Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last month, you probably have heard Ariana Grande’s new hit “Thank U, Next” a painfully catchy tune highlighting her appreciation for her exes and everything they have taught her in order to become a better person today. Rather than bashing the men of her past, she painted them in a more positive light and shared how they helped her grow, which I can’t help but see as a refreshing and grown-up thing to do.
To be completely honest, hearing this song had me thinking about my exes for the first time in quite a while and what they have contributed to help shape me into the person I am today. Because as much as we hate to admit it, even if we have found our way into a happy and healthy relationship, every one of our exes have somehow played some kind of role in the way we approach relationships, both with new people and even ourselves.
I felt so inspired by this method of showing appreciation and positivity towards those in our past that I decided this week I wanted to reflect on three lessons I learned from three of my exes, and also throw in one massive lesson I have learned from my fiancé.
The One Who Taught Me Self-Worth
Some relationships are more toxic than others, and we all have at least one ex that makes us cringe when we think about them – let’s call my cringe-worthy ex Kansas. When I dated Kansas, I was young, still stuck in my small town and dealing with an unbearable level of high school induced self-consciousness and lack of confidence. To be completely frank, I was a teenager who had little experience with the concept of love and relationships, and all I wanted to do was experience the captivating romances I saw in the media. So naturally, when a mysterious older boy expressed interest in me I jumped at the opportunity.
That time I spent with him was less than perfect. I distanced myself from those that I loved in a desperate attempt to retain his attention, got caught up in lies, and eventually felt like I was losing myself. This was not a healthy partnership by any means; it was a relationship built without trust, loyalty, and generosity. Towards the end of our relationship, I spent more time checking phones and Facebook profiles than feeling secure with him, and it was tolling on me.
But despite the less than ideal conditions, my time with Kansas still taught me a valuable and positive life lesson.
Back then, I thought this was just how normal relationships went. However, as I grew older it made me realize that Kansas taught me something that I will forever be grateful for – that I am worth so much more, and that I should never sit around and allow myself to be mistreated in any shape, form or fashion by any person. After my relationship with Kansas ended, I raised my standards and did not allow myself to put up with any form of disloyalty, disrespect or mistrust ever again.
If you are dealing with a relationship similar to this, understand when I tell you that you deserve so much more and that somebody much better is out there. A warm body may be nice, but self-love and mutual respect are so much more important.
The One Who Taught Me To Be Myself
At the beginning of my college career, I found myself enamored with a boy we will refer to as Steel. Steel was kind-hearted, patient and always there to push me to do better. And while things didn’t work out between us in the end, Steel was my very first genuinely healthy relationship and I will always appreciate him for that.
One thing that I valued in Steel more than anything was his complete unapologetic way of always being himself no matter who we were with or what others might think. He had hobbies and passions that other people may have thought were nerdy, out of the box or odd, but he was always happily willing to educate and show off why he thought they were great.
I, on the other hand, had continued my complete unwavering obsession over what other people thought of me, keeping myself stuck in the mindset that I had to come across as the down-to-earth, fun, party girl in order for people to like me. Before Steel, I would frequently follow the crowd and do what everybody else thought was cool, even though on the inside I wished I was cozied up at home playing video games. In fact, at the time only a few of my closest friends even knew I liked video games or nerd culture.
Throughout and quickly after my whirlwind relationship with Steel, I began to question why it was that I was so secretive about my passions and interests. It was exhausting to live a double life, and watching him show off his unconventional hobbies so openly without fear of judgment made me realize that I should do the same. Thanks to Steel, I stopped feeling afraid of what other people would think of me and just started being myself unapologetically.
Keeping secrets about who you really are can be taxing. If you have ever watched a single episode of the late great Hannah Montana you would know this. Stop worrying about what other people may think of you and instead let yourself feel free to show your true colors. You never know, some of the people you are hiding your interests from may secretly be just as passionate about the topic as you!
