I want to frame some pictures to hang in my apartment, so I started looking through the digital pictures I’ve received in emails over the years, and I found a bunch of messages between me and my ex-boyfriend, as well as pictures of the two of us.
I hate them.
I do! What’s that about?? I dated him for two and a half years, we’ve been apart for over two years, and yet I cannot think of that relationship without thinking of regret, disappointment, and disgust. That’s so harsh, but it’s so true. Thinking about him triggers all my stuff.
We didn’t even have a bad breakup. I wasn’t wronged. Just one day we started talking, and an hour later we made the decision to break up. Like a business transaction. He left, and I never saw him again. I got a few emails, but I cut him off.
And I want to be clear: this is MY stuff, not his. And it is not his fault.
But I look back on those years of my life, there’s no denying that I get angry. And frustrated. And I can’t even remember why I stayed in that relationship, because it’s colored by how disgusted I was in the end.
I regret that relationship.
But more than regretting the relationship itself, I regret myself and my actions. I did not fail at that relationship correctly.
One lesson that I’ve been repeating often over the past 5 years or so is the lesson about failing correctly and failing better.
The thing about failure is that I need it. Sometimes I get caught up in doing things simply because I started them, and I don’t step back and evaluate whether or not it’s still the right thing to do.
Failure gives me a wake-up call. Either I can decide the goal is still valid and I simply need to change tactics, or I can decide that the goal is no longer one that I want.
Failure is the reason I got out of the wrong major in college, the reason I dropped toxic friends, the reason I quit my job, the reason I broke up with my boyfriend, the motivation I needed to get a life coach, and its potential now accompanies me and reminds me to check in with my goals periodically.
I did not acknowledge failure in that relationship. I put that relationship on a pedestal of future salvation and happiness, and the possibility of failure didn’t cross my mind.
My boyfriend was part of simple equation for happiness. Maybe it was a cultural influence, maybe I watched too many romantic comedies or read too many books, maybe I saw too many blissful relationships in my family and friends. Protagonist + love interest = happiness. Math is cool.
Instead of acknowledging failure, I kept shifting my prize. First I got the guy, and then when he didn’t save me, I looked for a ring. Etc. It was like jumping from rock to rock in a sea of lava, hoping that the new rock would be the key.
What I want to tell you is that recognizing when something no longer serves you merits a gold star. When it comes to relationships, the thing may just require a discussion, it may require a breakup or divorce, or it may require a personal change that doesn’t impact the relationship. Failure can take many forms, but I’ll give you a certificate of achievement for any time you are self-aware enough to change what you need to change.
I should have done a lot of things differently. But the main thing I should have done differently is that I should have spent more time figuring out what I wanted before, during, and after that relationship. Just because I failed once doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth doing. It shouldn’t mean I won’t date again, and fail again. But I needed to focus on growth.
Because that relationship ended, and I didn’t want another one. I haven’t really wanted another one. And that’s fine. Let’s be clear. It’s fine to not want a relationship. It’s fine to want a relationship. You have preferences. And it’s all fine.
But it’s not fine to avoid the topic entirely. Which I might have been doing.
I forgot that not all relationships are the same. And when I didn’t want this one, I crossed all relationships off my list. After all, it took me over 23 years to date ONE person. I was operating at very high levels of pickiness.
But it’s all about cultivating desire. That’s one major perk of failure: sometimes you can’t define what you want, but you can say what you DON’T want. And that’s equally as important. Empowering, even. “Empowered desire” has a nice ring to it.
So I’ll be changing my tactics from now on. Right now I’m not sure what that looks like, but if I had a compass, Empowered Desire would be North and Failing Better would be East. There’s a start.