#19 Remembering all you’ve learned from old boyfriends and girlfriends

Your life is a pinball.

Shooting up high you start bouncing between bumpers and fly between flippers which smack you every which way. Your life soars and crashes in ways you can’t predict. First loves with teenage girls, secret kisses in college worlds, all shape your heart and who you are today.

Curled in shaggy basement carpets and cushions in front of the record player your boyfriend carefully drops the needle on a worn album and you listen while making out in front of the Lava Lamp. Big brown speakers crackle and pop with simple harmonies that never leave your heart.

Cramped in a rusty hatchback in an snowy parking lot at midnight you stall your girlfriend’s car for the sixth straight time. “Let go of the clutch a little softer … ,” she suggests, as you slowly learn how to drive standard, and slowly learn how much patience helps you along.

Lazily lying in bed on Sunday morning with sunbeams softly shining across his sleeping face, you realize how much you needed to let yourself go … and start trusting someone again. Now it’ll be easier the next time.

Stop and give yourself time to flash back.

To all the relationships you were in … that ended before today.

Maybe your boyfriend went to college and stopped calling every day or your fiance got cold feet and suddenly moved away. Maybe he got drunk and kissed another girl or you got a passport and started seeing the world. Maybe filling the nest flipped your lives or emptying the nest flopped it. Or maybe you were in a relationship where you couldn’t really explain it but smiled sad smiles with weary wet eyes because you both just knew it was over.

But no matter where you were, no matter where you went, your life was shaped by those you met along the way. First loves may have helped you strive for a more optimistic life, helped you share laughs with strangers on sidewalks, or have kickstarted a lifelong quest for more and more passionate work.

There’s no papers showing how you look at love and no papers that say much about living. There’s no papers showing how you learned to pack a mean trunk, sing onstage at the bar, and make those over-easy eggs with enough drizzly yolk for dipping.

Lost loves, long loves, long gone … sometimes last forever in your heart.

And it’s okay to miss relationships. It’s okay to look back. Don’t be afraid of exploring that heart and flipping through that dusty deck of cards in your head as they photo-flash images from your beautiful life. Like they say, it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. So feel those memories of past loves, smile at the good times you’ve shared, and remember all the pieces of you that came from somebody who cared.

Those memories and those moments make us richer, make us wiser, make us better, and make us us.

This one’s for everyone who helped make you


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80 thoughts on “#19 Remembering all you’ve learned from old boyfriends and girlfriends

  1. This was an absolutely beautiful post! … Although, I AM having trouble telling the difference between being moved by the power of the writing, and being moved by the poignancy of the number “19”.

    Seriously though, “19”? When the heck did that happen?!

        1. Reckon we could all start something similar? In memory of 1000 Awesome Things…?

          I think it’d be nice if Neil didn’t mind. I don’t think any of us would do it for profit, other than for our own emotional and mental health and well-being… Maybe make a hash tag (#tag) for twitter or a tag for Tumblr…? It’s certainly something to think about.

  2. owch. thanks for making me almost cry (awesome tears! of awesome memories, I promise!) right before bedtime. But yes, this is so, so awesomely right.

    [getting to like Bjork; reading José Saramago for the first time; learning the medical reason why you always wake up early in the morning after a night of drinking; exploring a Shakespeare festival in Canada. thank you for reminding me of these things, and why they still matter.]

    1. now i’m curious…what IS the medical reason why you always wake up early after a night of drinking??

      1. For me it’s because I’m dehydrated and my body wakes me up at 8 a.m going “hey, hey bro, you need water, wake the hell up and get some water OR YOU WILL DIE BRO.”

      2. basically, the alcohol makes your body shut down, which tricks it into thinking you’re sleeping. but you don’t go through any complete REM cycles, so you aren’t actually sleeping, in the medical sense. Which means you wake up more easily, and usually feel super tired and go back to sleep, since you weren’t really sleeping the first time.

        –courtesy of my med-student ex-boyfriend!

