FBS: Cleaning The Slate
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine came to me with a relationship issue. She and her boyfriend – who have a history of fighting – recently decided to “call a truce” and start over with a clean slate. After dating for 4+ years, they basically want to drop all their emotional baggage and begin again as if they’d just met.
The impetus for this lies in the fact that they’ve been together since high school and have since matured quite a bit when it comes to how they want to behave in a relationship. In the beginning, they made all the classic mistakes, as high schoolers are apt to do, and seriously damaged their ability to trust one another. They fought over stupid things, played too many manipulative games, and told innocent lies that, once discovered, spurred jealousy and mistrust in the other.
Now that they’re a little older and lot wiser, they want to undo the damage done by their former, less mature, selves and bring their relationship to a more healthy and functional level. They’ve discussed this openly and have both decided to give it their best shot. However, the weeks following their mutual revelation have been a roller coaster of successes and failures. There are periods during which they both behave rationally and make a conscious effort to re-wire their thinking and forget the past. Then there are periods of tumult when one or both of them gives in to old emotions and reacts like they used to – which is, obviously, neither a good nor productive thing.
All this drama unfolding right in front of me, really got me thinking about collective memory in relationships. Are we like dogs, never forgetting the hurtful things that have been done to us – and forever wary of similar situations? Or are we like goldfish, completely capable of forgetting unpleasant aspects of the past and able to look at a familiar situation with unbiased eyes? Or does the answer lie somewhere in between?
While I believe it is absolutely possible to put some things behind you in a tempestuous relationship, there are certain complications that develop from trying to pretend you know less than you do. And there is definitely a threshold point at which there is no coming back from a damaged partnership. Some things simply cannot be undone.
So when can the slate truly be cleaned, and when is it destined to remain cloudy forever? To answer this, we need to get to the root of the issue: Is the problem how you interact, or who you are?
If you’re dating a control freak who constantly interferes in your life, that is not likely to change – no matter how many do-overs you take. You can’t change who a person is at the core. But, if you’re dating someone who’s distant and hesitant to open up because you’ve hurt her in the past, then that stands a chance of being rectified. Your problem here is with her behavior, not who she is. There is a solution for changing bad habits, but there’s not much hope for changing bad personalities.
There are also a few “deal-breaker” incidents that can ruin any chance of a successful relationship. What these are, specifically, varies from person to person, but everyone has at least one thing they view as absolutely unforgivable. For me, that thing is cheating. Cheat on me once and we’re done. No questions, no “talks”, no second chances. But some people feel differently, and that’s ok. The important thing is to identify how far you’re willing to go with your forgiveness, and not expect a ruined relationship to bounce back after it’s taken a fatal blow.
Sometimes a relationship doesn’t work because two people are simply incompatible. And sometimes they don’t work because circumstances have gotten messy, trust has been lost, and feelings have been hurt. But when both individuals want to make that leap from youthful dysfunction to a healthy adult relationship, a clean slate is definitely within reach.
So I suppose my final answer to the dog/goldfish question is that sometimes we’re dogs, and sometimes we’re goldfish. It just depends on what we’re trying to forget, and how genuinely we want to forget it.
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Posted in Dating in the District