Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Why we need the dark

I’m not sure I entirely trust people who haven’t had their heart broken.

There’s something about that agony that, though it may lead one to making temporary claims about the walls that are going to be meticulously built to protect oneself from such future anguish, actually leads one to recognize what you had the next time it comes along.

It is something about experiencing loss that allows you to really know how to value someone.

One of the lessons I remember most clearly from high school is the concept of an inherent dichotomy. It seemed so poetic at the time, the notion that you can’t know light without dark, good without evil.

I’ve come to realize that this idea is not just poetic, but seemingly a basic fact of humanity. It probably displays itself most interestingly in our odd need to be hurt by someone in order to be able to experience love and respect with someone else.

I believe that we all need a bad relationship (this can be a friendship, although I’m using the romantic example) to be a good partner. Hardly anyone is good at starting relationships from scratch. You have no idea what you want, and you have to fall back to other models, be it parents, siblings, whatever, to imitate, or else you are traipsing through the dark, hands out, waiting for your eyes to become adjusted. You need to experience hands on what you don’t want to drive you to know and get what you do want.

My first serious boyfriend falls under the category of really really bad boyfriend. Like epic, beating my self-esteem into an utter sludge type of boyfriend. Even though we broke up a decade ago I still tense up when I hear his name—that kind of boyfriend. Controlling, mean-spirited, demanding. We’re talking yelling at me and storming away if he saw me wearing the wrong clothes or forcing me to end friendships. And don’t even get me started on the 3am surprise visits accompanied by suicide threats after I didn’t take him back when he broke up with me the fourth time.

Good times.

Granted, this is something no 15-year old girl, particularly one as insecure as myself at the time, should ever go through. But I watch my friends going through such miserable relationships now, and I thank my lucky stars I got it out of the way early. I may have lost my virginity to a douchebag, but at least I never moved in with one. Plus, even at such a young age, I was able to do some reflecting with some distance and pull out what was so miserable about that relationship. I could then use that as proof of what I would never, ever put up with again—and it remained at the forefront of my mind as a prominent guide for many years.

It took being treated like crap to make me know how amazing it felt to be treated well.

Although the bulk of that lesson was learnt at a young age, the whole notion of the importance of such dichotomies still pops up every now and again. It is being listened to, and heard, when you used to be ignored.
And it is being seen at a deeper level when you used to be defined by your surface.


Yoda said...

Truer words were never spoken.

As I lay on my bed last night, tossing and turning, I recalled my life as a couple with my ex.

I realized how naive I was. How I never saw the signs and break it off earlier and waited around only to have my heart wrenched out at the worst possible time of my life.

I had just convinced myself that I loved her, as opposed to just falling in love with her. There's a subtle difference, which I hope you can appreciate!

nicoleantoinette said...

I re-read that first sentence like five times- and couldn't agree with it more. I also don't think I can really relate to someone who hasn't had his/her heart broken before, because in addition to making us grow, it also gives us something to relate to each other about.. Great post.

distracted spunk said...

Methinks we should trade suicide threat war stories. My ex's mother called me, begging me to take him back so he wouldn't kill himself.

I like what you said though. It's very strangely true. If we didn't experience the bad, how could we know to appreciate the good? *post idea formulating...*

brandy said...

Yep, I agree. One of my closest friends has (thankfully) never had her heartbroken. There are times when a bunch of us girls will be talking and she will say something and the rest of us will say ' of course you are going to say that, you haven't had your heart broken'. Though it's not something I ever wish to happen to my friends, it is a factor on how we all react differently to a situation, and reminds me of how different two people can be, based on their experience in the department of heartbreak.

Wendy said...

I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said.

It took being treated like crap to make me know how amazing it felt to be treated well.

Excellent thought.

Psychgrad said...

I agree with the idea..I would say that for me, seeing negative a relationship (such as my parents'...or former parent, in this case) was sufficient for me. I know what a negative relationship looks and feels like. It wasn't my partner, but the lesson I've learned from that are a pretty big part of how I live my own live and my relationship with my partner.

