Here’s the second installment of the FTNB “The Doctor is In” guest series by Dr. Matthew Conner. This one really spoke to me. If you missed his first article, read it here.-Jared Godar
Matt Nathanson has been a favorite of mine since 2003’s amazing, sensitive collection, Under These Fireworks. Lightning usually only strikes once, but last summer’s Sings His Sad Heart is arguably his best one yet. It’s only fitting that the disc is a ten-song collection about a man who can’t let go of the past.
I got a text from your sister
it’s been a while
I see this a lot when men come to therapy. Sometimes,
Whatever the cause, the end result is dissatisfaction. How could you have made this choice? Why are you with this person? Maybe you should just text…
NO! Consider this your intervention. I’m going to talk to you a little bit about hanging on to old things, and I’ll teach you how to let it go.
All the ways I try to rewind when you were mine
The fantasy of “the one that got away” comes up all the time, and I think it’s going to lose some of its hold on you once we talk about where it comes from. The usual cause is anxiety: there’s a “right” answer, the one person you’re supposed to be with. If you don’t guess right or keep that person, that’s the reason why anything feels wrong in your life. If you feel bad, or anxious, or unsure, well, that must be proof that you just haven’t found the right person. But what happens when you find the right person and then you feel bad, or anxious, or unsure?
Most of the guys I see take that as a sign that they must have guessed wrong and dig into things like breaking up, affairs, or even trying to blame or change their partners. Gotta find the next right person. But I try to help these men by telling them two secrets: There is no such thing as a right answer here and everyone feels bad once in a while. It’s going to happen with this person, or the next, or alone—it’s not her, it’s you.
I know this isn’t always the case. There may not be right answers, but there are wrong ones. If you’re in a relationship that feels controlling, withholding, or cruel, you need to run that by friends you trust or a good couple’s therapist. Couple’s therapy is not forcing you to stay together, nor is it a sign you’re breaking up. It’s just asking a neutral third party to apply their understanding of relationship patterns to your situation and if there’s something toxic you need to know that.
But the answer isn’t that your high school sweetheart should never have dumped you for that skinny guy with the guitar at the first college party. Let’s work on letting that one go.
First, recognize that it’s completely normal to wonder what might have been. You were with your ex for a good reason, and it’s fine to remember those good times. It’s normal to feel dissatisfied and go back in time for a few minutes.
But then, tell yourself that not every relationship has to last to be successful. We all hit spots in relationships where we aren’t going to learn or grow anymore and most of us have that experience when we’re too immature to deal with it without hurting each other. It sucks, but it happens, and it’s how we learn. No amount of playing that tape over is going to make you feel okay that it’s over. She may be funnier than your wife is, he may load the dishwasher the way your husband just can’t figure out; but remind yourself that even with the good parts, this wasn’t your last relationship, and it ended. You can learn from it and make better choices now, but you can’t undo it and you don’t have to.
In the end I was practice
Yeah, you kissed me like an actress running lines
Here’s the last step: be in the now. You’re here and you’re with your partner. You may feel dissatisfied, but you’re both still in it. If you stay present, you can’t be in the past. Sounds oversimplified, but it’s true. We don’t multitask the way we claim to.
Think about things you like about the person you love and build up to things you love about them. Try to stick to the positive—more “She saves me the corner piece of the lasagna, which sounds lame, but I like that best and she remembers” rather than “Umm, she doesn’t sweat too much, I guess.” If that’s too hard, remember what first attracted you. Make a list. Write it down. Or better yet, write it to her. Say it to her. Make it part of the daily routine until it doesn’t feel awkward anymore. Don’t you want to know what your partner loves about you? Why not make that the last thing you say when you separate in the morning? I have had plenty of arguments with boyfriends, but if I can say, honestly, “I’m mad, but you are usually really considerate, and I want to remember that before I say anything else.” I stop comparing them to the exes.
I’m not saying you can’t think about them. This is your story, you’ve learned from it. But when you’re nodding to Matt Nathanson singing, “All the ways I try to rewind when you were mine” remind yourself that part of the tape is over, and hit “Play” instead.