This question sweetly landed in my inbox this morning, and it was so well conceived that it needed a post of its own:
Q: "I haven't been able to think of a singular question for you, but there's a topic that I'd love to pick your brain about:
"A few people manage to find their perfect match on the first try - the people who marry their high-school sweetheart or are continually smitten by their "soul mate." The rest of us go through a few relationships. In my experience, those relationships have been important to me, and from them, I learned a lot about relationships, about myself and about those I lived with. I know that other people don't see their past relationships that way. Some people think they're always the victim. Some people ARE always a victim. Some people think their love life is just a series of bad choices or bad people.
"The point in my mind is that most people have had a few of relationships that ended before "forever," and I wonder what you think those relationships give us. What you value about bygone relationships, choices you made that didn't work out, choices you didn't make that might have worked out. You've written about a lot of things from your marriage but I don't think I've gotten a sense of what you value about those experiences. And I'm not necessarily intent on your relationships, maybe it's a broader question about what can be valued.
"So my question would be about the missteps people make as they cut a path to their own hearts."
Those missteps are full of takeaway lessons - not necessarily a detour from any set trajectory (there is no map, after all. And, you're generally always where you need to be to fully experience what you need to experience). What souvenirs remain from those sidetracks? What did you leave behind? What did you carry with you?
The value comes in finding all the good in what came before and being able to frame that relationship in a new light. How did that person grow you in ways you wouldn't have grown otherwise? What are all of the good memories that are part of the fleshy tapestry of who you are now? Having gratitude for those things is magnanimous and key for moving on. Incorporating all the fruits of relationship makes it easier to live with the memories that can otherwise haunt you.
On the Solstice of this past summer, I wrote my ex (who I hadn't communicated with for a few months at that point) a note that said I could look back on the time we had together and smile, and that thanked him for growing me in the ways that he did. It felt good, and even though I never heard back from him (I didn't expect to), I felt better. It was as if I had offered my recognition for what good did come of us, and felt a sense of closure.
The experience of cutting a path to your heart involves passing through the wildflower fields and breathtaking scenery just as much as there maybe weeding and wasp nests, and other adventures. What can be valued from relationships past is simply how they enrich or have enriched our lives. How we've been nourished from them and what we can bring with us as we move forward.
All the good things are what kept you choosing that relationship, and perhaps solidified what you want when the next one comes around. All the crappy things on the other hand give you a clear sense of what you know that you don't want, or what not to do. In gardening terms - the whole of the experience is all good compost to fortify what comes next.
The closeness and intimacy touched us - changed us - and left an emotional imprint on our energy body. Perhaps - that is what we need to learn to work with - what to do with that imprint, and who are we in its wake?
There is an article from the Huff Post, Can We Learn From Our Past Relationships? that resonates here:
"Past relationship creates an expansive ﬁeld of memories, effervescently rich with the potential to fertilize our new life. Keeping alive good recollections ensures that our arteries will carry those memories to our heart, so that our heart will not be deprived of nourishment from our past. [...] Our choice is to tell ourselves that our relationship was always depleted, or that there were, at least for a time, the creation of valuable nutrients we can still use.
"Memory is not only part of the past, it is alive in us now. If its interpretation is negative, it has the potential for self-laceration. You cannot annihilate these memories without also killing off meaningful parts of yourself. You must do something with these memories, as they remain in your bloodstream. When you accept that you have deposited parts of yourself in his or her soul, you can comfortably retrieve all the richness of your experiences, perhaps some pain but joy as well. The memories will have to be stored somewhere; the trick is to not store them in oblivion."