Saturday, October 27, 2012

Did You Learn Anything (About Yourself) from Your (Failed) Relationships?

I recently read an obituary in the New York Times for Dr. Ethel Person (pictured below).  The obit includes this passage:

"Dr. Person long held that no relationship was a failure if you learned something about yourself from it. In that spirit she kept every husband’s name, her son Lloyd said. At her death she was officially Ethel Jane Spector Person Sherman Diamond, although she continued to use Person professionally."

One difference between Dr. Person and me is that I never added spousal names to mine - let alone three of them.  Another difference is that I don't think of my ended relationships as successes or failures.  Relationships are more like one of those alternative schools where rather than passing or failing, you drift onwards at your own speed, eventually absorbing enough lessons that they graduate you.

However, I have learned many things about myself through past relationships.  In every relationship, I learned more about where to draw my lines of acceptable/unacceptable partner behaviour and how to draw those lines.

Each relationship teaches us something different about ourselves.  I prefer to remember ex-partners in terms of what they taught me about my participation in the world - in one relationship I learned to climb, hike, canoe, and lean out of small airplanes taking pictures.  I learned that I could do more than I ever imagined I could do.

I posed the question at dinner tonight.

  • My friend Liam said that he learned that he was lovable.
  • His boyfriend said that, in retrospect, his ended relationships taught him that he has to look deeper into what people say.  He thought people said what they meant.  He even thought he said what he meant.  Now he sees that people may not say everything and it's important to respond with questions and probing.
  • My current husband added this to the conversation:  "I learned from my ended relationships that I have to put more into the relationship if it is going to go well."

Everyone in the conversation agreed that when a relationship ends, you learn a lot about your friends and how they take sides or refuse to take sides.

What did you learn about yourself from relationships that have ended?  Would you call yourself by all your former names?


  1. I learned the meaning of "Sublimation".

  2. by thenewgreen
    I am not the easiest person to live with. I like to think of myself as being a nice person, but what I have realized is that I am not always the nicest person to those I care about the most. I don't think that I am unique in this regard, which is an unusual thing don't you think? Why is it that many of us are our best versions of ourselves when we are around strangers or acquaintances? This is something that I've been trying to work on. The most important people in my life deserve the best version of me. That said, it is nice to be able to let your guard down and even sometimes be a lesser version of yourself around those who can tolerate it. I should also mention that by "lesser version of myself" I don't mean some horrible person that does mean/violent things, I just mean someone that perhaps leaves his dirty clothes on the floor and doesn't always wash the dishes ;)

  3. As society dictates, I never "had" to change my name nor, really, did my (ex)wife even though she did. When I contemplate about my learnings regarding myself, it now, @6 years later, seems that being to be alone with myself is a new found pleasure. Yes, I still love to socialize, talk and just be with other people yet I cherish my alone time. In fact I even meditate, something that I wouldn't have even thought off 6 years ago,