Today while I was trolling a friend’s Facebook page for an article she had linked to a few days ago, I came across this linked post about thanking your ex for all the worthwhile things you learned when you were together. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and when God keeps smacking me over the head with signs, it’s usually time to make my amends where they are due.
I will be the first to admit that I haven’t had a great history with relationships. Then again, while they haven’t lasted into their golden years, they did have some pretty awesome moments. More than awesome moments. I have truly loved and been loved and sometimes things just don’t work out. For a long time, after each break-up, I would blame and blame and blame. I have had a difficult time seeing my own behavior problems and taking accountability for the part I played in the “dissolution of marriage.”
In one case, I was married. We were together for 14 years and things gradually unraveled. By the time we were done, it was a pretty mutual decision. Our divorce was made much worse due to very bad choices I made in a fit of panic and anxiety over being alone for the first time since I was 17 years old. I illustrated very plainly that I don’t do single well. In another case, we were together barely 2 years; we got engaged, we broke up. I learned how to do single very well indeed and eventually came out of that time with a reticence to put a toe into the dating rapids that made me clutch my life jacket of resistance.
In both cases, I learned a lot–although not right away and not consciously. I learned that I had been, throughout my life, horribly co-dependent (had I been mindful enough to access self-help, Harriet Lerner would have made a fortune on me). I kept hearing the term “pushy,” but didn’t really understand it until I looked back from the nearly normal perch on which I now sit and realized that it’s annoying to others when you are obsessive about texting and calling when they are out with friends or family, are maniacal about trying to get your partner to share their feelings when they just need some space, and have an incessant need to know where they are at all hours of the day. From this independent place I now inhabit? It would have made me crazy.
The article talks about being an alcoholic and that was not my problem although I have other things I am still dealing with in an effort to be a better person. I feel as though everything I went through in my relationships helped to strip me down to bare bones so that I could develop a new, healthier skin. I am no longer creating drama in my life. I don’t do turmoil. I’m not frantic or needy or worrisome. I don’t rely on my partner to bolster my self-image. I’m not at all perfect but then I don’t strive to be either. I am, I think, a pretty damn good partner in my marriage. I don’t get bent out of shape when my husband stays out with his friends–I know he’ll come home eventually because this is where his heart is; I don’t freak out when he isn’t in bed at 2:00 in the morning–he’s a grad student and long hours come with the territory; I don’t push him to talk when he needs time alone–he’ll come around and we’ll communicate when we’re both calm and rational and ready. Our lives are joined and separate and simple and complicated and full of trust and mutual respect and true love and high passion. Our relationship is a very good balance of all the things I’ve always wanted but could never achieve because I was immature and demanding. I get that.
I’m not saying I would turn back the clock and do it over again. I am not mourning the loss of my relationships. So what do I have to thank my exes for? Helping me learn how to laugh, not to take things too seriously, being okay with just being me, letting go of the need to hold on so tightly that they could not breathe, learning to clean up my own side of the street and let them worry about theirs (I am not anyone’s savior), and knowing that I don’t have to attend every fight I’m invited to. Walking away is okay sometimes (you have to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em).
To you (you know who you are) who gave me wonderful years of special memories, many hours of fits of laughter, vacations, family that I still cherish, continuing friendships (surprising that you still stuck with me through all the messy endings), and, in one very special case, an incredible child that we both love more than life itself–I honor you. I thank you. And I love you.
I would expect that my husband thanks you, too, for having a hand in providing him with a much better wife for the long haul. We may make those golden years yet.