Thank an Ex
Lessons Learned from Past Flames
Many believe that for a relationship to be considered successful, it must last. Breakups, therefore, are seen as signs of failure and relationships that end, as potential wastes of time.
What happens if we reject that narrative in lieu of one that is more realistic and supportive of our development?
Journeys are not linear and the experiences we have along our journeys can be valuable, even if they are not our final destination.
With that framing, for example, I have had a successful relationship, in which I:
- Learned something new and/or grew as an individual
- Cared for someone else and was cared for by another
- Loved and was loved
As social creatures, humans are meant to love and care for one another. Our capacity to be vulnerable enough to love is a strength and is worthy of being valued in and of itself.
Check below for some lessons learned, not only from my own experiences, but also wisdom that others have graciously shared. All fellow educators are hyperlinked so you can continue to learn from them!
Three Lessons Learned
Some things are perfect for that moment – and that is beautiful and enough
After getting out of an abusive relationship, I was scared to trust and desperate to regain control of my body and mind. The next person I fell in love with never pressured me into any sexual activity nor did he seek to manipulate me or dissuade my aspirations. While we were not right for one another long-term, I am forever grateful to that gentle, loving, and caring man who, possibly unknowingly, helped me regain a sense of safety and reminded me that it is ok to love vulnerably.
*Note on trauma:
I do not want anyone to walk away from this piece thinking that they need to experience their trauma to grow. If you have experienced trauma, you are not your trauma nor must you attribute who you are today to that trauma. The events in our lives help shape our experiences and perspectives but they do not get to define us without our consent.
How you want to feel
Sometimes we instinctively know what is important to us. Other times, we discover what is important within a relationship through the experience. Couples and sex psychotherapist Talia Litman, offers that “one thing you learn from exes is both how you want to feel and how you don’t want to feel in a relationship.”
When something feels good and safe, it is an opportunity to catalog that information so we can continue to ask for those things within our other relationships. For example, I learned that I enjoy the feeling of being taken care of, doted on, and wanted. Therefore, I seek out romantic relationships that offer these things. Similarly, when something feels wrong or makes us feel bad, it is information that can help us set boundaries and make decisions about future interactions. Araceli Esparza, DEI speaker, came to the conclusion, “I will no longer live in the crevices of a guy’s life, I want to be a canyon!” – Can I get a “hell yeah!”
When deeply involved with another person, emotions can run high, interactions can feel high stakes, and we can forget that “we” involves separate people with separate lives and minds.
The fabulous sex toy blogger Carly reminds us, “it’s not always about you and we’re not responsible for the feelings of others (although we are responsible to them).” Not everyone is great at not projecting their emotions on others. For empaths in particular it can be a challenge to not absorb the emotions of your partner(s). If you recognize a pattern of projecting your feelings or taking responsibility for a partner’s feelings, put some physical distance between yourselves as a cool off.
It can be helpful to take a minute to analyze thoughts and feelings before sharing it with others because not everything needs to be shared. Whether to protect yourself, or to avoid harming others when we don’t think before we speak, it’s a good rule to pause. Try taking deep breaths and self-processing for 10 minutes if you feel like you overshare.
Sometimes, we have very strong negative reactions to what a partner has said or done. Talia explains that “exes teach you about your vulnerabilities – the things that make you attack, defend, or shut down…” which can teach you what should be avoided in future interactions or what we may need to work through ourselves.
There’s a reason the saying “you have to kiss a lot frogs before you meet your prince” is so popular. In every relationship you will learn something new! Just because something ends doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth the experience. So get out there and have those experiences!
Yael R. Rosenstock GonzalezSex Educator, Researcher, Author, Speaker
Yael has been engaged in workshop development and facilitation since she joined the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) as a teen peer reproductive rights educator at 15 years old. Since then, she has served as an educator with children ranging from 10 months old to adults in their 70s with different organizations and communities. In her work as first Program Coordinator, then Director of Programming, and finally Associate Director of the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding, Yael developed and led events, workshops, and programs with an intersectionality lens.