Learning from mistakes vs. Moving on from the past
My question isn't specifically related to polyamory (although my own personal past & mistakes are), but this is the coolest forum I know for general dating-related topics and I think it's an interesting topic, so here goes:
Is there an easy way to distinguish between learning from your mistakes (growing wiser from your past experiences) and not moving on from the past (thinking too much about past experiences)?
A couple years ago I volunteered at a film festival (a new activity for me) as part of a personal campaign to go outside my comfort zone and meet new people to flirt with. I'm a shy person, had almost never flirted in my life.
I was bursting with confidence, in part because I was involved in a non-serious and infrequent way with three people I really liked and cared about (also a new thing for me). I was totally ready to do a LOT more dating than I'd ever done in my mostly-introverted life.
I went to the film festival determined to meet men and flirt with them. To my surprise, my plan actually worked. I met several men. One of them I even liked enough to spend most of the 3-day festival chatting with, and I asked him out for coffee the next week. (Only the second time in my entire life that I had ever met a stranger and asked him out).
So we went out for coffee. And it was awful. The guy came across as incredibly shy, awkward, and needy. He confessed that he was "too nervous to eat" because it had been so long since he'd ever dated anyone. I got the impression he had maybe never had a girlfriend in his life. He also turned out to be 10 years older than I had guessed--40s instead of 30s (I was 27 at the time).
He made weird comments when I discussed my dating circumstances and my desire not to get serious with anyone. Our one afternoon of coffee was awkward and there was no physical contact between us. But then he kept calling me and sending me weird, incoherent, emotional emails. When I called him to tell him that I was sorry but I didn't feel "a spark" for dating him and I just wanted to be friends, he started constantly asking me to do "friend" activities.
I very foolishly did attempt to be platonic friends with him--ignoring my inner "creepy vibe" and telling myself that he was an interesting and nice person who didn't deserve to be dropped from my life. But finally I had to cut off all contact with him--but I felt really guilty about it. He was so sad and I felt so sorry for him. By the end of the whole ordeal, about 2 stressful months had passed.
So, an interesting learning experience. The mistake I made was feeling guilty about his loneliness and not severing contact sooner. That's definitely something I have a problem with.
However, I also spent a lot of energy beating myself up over this. I felt guilty for deliberately going out to flirt with people. I felt like I led this poor guy on and ended up breaking his heart. For a long time I never did another "outside my comfort zone" activity or went anywhere with the express plan to flirt with men. "I'll never do THAT again!" was what I told myself.
I spent energy wondering why I hadn't been able to "screen" this guy's desperation and creepiness even after several hours of talking during the festival. I spent energy wondering why I attracted only the creepiest, loneliest loser guys. I spent energy wondering where I could go to meet "normal" men but not actually going anywhere.
For a long time, I was afraid to try dating new people because I was terrified that I would once again ask a guy for coffee and break his heart.
In retrospect, the incident was kind of a fluke--a really bad date, no big deal. (And now I know that the simple solution of online dating screens out people who can't write coherent sentences).
But rather than learn from it and move on, I spent a lot of energy overthinking and wondering what was "wrong" with me that put me in that situation. I had a lot of guilt about my foray into flirting and felt like I shouldn't do it again.
But really, I should have kept up my plan of meeting new people and flirting as much as possible (which isn't much! I'm a happy introvert!) because that would have taught me more about people and dating than sitting at home punishing myself for crossing paths with a weirdo.
So that's the kind of thing I mean. Why do I overthink things and punish myself rather than just moving on?
I guess this applies to other things besides dating, but that's where it seems the most obvious and important.
However, I also know people who never seem to learn anything from their experiences and keep doing the same stupid things, often hurting people they care about, etc. They certainly don't dwell on their pasts--even though they probably should.
What's the difference?
I`ve been on two awkward dates that I remember. The first one, I actually cut short. I told my date flat out, that I don`t enjoy dates, and that we had to go. Funny enough, we talk to this day, she likes me and respects me for that. But, we just get physically intimate at wildly different paces. And we did kiss.
