A friend of mine recently got me hooked on the PBS series Downton Abbey, which takes place in the early 1900’s. The parents of three daughters are often host to potential suitors for their oldest, Mary. The heir to their vast estate is Matthew Crawley and seems a logical match for her. Yet upon arrival to Downton his ungentlemanly, unrefined behavior is unattractive to her. Over time, Matthew embraces the aristocratic culture in Downton, befriends Mary and she begins to genuinely fall in love with him. One night at a dinner party, the family was entertaining another potential suitor for Mary, Sir Antony. Only Mary wasn’t interested in him. So, she turns her full attention to Matthew while her sister, Edith, engages in conversation with Sir Antony. After dinner, in an arrogant act of impulse, Mary insists to Edith that she could get any man. To prove it, Mary at once turns her back on Matthew and begins to flirt with Sir Antony. After being snubbed by Mary, Matthew promptly leaves the party. From the window, Mary watches Matthew walk away, clearly regretting her actions toward him. Watching all of this unfold from the sidelines, Mary’s father says quietly to his wife, “She thinks if you put a toy down it’ll still be there when you want to play with it again.”
I’ve played the role of Mary countless times in my own life. What Mary’s father said about her was true about me too. I had been operating with the selfish notion that the men in my life were at my disposal and I had infinite chances to “blow it” with them. My wake up call came when I actually had someone in my life with whom I could see having a future. Instead of nurturing the relationship, I broke up with him with little explanation. Six months later, he gave me another chance and I did it again. Time went by and he gave me yet another chance. At this point, I had destroyed any trust he had in me. Our relationship, or even friendship, was never the same. While Mary acted in her arrogance, I acted in my insecurity. Call it “the grass is greener syndrome,” sabotage or whatever. We both had our reasons, but the reasons don’t really matter. The bottom line is that I took him for granted. I didn’t appreciate having him as my boyfriend until I had lost him. There was no recovering from that – the consequence being I killed the relationship.
What would I have done differently? I would have:
- Acted on the vision of my future with him, not my past with other men. Stated differently, I would have dealt with my baggage. By treating him as if he were every other guy who had hurt me, I was making him pay for their wrongs. This was a new relationship with someone who loved me, therefore deserving of a clean slate.
- Shared with him the issues with which I was dealing at that time. He was a very tender-hearted man and told me at one point that he could tell I was dealing with something. I didn’t tell him because I didn’t want to be v-u-l-n-e-r-a-b-l-e.
- Appreciated everything that he was for me, rather than indulging in my insecurities. I was admittedly obsessed with what could go wrong in our relationship. How could I possibly enjoy being with him with that constantly running in my head?
- Given him credit for being an adult. That means trusting him to be able to handle bumps in the road with me. Of course, to do that requires communication. He didn’t know because I was unwilling to share it with him. In hindsight I can see that he’s dealt with plenty of issues in life, many were just as difficult as, if not more than, mine. He could have managed it. Also, being outside the situation, he probably would have done so more skillfully than I.
- Moved on after breaking up with him the first time. To repeatedly go back and forth with him served only me – selfish. It kept him in limbo, fueled his insecurities because he never knew where he stood with me and completely ruined his trust in me. I wasn’t respecting him or his heart.
Having a love worth keeping really is like winning the lottery – it seldom happens and doesn’t happen for everyone. Playing games like Mary or I did, regardless of your reasons for doing so, will always have its consequences. I’m not saying that there are no second chances. Plenty of people get married after a second chance. What I am saying is appreciate your first chance in a relationship and treat it as if it’s your last because it could be exactly that: your last chance.