God knows I love Judy Blume but there are several key love lessons she kind of dropped the ball on. Stuff I had to learn on the street. When my niece Emmi broke up with her last boyfriend, she wasn’t interested in turning her heartache into a teachable moment, and I get that. But even in the midst of your agony, there’s a tiny bit of comfort knowing that all those tears aren’t in vain. You’re learning things about yourself and love that will lead you to the relationship you’re supposed to be in. And you’re learning to appreciate real love when you find it.
Here are some love lessons I learned from my exes that made all that streaked mascara and late nights parked outside some guy’s house (before social media made stalking easy and fun) completely worthwhile.
*All names are changed to protect my side of the story.
Key takeaway: relationships patterns can be more insidious than male pattern baldness.
There’s something mythical about your first love even when it ends badly. Aggie and I broke up and got back together 4 times (much to the chagrin of our friends) and that should have been lesson one right there. You broke up for a reason. Sometimes dozens of reasons. Getting right back together hardly gives you a chance to change the dynamic of your relationship. Maybe, maybe you can get back together once. But dear God, no more than that. My time with Agamemnon taught me the value of waterproof mascara, that you’ll never be satisfied with a relationship that only suits one of you.
Also, The One is a moving target. You will love again. And again. And again. I promise.
Key takeaway: It’s ok to ask for what you want in bed, though perhaps you should do so more gently than “Gah, it’s not a pie eating contest.”
After the Radiohead album that my last relationship had devolved into, I felt like I deserved a little lighthearted fun. With soccer player calves. Lex was worldly and sexy and uncomplicated. He wasn’t a great kisser though, and that should have been my first clue that he might not be as talented off the field as he was on. And practice did not make perfect. I mean there were work-arounds, sure, but ultimately relationships should be give-and-take in all aspects.
Also, benign racism is still racism.
Key takeaway: Good on paper isn’t always good in practice.
Apparently, ambivalence is my roofies. How else to explain the many times I’ve woken up in a relationship with an emotionally unattainable guy wondering, where the hell are my panties? Despite all the warning signs – including an actual sign on his street that read “Dead End” (nice touch, God) – I found Mr. Darcy’s brand of indifference so intoxicating I was with him for 12 years. And almost every day of it, he squirmed away like a scabby little boy being smother-kissed by an over-affectionate auntie. This relationship was chockfull of life lessons, chief among them that true love is worth waiting for. See, while Mr. Darcy had an impressive CV, he didn’t exactly make me swoon. And if his real appeal was the emotional distance between us, we were doomed from the get-go. The first time one of us (me) went through a personal crisis and needed emotional support, the cracks in our relationship were revealed.
Other love lessons: money can be a problem in relationship even when you have enough of it.
Also, if you like your family, it’ll ultimately infuriate you that they don’t.
Also and this is important: You don’t get to script someone else’s break up. They can tell the story and handle their recovery their way. You might think it’s unfair and prefer to be cast in a better light, but that’s no longer your call. Yeah, that one stings.
Key takeaway: It’s no fun being someone’s emotional fluffer, getting them mentally ready for someone else.
Dear God save us all from the cute, sweet man-child. Especially if he has a tragedy in his past. Especially if he was sure he would never love again till he met you. Uh, no. Guys like this are like a Shamwow for your psyche. They keep sucking up your energy, needing more and more of everything and giving very little in return. You simply cannot love this person enough. But you know who can? A girl who’s even more tragic than he is. The one willing to fake a brain tumor and a pregnancy to get his attention, then move in to the apartment next to him when he tries to break free. They dated for four years! In retrospect, my love, which was very passionate for me, seemed pretty anemic compared to someone who was willing to shave her head for fake brain scans. But I have really good hair and he had a lot of credit card debt. It was time to move on. Love lessons learned: When someone tells you they’re poison, too messed up or not good enough for you believe it… they certainly do.
Also: when you don’t like the whiny, shrewish person you’ve become in a relationship, hit the bricks.
Also: don’t jump from one bad relationship into another.
Key takeaway: Don’t jump from one bad relationship into another. (What can I say, I’m a slow learner)
Dated? In this case I use the term as loosely as I used Derek. Like Lex Luther before him, Derek was a light palate cleanser after a very rich entrée. He didn’t seem to mind. Our time together was brief and rocky but I learned about Rhodesian Ridgebacks and camped out on a volcano, so not a total loss. Love lessons learned: when it comes to using people, I’m strictly amateur hour.
Key takeaway: Yes, you can still orgasm if your boyfriend doesn’t have a 401k. But it’ll take a while. (More on that later)
This was the relationship worth waiting for. Not an ex, but a work in progress. This is the relationship that taught me it’s ok to be loved and cared for. (Also a work in progress.) And how nice it is to be with someone whose company I never tire of. I’ve finally learned that I deserve to be with someone who is good to my family and supports my dreams. Jim isn’t exactly rolling in the cash, but his creative spirit enriches my life in other ways. The frustrations of our day-to-day life (why leave dishes in the sink when the dishwasher is right there???) never outweigh the good things we share.
Also: being a good kisser is non-negotiable.
Maybe Judy Blume knew something I didn’t: that experience makes the best teacher. I just hope Emmi’s learning curve isn’t nearly as steep as mine.
What about you? What have love lessons have you learned from your exes? Tell me everything.