I first fell in love in high school, 1987 or 1988—more than two-thirds of my life ago.
It was on my mind a couple weeks ago, after I attended a panel discussion my friend invited me to. It turned out that I happened to know all the panelists, though not the host. Since I arrived late and sat in the back of the room, they didn’t know I was there, but my book came up. When it did, I stood up and mentioned I was there. The host invited me to the front, asked me to share about the book and how I happened to be there, and invited me to speak at a future event.
I felt great to know my book was getting attention. Had I not been there, my book would still have come up.
You want to share success like that with someone.
Walking home after the event, I felt the tug to tell a girlfriend about the auspicious event. Well, my last loving, long-term relationship, of five years, had ended a year before, so calling her wouldn’t make sense. I’m dating another girl, but only for a few months, so we aren’t as close as five years gets you. I called her anyway. We enjoyed sharing the story, but—and I don’t think it detracts anything from the young relationship—we didn’t connect on it as much as we could have had we known each other longer.
As I walked, I thought of how I wanted to share the experience with someone closer. I noticed that not only did I want to share it with the girl from my last loving relationship. I felt a tug to share it with the girl I loved years before her, and before her. I felt a tug to share with each of the girls I’ve loved, each for different reasons.
Don’t get me wrong. After all these years, we’ve all moved on. I’ve lost touch with several. The ones I’m in touch with have husbands and kids. We’re not the kids we were when we were in love. As much as my memories of the parts where we got along crowd out the times when we didn’t, I don’t have to think hard to remember why each relationship ended.
Still, each relationship had great parts—times we shared together when the world drifted away, lost in each other’s eyes. That sort of thing.
In modern American culture, when people break up, the standard advice people give is to move on, apparently believing that not moving on will drown you in grief, regret, and so on.
Maybe because I’m 46, or because I’ve worked with emotions and self-awareness for long enough to be able to feel powerful, intense emotions without being swept away by them, but I felt I could look back at these loves of my life without too much grief or regret. I realized that despite the years, despite the advice of countless friends, despite the cultural pressure to move on, I still loved each of the girls I’ve loved in my life.
Again, don’t get me wrong. The girls I loved lived years and decades ago. The objects of my affection are my memories, not the professionals, wives, mothers, and whomever they’ve grown into. I’ve changed too. I don’t expect our relationships to restart, but, contrary to mainstream advice, I still feel for each of them. The line in the song Me and Bobbi McGee, “I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday to be holding Bobbi’s body next to mine…” repeated in my mind, along with the emotion that comes with it.
I decided, at least in the moment, that I wanted to keep each in my heart without trying to get over her, realizing that maintaining that feeling didn’t worsen my life or hold me back from sharing as much emotion as I wanted with anyone else. It probably strengthens it.
I haven’t written about this part of life in this blog. I don’t know how readers will react to it or why I shared this vignette now, just after writing about eating whole apples and West Point. In any case, it’s out now.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book