  3. If it weren’t for my ex boyfrend, I wouldn’t be with my husband today.
    When him & I broke up – My now husband was the first one there for me.
    he rang me every day to make sure I was ok. He wasn’t worried about my ex – even though he is his cousin. He knew I’d take it hard & I did.
    If it weren’t for him picking me up when I was down, then we wouldn’t have became best friends for years. & Then if we weren’t best friends, then I wouldn’t have asked him to my yr 12 formal. & If I hadn’t of done that, then we wouldn’t have gone out for two years & end up married.
    I’m glad my ex & I broke up. I’m glad things are over between us. & I’m glad I am with my now husband :)
    (oh & btw just so you know… there is no tension what so ever between my husband & my ex – His cousin! We all get along great now & he is actually getting married soon too!)

  4. These just keep getting awesomer and awesomer. I don’t know what I’ll do when this count down is over. This one is such a good one. Ex’s teach us so much, they help us find our way. This is seriously one of my favorites. I love your optimism and how you look at life. It’s Awesome.

  5. I try to look at my failed marriage and past relationships as learning experiences, but sometimes strong negative emotions make that difficult. Thanks for the reminder and thanks to past loves for the many gifts I still carry with me. Very cool.

    1. I’m divorced and I just use those awful memories as great reminders of what I don’t want. So many times we have a list of what we want in a mate, well guess what? I bet you and I have a nice list of what we DON’T want too. Makes dating easier and quicker I’ve found. I can spot someone who’s just going to be a good time and make sure I don’t waste any feelings on them and just enjoy the moment while it lasts. It gets better.

      1. Yes, if nothing else you do learn what you don’t want. My marriage was terrible and I honestly didn’t get anything good from him, but it just helps me realize how lucky I am to be with my current boyfriend. He’s everything I wanted and nothing I didn’t want, and I appreciate him so much more having been through the hell that was my marriage. He’s in the process of divorce from an abusive marriage right now, and he appreciates me for the same reason. Trixierix is right; it DOES get better. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? :)

  6. This is hands Duden my favorite post on here in a long time. I found myself flipping through that photo album in my head as I was reading along. So many memories and so many factors have shaped me into the person I am today. I feel like tonight is going to be fantastic as I delve back into these memories for a bit.

      1. I, for one, approve of “hands Duden”. Sounds like there would be a great story behind it. Just what was Duden doing with his/her hands? ;)

        1. Agreed: Duden is a cool word! It could be a new contaction, minus the apostrophe…down + dude = DUDEN! Mind if I start using it? Don’t worry, I’ll credit you. “Hands Duden, that was the best night of my life!!! BTW, that Hands Duden is Kyle Marcellus’s creation.” Duden + Kyle = Awesome! :)

          1. Well looky here…
            Definition for duden:
            Web definitions:
            The Duden is a German dictionary, first published by Konrad Duden in 1880..

    1. Lurker for 2 months now and I had to comment. Duden make laugh. I love made up word between friends or family that keep on after the inaugural saying. How you Duden?

          1. Ok, I didn’t even know where to place this comment, but I need to make it known that I seriously laughed out loud at this whole exchange. Oh, these moments are ones I will miss.

            1. Me too! I just made that initial “duden” comment, and then trotted off, not realizing all the other great responses! Hey, Hans Duden, how you duden?

              Reminds me of this cute family story – when my grandfather, Adderley Durley, was courting his wife-to-be, her small nephew saw him coming up the walk in his best clothes to take her out, and called out “Here comes Addoley Dooly, all doodledied up!”

  7. LOL you people are turning suicidal over the end of this blog. I think you all need to just chill and get a hobby or something..