In the last one, I think I came across as your guy. Probably. But I squared it off, that night. Sent her a text asking her if she was interested. She evaded the issue, saying she "doesn`t always go out with people for that." So...it looks like the awkwardness wasn`t entirely my fault, after all. We did not talk after that.
I think I`ve learned my lesson. First of all, I won`t date because that`s what "women want." Of course, I never enjoyed a single date in my life, but I felt that`s what I had to do in order to be intimate with a woman. So, these days I absolutely let my "dates" know that it`ll last 25-45 minutes tops. Central location, we pick up some tea, and then move on. Back when I was dating, I had a couple of successes with that formula. Of course, I began facing more awkwardness in bed with people I had just met. But, I kind of prefer that awkwardness to datesy awkwardness, if awkward it must be.
You come across as a little judgmental of someone who`s basically got similar personality traits (other than the incoherent language:D) to yourself.
It makes me think you are trying to distance yourself from him, and perhaps you beat yourself up because you feel deep down you had a hand in it. Although, you write as if the awkwardness was a one-way street.
I`m going out with a poly girl next week. Part of me is panicky, part of me entirely comfortable with her. She`s even shier than me, but she did take the initiative to ask me out. I just hope she can also take physical initiative (or, respond to physical initiative) otherwise it`ll be the same as my second awkward date, in which touch becomes the elephant in the room. I`m extremely fast when it comes to physical intimacy, and I don`t think she`s quite as fast.
I have to remember that I can always communicate my desires without actually doing anything, and that the elephant in the room is under my control regardless of how she behaves.
This reminds me of an introductory psychology course I'm taking. In one lecture the teacher explained how you might eat a chocolate cupcake, then come down with the flu, and then stop eating cupcakes.
I think the important thing to do is analyse the situation and separate between what you did right and what you did wrong. What you should keep doing and what you should avoid.
It seems to me, going to that festival was a good idea, and asking the guy out was a good idea - you couldn't know how it would turn out until you tried.
However, staying in an uncomfortable situation because you were afraid of hurting his feelings was the bad idea.
I know what it's like to feel guilty because you feel like you "lead someone on". You didn't. You acted interested because you WERE interested. Then he started making you uncomfortable, for whatever reason. Don't force yourself to interact with people that give you the creeps.
He might be an awesome guy, but even moreso if he is, he doesn't deserve a pity friendship. It would never have led anywhere, you had to break things off at some point, and the longer you waited, the worst it would have been
You might think it's nice not to reject someone flat out, but the more hope you give someone, the more they create feelings and attachment and the more crushed they are when you finally do reject them.
As much as it would have disappointed him, after the date turned out terribly you should have told him it just wasn't working, and if he kept contacting you, that he was contacting you too much.
You need to be assertive about what you want. You know what you comfort level is, other people do not, and it's good to let them know. It is respectful to them, for respectful than leading them on - which you didn't do at the festival, but you did with the friendship.
Someday he'll meet someone and it won't be awkward when they date, or it will be but they'll laugh about it and want to see each other again. If he needs to be more confident, you might think that turning him down would hurt, but dragging it on hurts more.
As for not wanting to take risks anymore: sometimes risks don't pay off, and we get hurt. We ask someone out we like and they say no. We try something new and something bad happen. We need to dissociate between the bad consequence and what we did. If you want someone to eventually say yes, you need to keep asking people. If you want to experience new things, you need to try new things.
There isn't always a clear-cut answer. It takes introspection to decide between what we should learn from and what we should brush aside and try again.
Your post, Meera, reminds me of this woman I recently met. She and I just started talking at Starbuck's last week, so I don't know her that well, but she was embroiled in this drama with a guy she was seeing.
Basically, she was upset that he was traveling alot and not informing her of his schedule, even though she had asked him many times to synch up his calendar with hers so she would at least know when she could see him. When he first went out of town, he had said he wanted to fly up to NYC from where he was to see her every weekend. He never got around to doing that, nor letting her know his schedule, yet kept sending her lovey dovey messages without acknowledging her requests. She said they had an argument when he told her he would still be out of town for another month, which prompted her to tell him she was losing interest. They'd been apart for five weeks at that point, and the relationship was only four months along.