Ryan said...

The thing is...everyone will experience pain and loss throughout their lives, including of course, loss of their life itself.

So it's not a challenge to walk through darkness - it comes with the body we get.

The challenge in my experience, is to feel compassion from my experiences, to keep the spark of hope (and humour) bright... and to gain self-awareness from the inevitable hurts.

You seem wise for your years by the way...

Dorky Dad said...

That's a great way of putting it. But man I still HATED the bad relationships I had. Ugh.

Thank God I'm married and don't have to go through any of that anymore. But just in case, maybe I should get my wife flowers.

eric1313 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eric1313 said...

It is true! So effing true.

If we don't know how squalid the depths are, how can we appreciate the splendor of the heights?

It's the dark roads we sometimes have to travel that make the light so beautiful. That's what makes me thankful for my experience in life. No matter how much it sometimes hurts, how would I, or anyone else, have learned anything good and worthwhile without some suffering?

But... how could I be a decent poet with out these concepts? It's poetry in the theater of the real.

It's beauty and ugliness, light dark, yin and yang. Damn right I'm a Taoist, but naturally one, not by doctrine. I'm lucky to see it, and so are you. Your friends are not so lucky. Maybe one day, they will learn--that's where you come in, right?

Speaking of shrink duty, with a suicidal whiner like that emotional oaf of a first boyfriend (he's the fake orgasm schmuck, wasn't he?)... well, if your chosen path is a tree, his behavior and what it did to you is a few of the roots, and probably a branch or two, as well.

But, you are the person we are gathered here to read today, so in the cosmic sense, it's all good, huh? Deep layers of personality don't usually happen by themselves.

brookem said...

It kind of goes along with the idea that you have to experience a few wrong relationships, be with some wrong guys (or friends), to really recognize a good one when they come along.

And like Brandy said, although I don't wish heartbreak on any of my friends, it does go to show how people can be so different, and look at a situation so differently as well, based on their past experience.

Princess Extraordinaire said...

I completely agree with your post - it is never easy to experience the darker times, however, going through them makes you grateful for the good times and gives you tools for making relationships work - it is the ying and the yang of relationships - you need both ...

t.b.f.love. said...

Wow. What an amazing post. The idea of inherent dichotomies? So true. How can we truly know the value of something if we have never known its opposite? We would have nothing to compare to.... I think that everyone needs to build their own relationship experiences; models won't suffice because you may not know *why* you aspire to that model relationship and you certainly wouldn't know *how* to achieve it. Bravo on taking from your first relationship what you did, and for applying your gained knowledge to future relationships. This is probably one of my favorite posts, ever.

A Lil' Irish Lass said...

What a great post. And you're entirely correct in your assertion. I went through a slew of bad relationships throughout high school and college. These horrific experiences are what made me ready for my relationship with Beave. I wouldn't have appreciated how great he was had I been with him early on in my dating "career." Only after years of emotional abuse and eroded self-esteem was I able to see him for what he was.

That said, my relationship with Beave ended up serving a similar purpose. While he always treated me exceptionally well (up until the very end), our relationship taught me so much about what I need, what I don't want, what I can't live without. Now, at the age of almost-25, I feel exceptionally prepared to go out there and find the "right person."

blogging said...

amen sister.

i couldn't agree more....and so beautifully well-put.

Miriam said...

It's like couples who don't fight. Somethings is wrong with them :)


Michelle said...

over a month ago i probably wouldn't have understood/related to this post. sure i've had a broken heart but nothing like what i just experienced. and i feel that now more than ever i could be the perfect partner for someone else. i know exactly what i don't want and can recognize the warning signs in an instant.

i wish this would have happened to me years ago to be honest.

and no matter how unbearable the pain was for me, i wouldn't change a thing.

QueenBee said...

Seriously, I agree with you. Every single word.

Lisa said...

I wish you and DS lived nearer. I need more friends like you.