    1. Troll this site doesn’t need haters! Who are you, and how dare you invade our safe space!

      I said this in the previous post, but considering I was late in posting my response, I fear it may have gone largely unread, so I’m going to post it again, mainly because of you Troll, you’ve tipped me over the edge…

      It is truly overwhelming how many bloggers predict their suffering once number 1 is over with…neil we all owe that to you. With a heavy heart, I too will have to cope without these daily inspirations. But fear not my fellow friends, the sun will continue to rise each day as it has every other day, and life will go on, IT MUST GO ON… We all know that we are better people for the joy neil’s post have brought into our lives and I truly feel blessed to have been able to share this site with you all (EXCEPT FOR TROLL). And the love and inspiration that this site has provided me with has transcended into the lives of every1 I come into contact with, there’s no denying that it has shaped me into the person I am today :-) I’m sure there are many others out there that will know what I’m taking about, because they have felt it too :-)) What worries me a tiny bit is that there are so many people out there that don’t even know about the revolution that is 1000awesomethings.com imagine how much more of a better place the world could be if more people were aware of this site. There’d be more awesomeness in this world thats for sure! Good morning everyone have a pleasant day and don’t forget to smell the roses… ummm Neil have we already had that as awesome thing???? If not, i think it’s important that it’s on the list…

        1. already did! i’m at 575, but i’m stuck in a rut – i’m trying not to repeat things Neil has already done. there are a lot of awesome things out there; now it’s up to us to uncover and discover and share them.

          also – at least Troll is self-aware as to his/her role on this site!

          1. That’s a lot of awesome things! I have no doubt that you’ll be able to come up with at least 425 more. :)

          2. I have a list as well! But some I have suggested for this blog and have been used. I am even starting putting something awesome in my personal blog . Just a little something that happened the day before with my kids or something. I did it a few months a go on it, but I slowly lost track of it, but am doing it again. Today’s awesome thing on my blog is ‘dancing kids’

            1. I read my page-a-day Calendar of Awesome to my kids in my class everyday and then we think of our own for the day. They LOVE the awesomes.

      1. Shy guy: “there’s no denying that it has shaped me into the person I am today” — Really… Shy guy.. I’m starting to question your sexuality, I think you really need to take up a hobby..

        1. Through his blog, Neil has inspired moments of optimism and happiness for so many of us that constantly look forward to his awesome posts. He’s made a difference to out lives… What have you done Troll?

          There is no room on such a precious forum for bullying, so Troll, unless you’ve got something kind to say, please refrain from replying in future.

          Question my sexuality all you like… I don’t know why would you waste your time with it though…Thank you and have an awesome life away from this site!

          And hugs to Lizzy & Kathy :) Thanks for having my back girls :))

          1. Well said, shy guy. Thanks for being mature and classy. Troll is the one who needs to take up a hobby (besides insulting people while hiding behind an anonymous name on the Internet).

    2. We’re just having fun with it, Troll. It’s our way of expressing our gratitude and affection for Neil’s monumental effort, as well as our anguish at losing something/someones we’ve all come to love so dearly. The blog and the books are a smashing success and we all enjoy them tremendously. It’s been a good long run (imagine even envisioning 1000 things back at the start! I’d have probably thought, “Eh, let’s go with 100”) and I appreciate Neil’s efforts over all of this time. We’ll all be fine after #1, come what may. We’re just expressing our love!

  8. tonight i was about to google my ex and his new wife (hadn’t done that in a while and yes i know it’s stalkerish) – something which always makes me feel sad. but instead i thought “no, i’m tired of making myself sad when i know that’s what will happen.” instead i decided to check this website. when i read the title of the post, it made me cry – it was so appropriate and exactly what i needed tonight.
    thank you!

  9. I have had boyfriends come and go and I can’t really say that I learned that much from them. I learned not to date a psycho that you met on a blind date set up by your best friends mom. I learned how to deal with hearache with my first boyfriend. I learned how to remain friends with exes…all except one.. the psycho of course. I was close with all my exes until my last ex (Justin) and I broke up. I introduced all my exes to him since I was friends with all of them still. Then after our breakup, he got to keep them as friends. I can say that I learned quite a lot from Justin. He taught me how to roll a bowling ball the right way. He helped me learn to drive. He taught me how to tune a guitar. He gave me my first child. He taught me how to stand up for myself, in the many fights that we would have after we broke up.
    I met hubby while I was still dating Justin. Hubby was the first one there when Justin and I broke up.

    1. we are so much more alike then I ever thought!
      like I said above – my now hubby was there for me too when me & my ex broke up! :)

  10. The awesome thing about this post for me, is that it reminds me that all of the hurts, disappointments and memories in love are also what helps us learn and shapes our lives. Sometimes it even leads to you being primed to be in the best position to recognise and accept real love when in it finally comes along.

