Up until rather recently, there were very few things I excelled at more than ruining a romantic relationship. Whether it was dating the wrong person, pushing someone away, or just being irresponsible with my dating decisions, I was a romantic mess. Thankfully, that "mess" lead me to my current partner and the father of my son. Thankfully, the things I learned from my failed relationships have made me a better mom, so even the bad parts of every relationship that ended in some spectacular, heartbreaking manner, has paid off.
Of course, it's easy for me to wax nostalgic about my past relationships because, well, if they hadn't of ended then I wouldn't have met my partner, and our son wouldn't be a boisterous 2-year-old toddler, ready to take on the world one Elmo catchphrase at a time. When I was in the thick of those romantic blunders, however, it wasn't so easy to see the forest through the trees. The pain was real and the disappointment was real and the guilt was very, very real. Whether I was hurt or I hurt someone else, it wasn't easy to locate a silver lining.
Which is why, honestly, I think it's important to stop every once in a while, take stock of where you've been and what you've endured, and tally the lessons you've learned along the way. Those relationships — whether short, substantial, superficial, or meaningful — have shaped me into the person, partner, and mother I am today. Those exes played an important part in the evolution of my personality, the way I handle my current relationship, and how I parent my adorable son. So, while I probably won't be getting a hold of each and very ex-boyfriend I've ever had anytime soon (because, nope), I can't help but think about the lessons they taught me, how those lessons have made me a better mother, and how thankful I am that those relationships existed, and then ended.
Everyone, Eventually, Needs Some Space
I have to credit my most significant ex-boyfriend for teaching me a myriad of essential life lessons, but one stands above the rest: everyone needs some space.
We liked to handle arguments differently, in that he wanted to get some distance, calm down, find neutral, and collect his thoughts before having a discussion, while I wanted to deal with things immediately, tempers be damned. I thought he "didn't care," if he didn't want to fix something right away, even if that meant making the situation worse. To no one's surprise, we didn't have the healthiest relationship.
However, I did learn through trial and painful error, that he was right. I can't make someone talk to me just because I want to deal with the situation right away. Learning to give someone space — whether it's my current parenting partner or my son— has made difficult conversations so much easier. It's also given me the silent permission to demand space myself, which keeps my sanity intact.
Communication Is Key
It doesn't take long to realize that, in any relationship, communication is important. The ability to talk about the tough stuff, even when it sucks, is how you actually make it through the tough stuff. I couldn't do that with so many of my past relationships, and preferred to bury my head in the proverbial sand instead of face something potentially devastating.
However, after a few too many failed romantic relationships, I realized that pretending everything is fine doesn't actually make everything "fine." Now, I put my big girl pants on and handle the tough stuff head on, making sure to keep the lines of communication open so that everyone, from my son to my partner to my support system, know what is being dealt with, what needs to be handled, and how we can all learn from our mistakes to be better parents, partners, and human beings.
You Have To Take Care Of Yourself Before You Can Take Care Of Anyone Else
In so many of my past relationships, I considered myself to be somewhat of a martyr. I prided my ability to "put myself last," and thought it made me a better romantic partner if I didn't care about myself and, instead, cared about the person I was currently dating. Yeah, that's not how healthy relationships work.
Turns out, you have to focus on you and make sure you're OK, before you can focus on anyone else. This lesson has carried me through postpartum depression, difficulties breastfeeding, potty training (parenting gods, please help me), temper tantrums, and, well, you get the idea. My self-care matters, because I cannot take care of my son if I am not taking care of myself.
Sleep Can Give You An Entirely New Perspective
One of my poor exes (seriously, I'm so sorry) had to deal with me insisting that we talk through every potential problem immediately, and until it was "fixed." I would insist we would forgo sleep or time apart or even a moment to think, because if we didn't deal with whatever was going on, we wouldn't work. That's honestly how I felt, and it ended up being one of the many reasons why our relationship didn't work.
Sometimes, you need to go to bed angry. Sometimes, you need to let something sit with you and settle inside you, so you can figure out exactly what you're dealing with. The moments when I've been so exhausted everything just seems so heavy, or my parenting partner and I feel like we're at odds with one another, are usually resolved after a good night's sleep. Sure, that's difficult to come by when you're a parent, but it's worth holding out and stalling any sort of potentially important conversation or action, until you've "slept on it." Perspective is key, and sleep can give you a fresh dose.
Be Honest About What You Can And Cannot Handle
True story: I hate admitting that I cannot handle something. Like, I hate it. I will take on way too much, way too often, because I have this internal, fiery need to prove that I can do it all. I know, it's not healthy. It's also the reason why so many past lovers felt like they had the freedom to take complete advantage of me (and usually did, rather successfully).
It took a while (a long, painful while) but eventually I realized that trying to be everything to everyone, especially in a romantic relationship, isn't healthy. It's also no way to parent. I can't "do it all" for my baby, nor should I. My son needs to learn how to rely on himself and his father and other friends and adults and, as he continues to grow, he will find himself feeling secure enough to branch out and expand his social circle. That, I hope, is how he'll learn to trust himself and the person he becomes. So I need to be honest about what I can handle, stick to what I can successfully deal with, and ask (read: demand) that others fill in the spaces. That's why I have a parenting partner and a support system. I am not superwoman. I cannot, and will not, do it all.
Everyone Needs To Know How To Cook
For a brief moment I dated an on-camera reporter, and while our tryst was pretty quick, he taught me how to cook some remarkable meals. Now, I get to cook those same meals for my family, and it made me realize that the whole cute, kind-of-popular-sentiment of, "Oh, look at me! I'm such a mess, I can't cook and hilariously rely on Top Ramen to get me through," isn't really that cute at all.
