Monday, September 20, 2010

One Step Closer to Divinity

Recently, I was speaking with a friend who had broken up with his girlfriend and was clearly distressed about it. As we sat over dinner, he explained how, early on in their relationship, he had screwed up by failing to attend an event that was apparently very important to his ex. I listened as he told me how there had been a pretty bad snow storm that night, the party was out on Long Island and he didn't want to get stuck out there, and he really didn't think it was a big deal if he didn't go. He was wrong. Over the next few months, the skipped party was raised multiple times by his ex as a source of anger and hurt (his failure to brave the elements being interpreted as not caring about her). When they broke up over the summer, this incident was raised again and it was clear that no amount of apologies on his part could ever erase the cloud that this perceived slight placed over their relationship.

As I listened to this story, my immediate response was in defense of my friend ... concluding that he was better off without her, judging that she clearly had a problem and that he deserved better. I mean, why was this girl still harping on this fight months later? Why couldn't she get over it and just move on? However, as I considered the story for a moment I realized that I too have been guilty of the same thing (yes, even matchmakers are not perfect). In a recent argument with my boyfriend, my normally sweet and wonderful guy said a few things that were less than loving. We had supposedly kissed and made up but unbeknownst to him, each time I replayed it my head I was left newly angry. He had moved on, but I was remembering the exchange word for word.

In a moment of objectivity, I then considered the various times I have said things I wish I could take back and done things that have offended others even when that was not my intention - and when I asked for forgiveness, my desire was not to just be appeased with empty words but to be forgiven entirely. Certainly, if I have asked this of others, I should be able to give it return.

Yes, people make mistakes. We err.* Indeed, we will all be the transgressor and the transgressed at some point in a relationship. It is as certain as death and taxes. The critical question is what happens next? If someone you are dating does something insensitive, says something rude, or acts in a way that is disrespectful, of course you have a right to take offense. You have a right to voice your feelings (which is always a better alternative than not saying anything and letting animosity fester), to ask for an apology and for an assurance that the hurtful conduct will not happen again. If someone cannot offer a sincere apology (we all know a terse "I'm sorry, what do you want to do, draw blood?" response is probably not going to cut it) or guarantee that he or she won't do that again, then you need to think about whether you can - or should - let it go or whether you need to end things.

On the other hand, if someone has wronged you but is truly remorseful (I know if my friend could do it over he would be at that party even if it meant snowshoeing it there), it's important for your relationship that you can find it in your heart to forgive. Because if a relationship is going to survive - and thrive - a short memory when it comes to misdeeds is an asset. And the ability to forgive is essential. If you claim to forgive someone but still continue to punish that person long after the fact by reminding him or her of whatever nonsense took place months prior, you are writing your relationship's own death sentence. Let it go or end it, but don't carry it into the future. If you can't let it go, maybe you need to ask yourself why - are you looking for an excuse to end things with that person (perhaps my friend's ex was) or are you someone who is simply incapable of forgiving?

For members of the Jewish faith, the past ten days represented a period of self-examination and repentance. As the tradition goes, in this time period if someone asks for forgiveness the aggrieved party must feel incumbent to extend forgiveness with a full heart. Even though the high holidays have just passed (and even if you aren't Jewish), these principles can be applied
all year long - and we all just may find our New Year is indeed happier and healthier.

* "Ah ne'er so dire a Thirst of Glory boast,
Nor in the Critick let the Man be lost!
Good-Nature and Good-Sense must ever join;
To err is human, to forgive divine."

Ready to get proactive about your love life. Make it happen.