  11. For some reason I refuse to believe most people look back at their relationships that have crashed and burned and treasure the wisdom they recovered from the wreckage. But maybe that’s just me…
    Still, it’s a hopeful thought – and the world needs all the hope it can get, these days, right?

    1. In the immediate aftermath, no, you usually can’t look at it that way. Only when enough time passes that the emotions no longer cloud our vision can we truly see what we’ve learned and be thankful for those lessons, even the hard ones. I had a painful marriage in which I was so depressed that I lost all hope and wanted to die. Going through that was horrible, but now that I’m past it I see how much I learned about myself and about relationships. My current relationship is better that it could have been had I not gone through that.

    2. Before this post – I didn’t. I hated thinking about them. But it has helped to change my attitude, so instead of being bitter about it, I’ve decided that it’s a live and learn thing… Glad I went through it and learned a lesson from it. Know’m sayin? :P

  12. Great post, Neil! I love the picture of the two kids at the prom. I would love to know their story. Are they still together? If not, they must think about each other often. It’s amazing how every relationship in our lives becomes a chapter in our life book. We can’t tear it out and pretend it never happened, but we can make the most out of it and learn from the experience. On a different note: I love the part about the girl teaching her boyfriend how to drive a stick. My husband knows A LOT about how to work on cars, but he didn’t know how to drive a stick until he started dating me. Now he drives a 5 speed diesel.

  13. you entered this on my birthday, and just today an ex mailed saying he was sorry :) it felt so weird to read the mail, and then read this :) it made my birthday :)

  14. This, I think, is my favourite post ever. I wouldn’t have Greek coffee, records, Australia and New Orleans if it wasn’t for a couple guys from the past. *snif* little teary-eyed there…

    1. One of my old boyfriends taught me that it was okay not to be so agreeable. I had self esteem issues and would often agree with people just to fit in. He actually encouraged me to dissent! Now I feel a lot more comfortable going against the grain in conversations with others. The relationship only lasted a few months, but it had a huge positive impact on me.

  15. I do agree with you as I am still friends with 2 of my past boyfriends. No more romantic connections with them but they have been some of my greatest supporters besides my family and husband (who I’ve been with me for 26 years).

  16. “Or maybe you were in a relationship where you couldn’t really explain it but smiled sad smiles with weary wet eyes because you both just knew it was over” – brought back all good memories, in a heartbeat. First love is always hard to forget, somehow. Its been 14 years since we parted ways but few gestures of his still make me go weak in my knees. He loved my imperfections…and thats what was unique about him. “We’re all a little weird. And life is weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness, and call it love, true love.” ~ Robert Fulghum

  17. AWESOME post! Thanks for reminding me that there is/was a world beyond deadlines/dirty dishes/cranky Grandmother who tries to CONSUME my life/sometimes lazy children/dirty laundry/ants under my microwave/and a husband who started smoking again…and, of course, I could go on ad nauseum. Your post was a breath of fresh air in a very congested, less than romantic DAY/life at present! :)


  18. What a good and thought-provoking post! I’ve said it often, but I’ll say it again: it’s no surprise, considering your naturally amazing gift for capturing emotions and putting them perfectly into words.

    As with many things in life, it’s so easy to see the bad in things — particularly those that don’t seem to have any good. You’ve shown us once again that good things, nay – awesome things! – are everywhere!

  19. This is something I’ve had a really hard time doing. My first love was very intense and i thought I’d never love again. Now I know I will, but I think I will never love anyone the way I loved him. Hopefully, future breakups won’t be as bad as the one I went through last year, but at least I can say that I made it and “rose from ashes” (it was a really low point in my life). Now I can look back and think about the relationship without feeling any remorse, regrets or sadness. It has transformed me in many ways and made me who i am today. Your blog is great and I wish I’d known in when I was going through my depression last year. It ‘s the little things that make life worthwhile and your blog is the epitome of this. Thanks a lot, I just ordered your book, cannot wait to get it in the mail!

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