Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Life Lessons from the Men I've Loved and the Boys I Didn't Even Like

Disclaimer: this post is really emotional and by some definitions a major and unnecessary overshare. It is by no means informational nor will it be interesting to 99% of the people out there. Writing it was cathartic and I could've just not posted it but this is my blog and I feel like it. I'll move back to Hanoi related topics after it. Apologies in advance for anyone it may offend, whether you just be a reader or if you find yourself one of its subjects. Read at your own discretion.

It’s surprising what we can take away from the people we meet. I never gave it that much thought but since moving here, I have started viewing each encounter and relationship in my life as a learning experience.

I am always really bewildered by the people from I take the most from and what it is they’ve taught me. Upon discovering these revelations, I feel almost obliged to announce to them that they’ve changed my life, which is always incredibly awkward because 1. Who says that? And 2. How does one reply?

My first lesson came a little over five years ago from a guy I was “involved” with. I am ashamed to say that I treated him terribly. He was the guy that every girl wanted and I was so focused on that fact, convinced that I was just a pawn in his game that I did everything conceivable to push him away and make it known that I didn’t care about him, that he meant nothing. I refused to acknowledge him public, I denounced him, I was horrible to the point where he gave up and walked away. I congratulated myself on my victory, that the demise of the relationship was still on my terms and before I got hurt, which I felt would’ve been inevitable. I was convinced I’d never hear from him again and I didn’t want to care.

A few months after the dissolution of our dalliances, my grandmother passed away suddenly. One minute she was there and within twenty-four hours she was gone. It hit me hard and I retreated into myself, determined not to let anyone in to see my pain. A good friend of mine contacted him to tell him what happened and how I was behaving, and though he shouldn’t have, he cared. He spent the next few weeks displaying an empathy that went above and beyond, and that lasted longer than all of my friends who stopped consoling me after a few days. He called me every night and when I couldn’t sleep talked to me until early in the morning despite having a brand new high powered finance job that required lots of his time and energy. Since then, he has shown me countless demonstrations of loyalty that I didn’t know possible and certainly didn’t think I was worthy of.

When his serious girlfriend told him she didn’t like me or our relationship and when he friends made negative comments about me, he didn’t sit quietly back or kick me out of his life. He stood up for me, for our friendship and made it clear that despite what was said, I was in his life and that wasn’t going to change. When my dazzling and available friends set their sights on him, he respectfully declined their advances on account of his past with me. I asked him, why, years after our connection, he’d turn them down and he simply replied that our friendship was not worth risking, and that sleeping with a gorgeous girl wouldn’t be worth it if there was the slightest chance it would mar what we had. He broke through my tough “I don’t trust anyone” shield and despite myself, forced me to give myself to the friendship. He gave me faith. To this day, (apart from my family) there is no one I trust more, no one I am able to open myself up to and no one that I feel is more loyal. He is one of my best friends and I would do anything for him. So much of what I know about loyalty was taught by him and I am eternally grateful for that lesson and to have someone like that in my life.

My second lesson came from yet another guy I dated. I was pulling my usual Alice tactics, being evasive and refusing to care (a lesson I still haven’t learned) and in a frenzied moment I ended it with him because I realized that I was falling for him and was petrified about getting hurt. I soon realized my mistake and asked for another chance, a request he flatly denied. He told me we could be friends but that that I needed to learn accountability for my actions, to not play games, and say what I want and think. He said I was a wonderful person and that this should be a lesson. That next time I wouldn’t make such a mistake. I’ve never hated and respected someone so much simultaneously.

My third lesson came from (can you guess?) my boyfriend of four years. The kindest, most wonderful man alive. He taught me about love and forgiveness. He showed me for the first time that I was worthy of being loved, that I deserved love and the best and he spent four years giving me that kind of love. Treating me with adoration and respect. I can’t summarize everything he gave me without turning it into a novel, but I’ll try. He taught me that it was ok to be myself. He showed how it should be and what I deserve. He gave me some of the best memories and years of my life and I am pretty sure I will love him forever.

Lesson four happened in Hanoi. I had just broken up with Mr. Perfect (see above) and threw myself into a rebound relationship. You’re not supposed to fall for the rebound but it usually happens. We had an amazing time together and I was completely obsessed. This relationship was different than any I’d ever been in before. He got to me in a way that no one antecedently has. He opened up an alternate world for me, one where I thought, felt and experienced things that were so novel to me and that I quickly believed I couldn’t live without. Some aspects, I'm sure I can't. The man changed my life forever. He lit up my mind, challenged me and made me want to explore dimensions of myself I didn’t even know existed. He understands me on a level that no one else does. I never have to explain myself because he's somehow able to figure out everything I am thinking about, he always seems to know the subtext in what I was saying. He knows exactly how to handle me.