Still, he kept doing what he was doing, being vague about his plans, sending her "love you, miss you" texts and not even letting her know he had to take another trip. She finally called him and asked him to check his calendar right then and there and tell her when she would see him. He told her his calendar was on his Blackberry and he couldn't switch from talking to her on it to viewing his calendar, so he would check it and call her back later the same day. He never did. So, feeling dismissed and unimportant, she broke up with him.
Here is the part that you reminded me of: after breaking it off, all she kept telling me every time I saw her (and to every person she filled in on the latest development) was a lament about how she always picks narcissistic self-involved men, and why does she always ignore the red flags when she sees them, and how come her judgment is still so bad after all these years (she's 65 and been married three times) that she attracts such self-centered men. And so on. I told her that she should pat herself on the back for standing up for herself, and for not letting the relationship drag on any longer when it was so unsatisfying. For a few minutes, she would listen to me raptly and then say, "That's a good way to look at it," but then another acquaintance came in, or a friend called her, and I heard her continue to beat herself up. "What's wrong with me? Why don't I know better? Why do I always ignore the signs?" Oh, how easy and seductive it is to feel sorry for ourselves. That's really what all that beating up we do on ourselves is about: self-pity.
Tangled up in all that is the logic we learned when young, which becomes a habit we adhere to even many years later. When I was in the first grade, I decided I wanted to be a nurse when I grew up. Why? Because I saw an illustration in a book of two nurses walking in their uniforms through a park, and one of them had her sweater over her shoulders, held on with sweater clips. I really wanted sweater clips so I could wear my sweaters like that, so I decided to be a nurse. That was my child-mind logic. We all make decisions like that. We think, Mommy and Daddy were fighting after I got a bad grade, so if I get all A's they will never fight again. We've seen the evidence, so we believe it must be true. So, here you are thinking, this weirdo was bothering me because I went out specifically to flirt, and that was bad, so if I never flirt again, it will keep the weirdos away.
But you asked:
Look, you already have this awareness about the pattern of thinking you have learned, all you need do is keep on examining and asking yourself questions about whether you are acting based on what's happening in the present or on belief systems you established in the past. And when you find yourself going back to join that pity party, like my new friend who keeps getting upset with herself about the men she picks rather than acknowledging herself for taking a stance, don't go there. When we pay attention to the bullshit we lay on ourselves, the remedies for it are usually very simple.
OK, so here's a suggestion, which you can see whether it works for you or not...
At any particular point in life you make the best decision you can, given the information that you have. The result may or may not turn out to be a desirable one.
The goal of "learning from your mistakes" is not to beat yourself up with "if I'd only known.." or "Why didn't I..." type statements. The goal is to get more information based on your experience, so that when you put yourself in a similar situation in future you have better information upon which to base future decisions.
You made a good list in your original post about the various things you did. Go through them and label each "I did this right" or "I probably shouldn't have done that, knowing what I know now". Try to come up with what you think you would do differently that may cause a different, more desirable outcome.
Do that analysis and take this all on-board and then try again, and don't obsess over other things. You both went into this as adults, knowing that there was a chance it wouldn't work out. If HE can't move on, then that's respectfully not your problem, but his.
I don't ignore the fear - fear is useful and should be respected. But I try to figure out the underlying issue. Usually once I have sorted that out, then I can live with the fear and I often choose to go forward with whatever was freaking me out. And often, whatever I feared turns out not to be a big deal and the fear evaporates.
Asking if I am acting mostly out of fear also reduces feeling regretful for me. I usually feel regret about situations where I acted out of fear. If I reduce the incidents where that happens, then I have fewer feelings of regret in life which is a very good thing as far as I am concerned. Addressing and acknowledging my fears is one reason why I'm not someone who dwells or obsesses much.
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