Mostly Mensch: Ghosts of Dating Past

Smoke imageEbenezer Scrooge and I have something in common (other than a shared grumpiness many mornings)—we’ve both been visited by three ghosts. Mine just happen to be far more attractive and appear at various, sundry, and seemingly random periods throughout the year.

“The Ghost of Long-Term Relationships Past” appears as a woman I dated for a year and a half. She was the first woman that I knew for certain I was in love with, but it did not end particularly well (for me). Three months after she broke up with me, she was engaged. While the pain of that relationship stayed with me for quite some time, a visit from this ghost takes me down memory lane with my long-term girlfriends and helps me recognize that I know what it takes to maintain a relationship when I remain patient, allow things to develop at a reasonable pace, and have a woman at my side who is committed to us as I am. I’m also reminded of the level of vulnerability, communication and constant care needed to maintain the relationship, but also of the amazing benefits of that work. There are always moments and decisions that haunt me if I let them, but in my long-term relationship experiences, I tend to see more positives to take away.

“The Ghost of Short-Term Relationships Past” can appear under many faces. This ghost is a reminder of many of the silly things that I’ve done over the years on my first dates—like telling someone that I think she might be a perfect match for me, or trying to cozy up before it was appropriate because I knew an ex was in the restaurant—as well as reminding me of some of the things that women can do to scare me off. Like telling me on a first date that our children should have my eyes or waiting for me outside of work after a date or two. I’ve made a lot of stupid mistakes over the years when it comes to dating: Moving too fast. Putting my foot in my mouth. Saying things that I think my date would want to hear as opposed to how I truly feel. Making snap judgments about a person based on very few details. Dating can be a frustrating proposition, but this ghost reminds me to not put so much pressure on myself and on the situation. The woman sitting across from me could be the one. She might not be the one. But either way, there’s a reason that I’m sitting across the table from her—the two of us want to get to know each other. So letting that happen—without instant judgment and assumptions, without jumping ahead to what may or may not be, without worrying about the next move—makes all the difference in the world.

“The Ghost of Opportunities Passed” appears as a woman from years ago that I was crazy about, pursued a bit, but never followed up on. This was a woman whom I regretted for a long time not being more persistent with, as it seemed like there was something there. Years later, we no longer socialize in the same circles and don’t see each other anymore. This ghost leaves me to wonder, “What if?” And there have been others along the way in a similar boat—people whom I really liked, but thought they were out of my league, I was too shy to reveal my feelings, or was unsure enough about to risk an existing friendship. So they’re opportunities passed by. And they’re the ones that hurt the most because I never gave them a chance to develop. Moving forward, I think that this is the easiest ghost to stop providing new material to. She reminds me I won’t have any dates with women I don’t ask out. There will likely be some “no”s along the way, but I’m optimistic that I will get my share of “yes” responses as well if I take the chance to ask the question.

At different times, all of these ghosts have haunted me and made me miserable. But as time goes on and I get used to them (and their visits get more and more infrequent), I remember to take these visits as instructive rather than destructive. There are plenty of things in my past that I regret, that I wish I’d handled differently, that I know were downright thoughtless. But when I can turn those negatives into learning scenarios and find the positives and the things that I’ve done well along the way, I can move forward a more informed and smarter man.

Readers, are there situations from your past that haunt you occasionally? How do you handle your ghosts?