Dear Breakup Girl,
I am a perfectly attractive, intelligent, successful, and talented young
lady in my early 20s. I am also incredibly shy and so, I never got into the
whole dating/relationship scene. Is it too late for me now, since everyone else
has at least 7 or 8 years on me of experience? And is it even worth it after
all the horror stories I keep hearing in your advice columns?
-- A Basket Case in CA
Dear Basket Case,
You do realize, of course, that the people with all
this "experience" are the same people with all the "horror stories."
You'll be fine.
Learning from Experience:
How to Make the Next One The One
We step out of relationships even the best ones with
armfuls of scrapbooks, a few tunes stuck in our heads, a great sweatshirt we
"forgot we still had," one or two new skills...and
a vow to "get it 'right' the next time."
Even on the first day of the rest of your love life, those may be famous last
Of the many things humans are good at,
turns out that Learning from Experience (automatically, anyway) is not one of
them. Sure, we do say things like "OW! ORANGE STOVE BURNER HOT! DO NOT
TOUCH AGAIN!" But we also say things like "OW! PERSON ON MOTORCYCLE
UNRELIABLE! ... DATE AGAIN!"
In fact -- according to an article in the current Psychology
Today -- 75% of divorced people do get married again, and that's not even
counting the folks who meet new partners and do everything but take vows.
But! "...A whopping 60% of remarriages fail. And they do so even
more quickly; after an average of 10 years, 37% of remarriages have dissolved
versus 30% of first marriages. If divorce and remarriage rates prove one thing,
it is that conventional wisdom is wrong: When it comes to remarriage, experience
doesn't count. A prior marriage actually decreases the odds of a second marriage
working," writes Hara Estroff Marano.
Oh, my. But why?
Apparently, the transporting thrill of "Ah! Now this feels right!"
transports us, express, right past the local stops: Old Issues, New Conflicts,
Closure City. We look back and conclude, "Well, I just chose the wrong
person. Also, everything was their
fault" -- which also contributes to that false free-ride feeling. We
forget that problems are part of the landscape of partnership, so if
conflicts do appear to block the tracks -- instead of sussing out how
to handle them -- we cow-catcher right through, hands over ears, saying: "LA
LA LA NOPE, I SAID NO CONFLICTS THIS TIME!" And then we derail,
somewhere near the junction of Expectations and Unrealistic.
What to do instead?
Civilian experts say to stop at these points on the learning curve:
- Opposites distract. If you were with a billionaire dot.com IP(S)O,
don't assume that moving on to a starving luddite will fix everything. It's
less about type than it is about how you actually handle the relationship
(and the with-the-territory conflicts therein).
- Ex Communication. Speaking of "with the territory." Especially
in the case of divorce and especially if there are kids
there will be some; freak not.
- Time lapse. Don't swallow whole just 'cause you're starving. Give
the new relationship time to grow into its own thing, not just "not that."
- Feel the burn. Anaesthetic rebounds
aside, this relationship is the one you have after you've healed (Breakup
Girl style). Just ask Cornelius.
- Soul-search train. Be willing to think specifically in
a non-blamey way about why the last one didn't last.
- Active culture. Once again, this one has to be more than Not That.
Work deliberately to create rituals and customs and restaurants and "our
songs" that are all yours.
(Singles: you're not off the hook just 'cause your first marriage hasn't happened
yet. Assume all this applies to redatage, too.)
On to your "horror stories!"
FIRST LETTER >