If I Knew Then…

The old adage is that hindsight is 20/20 for a good reason. It’s hard to not look back at our past and wish we had known then what we know now. Regret is pointless, because the past remains unchanged no matter how much we might wish it were not so. Still, carrying the lessons we’ve learned with us into the future is crucial to our evolution as a human being and just as importantly, to a hopeful success instead of a failure. Or perhaps “imperfect attempt” is kinder than failure; we don’t judge a baby when it takes those first, halting steps, only to fall down…over and over and over. Why are the lessons we learn as an adult judged so much more harshly? Relationships, marriage, children, career choices: They all were firsts for us at one point or another. Yet if they were “imperfect attempts”, we spend years sometimes beating ourselves up over them, terrified of repeating the mistakes, terrified of taking risk. I’ve yet to see a baby that refuses to get back on his feet and try again, no matter how many times he falls. In this, as so many other things, I think adults could take a lesson from children.

Still, as I think about my past and my hopeful future, there are definitely some things I plan to do differently. Twelve years of marriage and three meaningful relationships later, here are a few of the things I will change when I meet my partner.

  1. I won’t let resentment build, while calling it self-sacrifice. It’s fine to spend the weekend at the game with your guy, even if it’s not your cup of tea. It’s okay to once in awhile say, “Oh, why don’t you go kick back on the couch while I clean up the kitchen.” It’s okay to let youself be talked into a quickie, when you’d really rather have a back rub and call it a night. IF…and this is a big if…it’s not all the time and you’re not gritting your teeth while it’s happening. If the entire time you’re at the game, you’re thinking he owes or of ways you can guilt him into doing what you want later, you shouldn’t be there. If you feel like a martyr while he’s got his feet up reading a book, while you scrub dirty dishes, then you’re BEING a martyr. Giving him pleasure because it pleases you is fine, unless you’re counting down the seconds until he comes so you can roll over, while thinking what a self-absorbed jackass he is. Sound ugly? It is. Don’t do something if it builds resentment. Trust me, I’ve done it. It’s not fair to you and certainly not to the other person. Resentment kills relationships.
  2. I will spend time apart from you. During my marriage we were joined at the hip. In the beginning we called it love and thought it was a mark of the strength of our relationship. Until neither of us had significant relationships outside each other. Or until we started RESENTING it if the other person wanted to be away. Afterall, wanting to be together every waking moment meant we loved each other, right? So if we started wanting some breathing room, a break, or even just to do something different…well, didn’t the opposite apply? Having to be with your love all the time is codependent and unhealthy. These days I would absolutely have my own interests, my own space to retreat to, girlfriends I would go out with. Hell, I might even take a vacation without my partner. I’ve realized my own space is crucial to my wellbeing; honoring my own internal wisdom about what I need will strengthen a relationship, not harm it.
  3. I will encourage your interests outside our relationship. I want to be with a successful, well-adjusted guy. The first step toward that is finding someone who doesn’t need to dance attendance on me. Sure, he should make me a priority in his life, because I will be important to him. However, him being successful in his career will matter to him long-term. The fact that he’ll have male friends he makes time for will be healthy and crucial. Going and playing his favorite sport, or computer game or watching birds in a field…whatever his passion is..will recharge him. It will make the time he chooses to be with me a choice, not an obligation.  A guy who feels happy and successful in his life won’t look to me to make him that way, I’ll just be the icing on the cake.
  4. I will work harder at sorting out what is my own baggage, before I bring it to an argument. This can be quite a challenge, especially if you’re still working out what your baggage is. Still, blaming my partner for things my dad did, or my ex-husband, or the jackass I was stupid enough to fall in love with…well, it’s not ok. My baggage is MINE; I’m sure he’ll have his own to lug around without adding extra.
  5. I will not use my gifts as a weapon against you. We all have strengths; which, of course, are also our weaknesses. I’m a good study when it comes to people and can make a fairly accurate assessment of someone quickly. I’m also typically good at assessing a situation, emotionally AND logically, and making intuitive guesses. Add in being good with words and having a razor-sharp tongue when hurt or defensive and I’ve got a weapon of mass ego destruction at the ready. I can tell you, scathingly if I choose, why you’re being a jackass. I can sum you up emotionally, in one conversation, like I’m reading the back cover of the story of your life. I can expose your weakness and your vulnerability, bare your jugular to the razor-sharp edge of my wit. I might even get it right.  Talking circles around a lover so I don’t have to truly hear them (or expose my own vulnerability by listening), being arrogant enough to think I KNOW them because I’m intuitive (when I am still getting to know myself), using my words as a weapon to make them feel inferior…it’s a lose/lose situation if ever there was one. Even if I’m right in my assessment, they will resent the hell out of me for it. Sometimes I just have to let it go, even if I THINK I’m right (and really, can I be sure?), because they have to discover themselves, afterall.
