship or more.
8. Allowing a fresh start is a leap of faith.
It says that you believe that people can change for the better, that you can stop carrying the poison from the past, that you’re willing to dip your toe in the best of the stuff between you in the past to see if it’s still there and how you might interpret it a second time around. “Allowing” is a much gentler verb. It doesn’t require you to do anything. It only requires that the Universe rearrange the past into a much better form that might suit you now.
9. Trust can be rebuilt, but it takes patience, effort, and a willingness to care for the other’s heart.
Even so, trust will look vastly different in the future. It’s said that trust is like fine china. Once broken, the pieces can be picked up and put back together, then glued to hold them in place. But it will never again have the smooth, solid look of the unbroken china. When those pieces are scattered all around–or even tossed at you daily–it’s hard to even think of being willing to care for the trust-breaker’s heart. My current counselor asked if I wanted a certain happy thing to happen for a particular man in my past. I didn’t know how to answer. No? I don’t care? I’m not even thinking of him in those terms?
10. I deserve an apology.
A sincere one. I deserve it for being loving and trusting enough to be hurt so deeply for believing in a person who failed me so utterly and intentionally through calculated dishonesty and manipulation. I realize I may never get it. But I want it, and I deserve to have an apology and a sincere attempt to make amends. I know that sounds far-fetched, but tonight I had dinner with someone who is doing just that. Someone I’d been certain was gone forever from my life. My guard is up, and he’s not going to get through easily. He will have to really want my friendship and work to prove it to me. But I know now that that kind apology and amends-making is possible.