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March 13, 2000 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need

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.

Breakup Girl


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 words.

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!"



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