While demonstrations of love and romance may abound in celebration of Valentine’s Day in February, the months after signify something completely different. March ushers in the season of spring, tied in to new beginnings and fresh starts; possibilities; a thawing out from things frozen or stagnant in winter; and growth resulting from seeds planted long ago.
In a society where individuals are getting married and/or settling down later in their lives, what does this mean for those of us dating up until then? Simply put, unless you are married or sitting out ‘the dance‘ in some form (i.e. not dating or mating), you may have a greater span of dating years than ever experienced by generations before.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans as a whole are getting married at later ages, with the median age for women having increased by 4.3 years to 25.1 years old, and the median age for men having increased by 3.5 years to 26.8 years old (Philip & Smialek, 2017). Unless you found your ‘special someone’ sooner than later, this increase in dating years can be potential for more relationships and more hook-ups, as well potential for a greater frequency of mismatches, heartbreak, or ones before ‘the one.’**
Now more than ever, the ability to own, reflect on, and learn from our past, particularly with regard to our romantic relationships, is crucial — especially if we want to be open to new experiences, love, romance, and connection in the wake of past hurts and rejection.
Drawing inspiration from the recent hit and title track from Ariana Grande’s new album, ‘Thank U, Next,’ we look at how we can acknowledge, honor, and find takeaways from our past in a way that allows us to be open, vibrant, and excited for the possibilities ahead.
1. Acknowledging to ourselves the truth of what happened
In her first verse, Ariana name drops previous paramours and her former fiancé with the seeming ease of a diary entry. For most of us, the first step begins with being able to say to ourselves that things didn’t work out as planned, changed for the worse (or better), and that what happened really happened. Many people are familiar with the stages of grief (check it out on Google if unfamiliar!), but while people may oscillate between the various stages many times, it is hard for much healing to occur if people consistently remain in the first stage of denial.
Wearing rose-colored glasses prematurely and denying, minimizing, or writing off what happened; living in the past; or holding onto a version of someone we knew at the expense of their present self are all forms of being at odds with what is. This stage is important, and can take courage and vulnerability to challenge, particularly if you did not get a say in the ending or had a connection you were not ready to let go of.
2. Grieving as needed
“One taught me love, one taught me patience, and one taught me pain…”
Mourning the end of something, and providing space for yourself to do so, can feel contrary to the act of letting go. We often lack or can be disconnected from rituals that help us transition and navigate loss in its many forms, particularly compared to cultures that have traditions and patterns for working through endings of life, endings of seasons, and the natural order of change. Grieving can mean finding ways to channel, sit with, utilize, and eventually move through the emotions experienced, compared to avoiding, numbing, or trying to go around the emotions, often for fear of succumbing to what we may deem negative emotions. Feelings like sadness, anger, resentment, self-doubt, pain, etc., when pushed down, often tend to resurface in unexpected and compounding ways. Starting points for being able to give credence to, honor, and work with grief include:
- Journaling, poetry, and writing in its various forms
- Can include writing a letter to the former flame, although the purpose is to express emotions in a safe way (usually would not involve sending said letter)
- Making art, music, or something with our hands that sparks our creative energy
- Taking stock of moments and memories through photos, mementos, treasured objects, etc. that remind us of said connection or person
- And just as equally for some, getting rid of or putting out of sight these things in order to make space for the new & have a clean slate
- Exploring nature and being out in the world, whether walking through a forest or admiring the sunset from a porch – whatever allows us to be present and/or experience awe
- Talking with family, friends, loved ones, a therapist – anyone who can be our ‘safe port’ in the harbor and help us to navigate choppy waters
- Taking a risk. Trying something new. Joining a cooking class, going to a movie or dinner by ourselves or with friends, and reveling in novelty can help us to connect with the parts of us that have needs and desires still waiting to be explored
- Exploring our feelings, the way they are carried in our body, our beliefs about the feelings, and our tolerance for being able to feel them through, vs. ignoring or distracting from them – what are they telling us?
- Likewise, finding ways to move our body that assist with processing such as yoga, dance, walking, working out, martial arts, sports, etc.
- Meditation and/or mindfulness – cultivating stillness and exploring inward
- Reading, watching movies, listening to conversations, and taking in new perspectives as a means of getting context for our own narrative and stories
- Knowing that it is okay to not be okay, and softening blame towards ourselves and others through compassion and curiosity
- Whatever moves YOU… and more!
3. Expanding the story to include what we learned, and how this shapes us as a person
“Say I’ve loved and I’ve lost, but that’s not what I see.
So look what I got, look what you taught me.”
When we experience pain or feel like a victim, it can feel like things are happening to us that are beyond our control. If our past includes a history of trauma, abuse, put-downs, feeling less-than, etc., we can at times feel like we deserve what is happening, or that the things said to us reflect and are the truth of who we really are.
The gift and truth of who we are cannot emanate out to the world when we are mired with shame, nor when we are bitter with resentment and fighting against pain in a way that causes us to feel stuck for good.
If this is the case, that is okay – and it is okay to ask for help, to have someone hold your hand, and to share the burden of the pain so that you remember you are not alone. With time, love, and gentleness, there may be shifts and moments that highlight the ways that things can also happen for us — of being able to help us access awareness, empathy, forgiveness, authenticity, etc.
This can begin to help us to look at our experiences as something that has helped shape us into who we are, with all our strengths, flaws, gifts, and perfect imperfections, vs. serving as things to be held against us or something that makes us less than. Part of the work of becoming whole means getting familiar with the aspects of ourselves that we are not as comfortable with, and showing them the love that all of the parts of us deserve.
4. Channeling what we desired from someone else back to US!
“I got so much love, got so much patience, I’ve learned from the pain – I turned out amazing.”
Just because the relationship is severed does not mean we have to be cut off from the parts of us awakened from that connection. You valued that they made time for you, gave you foot rubs, and complimented and made you feel beautiful? YOU. STILL. CAN. HAVE. THOSE. THINGS. Single, dating, co-habitating, polyamorous, married – no matter – you have the opportunity to cultivate the things that fill your cup. You can make time for yourself and honor that priority (make a date with yourself on the calendar!), seek out services or self-care routines that pamper and restore you, and remind yourself how your beauty shines through when you see yourself in the mirror, and then watch your face light up when you mean and believe it.
Someone walking out or a connection in time ending is a transition that can jar us out of our current reality — and your needs as a person and human being still go on. Be your own advocate, be your best friend, and take note of what opportunities and people are brought into your life when you invest in following your happiness.
Whether your ‘dating years’ ahead mean looking for love in the world, fostering love in your current relationships, or re-connecting and falling in love with yourself again – when you are ready, you can send the universe a little, “Thank you, next!”
Coralie is now accepting new clients at Northstar Counseling Center beginning mid-March 2019.
**for those operating from this mindset – there is great diversity in regard to how people define their relationships, connections, sexuality, and fluidity in regard to monogamy vs. polyamory
Philip, A. and Smialek, J. (2017, September). More Americans delaying marriage past their 20s. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-14/more-americans- delaying-marriage-past-their-20s-new-data-show