The One Who Taught Me To Appreciate Life
Beach was the only relationship I had that started off as a friendship, which was an interesting yet rewarding learning experience for both of us. He was what I considered to be the epitome of the all-American guy; he was hardworking, outgoing and had an adventurous spirit. When Beach and I moved our relationship forward I was in a very timid stage in my life – social anxiety and situational depression had taken a toll on me and I had become established in my predictable day-to-day routine.
But on those days when I felt sad and wanted to stay in and sleep the day away, Beach pushed me to do more. Whether it was a hike, a day trip to the Atlantic Ocean or just a night out socializing, he always worked hard to get me out of my funks and convince me to push the boundaries of my comfort zone.
Beach had the kind of unwavering, optimistic love for life that you only see in movies or read about in Nicholas Sparks novels. He was a real-life radiating ball of energy and appreciation for all things around him, and he was never afraid to say no to a new opportunity, friendship or goal. This was something I really admired about him.
While we ultimately did not end up being a match, today looking back I can’t help but smile at his positivity and unbreakable spirit. Beach taught me to appreciate life as a whole, from the big accomplishments to the smallest moments, like finding the perfect seashell or eating smores by a campfire.
And The One That Taught Me To Forget Everything I Believed
I make some of these past relationships sound like they were nothing but sunshine and butterflies from the beginning to the inevitable end, but that is definitely not the case.
Every single one of my past relationships had its faults – usually involving ultimatums and misunderstandings about who I was, what I was going through and who I wanted to be. Looking back, I don’t find a majority of my exes at fault for doing what they did at the time. Things happen and people move on.
However, nearly 4.5 years ago, Kevin walked into my life, and he doesn’t need a nickname.
It had been a good amount of time since my last serious relationship, and one June afternoon we met for the first time with my hair draped over one side of my face because I was experiencing a severe cystic acne flare up at the time. I expected him to be shallow or grossed out and not ask for date 2 because of it – but he did. I expected him not to text me after we went paddleboarding the next week and I sat on my board in tears when I was too tired to keep going – but he did. I expected him to leave when I had my first crying breakdown for the first time, snot and all – but he didn’t.
There are a handful of long-standing faults and issues that I have been working to be more cognizant of for the past few years, but throughout my relationship with Kevin, I was never told that I needed to change or that I was less of a person because I felt the way I did. Kevin loves me as I am, both on my good days and on my bad. When I am feeling upset I am never asked to snap out of it, instead, I have somebody who is always willing to listen to me vent or cry over absolutely nothing without complaint. When I want to try something new or different, he doesn’t make fun of me or question it, he supports me wholeheartedly and even makes sure to hold me accountable when I may be falling behind or wavering. He works hard to make both of our dreams come true, laughs at my jokes (even the bad ones), provides light on my gloomiest of days and isn’t too proud to take care of me when I am feeling tired or beaten down.
What Kevin taught me is that despite what I may have been told by those before him, I never needed to change to find love. I was never damaged, dulled or broken like I had believed so intently in the past – I just had not found my person yet.
Pressure to become something you blatantly are not or requests to suppress real feelings is something that no individual should have to go through in a relationship. Love is all about acceptance. It’s understanding that you will get both sides of a person – the beautiful, shining appealing side, and the dark, brooding cloudy side. It is a mutual understanding that every day won’t be full of laughter, sometimes there will be times where they experience failure, or loneliness, or loss. There may even be days where your partner wakes up feeling sad for no good reason at all.
You can’t try to cherry-pick the side of your significant other you want to see throughout your relationship, all you can do is be there and love them unconditionally for exactly who they are, who they have been and who they want to be.
But despite what you may have been told, despite any of your faults, imperfections, and quirks, in this world there is somebody who will love every inch of your being without question. Maybe you have met them already or maybe you still have yet to find them. Regardless, they are out there, and when you find them you will know what it is to feel completely loved for who you are. Kevin has taught me this and has continued to remind me of it every single day.
Do you see “Thank U, Next” as just another pop song or as a self-growth movement? What have your exes taught you? Comment below!
My dress was originally from Vici Collection, however, it is unfortunately no longer in stock. But I have found some great alternatives for you!