OK, Maybe Your Ex Wasn’t So Bad After All

The most common way that I discuss my last relationship is by referring to him as “my no-good ex.” While it gets a laugh, I’ve realized recently that the title is no longer accurate. It reflected my feelings for a while after our demise, but that’s just no longer the case. The gift of time is the distance from an event that allows us to reevaluate its impact on us. No matter how a relationship ended, I believe that with enough time, there is something positive to be found whenever we recollect our time spent with exes. Here are a few ways to view those no-good exes in a more positive light.

They’re a sign of how far you’ve come

If you’ve ever had a relationship that, upon reflection, makes you think “what did I EVER see in them,” there’s a positive twist to that. That relationship is a blip on your timeline, and a marker of how much you’ve matured since then. The person you were, who was attracted to them, isn’t who you are now–and that’s progress. The person you were then would willingly subject themselves to watching hours of video-game footage, hoping the person you were with would get bored and notice you. Now, you know that you’ll never waste your time like that again.

They taught you what your standards are

Obviously it’s possible to figure out your standards without kissing a lot of Croc-wearing, pentagram-slinging, whiny frogs. I mean, hopefully, otherwise we’re all doomed for the majority of our twenties. But the upside to having once dated someone who lived in a van is that we will never, never settle for a van-dweller again. It’s more intricate than that, of course–past relationships teach us about ourselves in deeper ways too. I once dated someone who never would fully commit, who only wanted me around when they wanted some needs of their own met. It was a lot of give and no take. Now, when I think of that relationship, I’m reminded of what I deserve and how much I’ve learned about how I want to be treated since then.

They’re a reminder of who you used to be

The boy I thought myself in love with throughout high school? Well, we never materialized like I’d hoped, but remembering how I felt about him once is a powerful reminder of who I was way back then. There’s something about the power of emotional attachment, even in memory, that can anchor you back to who you were in that moment. For some, it may not work that way exactly, but I’ve always found it comforting to be able to remember what it felt like to be sixteen and desperately want to fall in love. It’s part of my history, part of who I am.

They helped you figure out what you’re looking for

The idea of dating someone “adventurous” seems great at first glance, until you realize that to them, “adventurous” means hiking slippery waterfalls and free climbing cliff faces, and your idea of adventure is eating from that one Thai place you haven’t tried before. So maybe you don’t want to date a backpacker, because the idea of sleeping in the woods for ten days and carrying your poop in a bag doesn’t appeal to you. That’s probably something you never would’ve thought about until you went on that one date where the guy or gal who told you about their snow tundra camping experience and you realized it wasn’t your jam. Or, you know, maybe you realized you did want to go hiking with your partner and that’s something you carry with you from that relationship. Whatever floats your adventurous boat.

You learned how to love people

Are you a nurturer by default, or more of a tough-love kind of person? It may be that there are parts of you that you discovered during a past relationship that are vital to how you undertake dating going forward. I figured out that I like to take care of a person as much as I can, sometimes to an unhealthy degree. I’ll put someone’s needs in front of my own if I’m not aware of it, and that’s something I value learning, no matter how difficult the relationship I learned it in was.

They introduced you to some of the things you love

There’s a band I listen to that I never would’ve without knowing a person I dated, and while I don’t talk to them anymore, I still love that band. This can extend to so many things, books, movies, the short-lived life of Firefly, a particular museum or used book store. You don’t have to carry the relationship around after it ends, but you can keep the places and things they brought into your life that still bring you genuine joy.

They contributed to your happiness, at least for a moment

No matter how things ended, there were happy times in each relationship I’ve been in. That’s true for all of us, and while we don’t need to fixate on those moments or dwell on them too close to the trauma of a breakup, they’re nice pockets of happiness in the history of our lives. That’s not nothing. Even if it all went up in flames, there were hours of your life spent being happy with that person, and it’s okay to remember them fondly.

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