Lessons from my Ex Girlfriend

I used to have a tendency of making not-so-great dating choices.

In high school I was a reject. I had a lesser junta of close friends, each from their own counter-culture niche. There were very few dating opportunities. It’s funny how that stuff stays with you.

Photo by camera guru + close friend Beth Varro.

A Bad Pattern

If you feel like no one likes you, you will make bad dating decisions. At the end of high school I got into a long distance relationship with someone I had never met in person. After that ended badly, I had a series of relationships which may have been fine as casual dating situations. Instead, I latched onto each one, expecting them to be the love of my life.

I don’t know which was a bigger influence on me: unrealistic ideas from movies (the only source of dating knowledge I had), or my own past loneliness. I wasn’t actually lonely anymore: by college I had a pretty good social life. But in my head I was still the outsider.

Even my marriage was built on that foundation.

It wasn’t until my divorce that I really began to value myself. (I’ve had a huge ego about plenty of things—just never relationship potential.) In my marriage I lived for our house, our mortgage, and the hope of keeping peace between us. My own dreams were subsumed.

When we split up I started to live for myself.

Happy Endings?

By the time I left Minneapolis I was a much healthier person. Two years of eating better, exercising more and planning toward your dreams will give you a lot more confidence.

That was when I started dating Beth.

It was my first relationship to be threatened by the looming departure for the Great Adventure. Previously in my life, I put off my plans to travel for the sake of my partner. But Beth knew I would be leaving, and we both agreed it would end when I did.

We continued dating while I was in Milwaukee, because it’s not a terrible drive from the Twin Cities. We had a short, happy relationship. After we broke up, we became friends—actual, close friends who chat routinely and encourage each other’s projects.

Beth is probably reading this right now. Hi Beth!

This relationship was profoundly different than my previous relationships. Going in, I felt like an equal partner, not the one who had to do all the work. And we had an ordained time limit. There was no “forever” begging me to chase it down.

If circumstances were different, I would probably have been with Beth for years. But I learned a great deal from our short relationship:

  • Something can be sweet even if it’s not forever.
  • Confidence makes you sexier. It’s something you hear a lot, but it turns out it’s true.
  • It’s okay to prioritize your dreams above a relationship—if you’re honest about it.
  • The best person to date is someone who believes passionately in your dreams. (Do the same for them, please.)
  • A great girlfriend will also make a great friend, if you end at a high point.

And that’s on top of teaching me how to take pictures.

Beth was my first love “on the road.” In many ways, my few months with her laid the foundation for all of the relationships I’ll have while traveling.

Is there an ex who left you with something special? Are you able to be friends with your exes? What makes it possible?


10 thoughts on “Lessons from my Ex Girlfriend

  1. I tweeted it . . . when are you coming to pick me up? lol.

    On a serious note, you’re getting more personal these days! I’d rather not think about my early dating years . . . too many drug addicted rock star wannabes in my past (nothing too serious, drug-wise). Not sure how a quiet, non-partier like me attracted them in the first place. I developed a digestive disease in my early 20s (UC) which made dating very difficult as I didn’t know how to deal with it yet and I tried to hide it. then I met Ryan and I told him on the very first date . . . finally found someone I was comfortable with . . . almost 8 years together now:)

    It’s great that you found someone special . . . I’m sure there will be many more, romantic or otherwise!

  2. María Ortega says:

    I can relate to this post quite a bit. I had a very short relationship with someone knowing he was going to leave to travel the world. Nothing would stop him from following his dream and that was one of the things I love from him. I knew we had few months together from the very first day but that didn’t stop me. I’d never starting dating anybody knowing there was a dead line. That was new. I’m glad that fact didn’t scared me enough because I would have missed a great person and a great time. I cherished a lot the short relationship we had, it was very special for me. Now he’s traveling but we are still friends. I won’t say I see him in the same way as I see other friends though, he’s a special friend.
    I think what makes possible the friendship is the honesty. He was clear from the beginning and didn’t make any promises he didn’t intend to keep, so there’s no hard feelings between us now. And if you are able remove any romantic feeling from the equation we get one very well, so there is no reason why we couldn’t be friends.

  3. Trent Fowler says:

    Damn it! I wish I had the guest post we talked about finished up, because this is the sort of thing it deals with!

    This is really inspiring stuff. I wish all relationships came and went in such a fashion that friendship and mutual appreciation was the result.

  4. Beth is AWESOME, Drew! I knew there was a special connection between you two. I’m glad that you stayed friends.

    And here I always thought you were the kind of guy who was popular with the ladies. I really did believe that when I met you. Perhaps that was my impression because I found you so very attractive from the start and that can distract a woman from seeing the truth. They call it a “crush” for a reason because once you learn the truth about a guy, the disillusionment can devastate you! Or make you appreciate the real man even more. :-)

    As for being friends with my ex-boyfriends, I did have a few I remained friends with but only a choice few who, like Beth, I broke with at a time when it was a mutually happy decision where both of us moved on for no angry or melodramatic reasons. One of whom I am still in contact with, but the other two are married and their wives do not like me because I get along better with their husbands than they do (I think) so I tend to respect them by staying away.

    One ex ended up becoming a great teacher. When we met it was heavy, passionate, and instant connection, but our romance quickly cooled into a close friendship that lasted for eight years. He connected me with other Witchcraft teachers and elders, we shared many adventures, and I have him to thank for a great many other positive things in my life. However our friendship ended when he got into a very abusive relationship — he married a very racist woman who hated me and isolated him from the rest of his friends. It was very sad to watch a friend disappear like that. I have not heard from him since 1999. I forgive him for the hurtful way he treated me when he left because he was under the influence of that woman, and I hope he eventually got out of it and is now living a better life, who knows?

    I wish I could say all of my ex-boyfriends were worthy of friendship, but I was not wise, or perhaps I was unlucky, when it came to attracting good men. I did everything I could to keep them tied to me, even stayed in bad relationships just so I wouldn’t be alone, but by the time I was 22 I began to really enjoy the freedom and privacy of living alone, being my own woman. I went through periods of hating men, too, but soon realized it did me no good blaming men for my problems! Yay.

    I do not drive myself crazy over being single now. I still get crushes, but they do not last.

    Companionship lasts more than romance does. That’s what matters most!

  5. Beth says:

    I feel like I ought to say something…but I’m at a loss for words. I guess I’ll just say that if you asked me what makes it possible to be friends with exes, I’d say that you have to be prepared to do some work to sort of “re-set” the relationship. It’s not always easy. But if you are lucky, like I have been, you will have some partners with whom you share such a connection that you’d rather do some work than lose them…and if they are as caring as Drew, they will agree. It can be hard…but as someone who was (very happily) in an ex-boyfriend’s wedding last year, I think it’s worth it.

  6. Pingback: Journey Work – Mitakuye Oyasin: Musing on relationships | Lifencompass

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