The night he left Hanoi my world came crashing down. I managed to hold myself together as we made our way to the train station and it wasn’t until we say our goodbyes that I turned around and began the sobbing that lasted the whole walk home and continued for the next four months. The sound of my heart breaking drowned out the sirens and horns abundant in the city and it was at that point in time that I realized Hanoi would never be the same again.

It’s easier to leave than to be left behind and this smacked me in the face with almost everything I did. I couldn’t walk down the street without passing something that reminded me of us and the time that we had spent together exploring this wondrous city. Every corner of the city held some kind of reminder and memory for me and I began to hate it.

The months following “the departure” were pretty miserable and pathetic. I spent a ceaseless amount of time, energy and money desperately trying to piece everything back together. I took trips to meet him all over South East Asia, despite knowing it was a lost case, but not caring because I needed my fix of him. I talked about him fanatically and cried when I was alone. I was fixated on the plan that we had concocted of moving to a new and exciting city together, realizing deep down that it probably wouldn’t happen, but unable to let go of the fantasy because it was the only thing that brought me real joy. I became a slave to my email…my happiness dependent upon whether or not I had heard from him. Even a simple text like “hey there” sent me over the moon where as no communication sunk me into anguish.

I truly believed that I would never get over it, that my world as I knew it was over. I told myself, in all seriousness, that I would never feel this way again. That it was impossible and I was doomed to a live of despondency and consolation prizes. (And sometimes I still believe that) I’ve always had a flair for dramatics and am terrible at letting go. However, this case, I had no choice. I HAD to say goodbye. While I learned countless things from him, I think the most important lessons were in graceful defeat and enjoying the time you have with someone. He had his methods in ensuring that I got over it and him and while I assured him it would “never” happen, I woke up one day (recently) and realized that I wasn't in love with him anymore. He’d taught me how to let go. (I also learned that it may take time but you can move on)

A few posts earlier, I discussed discovery of self love not letting someone else dictate how you feel about yourself and this was a direct result of my latest lesson. It came from a most unexpected place, someone I didn’t care about (though he was, in some aspects a prodigious guy) and even though he turned out to be a TOTAL CAD, I am still compelled to look upon him with a certain appreciation.

Teacher #5 wasn’t in my life for very long yet he managed to make a profound impression. I don’t believe it was him in particular who caused any revelations, it could’ve been anyone, really, as it was a timing thing. Because of circumstances in his situation, I knew it was going nowhere and I was weirdly ok with that, and it allowed me a certain element of emotional uninhibitness. I was able to stay emotionally unattached and lived in the moment, enjoying the time for what it was (thanks lesson 4!) I didn’t close myself off or censor myself or play games or over analyze (lesson #2). I was, for the most part (80%), myself. I saw no reason not to be. (Lesson #3) In the blip that was time spent together (and the aftermath,) I displayed that I’d learned from my previous lessons and when something happened in which I felt rejected and personally offended, I concluded something major.

Acceptance. Acceptance of the situation, of the perceived rejection and of myself. Instead of being self deprecating, I looked inside of myself, thought of my other lessons and found an opportunity to flourish. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t let someone’s “rejection” of me result in my ego and self esteem crumbling. While he wasn’t demonstrative in showing me that I was amazing, smart, and valuable, it was my encounter with him that showed me it’s not something that can be taught by someone else. That I am only those things if I believe I am. It was finally dispensed upon me that I am capable of loving myself, and believe in my worth. That I was able to draw on strength I didn’t know I had, and I am in fact the master of my fate and happiness. That I am the only one who has that control. So while our affliction itself was fleeting, and he didn’t actively try and dispense this knowledge on me, it was the circumstances and reactions that came from it that made my take away is perhaps the most invaluable one I’ve walked away with.

Clearly, since this blog is written about some of my major life lessons and they all came from guys I was non platonically involved with, it’s apparent that I spent way too much time looking to others, particularly men, for validation and sense of self. This is an issue my friends have broached with my multiple times that I refused to acknowledge until very recently.

I’ve found that I am learning more from the people I encounter in Asia than I did back home. A big part of this, I believe, is attributed to my being more open minded and receptive to learn. And my being driven to change. When at home, I’m already established, I am so it’s quite easy to slip into my comfort zone and not challenge myself or feel the need to grow.. It can also be a bit daunting to suddenly take on a new personality or outlook with people you’re comfortable with. I also have trust issues so tend to hide behind a mask that I’ve painted for myself.

I’ve learned a lot, but most of all that I still have a lot to learn. I excited at this prospect, especially as I am looking forward to moving forward and gained knowledge and experience from myself.

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