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?
Single, straight, female, solo, non-monogamous.