Five years ago, I got divorced. I should have done it years earlier, but didn’t. I stayed with someone who was wrong for me for 24 years.
I knew he was the wrong guy from the very first date, but I kept rationalizing. I made excuses for him through dating, engagement, marriage, and two kids, until I was forced to file for divorce because living with him was affecting me to my core, leaving me more insecure, anxious and full of stress than ever. I also realized this was not the example of marriage I wanted to show my kids.
Can a bad marriage leave you too damaged to date again?
Sometimes I think it can.
About a year and a half after my divorce, I got in touch with a man who I’d known in my 20’s and just loved. He was everything I was looking for: sweet, hysterically funny, kind, hard working, and ambitious, but he lived about 400 miles away, so I never pursued him.
After I’d divorced and moved into my new place, I found an old box with some letters he’d written me years ago. They were hilarious and full of hope for the future, which got me thinking, and wondering, “What if…” So I wrote a story about him. Then I decided to take a chance and send it to him because it was a very flattering, fun essay and I knew he’d love it.
Turned out, he did love it and he was divorced too. He was a giver, just like me, and our stories, though different were similar. We both knew from the start that we weren’t with the right person. We’d both stayed and tried to work at it. We were both betrayed. His wife had an affair, my ex turned to his porn addiction.
When we first connected, it was amazing. It was two weeks of non-stop texting and occasional two-hour phone calls. We behaved like infatuated teenagers, walking around with silly grins on our faces.
Then it happened.
He was supposed to get back in touch with me on a Thursday and I didn’t hear from him until late Sunday evening. He apologized for his tardiness, but after years of someone not respecting or valuing me, I took this as a sign that this man might not value me either.
So, I let him know I wasn’t happy about that. I thought I was being honest, and using what I learned in my last relationship– that I shouldn’t put up with behavior I don’t like. In all honesty, the phone call wasn’t that big a deal, but I wasn’t looking through my normal eyes, I was looking through the eyes of someone wounded from a lack of love and years of neglect.
That was the beginning of the end for us.
I tried to explain my reasons for feeling this way and he explained why he didn’t call. He explained that when he was married, his wife was so controlling, he said he couldn’t even go to the bathroom without her being concerned he would inconvenience her if she had some chore she wanted him to do.
He said he developed a fierce sense of independence as a result. Which was part of why he wasn’t worried about calling me so promptly. Independence was now his coping mechanism. He just did what he wanted, instead of being worried about what anyone else thought, because he needed to do that to survive. That survival skill, honed over 26 years of marriage, wasn’t something he would be able to easily change. And maybe he didn’t want to – which I completely understand.
So, Ms. You Better Value Me, wanted Mr. I’ll Do Whatever I Damned Well Please, to value her, and though he may have valued me, he was not about to make the same mistake as before. He was so giving the first time, and so taken advantage of, he would never do it again. What he didn’t remember is that I am also a giving soul and would never have taken advantage of him.
Within a couple of weeks, he stopped calling and texting. Eventually, I stopped trying to get in touch, which is sad because we would have been great for each other, if only we both hadn’t been so scarred by what we’d been through. He wasn’t being who he really was and I wasn’t being who I really was. We were reacting to how we’d been treated. Like abused animals, our guards were up and we weren’t letting them down.
So, how do you reconcile this?
Here are 10 things to do instead of unintentionally letting your past douse a new flame:
1. Figure out what mistakes you made in your previous relationships.
Not just a cursory look back, but a serious look back at the part you played in the end of your relationship. It takes two people to build a relationship, and it takes two to destroy one.
I only discovered my part in destroying my relationship by writing things down. One day, after I’d filed for divorce, I sat down and started to write about what a jerk my ex was. I decided to list all the terrible things he’d done. After I got to thing number 7, my eyes popped open and I said to myself, “Oh my God, why did I let him do this to me? Why did I tolerate this kind of shabby treatment from day one?” It was shocking to me.
Having that realization taught me more about myself than anything else. It forced me to look at why I didn’t value myself. I looked at where that came from, why I felt that way, and how I could change. I knew that unless I changed the way I felt about myself, I would never be able to change the kind of person I look for and how I respond in a relationship. My ex may have treated me poorly, but I allowed it from the start, so it was just as much my fault as it was his. Seriously think about, and take responsibility for your own behavior.
2. Do your best to let go of your preconceived notions and suspicions.
Take your lessons with you, but try not to be jaded. When you meet a new person, trust your instincts, but allow yourself to be open. Try not to color this new person with the same paintbrush of your prior relationship. This person is not your ex. There are lots of wonderful people out there and this could be one of them.
3 Don’t set your expectations too high.
Just know that, as you are meeting new people, you may meet quite a few, before someone comes along who you truly click with. If the first five don’t click, that means the odds of the next one clicking are better. Don’t be discouraged, just keep looking.
4. Don’t believe the movies!
As much fun as it is to believe that love at first sight, exists, or toes curling when you kiss means this is the one, those are better left in the movies. True love isn’t on the outside, it’s on the inside. You may look at someone and be very attracted, but to call it love is a little premature.
Real love is a thousand little things, like the way he takes food down to the old people in the apartment beneath him. It’s how he checks the oil and the tires on your car before you leave on a trip. It’s her making sure your coffee is made just the way you like it in the morning. It’s the way she helps you study for your exams and wants the best for you.
A personal cheerleader is the best possible partner to find – someone who supports you and wants you to succeed, not someone who wants to compete with you. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone who is beautiful on both, the outside and the inside.
5. Don’t be in a hurry to find someone.
You can date someone a number of times before deciding whether or not to proceed. Sometimes relationships take time to grow. Imagine your life without him/her. If that doesn’t bother you, then maybe he/she is not the right one for you.
6. Never settle!
If you decide you’re tired of dating and just decide to go out with someone because he or she likes you and it’s easier than continuing to look, that’s not fair to either of you. You will probably never value that person, and that person may not value him/herself, so leave before you do any damage.
7. Cultivate trust.
If you start slipping and letting your old suspicions in, be aware of how your thoughts may be affecting your new relationship, and try to talk openly about your thoughts and concerns with your new partner. Ask him or her to be patient with you as you transition to this new, more trusting dynamic.
8. Be patient with yourself.
You’ve been hurt, and sometimes it takes quite a while to move past the pain, anger and suspicion to get to a place of peace and acceptance. But, with someone’s kindness and affection, you can get through it.
Could our relationship have worked?
I think so. Even though each of us was so scarred by our previous relationships, inside, we were still the same people we were in our 20’s. Unfortunately, we let our scars talk instead of our hearts.