9 Lessons In Love: Learning From Past Mistakes
Every Person You Meet Has Something To Teach You
There is no one in this world who wants to live untouched by love. Even if you are content with staying single, there is something to be learned from your past relationships. There is always something that you can pick up from encounters and interactions that will enlighten you. And if you are like me, you might find that thinking about each past relationship as a lesson instills you with a sense of confidence. After all, if you could overcome those obstacles, doesn't that better prepare you for the next person who comes along?
No doubt, finding love and staying in love is challenging. Here are some lessons in love and relationships that were learned the hard way:
1. You should never sabotage your integrity for someone else
This is one of the hardest lessons I needed to learn, and I know a lot of my friends and family have dealt with the same issue. When you love someone, you shouldn’t be urged to change the things you are steadfast on, whether that is how you choose to make your breakfast, the books you read, your views on religion or politics or philosophy and your goals in life. Sometimes, our partners do things that make us furrow our brows in worry or anger, but if they repeatedly do or say things that go against your own morals or make you feel like you have to be dishonest just to be okay, then something is wrong.
When someone makes your question who you are at your core, it is bound to go one of two ways: Either you find yourself bending to their will or you stand strong and remain independent. Do not change because someone wants you to change. Do not alter who you are just to make someone else happy. If they truly love you, they will love you down to the core.
2. Do not tolerate people who do not see your value
Growing up as someone with horrible self-esteem from bullying, verbal abuse, and possible autism, it took me many years to find even the faintest hint of value within myself. I was depressed and suicidal and believed the world would be better off without me. Worse yet, there were people who saw budding femininity as a sign that they could make fun of me, talk about my weight, my beauty (or lack thereof), and all the things they would do to me if we were alone.
I thought, “Is that all I’m worth?”
But then I met someone who helped me see my value, someone who helped me realize that I was worth something and that I could do anything I set my mind to. I just had to be confident and keep pushing forward. I had to believe that things would get better.
And they did.
Since then, I have sought out those who value me as a person, not as a thing. I’ve sought out people who enjoy my company and vice versa. Who see gold in my smile and silver in my eyes and hear the tinkle of gems in my words.
Yet, I’ve taken on partners who, in the beginning, seemed to feel that I was priceless but then later assaulted me with invective. “You’re irrational,” “delusional,” “you’re not going to get anywhere like that,” “you’d be nothing without me,” “you’re not good enough,” “you’re worthless,” and so on.
I was able to walk away from such relationships but not without taking a hit again to my self-esteem. Fortunately, now that I’m older, I no longer have time for stuff like that and refuse to see less of myself for someone else’s sake.
3. Their friends are a reflection of who they truly are
That is not to say that every friend is going to be a good friend. Some people we consider our “friends” really aren’t that at all. And sometimes we choose to keep company with people with neither like nor dislike. Sometimes, we keep our enemies at our side. But, all in all, when you look at someone and the people they hang around with, and if you are listening to the way they banter, to their perception of the world, and find yourself at a loss or cannot help but feel angry or concerned, then you might need to take a step back and reassess your partner as well.
I once dated a guy whose friends seemed like nice people at first. We went to a bar, and we started discussing various things. As the night went on, I realized that two of them were making fun of me and that my date was joining in. When we mutually agreed to break up months later, that was one of the things both of us agreed upon: Our friends were not going to change, and since our friends brought out pieces of ourselves that we didn’t like about one another, there was no way the relationship was going to work.
4. How they talk about their exes says a lot
Oh man, how I wish I’d realized this a whole lot sooner. I might have been able to avoid several rough snags. In the same vein as judging how a person speaks to the server at the restaurant (also known as The Waiter Rule), how someone describes their past relationships is just as important. There is a certain point where you have to wonder if the horrid things they say about their past partners is true or if it’s them that’s in the wrong.
I dated this one guy for several months who was a total sweetheart to me in the beginning and just seemed wounded by the way others had treated him. He talked about how crazy all his past girlfriends were and how he could never stay friends with any of them. Then I realized one day, after several instances of seeing his cruelty and callousness, that there was probably a good reason one of his exes tried to run him over with her truck. The guy was a jerk, plain and simple.
Another guy discussed his exes as he would a failed scientific experiment—and he ended up treated me the same way.
Someone who is mature is going to acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes, especially in the younger years. We’re all inexperienced and egotistical at times. Sometimes, we even have to acknowledge that we were the toxic ones in the relationship and that it was better to let it go. However, when all you have is vitriol over the past and those you shared it with, it speaks volumes about the state of your inner world.
5. If they talk down to you once, they will talk down to you forever
You know that sinking feeling of someone who tries to educate you on something you already know? No matter how hard you try to explain that, yes, you know what you’re doing, and yes, you have years of experience in the subject, they just don’t seem to listen. Personally, I can’t stand patronizing, condescending behavior. When I know something, I know it, and if I don’t understand, I’ll tell you.
So when someone I know or am dating decides to talk down to me or treat me like I’m ignorant, I feel the tension and anxiety start to rise.
See, it doesn’t matter how much someone claims to respect you or how much they value your acumen. It doesn’t matter if they ask for your advice because they trust you. What matters is how they behave when they don’t think you know something.
For example, I speak several languages. English is my native language, and Japanese is my second. Despite being fluent in Japanese and being able to carry on long esoteric conversations, I had someone ask me if I understood when simple adjectives meant. Or if I actually understood enough Japanese to be discussing such topics at length.
Another guy, knowing that I have two degrees in Exercise Science and Kinesiology, decided it’d be cool to school me on muscular overload and progression…even though he’d originally asked me to assist with his training. Because, you know, what he learned from 30 minutes of YouTube research was worth more than 10+ years of higher education.