  6. I will make sex a priority. Sex is a big deal; it’s a benchmark of a healthy relationship. You can love someone and enjoy their company, but if your sex life is shit, resentment (the relationship killer) is going to build. I will make time for sex. I will be enthusiastic and passionate, or I’ll take a raincheck until I am. If the rainchecks start to become frequent, I’ll immediately address why that might be happening. Orgasms are important. I like them and I want to have them, end of story. It doesn’t have to happen every time, that’s not quite as crucial for me. Still, there’s no reason it shouldn’t happen with regularity. Hot, moaning, panting, fingers dug into your back or hair, calling out deities or profanities, regularity. Sex. Is. A. Big. Deal. If we’re not both having a good time with each other’s bodies, frequently, then we’ll need to figure out together why we’re not.
  7. I will insist on being treated as wonderfully as I treat you. I excel at treating someone else like a king. Backrubs, special meals, gifts, thoughtful emails or texts, their favorite sex act; I love to give pleasure. I also excel at letting my partners get away with less than that in their behavior to me. I’ve gotten really good at not making a fuss if I’m disappointed, or get my feelings hurt, or if they treat me like a pleasant option while waiting for something else they think is better. I’ve become excellent at nurturing others, when nurturing me isn’t even a thought in their pretty heads. In my next relationship, I WILL treat you like a king. I expect to be treated like your queen, in return. Bring your best, or don’t come to my table. Men don’t want drama and I can respect that. I won’t bring drama. I will simply politely, calmly walk away and find someone who will treat me the way I deserve to be treated. We all deserve to be treated like a priority, not an option.
  8. I will fight with you. Not fighting isn’t the sign of a healthy relationship, necessarily. Sometimes it just means you’re not talking. Other times it can mean one of you is holding back, which leads to…you guess it!…resentment. I will fight with you. I’m not your lapdog or your yes person. I’ll have opinions, you’ll have opinions and sometimes we won’t see eye to eye. That’s ok. I’ll be respectful, I’ll listen to your side. Who knows? You might even change my mind, or be willing to change yours. I won’t be silenced just to keep the peace though. I won’t be afraid you’ll stop loving me if I challenge you.
  9. I’ll pick my battles. While I will fight with you, I’ll also be willing to let things go that don’t truly matter. If you forget to call me back like you said you would, I’ll assume you got busy and let it go. If you forget to call me back 10 times in a row, we’re gonna need to talk. I will try to take a breath and sort through my feelings and why I’m having them before I bring them up to you. I’ll ask myself if this is my baggage or me wanting you to be different than you are, before I act on hurt feelings or flashes of anger.
  10. I will honor the ways YOU show love. My ex-husband gave me an orthopedic pillow for our first anniversary. My mother was terrified that I’d be hurt, because it wasn’t romantic. For him, that was romantic. He watched me toss and turn, knew I was prone to neck pain and thought it was a loving and thoughtful gift. I honored the gift and had that pillow for eight years. In a relationship, I like to do thoughtful things for my lover. Send a text letting them know I’m thinking of them, pick up their favorite beer or wine to have at home, bake them a special treat, plan a special evening centered around one of their interests. Not everyone is good at the little things. Sometimes the way they show love is to set your keys and purse by the door so they’ll be ready and waiting when you need them. Maybe it’s mowing your grass, just so you don’t have to do it. Or washing your car for you, even though THEIR car is spotless. Maybe it’s just rubbing your back for you as you go to sleep at night. I will work harder at looking for the way my partner shows their love, rather than resenting the ways they don’t.
  11. I will never ask you to complete me. While Jerry Maguire is a great movie, I wonder how many dysfunctional relationships that line alone is responsible for. I am complete unto myself, or at least I’m doing my best to figure out how to be. My lover will compliment me, my lover will add to my life in a wonderful way, but if I’m looking for them to complete me, we’re in big trouble. No healthy relationship can handle the burden of being responsible for another person’s completeness or happiness. If someone isn’t complete, they’d better figure out how to be before they get with another person. I will never place that burden on a relationship again.

I’m sure this list will be a work in progress for me, because I’m still trying to learn and grow as a person. I’ve made many mistakes and I’m sure I’ll make many more; I have a feeling I have many “imperfect attempts” ahead of me in life and love. That’s okay. I’d rather be living and loving, even if I make mistakes, then being too afraid to try.

If I knew then, what I  know now…well, that wouldn’t have made for a very entertaining blog, now would it?

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2 Responses to “If I Knew Then…”

  1. There’s a lot of really great material here. So, to not add another blog to yours I’ll just say my two favorite points that I myself need to work on: I will not use my gifts as a weapon against you and I will make sex a priority. One just requires me to listen and not respond the other may require a little “outside the box “work. (Pun not intended.)

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