Putting the Past to Rest
There’s a common theme I see in a lot of relationships especially since the age of social media where the past is always a little bit there in an old image, a tag, even a deleted group of photographs from a year in their life. Perhaps its comments left or photos liked or even just the mutual friends who still follow or are entirely blocked. New York is a small town at the end of the day, and I have mutual friends with many of the people my exes now date. Likewise, whomever I am with likely has some connections to the people I dated. There’s a past tense there for a reason. But then I have a few questions because not every partner or person in a relationship sees the past as just that in a positive way. Some people don’t even acknowledge those from their past.
I’m going to explore some differences I have been experiencing as I fall in love and realize that my past somehow impacts my partner’s feelings. So here goes…
Why do we feel upset about our current lover’s past and who they slept with or shared time, laughs, experiences with when we didn’t even know them or hadn’t even met yet? I sometimes feel like an entire experience with a person can become jaded or less “special” when my partner reveals they’ve experienced the same with another – even though many times I was likely experiencing life or doing things that would not be okay once in a relationship with my current partner.
I have found it is far too easy to not even notice when I talk about people from my past. I feel so detached emotionally from the memories and guys that I might as well be talking about a professor from college whose demeanor, inspiration, long-term impact on my life or emotions was overall nominal, although it shaped me in some way during a significant period of my life.
I put it in the “well that happened, but meh, no…” category.
I’ve realized it isn’t like this for every individual when it comes to their past. Some cut them and all exes out entirely. Blocking their numbers, deleting all connections to mutual friends on social media. They don’t even give these people names if – on the rare occasion – the topic comes up or is forced out of them. Without a name, the people become more like a symbolic time range or a category. “JP Morgan Girl” or the “Long Distance one from 6 years ago…”
I couldn’t help but wonder what is worse: denying the past entirely and severing all ties and acknowledgements to the individual you once cared so much about … OR openly and honestly acknowledging the experiences with a person and what you learned and openly admitting that all the feelings are gone aside from the platonic nothingness and some lessons and certain small moments in memories that can make you smile or laugh quietly to yourself.
Doesn’t it seem sad that someone you’ve slept next to, slept with, or trusted on a level that exceeded closest friends and family during the relationship experience a death upon breakup? The second two people stop being “together” do the shared stories need to depart from our own? It’s like an eraser is supposed to go back and eliminate any detail including another individual. It seems like a rather big and unnecessary omission.
I still consider some of my past boyfriends, friends of mine. WE didn’t work out for very valid reasons, so I confidently and perhaps ignorantly believe – or like to think anyway – that they don’t want anything from me or for me but happiness. Sometimes I think they know I am a good listener and can help them overcome a heartbreak or failure…or give sincere and unbiased relationship advice… after all, who better to understand the other side of a story than someone who was on the other side. It helps with perspective and understanding why someone would/would not act in a certain way. People don’t always change, and sometimes behaviors don’t either. A simple reminder of difficulties people go through and how problems were dealt with is all someone needs to go back and approach the relationship they’re in with a solid and well-rounded understanding.
Either way, it’s like why would I be with someone who for so many reasons I couldn’t see myself with long-term? In other words…if I am dating you, you should never question why I am with you. Certainly, you should never consider that I would go back to my past; when I broke up it is because it was broken. There was no remedy then and with absolute certainty, not one person from my past could be seen with new eyes. Once I switch off that possibility box, it’s archived in the emotional sense. The friend zone is permanent for me.
That begs the question—which people from the past, I mean your own personal romantic loving past—should be non-negotiables when it comes to keeping them in or out of your life? Does the ex-from-the-past and their current relationship status or the amount of time that has passed since dating or how long you’ve been entirely platonic friends a part of that equation of appropriate v. inappropriate?
Should it feel awkward when an ex from 12 years ago adds your current lover on social media? Does it matter if he knows how happy you are, went through rehab, knows you plan on marrying this person or any of those details before something weird like that happens? If you are a friend with this person who is now dating someone new, should your current boyfriend or girlfriend understand or deny the request?
What about when you think of that big day where you walk down the aisle in a white dress…and begin to imagine the people who would get an invitation v. not to the wedding. If I have absolutely no feelings for someone who helped me through a really rough time in my life, shouldn’t that person be welcomed because they helped shape me into who I am for the better and respect my partner and genuinely want me to be happy? I don’t know the answer to the right or wrote approach with the past people who were more than friends. I don’t know the appropriate role they play in supporting that you’ve moved on and are entirely happy where you are and it clearly shows when you talk that the person in your life is so incredibly special that they can’t help but be happy you’ve found the one you’ve been waiting for.
My guy friends will tell me that other men usually have different intentions than women have when it comes to the past. My current partner hardly even mentions his past relationships and I had to pull teeth to even have him give them the respect to tell me their names. I can’t imagine being referred to as that girl from three years ago when I traveled the world and spent three years growing and learning with another human.
That said, is there a time period when one should put the past to rest for good? To no longer sleep with any good memories or bad ones and to erase or reformat the experiences in attempt to live entirely in a forward looking mindfully focused in the moment mentality? Should stories be edited to eliminate the names and presence of anyone and everyone? Perhaps people from our past should be replaced with numbers like a Chinese takeout menu. Number 1, Number 4. 6.
Or perhaps we should celebrate our now by acknowledging we are loving enough and secure enough to not only have had awesome people who shaped us, but that those very people are EXACTLY the reason we can love as well as we can today. That those lessons learned helped us become better communicators. To know what we want and deserve in loving another. To truly know what being faithful is if only because of the pain of being with someone who was not faithful and knowing that you would never put a partner through that. Or perhaps its knowing that our partner should not be afraid to love you because their past wasn’t ideal, but that you are indeed grateful for the people they loved and brought them to you. Because, really, if they hadn’t been with people who were wrong for them, how could they be so certain by contrast that what they have now is so right?