I don’t remember my exes with a fuzzy glow effect on the borders of my memories.  Mine generally don’t fit that bill.  I’d love to say that the men from my past come to my mind like a fade to a scene from a Lifetime movie but to be honest they never seem to play out that way.

For the most part, my memories creep on me like shell shock.  Shaking the mess out of me, leaving me thrown and immobile.

I wish I could remember more flowers and touches, more orchids and kisses to be exact. But there are more thorns than I’d like, more silence and pain than I’d like to remember.

In the past few months, I’ve found myself in a stalemate with love.  I’ve been vigilant about mapping out my way forward—well, as much as life permits.  The one thing I can’t control is when love gets here; when that person crashes into me is out of my hands.  Love, it’s organic like that.

These may sound like the musings of a girl who has resigned her life to fate but I’ve that hard truth after trying to force relationships to bloom from unfertile soil and unready, unwilling men.  After bucking up against the wall, I’ve stopped being disgruntled about it and accepted that it’s just not my time.  My time, as it turns out has been better spent in moments alone than wrapped up in someone’s arms.  And yet, my mind seems to be floating back to the times when I was.

In the past, when I would think about past relationships it felt as if I was drifting.  Now, I am adamant not to be swept away by memories but to study them instead.  Examining them as if they were case studies, highlighter in my hand, messy bun atop this head of mine.

I’ve been deliberate in gleaning lessons from my past.  I can still count my relationships on hand—ironically, ending on my index finger.  It’s a tough process to re-examine broken relationships, one I wouldn’t recommend unless there is enough distance between you and those last loves.  Past flames have a nasty tendency to flare up when you get too close and there’s no need to be burned again.

Even when you’re accessing those memories deliberately, they still require you to handle them with care.   No one wants to admit it, but the loves from our past often say more about us than they do the other party involved.  For every ex I look at and think, “What was I thinking?,” I have to ask myself, “Who was I then?”  And that’s the hard about flashbacks, memories and drifting thoughts: that ex-evaluation is really self-evaluation, whether we like it or not.

When it stops being reminiscing and it stops being missing, looking at the men in your past can serve as a map to where you once were.  It’s hard for many of us to admit but the men we have loved have been in our lives because of a choice.  There may have been moments where it was hard and times when every part of it felt like a struggle, but there was one initial, reoccurring choice to love them and it was ours.

Looking back, I have to say—there were good times.  Under all the overwhelming hurt, there were moments where I felt light as air.  For all my griping about trying to love without trust or argue without respect, there were nights when I fell asleep convinced there was no one else in this world that went to sleep feeling as full as I did.  There were genuine feelings, words spoken but in the end it was not enough.   And this is part of ex-evaluation, too.  Sometimes the part that matters the most with love isn’t what it became, but what it never was.

It’s taken some time but I understand now, that there were some things my exes never were and never could be.  I spent years trying to chisel a wall that wasn’t ready to fall.  Looking back, I know that I was not meant for the love I had envisioned.  That what I was afraid of wasn’t who would leave, but the me that I would be alone with.

Personally, I’ve realized than in every void I tried to fill was a vacancy I was scared to confront.  The offenses of my cheating ex made it easier for me to justify not dealing with my chronic distrust.  The cold, dismissive one made it easier for me to downplay my destructive tendency to shut down.  While their actions remain unacceptable and their behavior was unkind, for me to disregard the lessons each of my exes gave me would be ignoring some major lessons that I was meant to learn.

Some women’s faces can look weathered by time by concurrent loves and heartbreaks that have taken their toll.  But I wonder if they had taken real moments for meaningful reflection, perhaps the wrinkles wouldn’t have creased as they did.  I wonder if the marks on their faces, the dimness in their eyes, the deep resentment could have been avoided.

There’s more to this than collagen fixes and nip-tucks, because the true tragedy isn’t just being worn out by life.  It’s losing your spirit to loves that you’ve lost without clinging to shreds of a lesson.

I said to a girlfriend the other day that I felt like love was the one class that was messing up my overall life GPA.  But I’m starting to think that unlike college, this course isn’t being graded.  No matter how much of a failure I feel like, there are points for participation.  I’m reviewing the material not for an exam but for my next crack at this thing.  After spending years feeling like I was never going to graduate, I’m realizing no one truly leaves here.   The point of all the memories, laughter and sadness, was so that I could learn what I needed for next semester.

So it’s ok if love’s lectures have not been fair to me.  I still shot the seat down in the front row.

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