Examining Old Relationship Patterns

Nothing prevents positive movement like wallowing in "what might have beens".

Posted Nov 08, 2011

Take a large piece of paper and make at least three columns, each headed with the name of a previous love or important person in your life. If there aren't three people in your past who fit, you might specify a might-have-been who captured your imagination like "my seatmate on the airplane to New York" or "my chiropractor's tennis partner." For each name on your list, number and answer briefly the following questions. When you are finished study your creation and see what patterns instantly catch /our eye. What can you learn from your own history about whom and where to seek and who and what looks prudent to avoid?

Question #1: Where and how did you meet?

The reason for researching where you have met other important people in your life is obvious when you have just had a failed relationship or might be in the market for a new one. If all your relationships began when you were in school and you're about to face the 20th anniversary of your graduation, you might begin by seeking another resource pool as productive as campus life, or start now making plans to attend your class reunion. If all your lovers turned out to be heavy drinkers, bars are probably not a good source of new potentials.

Question #2: Who initiated the relationship, and how?

This can be interpreted in whatever way suits your present purpose—who spoke first, who made the first social invitation for meeting again, or which of you made the first sexual move. You may notice that you're very good at speaking to attractive strangers but after that he or she must be the one to suggest getting together again. On the contrary, you might feel too reserved to initiate a conversation, but once that's done, enjoy being the sexual aggressor. If you see a pattern here of how you have operated before, ask yourself if you really want that pattern to continue. Even old dogs are capable of learning new tricks if they are rewarded for their efforts.

Question #3: What was your first impression of him/her?

In Hollywood movies he and she often loathed each other on first sight. Hepburn and Tracy or Harry and Sally squabble and bicker right up to the final clinch before fadeout. An opposite Hollywood myth is the sudden appearance of the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra springing into action the moment two strangers who will eventually become lovers first lock glances. Some people are eminently ignorable when you first meet, but then their sly sense of humor or unflagging good temperament begins to grow on you. Keep this in mind the next time you do a fast onceover of all the guests at a social event and then leave early because "there was nobody interesting there."

Question #4: What feature or quality first attracted you?

Your first impression and what initially attracted you may be the same trait or quality, but then they may be entirely different. You may always notice some particular personal sexual stimulant like green eyes or a deep throaty voice, and head immediately for their possessors. You may notice, also, that your track record for lasting relationships would win no awards. Could there be a clue for you in there somewhere?

Question #5: What was the best part of the relationship?

This question was not included so that you would wallow in misery, comparing your present state to happier times. Some people equate being in love with those euphoric first few days, weeks or months when the infatuated couple can't do enough for each other. They dress to the teeth for every meeting, and dazzle each other with presents and pretty phrases. Then, the first time he appears at the door in his at-home grubbies, or she snaps at you during a bout of PMS the romance is over. It's common enough in this age of disposable everythings that many people move on when a lover disappoints by no longer being a romantic ideal. If you've never hung around long enough to uncover the joys of middles of relationships, how could you suspect some even better parts might be around the corner?

I'm one of those whose "best part" comes after the first intense heat of a new romance. I love the part when one of us feels comfortable enough to phone at 10 PM and say "I just bought a quart of ice cream and would like some help in demolishing it. Wanna come over?" I adore lazy Sunday mornings lying around together uncombed and unkempt, sharing the newspaper and scattering croissant crumbs. I have no doubt that, in my rush to get to what for me is the best part, I have alienated a potential intimate or two whose preferred pace of conducting a relationship was much more formal.

There are people who actually like endings best. In the vernacular they're called "drama queens." The fights, the tears, the reconciliations that keep on happening until one person decides they won't any more, for some people that is the best part. Some define a romantic relationship by its drama content and don't feel they're having a real romance unless it's full of tempestuous passion. If they find another with the same style, the relationship can go on (and off and on and off) indefinitely.

Question #6: What didn't you like about her/him or the relationship?

Because needs and wants change, the very thing you didn't like in previous relationships might be precisely what you now seek. "He wanted to get too serious" or "She put so much emphasis on her career" might, at this point in your life, appear to be virtues. However, if the same personality quirk or behavior appears here for several of your previous relationships, take a long hard look to see how you contributed to this, even if in no other manner than by choosing those individuals. Three married lovers who wouldn't leave their spouses is too much of a coincidence for you to ignore.

Question #7: How long did the good part last?

Several One Week Wonders may be no more than bad luck. Also, romances of six months to a few years are nothing to berate yourself about, even if you were hoping for more. Those are considered "long-term" in some circles. Nonetheless, look again at your responses for #5 and compare yours here. If there seems to be a potential pattern, it might be a good idea to reassess your expectations about relationships.

Question #8: Who ended it and how?

The roles of the leaver and the one left both have their rewards. If you have consistently been cast in the same role, however, your viewpoint on this may be jaundiced. Leavers usually inflict pain on someone they cared about, still or at one time, and must endure their guilt. Those left, get the support of sympathetic friends and can play martyr, at least as long as that sympathy lasts. If there is a pattern here, you undoubtedly contributed to it and can learn from it... If you must play the same role in the future, at least you can perfect your style at it.

There is another potential pattern here that must be addressed as well. Sometimes there is no slamming door, no tearful parting words. He just never phones again or she doesn't return the last call and someone is left sitting there, thumb in mouth, wondering what went wrong.
It is my opinion that any relationship worthy of that name, be it a friendship or a marriage, deserves a decent burial. "We seem to be looking toward different objectives. You're a fine person and I hope you find what you're looking for," or "I've enjoyed our time together very much. I hope we can be friends in the future, but I don't want to see you for a while. It would be too painful for me."

My friend Ellen's longest friendship with a man, she confided in me, began shortly after he turned down her sexual overture. He refused her with such grace that she didn't feel rejected as a woman or as a human being. Instead, she said, she felt enormously appreciated. "I just was not his sexual type. He really meant that old chestnut about "just" being friends and I heard that he did, and responded in kind." Nobody likes to be refused, but Ellen learned a valuable lesson from the experience; not the least of which was how to refuse others under similar circumstances.

Question #9: Would you be willing to resume the relationship and is that possible?

Absolutely nothing prevents positive forward movement more than wallowing in "what might have beens" and "if onlys". However, I'll tell you a true story which illustrates the point of including this question.

The man who shares my heart, my life and my home today was a sweetheart of mine in my late teens and early twenties many many years ago. I rejected his offer of marriage not because I didn't care for him but because I was just not interested in such a commitment with a man I saw as an unambitious "vagabond poet". However I held a soft spot in my heart for him over the years. Two years ago he wrote to me letting me know of his latest book. I read it and responded enthusiastically. A correspondence ensued and the love affair was rekindled. He said later what motivated him to write after all that time was his desire to show me his accomplishments and perhaps redeem himself in my eyes.

If this exercise results in some Ah hahs! On your part or some fortuitous connection, please post here and let me know. Have a very good trip down Memory Lane.