Damsel in Digress said...

incredible, incredible post.

reading that first sentence felt like you had just written down something that's been on my mind recently. and the more i read, the more i could relate to. thank you for this post. it felt almost cathartic reading it, as though i had taken the time to write out some thoughts on my mind.


Ant said...

I disagree! (Don't worry, one dissenting voice out of 21 (so far) ain't bad... :-p)

What you say sounds perfectly logical, how we can't appreciate the good without knowing the bad, and some of my experience backs this up - I've never had my heart broken (so you don't trust me? :-) ), but then I don't think I've ever properly been in love either...

But the idea that we need to stick ourselves through the emotional mangler in order to better appreciate the good stuff, kind of jars with me...

Folk have suggested that my lack of "deep history" is some kind of wall, built to protect myself, but I would contend that this is more of a reflection on them and how they approach relationships. I know I'm capable of loving deeply, and exposing myself emotionally (the ties I have to my immediate family are very strong), but I've also got an inner strength that few really appreciate.

The world is full of complete fuck-nuts that are motivated out of their own fears and insecurities. But the simple solution is to have confidence in yourself, your life and what you have to offer the world. It sounds a bit ego-centric when I say it like that, but I think it means you can finally let go of the things that weigh you down, and really concentrate on what the select few nice folk have to offer, which is what makes life worth living in the end...

(And yet another HUGE comment - you really have a knack for drawing these out of me... :-) )

benjibopper said...

nice use of the word doucebag.

i had a suicide threatener once too. it's the worst kind of mind-game.

the other advantage of bad relationships is that they show you what you DON'T want in a partner, which illuminates whatever it is you do want.

DG said...

That's a great point. I've been in a couple of bad relationships, albeit they weren't abusive, just not loving enough.

Miriam D said...

My boyfriend and I often say we wouldn't have such a good relationship if we hadn't been through our past destructive ones. Your post rings so true.

Iris said...

hi! i found my way to your blog from Not the Life I Ordered. This part rocks: "As such, I hold back on relying too much on any one person... I try to balance it out across various friends, which doesn't feel natural at all."

You read my heart.

S'Mat said...

going through a post-nuclear meltdown myself right now, i'd say that rationally i agree. but my but would say that dichotomies only explain the boundaries of rationalism, and that experientially we're all layers of contradictory thoughts and feelings. so, good/bad reflection is something we invoke retroflectively rather than in situ. when i throw myself forward far enough to look at the heartache i have now, i believe you... but when in the moment, not a chance... it's deranging and irrational all!

Hope said...

Another great post and everyone has already said what I wanted to say. So what I will say is that I've had experience of being in a relationship with a man who hadn't had his heart broken so he would say things like "We'll be together forever" after 2 months and I was all "You never know what can happen. Don't say too much too soon."

And then a year later, he dumped me. Still not having had his heart broken. And you're right. I don't trust them either.

Joanne said...

Wow, so well-put. For the longest time, I couldn't fully trust myself because I hadn't gotten my heart broken. Yes, I suffered disappointment and no, I wouldn't settle for less just for the drama...but the irony of it all, is that I was almost relieved when it finally did happen!!

Has definitely helped me better understand myself and what I wanted. Though, I think the best gift from a bad experience is knowing that you can pick yourself back up. It's something no one can give you, but no one can take away. Well, other than yourself, of course.

Joanne said...

PS: I no longer lurk! (aren't ya proud?) LOLs.

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

I don't think I've truly had my heart broken. I do the breaking, sadly.

Bad times.

Sheila said...

Truly, wise beyond your years! It makes total sense, so basic and seemingly simple, yet I had not fully realized the dichotomy until you put it into words.

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Ah, but do you ever get over your first heartbreak?

My irst true love remains up there on the pedestal, the standard by which all others are judged. Sad, isn't it?

Eve said...

Totally! Heart break sucks, but it's so enlightening.

And yes to going through a shitty relationship: you know you're stronger/better for it, and also won't put up with that crap again! (hopefully)

Eve said...

