I have been dating a wonderful woman for a nearly a year and although there have been some challenges, I am really happy. She is everything that I thought I always wanted in a partner and lots of things I didn’t think that I wanted or needed. I feel challenged, desired and significantly, she puts up with my individual weirdness. She doesn’t make me feel ashamed to be me, nor does she try to hide me from view like in my previous relationship. So yes for the first time in my life, I am fucking happy!
Yet, I can’t help but experience these niggling thoughts that are beginning to gnaw away at my insides at what we have built so far. Thoughts that coincide with feelings of inadequacy and are causing me to feel anxious. So what am I doing? I am looking for faults, errors of judgement on my part; how could this woman be into me?
I am not looking for fights, but I often have to check myself when I realise that I have said something rude in response to a question she has asked, or when I feel that I have been short with her for no reason other than I am surprised by her selflessness. At times like these, I have upset her and caused arguments that I am worried will leave a lasting mark.
I don’t want to ruin this relationship with some self-inflicted torture of questioning what is an amazing thing, but it is as though I have my girlfriend of relationship past, sitting on my shoulder watching over me biding her time before she is able to say, ‘See, I told you it wouldn’t work. You’re not good enough for her.’
How do I kick the ghost to the kerb?
Ghosts of relationship past can permeate our very being. Some, of course, have more significance over your present self; it can take people years to exorcise themselves of these ghosts, as given the opportunity they become all consuming.
Google and self-help aids (much like this you may think…) have a lot to answer for when it comes to how we deal with relationships. We may hold hope that reading some advice from someone more experienced and hopefully more worldly-wise has the ability to provide the answers and provide the medicine that will make our pain fade away even if just for a moment. But generally, nuggets of advice profess that there are concrete steps to the process, roughly: break-up, cry, do some crazy breakup stuff (like drink, partying, late-night questionable texts, for instance) and only then comes the healing. But here is where some guides are misguided themselves, as the healing comes from the process itself. And only you can decide when the healing party is over and you are ready to move on.
I make it sound so easy! Just click the back of your heels Dorothy style and you can be back in Kansas pre-crappy feelings. But feelings are meant to be experienced, the good, the bad and the occasional ugliness of them all and they are what will help you reach a point where you can look on those ghosts and remember why the feelings associated with them are fleeting.
We tend to put past relationships into one of two camps; memorable and not memorable. There are those who we meet, dance with for a short time and then we say goodbye. There may have been tears at the relationship’s demise but there is no lasting mark scored on our hearts. And then there those who somehow find themselves a place at our very core for good or ill.
My first boyfriend fell in the latter camp. I was 17 and we were officially only together for three months before he headed off for the bright lights of university. He suggested we carry on with one of those fancy-sounding (at the time) ‘open-relationships.’ You know the type, I can do what I want and I might let you know the details, but you’ll wait for me, won’t you? In spite of my youth and naivety, I graciously declined. So life carried on as normal. It was during the university holidays however when he would return back to our home city when he would say that he really would like to hang out, where I experienced the pain of what I believed was true heartbreak. He would cause my insecure and young heart to whoop and sing when he contacted me, just like a cliched drug, he was my hit. This went on for two years. It didn’t last of course, as I heard through the grapevine that he had found himself a girlfriend at university and so the calls and texts finally came to an end. But the hope that I put into receiving another hit from him didn’t fade for some time, it took years. And like in some twisted dark fairy tale, this set me up for a further ten years of believing that in romantic terms, my feelings were secondary to that of my partner.
We begin a new relationship sensing its fragility, particularly once we recognise that we want it to work. We want to be seen as the best version of ourselves; so we dress up, arrange romantic gestures, introduce our loved one to friends and family as signs of interest and affection. It is as a relationship starts to warm up that we begin to share more of our real selves, we share and listen when discussions emerge of our urges, desires and fears. Once the first rush of love with a partner is over, this is the period when a relationship can falter because a different sort of reality sets in. One where we have to be ourselves, warts and all. It is here when the voices of relationship past can often be at their loudest. The exposure to it all can be deafening. We may hear them sniggering and passing judgement in the background just to get a rise out of us. And they will if we let them.
In any relationship, we can bring a lot to the table. And it’s not just our crap to contend with, there is all of theirs too. And, intentionally or not, some people wish to tip the table in their favour so instead of setting boundaries, marking out compromises, for instance, they dump a bag load of shit right there in the middle. For them, the easiest way for their fears to be realised and for their ego’s to be acknowledged is to belittle and criticise others. And for the recipient of a partner who acts in this way, we can start to believe their voice, long after the relationship is over. This, unfortunately, can manifest itself in many forms, in a milder but nevertheless serious infringement of relationship boundaries like co-dependency and at it’s worst, abuse in its differing but devastating forms.
It was only when I started to recognise that my feelings were as equally as important as someone else’s was when I met someone who wanted to meet me halfway. One of the first more serious conversations I had with my partner was where I told him in slightly cruder terms than this that I felt a little lost. I had come out of a relationship where I lost a huge sense of what I wanted or even who I really was. I had grown so incredibly used to shrinking away into the background to please my ex-boyfriend, my thoughts had become irrelevant. So I wasn’t sure how to behave in certain situations; do I simply back down at the first signs of conflict? Smile and nod when I am in fact offended? He told me that in no uncertain terms that he would prefer me to be myself, even if we didn’t match on the view or come anywhere close, something I hadn’t heard before.
Kicking a past relationship ghost to the kerb is a liberating but and an individual process; there is no magic button, panacea or pair of ruby slippers in this world that will tell you when and only when you are ‘healed’ from a previous relationship (despite what Google thinks). It is, however, your choice about if you are going to listen to the voices. By sharing this with your partner, you may surprise yourself to find that they have ghosts of their own. Ones that creep up on them when they least expect it. And it’s only by releasing the pesky things into the world where they lose some of their potency to inflict damage. They may not go away, but the scars left on your heart will then begin to heal.