Every time someone breaks your heart, or you break theirs, or a tragic mix of both, it’s easy to think that all of the effort and energy you both put in—a week, a year, a decade—was a waste of time. But no matter what your relationship was like, chances are you learned something. In fact, I’m pretty damn sure you took some nugget of truth away from your ex or what you shared, whether it was something positive, negative or just plain honest.
So I posed this question to our writers, and I ask the same of you: What’s one thing you learned from an ex-girlfriend?
Grace Chu: My exes taught me not to compromise on my standards, no tea no shade.
Chloe: My exes taught me:
Dara Nai: Just having exes teaches you a bunch of stuff. What kind of person you are. What your deal-breakers are and what you can let go. How to live with someone without killing each other. But the one thing I learned that really stuck with me is this: Check the house to make sure no one is home before deciding to take a shower together.
Marcie Bianco: This is such a loaded question….here’s my loaded response: What my “exes” have taught me is that sex is non-negotiable; it is quintessential to the life force of a relationship, and to intimacy in particular. This means that I can’t deal with all that “queer identity politics” rubbish in bed, which, frankly, means I can’t deal with “queer people” in bed. (i.e. I am a lesbian in that I am a woman who wants to be with another woman.) I agree with Chuey in that I’ve learned not to compromise my standards; as well, in terms of self-worth, I’ve learned that being physically and emotionally abused is not OK, and that I’m a fucking superstar.
Valerie Anne: I learned to be brave; to tell someone how you feel before it’s too late, to stand up for yourself when you’re not being treated right, to say goodbye when it’s time. And that if you’re too embarrassed to introduce them to your friends (or worse, embarrassed after you do) it’s probably a bad sign. I say “learned” but I’ve been single for quite some time now, and I imagine these lessons will fade as fast as the ones from my high school physics class (exhibit a: the bruise on my hip from where I misjudged a corner and walked into a desk).
Jill Guccini: Nobody—whether it be an ex-girlfriend, an ex-friend, or just an acquaintance who isn’t worth your time—should make you feel like you’re a bad person, or selfish, or wrong, or not smart enough, or anything less than worthy of goodness and light. Someone who loves you should be able to point out your flaws, but love you for them—not manipulate with them, not try to change them. They should make you feel like you are awesome, special, and beautiful, and that you always have been and always will be—no hesitation, no doubt.
Ali Davis: Offering your whole heart to someone can get you hurt like nothing you’ve ever felt before. But turning yourself into a person who can offer her whole heart to someone is worth that risk.
Eboni Rafus: My high school sweetheart introduced me to Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. An ex-girlfriend showed me the difference between camping and “glamping” and proved to me that, although I have no desire to sleep on the ground, cook over a camp fire or carry my own poop in bags,“glamping” can be fun—especially if it’s done amongst the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
Yet, the best gift an ex has ever given me, are the lessons I learned about relationships after ours was over. I could write a long essay on this topic, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll narrow it down to three main concepts:
Karman Kregloe: I learned that when their ex tells you “She’s your problem now!” it’s probably true!
Dana Piccoli: I learned the importance of a good love letter. To never pass up an opportunity to kiss in a photobooth. That a well-crafted mix CD (RIP) can open up my world to music I’d never thought I’d love. To not be an asshole who just disappears when I can’t deal. To open up my heart time and time again, even if it meant I needed a dustpan and broom to gather all the pieces. To forgive. Oh, the blessing of forgiveness.
Lucy Hallowell: OK, so I’m the weirdo who has zero ex-girlfriends. The closest thing I’ve got is a girl I was stupidly, impossibly in love with in high school. She taught me that under the right circumstances I am a tolerable human being and that girls really like it when you bring them hot chocolate chip cookies.
Jenna Lykes: Well, Lucy, I guess we’re both weirdos… I’m probably going to sound like a bit of a freak here, but I don’t really have any exes. (Let’s just chalk it up to being a late bloomer and then meeting my soon-to-be wife at the age of 20, OK?) However, my one semi-ex from college (“semi” because I maintain that we were never really dating) helped me realize the importance of getting out of my own head every once in a while.
Heather Hogan: My first girlfriend taught me like a zillion lifehacks you can do with ice cube trays. She was a savant with those things. Like, OK, if you freeze red wine and white wine in little cubes and then store then in (separate) Ziploc bags in the freezer, you’ll always have wine on hand for cooking. And if you crumble up Oreos and freeze them in little blocks with milk, you can put those cubes in coffee for one of the most delicious treats of all time. You can freeze herbs in olive oil for amazing seasoning cubes, homemade tomato sauce cubes for soups and sauces, Jell-O shots with real fruit. If you freeze your fruit into cubes, your smoothies will be thicker and more delicious. (Also good for frozen cocktails that aren’t watered down and look super cool.) You can make little mini-popsicles with real fruit and mini layered cheesecakes. You can freeze chocolate and add it to regular milk! She also taught me that if someone is a dick about your favorite TV shows, you’re doomed.
p.s. Confidence is sexy. That’s an important condition to be aware of, always.
Erika Star: Time and time again, my exes remind me of the relationship golden rule: The only thing better than dating is being single.
Elaine Atwell: Oh goodness, my relationship with my ex taught me everything. In my pursuit of her (which took years. Literally, years.) I learned that your heart knows things that the rest of you can’t understand, but that the expression “follow your heart” is dangerous, because your heart will lead you up the steep side of a mountain on your hands and knees. I also learned that Domino’s will deliver pizza to the wall outside a girl’s house while you wait for her to come home so you can tell her you love her.
In our actual relationship I learned that the best romantic gestures are the little things, that meteor showers never start on time, and that you are capable both of giving another person great joy and of causing them great pain. I started to learn what it meant to be responsible for someone besides myself, but I don’t think I’ve finished learning that yet.
At the end, I learned the hard way that someone else can pour love and faith on you but it’s no substitute for doing the hard work of earning love and faith in yourself. Also, if you’re going to hide your diary, HIDE IT GOOD.
Even now, I still feel like I’m learning from her. The last time we talked she told me “if you’re not doing something that terrifies you, then what are you doing with your life, really?” And I was like “Goddamn it, you know me so well.”
Trish Bendix: I learned that no matter how many things you have in common, and how much of your life you want to share, you have to keep some things for yourself. You are your own person and so is she. Don’t let that change or you’ll both lose yourselves.
Also, I need someone who can cook.
What did you learn from your ex?