A long-ago work colleague once told me that whenever she broke up with someone, they were out of her life for good. She didn’t want to see them, talk to them, or think about them thereafter. Close the book and MoveOn dot org.
While I understand the logic behind this, it’s never been an approach that works for me personally. It feels like a waste. If I invest an immense amount of time and energy choosing and connecting with and understanding a person as a romantic partner — growing together and individually, learning how to be a team — how does it make sense to ever throw that all away? It would be like refusing to eat the cuisine of a country after I leave, or trying to forget how to write a press release after a high pressure PR job. Sure, there may be some negative associations, but it’s a lot of baby to chuck out for a little bathwater, however dirty it may be.
I do not necessarily recommend this mindset to anyone else, however, simply because it’s an integrated part of the way I approach romantic relationships. Patience has never been an especially strong virtue for me, so over the past 17-odd years I’ve been the initiator in dating more often than not. This grants me the boon of being fairly certain I want to be with the person I’m pursuing, since I’ve already thought things through enough to come to a strong positive conclusion. The major downside is experiencing a lot of rejection over the years, but you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Breakups are difficult, especially if you tend to put everything you’ve got into a relationship. It’s useful to have a cooling-off period where there’s no direct communication, and I have exes I haven’t talked to much in years, due to residual trauma or growing apart or what have you. But I keep them alive in my thoughts and my life through the things they’ve taught me, which I insist on attributing to them. Favorite shows and video games, friends who have shaped me, places I’ve visited and lived, concepts that expanded my outlook on the world — these came to me courtesy of the people I’ve been in love with, and I have no real desire to separate the sources from their massively beneficial effects. There’s a strange notion out there that a personal passion isn’t “real” if you got into it through your significant other instead of on your own. I can say from experience that this is untrue; my tenure at Blizzard was no less “real” because I originally got into StarCraft through an ex.
I do like talking to many of my exes from time to time, and I’m largely pleased with how they (and I) have turned out years after our respective relationships. The pain points and heartache fade over time, and now I can see that the traits I appreciated in them in the first place are still there and often further developed — thoughtfulness, honesty, integrity, improbable accomplishments, a sly sense of humor, the drive to keep growing and perfecting, and so forth. It’s really cool to have friends like these, but the best part is that I can call upon their facsimiles in my own head whenever I wish and learn something new about whatever situation I’m facing. It’s like having a secret advisory board full of interesting people who care about me and always have something insightful to say.
Every one of us contains multitudes. I think I’ve chosen mine well, and I wouldn’t give them up for the world.
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