Everyone should know how to cook. I mean, that's just part of being an adult, and when you're a parent it's pretty important to have a few go-to meals in your repertoire. So, thank you on-camera reporter. That chicken risotto comes in handy more than you'll ever know.
Brush Your Teeth In The Shower (It Saves Time)
I can't believe it took an unhealthy college relationship to figure this out, but brushing your teeth in the shower is a huge time-saver, and one I'm sure every parent could (and should) take advantage of.
You Need To Trust The People You Love
Learning to trust someone you're completely vulnerable with is, you know, really freakin' hard. I'd argue it's one of the harder things human beings are asked to do. However, after failing to trust certain boyfriends in the past (sometimes for good reasons, usually for no reason at all), I realized that putting yourself in a position to get completely and totally hurt, is the only way to live. The alternative is a wall around your soft spots; the spots that make you feel incredible joy and overwhelming happiness and boundless love. So, you have to be vulnerable and trust that the other person won't hurt you, if you truly want to experience the best in life.
The same can be said for parenthood, and I've learned that my son has my heart in his body. He's essentially a manifestation of all the soft spots I attempted to protect for so long, walking around in the world. I have to trust in my parenting, and then trust my son. I have to let go and allow him to live, and believe in his capabilities and his judgment. It's scary and it's difficult and sometimes it's something I really, really don't want to do, but that's the only way my son will truly be able to experience the best in life, too.
Everyone Is Going To Make Mistakes (And More Than Once)
In relationships past, I used to look for one tiny (and sometimes not-so-tiny) reason to cut and run. I figured if someone made a mistake, big or small, it was indicitive of an inevitable problem in the future. I know, I know. I was the worst.
Of course, I have learned that everyone is going to make mistakes, and rarely are those mistakes a representation of how much someone loves you or how hard they may or may not be trying or even what their intentions are. I needed to forgive people then, and I need to forgive people now. Of course, that includes myself. I have made more than my fair share of mistakes as a mother, already, and learning how to forgive others has helped me learn how to forgive myself. I'm not so hard on myself when I mess something up or forget something, which makes it so much easier to move on from my mistakes and become a better mom to my son.
"This Too Shall Pass"
While some of my past relationships were fun little trysts that ended because, well, some things are supposed to end, others were pretty heartbreaking. However, when a boyfriend cheated, I learned that the crappy and horrible feelings I was left to deal with and endure, would eventually subside. Everything, even the really, really sh*tty things, will pass us by. You just have to stick it out and wait for time to do its dirty work.
That little lesson aided me during some ungodly hour in the middle of the night, when I was feeding my son and crying because I hadn't slept in who the hell knows how long. That lesson has helped me get through some epic public toddler tantrums and my son being so sick it physically pained me. Just like the heartaches I've survived, the sh*tty parts of motherhood will eventually pass me by, too.
When In Doubt, Call Your Friends
My friends were there for me when my past relationships ended, and they're there for me now that I'm a mom. They were there for me when I needed to forget that a boyfriend cheated, and they were there for me when I needed to celebrate the fact that I was pregnant.
I have my parenting partner and he is wonderful and everything I could have ever hoped for in a lover and a friend and the father of my child, but there are some things only my female friends can understand. It was true all those years ago, and it's true now.
Watching Multiple Episodes Of 'The Office' Makes Everything Better
I dated a guy in my early years of college that was absolutely obsessed with The Office. I didn't learn a whole lot from that particular relationship, but the love I developed for Jim, Pam, Michael, Dwight, and the rest of Dundler Mifflin Scranton, remained.
That show helped me laugh after one of my twin sons died, 19 weeks into my pregnancy. That show gave me something to turn to when I had to birth a baby that was alive, and a baby that wasn't. That show made me feel understood when I was suffering from postpartum depression. During every difficult part of a traumatic pregnancy, I had The Office. In other words, that college relationship was more than worth it.
You'll Know When You're Ready (And Able) To Be A Mom
I was in a very serious relationship my senior year of college. It lasted a year, we lived together, and we were horrible for one another. We fought all the time, we wanted different things, and we were so invested in the "success" of our relationship that we neglected to see that it had already failed.
Then I found out I was pregnant.
Nothing makes you realize that you are in an unhealthy, doomed-to-fail, miserable relationship like a positive pregnancy test. Suddenly, the ability to call his family my own no longer mattered. Suddenly, his ability to say he was in a successful relationship in his late twenties, wasn't that big a deal. We knew we couldn't be parents (we could barely take care of ourselves and had almost no money between the two of us) and that if we did, we would be forced to deal with one another for the rest of our lives, while simultaneously attempting to raise a kid in an unhealthy environment. So, I terminated the pregnancy.
Years later, I would find out I was pregnant, again. The moment the two pink lines showed up on that pee stick, I knew I could be a mom (a good mom). I was in a healthy relationship with a wonderful man, I was financially stable and my career was taking off, and we were both happy, instead of terrified. Sure, we were anxious like every soon-to-be parent is, but the difference in reactions was proof that no woman should be forced to become a mother (and no man should be forced to become a father). I am a better mom now, to an amazing 2-year-old son, because I didn't become a mother all those years ago.
Always Have Some Sort Of White Noise When Trying To Go To Sleep. Trust Me.
I used to date a guy that couldn't sleep without some sort of music or fan on. I hated it then, but that "white noise" is why my kid sleeps through the night. I should seriously send that dude a thank you...