Single in the City is a reoccurring column on Philly Happening that will appear on Wednesdays. It chronicles a single thirty-something, new to the Philadelphia, searching for friendship, love, and her place in this vibrant city.

‘Heart’ Realities: Relationships come and go, but lessons last forever

The other day I was reflecting with my mom about my past relationships and how I feel as though my journey has been more circuitous and lengthy than most of my close friends. Most of them met their future spouse in college more than 10 years ago, and many of them have been married for five or more years. A handful of them have kids.

I wasn’t complaining. I didn’t want to marry anyone that I met in college, I don’t regret not being married by now, and I’m not in a position to have children right at this moment. I was merely stating that my journey has been different.

“Those were life experiences,” my mom said. “They have made you a stronger person.”

Yesterday, I finished watching “Eat, Pray, Love” for the umpteenth time. At the end of the film, Elizabeth Gilbert (played by the always-delightful Julia Roberts), talks about something that she calls “the physics of the quest.” She talks about the “truth-seeking journey.” She says, “If you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher…then the truth will not be withheld from you.”

This got me thinking about my journey. What have my life experiences been? What specifically has made me a stronger person? What clues have I collected along the way? Who have been my greatest teachers, and more importantly, what have I learned?

The journey has no point if you can’t learn from it, reflect, and leverage those lessons to be stronger, better, and wiser.

While I can’t rehash every relationship lesson that I’ve ever learned, I can highlight a few that resonate with me today:

1.) Just because you have a lot in common with someone does not mean that you have a lot in common.

I remember thinking that my first boyfriend and I had so many things in common. We both liked the same TV shows, movies, European cities, and as dumb as it seems now, roller coasters, ancient Egypt, and the same ice cream flavor.

What I learned after that relationship is that it doesn’t matter if you and your mate like the same things—what really matters is if you share the same set of values. Do you think and feel similarly about the things that matter the most? If not, then you really don’t have much in common.

2.) Never assume. Ask until you know.

I remember when my first boyfriend broke up with me. He didn’t give me much of an explanation—at least not one that made sense to me.  However, instead of asking more questions, I just let it go. I didn’t contact him again. Sometimes letting it go is the right thing to do, but not when you have so many burning questions and in lieu of finding the answers, you assume things—and believe me, what you assume is never good!

I ended up driving myself crazy the whole summer wondering what had been going through this boy’s head. It would have been a heck of a lot easier if I had just asked him. Seeking the truth from others is far better than having to make it up yourself.

3.) Sometimes there are no answers.

On the flip side to lesson No.2, sometimes you ask and you still won’t get the answers you are looking for. Sometimes there are no answers and you have to be okay with that. So many times in relationships, I have obsessed over why things ended.  I have asked everyone I could think of, hoping that one person would have that magical answer that would make sense to me. One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes you are not going to get answers to your questions. Sometimes things just don’t make sense and there is no good reason why or why not. You have to be okay with not knowing. Find closure in the fact that sometimes there are no answers.

4.) You teach others how to treat you.

I’ve been in relationships where I have not been treated the way that I should have been. Once a guy threw my anniversary flowers in the trash because I was a little late to dinner. Once, (okay, twice!), a boyfriend forgot my birthday.  Another time, a boyfriend avoided spending time with me when I needed him most, and with my family and friends when it was important to me.

What I’ve learned from all this is don’t make concessions that add up to you being taken advantage of and not respected and valued in the ways that you deserve. There is a Tony Gaskins quote that perfectly sums up this idea: “You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.”

5.) Don’t let the little things add up to big things.

When something bothers you in a relationship, speak up and deal with it. Even if it’s seemingly small and trivial, get it out in the open. Don’t let little problems turn into big ones, because they will. Anything that is left unattended for a long period of time becomes that much harder to fix later on.

It’s like the dishes in the sink. If you rinse your plate off right after eating, the residue washes away quickly and easily. If you let your plate sit in the sink for a few hours, or a few days, the food hardens and becomes difficult to remove without a lot of soaking, scrubbing, and a significant amount of elbow grease!

6.) Trust the opinions of your family and friends.

If your family and friends have misgivings about the person that you’re dating, don’t ignore them. Sure, sometimes people make snap judgement and they don’t know that person you’re dating quite like you do, but they know you—and sometimes they can see you and your situation more clearly than you can. Your family and friends love you and care about you. Take their words and concerns into consideration.

7.) Always tell yourself the truth.

Those who remember the cult classic coming-of-age novel The Outsiders might remember the words of young Ponyboy Curtis, who, at the end of chapter one, says, “I lie to myself all the time.” Ponyboy does this to try to make himself feel better as his world crumbles around him. Pony admits that he never believes himself, but sometimes when we tell ourselves what we want to hear for a prolonged period of time, we end up believing ourselves, and that’s how we let bad situations continue.

If you’re in a relationship where you notice that somethings don’t feel right, deep down, but you won’t let yourself admit it or reflect upon it, then that should raise a red flag. Avoiding the problem doesn’t make it go away, but facing it can.  The only way to face a problem is to tell yourself the truth. It often takes more courage to be honest with yourself, and it can be painful, but in the end, you will make better choices.

8.) Don’t forget to look on the bright side.

Despite our best intentions, not every relationship works out, and that’s okay, as long as we learn from them.  Early on, I didn’t understand the concept of learning from relationships. I viewed their demise as a great tragedy filled with tears, FRIENDS marathons, and binge-eating ice cream. Then I realized that from every great “tragedy” comes great inspiration and a chance to rebuild. Elizabeth Gilbert said, “Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.”

The pain of many of my breakups has become a platform of artistic expression, maturity, strength, and hope for what was to come.

It is not lost on me that because of one of my relationships, I ended up in Philadelphia. The ruin of that tumultuous relationship led to great transformation of my life here in Philly. Here I have found a sense of belonging in a city that feels like home. Here I have found the opportunity to capitalize on being a writer and to have the freedom to express my views. Here I have found friendships that lift me up every day. Here I have found a person who has been such a gift that he almost doesn’t seem real.

I wouldn’t be who I am, or where I am today, without my past relationships, and for that, I am grateful.



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