Looking back on relationships can be a negative experience. Memories can be painful beyond measure.
In consideration of our incredibly broken dating culture, ridiculous technology that's propagating superficiality and social media that always makes matters far more complicated than they should be, it's a miracle any of us are still interested in putting ourselves out there.
On the bright side, no matter how damaging our dating experiences are, we learn something very important from each person we open our hearts to. Thus, I present the following seven lessons we can all thank our exes for:
1. A crash course in what's best described as "Cheating For Dummies."
People say cheaters are all the same. People are correct.
Once you've experienced one cheater, it becomes cake to sniff out another. Does he refuse to leave his phone alone for two minutes? Does his eye twitch when you ask to borrow his laptop?
Is she unreachable for hours at a time with no valid explanation? Is she insecure beyond measure? Ding, ding, ding! We've got a winner.
More importantly, infidelity teaches you about yourself. Whether you're strong enough to say goodbye and stick to it, or strong enough to forgive that person for a mistake, you learn what you're capable of.
Few other situations test you in this way. Despite what people may say, there's no "right" or "wrong" way to go about it; only you can decide what's best, and that knowledge alone is invaluable.
2. Love isn't always enough.
It's very difficult to illustrate exactly how painful it is to love one side of someone, while simultaneously suffering with the other side, to the point where it's impossible to be together.
Perhaps this person, while one of the most loving, affectionate and vulnerable beings you've ever known, is another person entirely when around other people.
Maybe, despite being sensitive to himself, he is incapable of demonstrating sensitivity to you, or others.
No matter the case, this experience validates that love alone is not enough to make a relationship work; timing, effort and empathy are everything. Sanity doesn't hurt, either.
3. Question everything.
There's a line of thought that placing "labels" on relationships is the first step to chaos. For many, everything goes seamlessly until the fateful day the word "girlfriend" or "boyfriend" is uttered. This may be entirely accurate, and yet, we conform.
Words carry weight and pressure. The pure acknowledgement that you have entered into a binding, constricting agreement can be a lot for a person to handle.
Whether you've fallen into a situation with someone who takes that agreement way too seriously (three-month anniversary, what should we name our kids?), or freaks out and runs away from it after a week, you can be assured that nothing in life is promised.
Things can change in a moment's notice, which makes it so much more important to appreciate the good times and know you should never trust too quickly.
4. People aren't always whom we think they are.
You might consider yourself someone who can read people well, and you might be right. But that talent is not infallible.
Sometimes we build people up in our heads based on what we think we need at the time when the truth is, they're really not that wonderful. Other times, people make themselves out to be people they're not.
Either way, connecting strongly with someone only to lose even the possibility of having him or her in your life shortly afterward brings you back to earth; it makes you question yourself and your perceptions.
It causes you to be just a little bit more careful from there on out. You can't save someone who doesn't want to be saved.
5. Mistakes can't always be forgiven, and that's okay.
Quite possibly one of the most heart-wrenching occurrences life can throw at you is when someone you love chooses to leave, but can't let go.
You could be blindsided by it, or it could be a long time coming, but it's always a lose-lose. What makes it worse is when that person continues to text, call, stalk and show up, rendering it nearly impossible to forget about him or her -- especially when you don't truly want to.
You learn that even the strongest of people have weak moments. It becomes evident that someone you trusted wholly isn't necessarily trustworthy.
You gain experience in picking up the pieces of something that wasn't what you thought it was.
You'll likely keep in mind that once someone has demonstrated he or she doesn't want you, that dynamic is inextricably altered. Mistakes can't always be forgiven; sometimes people don't want to be forgiven.
6. You aren't perfect in every situation, and you will regret something you do.
We've established that love alone isn't enough, and sometimes, tough decisions have to be made. No matter what, you hope the choice you made at the time was best for both of you.
But you still remember how it felt to make that decision; how you never knew something could be as torturous as hurting your best friend in a way that could never really be fixed.
This is the person you thought you could never go on without but haven't spoken to since. The one you thought was your soulmate who came at the wrong time, the wrong age and in the wrong place. The one who it still makes you feel raw to consider.
The one you hope finds someone much better than you were because he or she deserves it. The one who will always have a piece of your heart.
7. Every love changes you.
The most vital part of going through heartbreak is having the strength to turn that pain into a new perspective.
What the people in our past teach us most are the things we can and cannot tolerate in the future, as well as what we need in a mate versus what we want.
If you haven't already, you will eventually meet someone who causes you, in some small way, to be grateful for what you've been through.
Whether you're ready to admit it or not, each person you love alters you and becomes a part of who you'll be in the future.
So while not every relationship ends well, we can take comfort in the fact that we will always come out stronger, and that's the best gift of all.