A friend and I were discussing failed relationships. She said, “It depends on your definition of ‘failed.’ Not all relationships are meant to be long term. Sometimes you are pulled to be with someone for a short time to learn the lessons each of you has to offer the other, then move on.”
I saw the wisdom of this philosophy. It certainly reduces the time you’d spend being bitter, angry and sad when a relationship ends. Instead, you can focus on the lessons you learned about yourself and relationships, rather than being resentful and depressed, even if you initiated the break up.
In “‘Is that so?’— A lesson in non-attachment” I shared a Zen story about accepting whatever is, without the teeth gnashing that often accompanies break ups. This concept is much easier to comprehend than it is to apply. If you thought the relationship was for the long haul, you’d planned a future together, and declared your love for each other, it is natural to feel grief when it ends.
By embracing my friend’s philosophy it doesn’t mean you can’t grieve for the now-dashed hopes and plans for the future. But it does allow you to shift your mood more quickly and move on.
A 55-year-old friend told me of the only man with whom she ever lived. They were deeply in love, so she agreed to cohabit, something she’d avoided with previous beaus. After a few months, he announced he was moving out and leaving her. Her response — at least in this telling of the story years later — was, “Okay. I’d like your stuff gone by midnight. Whatever is here tomorrow will go to charity.” That was it. Matter of fact. No yelling, name calling, china throwing.
When she shared her calm response to something many of us would be hugely upset by, I asked her how she could be so unaffected. She said it wasn’t that she was callused. She was saddened by his decision and his lack of communication about his feelings before his announcement. However, she knew it would be futile to try to change his mind, so yelling would let off steam, but if he didn’t want to be with her, it would be silly for her to try to convince him. She only wanted to be with someone who wanted to be with her, too.
She learned a lot about what it takes to be in a full-time relationship. After this experience, she decided she prefers to have her own living space, even if she is in a long-term relationship. She got clarity on what works best for her, and was grateful for having shared the time with him.
Can you look back on “failed” relationships and list the blessings that they brought? The insights, learnings, decisions you made that have served you now? Share what lessons these brought you.
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