In both scenarios, when I calmly said, “I know,” they got defensive. Sarcastic, even. “Oh, I forgot I was talking to a genius. Excuse me.”
That’s not respect. That’s not maturity. That’s someone who feels threatened or begrudged and is acting out.
6. It’s fine to make compromises, but those compromises shouldn’t ruin you
It’s been said a billion times, that relationships cannot endure without compromise. I say that’s wrong. Yes, there are times when you need to meet in the middle. There are times when you need to sigh and say, “All right, we’ll do it your way.” But as Oprah said over a decade ago, there are good and bad compromises. A good compromise is one that allows you remain who you are, so you can continue striving for the best version of you. A bad compromise is one that limits your growth and keeps you from authenticity.
But what are some signs of bad compromises? Well, those are the ones where you are forced to keep a harmful secret, such as one of abuse or of your partner’s drug use, or how you sabotage your integrity to make someone else happy. Bad compromises are made to absolve jealousy or envy, to keep you at a lower level or in check, somehow.
If you don’t know whether or not you’re making good or bad compromises, allow me to say this: A relationship full of bad compromises is one that leaves you feeling depressed, unsure, and guilty. Instinctively, you might even know you are in a toxic relationship and are searching for the signs.
I’ve been there. My advice is this: Once you start becoming aware of the red flags, it’s long been past the time to call it off.
7. Some love languages are truly incompatible
Based on the book published by Dr. Gary Chapman called The Five Love Languages, there is an idea that, because people express themselves and their affection differently, that we are essentially speaking different languages to one another. Especially when in love and about love. Some people speak words of affirmation, others seek attention or give up their time for their partner. Meanwhile, some chose to shower their partner in gifts and material things, while others crave physical touch. Then, there are people who do “acts of service,” where they ease another’s burdens, such as menial housekeeping, or do random acts of kindness, like writing thank you notes.
Now, you might have a combination of love languages. You might stick to just one. However, there are times when the way you express love is not going to mesh well with the language of the other person. At these times, it may feel like no matter what you tell the other person, you always miss the mark. They misconstrue everything you say or read the signs wrong.
For example, I knew someone who showed their love physically and complimented my appearance all the time. I am not sexual, but they were something of a nymphomaniac. I don’t crave touch all that much, and I told them that. I even told them why I might recoil from certain sexual things. But they needed constant physical contact. That was how they showed love, and if they couldn’t do that, how could they tell me that they wanted me? That they loved me? And if I didn’t give them that, did that mean I didn’t love them back?
Obviously, it was a very complex situation. We cared for one another, but our love languages were not compatible, and so we needed to step back from the relationship.
8. Communication is key, but you need to listen, too
Talking things over is important. Honesty is essential. Those are the cornerstones of a good relationship. After all, if you can’t discuss things with your partner, then both of you won’t get anywhere. You will always argue, and that’s a terrible situation to be in. But you know what else is a part of communication? The silence. The energy within the interstices. The emotions that are left undeclared.
How are person says something is just as important as what they say; the things they don’t utter, as well, are pivotal to comprehension…and compassion. Nonverbal communication is huge. Over 80 percent of communication is nonverbal, after all.
Given that I am an introvert and also on the spectrum, I can go nonverbal in many situations, especially ones where I am anxiety-ridden. Therefore, I often hope that the person I am communicating with understands that my gestures and wide-eyes and shaking head is just as good as words. If it’s not, then we’re going to have difficulties.
Also, when someone asks for alone time, give them their time. When someone asks you not to bring something up, listen to them. When someone asks you to do something or to remember something important, try to do it. And when they ask if something is wrong or if you have time to discuss something, try to be open about it. You won’t always be successful. You might even get a little annoyed, but this is one of those good compromises we talked about.
But more than just talking, you need to listen and be aware of body language too. Someone who cannot tune into your methods of communication—whether that’s a love language, spoken language, or your little quirks—is not the right person for you.
9. Your values are going to change as you get older; make sure they’re flexible
There are a lot of things I am adamant about, such as my ethics, my morals, and my goals in life. I make it very clear to whomever I date and confide in that this is what I want out of my life, and you can’t stop me. My dreams come first. I will help you achieve yours, but you better not expect me to derail my progress. I will support you 110 percent, and I expect the same.
But values change. When you’re younger, you might want to travel the world nonstop until the day you die. Maybe about the time you’re forty and with the love of your life or with a child, you realize that, no, a house would definitely be better.
Or, in my case, I have been flexible about having a child. I don’t necessarily want to have children, because, well, I have a crazy lifestyle right now. I travel all over. My income is erratic. And I am devoted to my dream of getting a Masters in Dance. So, do I really have time for a kid? No. However, I am completely open to the idea that, once my life is set up and I am content, once I’ve found someone to grow with, I would certainly opt to have a child.
That doesn’t mean having a baby is a definite no. And the older I get, the more I want someone who, instead of putting their foot down and saying “I definitely want x, y, and z,” would rather say, “We can take our time. I am open to options.”
Values change, but your life’s passion won’t. That means, again, you need healthy compromises. You need someone who understands that you need room to grow and that you will most certainly change as time passes. You should complement one another, not hinder one another.
Love takes time. Love will bring forth evolution, but it will take you time to reach your final form. And it will be insanely difficult at times. However, if you look to each past relationship as a lesson learned, as something to use to begin a better version of yourself, you will eventually attract the person who is meant to be by your side.
Never stop searching for love, because love won’t stop searching for you.