I Had to Go Through the Wrong Ones to Be Ready for the Right One

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Photo by Giang Vu on Unsplash

Last weekend, I had dinner with a group of friends from college, and it was wonderful. Dinner, to us, means everybody brings a dish, picks their poison, and gabs for about eight hours straight about everything and nothing. Dinner means there’s an extra friend hiding in the basement meant as a surprise for the rest of us. Dinner means Nate will ask Scott about which vegan alternative he added to the potato salad this time, and dinner means Kelly and I get wine tipsy early and happily stay that way until well past midnight.

It really was a wonderful time.

And it was the first time in a long while that my heart didn’t feel like a crushed soda can when the subject came around to my exes.

These are college friends. The ones I can still give lots of platonic physical affection without weirdness. The ones who really have seen all of the petty, vindictive, shallow worst of me, and still manage to smile when we reunite. The college friends had front row seats to my many heartaches and few heartbreaks, and how in God’s name they all suffered me through that mess, I’ll never understand, but I’m endlessly grateful just the same.

But little by little, it stopped feeling like such a gut punch.

We know each other’s quirks. I know not to let my feet anywhere near Kelly and I know which of the cats is comfortable around strangers.

And for a long time, everyone knew there was a name that couldn’t be said around me, in spite of that name being shared with another friend, one who is a gem and has never done a thing to upset me. Nicknames came in awfully handy for that long while, and it was lucky said friend had a few to spare. To me, he will always be “Toaster”.

But I knew very well that couldn’t go on forever. It wasn’t fair of me to expect it. So when someone forgot and the name would slip out, I would hide my wince and make a joke and hope no one would notice.

Nate always noticed, though.


But little by little, it stopped feeling like such a gut punch.

Little by little, it dissolved into a twinge, and I learned to let go. Until one day, it wasn’t there anymore, and hearing it no longer bothered me.

I actually called Toaster by his real name last weekend.

And we talked about him. The other him.

We talked about a lot.

Because for years, my love life was criminally terrible.

It wasn’t that we avoided the topic of my exes as a rule. We’d discussed them at length, actually. I’d just been drunk and angry each time, and progressively more drunk and more angry as those conversations went on.

But last weekend, I was okay.

I kind of shrugged and said, “Yeah, it hurt. Yeah, it sucked. But I’m a lot better now. We weren’t good for each other. Oh, that one? No, I don’t count that one. He was lost, and I couldn’t help him. Oh, yeah, she was pretty lost, too… but I hear she’s good now. She’s happy.”

And to these people, to the college friends, to the ones whose t-shirt sleeves had perhaps seen more of my tears than their own, to the ones who had once upon a time gleefully poured shots down my throat as I’d tried in vain to forget some overwrought, melodramatic fight?

They saw me snuggle my new partner and they were happy for me, maybe even a little relieved. And I say “new partner”, because to them, I’m sure it still feels like he is in spite of the six year anniversary we just celebrated. Bless them all, when I first brought him around and introduced him with “hey, this is Joe, my healthy relationship!”, most took it with an appropriate dose of “are we sure about that…?”

Because for years, my love life was criminally terrible.

For, like… way too long.

I needed the bad relationships to help me recognize a good one.

But I had to go on the shitty dates. I had to go out with the wrong people to understand what I really needed from the right person.

Let’s be clear for the people in the back: I did not have to be ignored and manipulated and cheated on and a whole host of other slimy things.

But I was. There’s no purpose in ignoring the fact. It was awful and I hated it and I don’t wish those feelings of worthlessness on anyone.

And yet I’d go through all of it again if it got me to where I am now. I needed the bad relationships to help me recognize a good one.

I’m a creature who learns best by comparison, I suppose.

The same applied to friendships. I had to cut people out to make room for the true friendships to thrive. I had to let go of old resentments so that I could be a better friend for the people who deserved more than to only ever hear me rant about how annoyed I was with someone else.

It may sound like such a cliched platitude. “You’re only given what you can handle” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “this, too, shall pass.” It’s hard not to hear the stain of condescension in words like those sometimes. Like anybody has a right to compare their pain to someone else’s. Like anybody has a right to say they know exactly how you’re feeling when you’re deep in the trenches of your hurt.

But whatever it is that hurts you, you are allowed to be in pain, and you are allowed to let it go when you’re ready.

Listen to your Auntie Mary, kids. You’re allowed to feel as much pain as you need to.

Let me say that again: you’re allowed to feel as much pain as you need to.

Nobody gets to tell you it’s not that bad. Nobody gets to tell you to get over it. Those aren’t things they have a right to decide on your behalf.

I am not advocating self harm and I do not ever recommend falling into the pit of self hatred.

But you are allowed to be hurt. And you are allowed to let yourself feel that hurt for as long as it takes until it’s done. Until it has run its course, you get to be upset.

Somebody said something mean to you? Okay. Feel that. Because it sucks.

You just broke up with your first love? That sucks extra. Feel that, too.

Plenty of people are a lot sharper about this than I am. There are lots who understand how to recognize a bad relationship early, and quickly shift gears to get the hell out as fast as they can. I often wished I was maybe a bit more like that.

I’m not. And I’m not beating myself up for it anymore. You shouldn’t either.

You don’t have to get your heart broken as many times as I did, and you don’t have to find a partner at the end of it.

But whatever it is that hurts you, you are allowed to be in pain, and you are allowed to let it go when you’re ready. When it has taught you that there is something else you need that’s better.

If that takes the rest of your life, so be it. If it only takes an hour, that’s fine, too.

I wasn’t counting the days on my hurt, although I know I felt it more than I wanted to, for much longer than I wanted to. It wasn’t done with me yet, and I guess I hadn’t been ready to let it go. I can’t say I really noticed when it finally did drift away.

I just looked around a living room full of friends and realized it wasn’t there anymore. I hadn’t said goodbye, and I hadn’t sent it away knowing it would never come back. Maybe it will come back one day.

But that, too, shall pass.

Originally published at http://feministhomemaker.com on August 30, 2019.

Writer, Runner, Baker, Mother. Over caffeinated with my nose in a book.

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