Dating connections that don’t last can still teach us valuable lessons about life and about ourselves. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here are four cool things I’ve learned from bad relationships.
You’re the one: The first time I heard the line “It’s not you, it’s me,” I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing at those ridiculous words. At the time, I was listening to a sobbing 16-year-old girl whose boyfriend had just dumped her. She was in the middle of the ugly cry, all red-faced and gasping, using an already soaked tissue to swipe at her runny nose. So, I waited, wondering how many adults have used the same manipulative cop-out line to slice free of a relationship. Finally, I said, “He’s right, you know.” She looked up at me, startled. I said: “Your ex-boyfriend told you the truth. The next time a guy says, ’It’s not you, it’s me,’ say, ’Yeah, that’s what I’ve been thinking.’ And then, walk away. Just agree with him: ’You’re right. The problem is you, not me.’ Then, hold your head high, and keep on stepping.” She laughed so hard she started crying again, but this time, happy tears prevailed.
Shared values trump common interests: Couples who play together, stay together, right? Uh, not necessarily. Here’s what I learned while coaching couples in communication skills: Before marriage or moving in together, few couples assess whether their partner’s values mesh with their own. Plenty of couples who share a passion for, let’s say, golf, skiing and gardening, just can’t get along. Sure, they love to hike, do yoga and surf, but they nitpick and argue about everything before, during and after the activity. Without good communication and conflict-resolution skills, plus a commitment to values like honesty, respect and financial responsibility, the relationship is not healthy or satisfying. Yes, that’s true even if they both share a passion for kayaking, salsa dancing and volunteering with the Special Olympics.
The absolute best breakup line: Long before I started writing this column, I was dating a musician, and over the course of a few days, the relationship slid downhill fast. Late one night after a gig, he looked at me and said, “It’s not working out.” I started firing questions: “What do you mean? Are we over? You’re giving up?” He answered every question in the same measured, neutral tone: “It’s just not working out.” The next morning, after I realized that breaking up was actually a great idea, we talked. I complimented him on the simple, truthful perfection of “It’s just not working out,” and his unwillingness to clutter the conversation with long drawn-out and inevitably useless explanations. I have used “It’s not working out” often since that night. It’s definitely a dignified way to shut a door.
Most people have bad pickers: A different ex-boyfriend of mine once told me that his relationships never work out because he has a bad “picker.” I laughed until my face hurt. And then I thought about it. Isn’t that the problem with most of us? We pick partners who are not a match, and then try to force a fit. The problem isn’t the other person; the problem is our habit of being attracted to the same personality in slightly different packages. We step into a fantasy of a person and expect a connection. When reality bites, we drop into denial. But guess what? We need to fix our “picker.” So the next time you find yourself swept away by someone new, stop and reflect. Determine if you are truly standing in love or falling into a fantasy (again).
Every relationship challenge is an invitation to grow in wisdom and love. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely worth it. Want more insights? Read my blog and discover what my dog taught me about dating at www.joeygarcia.com.