Totally! Heart break sucks, but it's so enlightening.

And yes to going through a shitty relationship: you know you're stronger/better for it, and also won't put up with that crap again! (hopefully)

Abbey said...

Agreed...however, I'll give the dark side of the dark side perspective. I'm now dating someone who's had his little heart ripped out and every once in a while, I catch myslef paying for her mistakes (e.g., cheating). I don't like paying for others sins.

Lisa said...

PP- I'll email you the song if you want? Whats your email address?

Princess Pointful said...

Yoda- It is funny to reflect on how long we stay in the wrong relationships, isn't it? I did the same thing... it took me probably a year to figure out that things were horrible.
And, yes, I can appreciate the difference, having been there.

Nicole- Thanks!! It is funny how something so miserable can be so common.

DS- Yikes! At least I didn't have to deal with anyone but a mutual friend and him!

Brandy- It is funny how you don't want to wish that on anyone, yet it does provide some wisdom.

Wendy- Much thanks for the complement and for stopping by!

PsychGrad- Very true- lessons can be learned other places, too.

Ryan- Very wise words. Thanks for dropping by! Do you have a blog link?

Dorky Dad- You should buy the wife flowers, just because you know she deserves it!

Eric- You can even make a comment poetic.
It's true... not only do we learn from pain, but we make it into beautiful art.

Brooke- That may be why I'm always a little suspicious over people who marry their first boy/girlfriend.

Princess E- Exactly. What is easier in the short-term isn't always better in the long term.

t.b.f.love- Smart thinking, lady. Thank you :)

Lil' Irish Lass- Very true. The bad prepares you for the good, then the good prepares you for the great!

Blogging- Thank you my dear!

Miriam- No doubt! They worry me... I always assume one is placating the other.

Michelle- You have no idea how happy that makes me to hear that. I know how hard this has all been on you- I'm glad you have been able to squeeze some good from it.

QueenBee- Great minds think alike ;)

Lisa- No doubt. We would be one fabulous trio!!

Damsel- I think that is the best thing about blogging... to realize that these crazy thoughts running through my mind make sense to others, and having the same thing happen to me.

Ant- Of course you would disagree... that's what you do ;)
There is a lot true in what you say, and I do believe that you have a certain unique strength of character and sense of self, more so than many people I met.
As for me, though I know it is only a thought experiment, I just can't see me being where I am and having the strength I do without my few go rounds in the emotional mangler.

Benjibopper- Very true. There's a lot of things that look good on paper than don't fit so well in real life.
The suicide threatener appears to be a little more common than expected!

DG- Yeah, I've also had a few of those, who have helped me hone things a little more in my brain.

Miriam D- Thank you! Glad you both could learn!

Iris- Like I said above, the best part of blogging is when what you say makes that much sense to other! Thanks for stopping by!

S'Mat- Post-nuclear meltdown?! :(
Agreed completely. You could show me this post when I'm going through my own meltdown, and I would throw it at your head! Hindsight is a great thing.

Hope- That is exactly what I was talking about in my first line!! And, with him, it may have just been because he didn't have any idea how much such promises hurt, because he'd never had them broken before.

Joanne- Yay for delurking! I knew you were out there somewhere...

That is really intriguing that such things affected your own trust in yourself.
Jiving with what you say, I think it is such a valuable exercise to look back at all the things I thought I would never get over and would haunt me for the rest of my life- and realize they have so little impact today!

Ultra- I'd be interested to hear your take on that, if you have one!

Sheila- Thank you so much! I'm glad it made sense to you!

Crushed- I'm not sure. The guy I described was probably my first heartstomper (though not the first one for whom I shed tears), but I find a later heartbreak to have been much more influential, actually.
And I don't think that's sad... I actually find it strangely beautiful.

Eve- Enlightening is the perfect word!

Abbey- You stole my thunder for another post (I was going to write soon, but I thought I would through a fun post in there first)- about how we react to people like they are someone else.

Lisa- Thank you darling! I've send you my address via 20-somethings!