A month prior, Mr. Adventure and I were in his apartment. Ordering Thai. But it wasn’t like normal. There was no cuddling on the couch. No playful touches while we did the dishes. No eye contact. “We need to talk”, he said. My heart sank. The night ended with me shoving all I could into a duffel bag while he tried to explain. Explain that it wasn’t anything I did. Explain that it was the hardest thing he ever had to do. Explain that he loved me, genuinely loved me. Explain that he hadn’t felt that love grow for the past month. Explain that I wasn’t the one he was going to marry and our year-long adventure had to end.
As my eyes locked on Mr. Adventure, my mind raced with thoughts. If only I had said X, he would have stayed. If only I had done Y instead of Z, he wouldn’t have been so unsure. If only I had been/done/said A B C D (keep going) at a different time, in a different tone, wearing different clothes, using different words – standing on one foot while hopping up and down singing at exactly 1:52pm while facing south – he would still be with me. I’m a punisher. I punish myself for things that don’t work out.
So, I found it highly appropriate that Date 22, Ross, suggested that we meet at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment. The museum details the history of crime and punishment from the middle ages to the present. Combining detailed narrative with interactive exhibits, visitors get to solve cases and climb inside of the minds of America’s most notorious criminals.
From criminal intent to the analysis of the crime solvers, this museum is a fascinating exploration of the inner workings of the human mind. Why people do what they do. Why people react as they react. One exhibit, in particular, caught my attention. It recounted a detective’s years spent solving a horrific serial murder case. Approximately 10 murders occurred before the detective cracked the case. Until then, every time a murder happened, the detective blamed himself. If only he had seen X sooner. If only he had linked A and B earlier. If only he had interpreted a phrase to mean something…then those lives could have been spared. He let that guilt eat away at his life. Causing him to lose his friends, family and ultimately, career. It wasn’t until years after the case had been solved, that he realized that his “if only” statements served only one purpose…to give the serial killer power. The detective explained that it was a completely selfish thought, to believe that he, he, had enough power to make someone do anything. That his doing X, or not doing Y, was powerful enough act, in and of itself, to cause the loss of a life.
As Ross and I ate dinner at Jaleo, we discussed our families and our past relationships. We talked about our pasts and what we wanted for our futures. As I spoke, I realized that I was no different from the detective. I was completely selfish in the fact that I was carrying around all of this guilt from the failure of past relationships. Blaming myself for their ultimate demise. Believing that I had power enough to have caused any of my exes to change their actions – by simply changing a word, a phrase, an action, a trait…by altering a moment in time.
What I see now is that nothing I could have done or said would have altered the outcome of those situations. Just as the serial killer would have kept on killing, regardless of the detective’s actions, I’m carrying around guilt for something that I had no control over. And, until I let go of that guilt – I can’t move away from the past. And it’s impossible for me to have any kind of real future while I am living in the past.
The Toltecs, a Mesoamerican culture, look upon life as a journey and say that most of our learning in life comes from painful experiences. If we simply allow ourselves to feel bad about the past, and never move on from it, we are saying that our past is meaningless, pointless. By searching for meaning and value from our past, we learn and enhance our life – allowing guilt to dissipate into thin air.
So right there, at the table in Jaleo, I decided to stop self-sabotaging my life. I made a conscious decision to let go of the guilt. Instead of looking at the pain caused by my past relationships, I decided to look at the value and lesson learned from each encounter. And as I did, I smiled and laughed. I felt genuinely happy. Ross said something funny and I tilted my head back letting out a big laugh. I felt sexy. Confident. And, this time, nothing walking through the door stopped that.