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Ordinary People Taking Action
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Early this week, my 14-year-old son and his girlfriend broke up, after six months of dating. It’s one of those normal milestones parents know their kids will go through. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to predict how hurtful that first breakup will be. In my son’s case, I was surprised and happy that not only was it a very drama-free breakup, but the relationship ended with the two of them still friends. That rarely happens in 8th grade, and I’m proud of both kids for their maturity.
Interestingly, within five minutes of the breakup, my son removed all mention of his now-ex-girlfriend from his social media accounts. He cleared his entire picture feed; she did too. Then he went through his phone and started deleting every picture of the two of them together. Before he was finished, I stopped him with a request.
“Before you delete them, text the rest of the photos to me.” He looked at me oddly and asked, “Why?” I explained that there might come a time in his life when he’d enjoy seeing pictures of the two of them together. “I’ll save the pictures for you,” I said. He forwarded them, and only five minutes later, it was like the first girlfriend was just gone. Like she’d vanished – never a part of his life. So many experiences wiped away. So many “firsts” now just a thing in the past. Six months of pictures (almost) deleted forever.
How often is it in our lives that we try to make things vanish?
I have asked several people this question over the past week and it’s evident from their stories – this is not just an 8th grade phenomenon.
A close colleague of mine left a job after signing an agreement that she wouldn’t talk about the details associated with her departure. She shared with me that she basically had to disconnect herself from everyone she had worked with so that she wouldn’t be asked questions about her reasons for leaving. She said in many ways she felt like she had to pretend that part of her career didn’t exist. Two more people then shared with me stories about situations in their lives that they just pretend never happened – they try hard to make the memories vanish. When I asked if that was possible, to make memories vanish, they said not really.
Our life is made up of a lot of experiences. These experiences shape who we are and what we think – for better or worse. Our experiences give us chances to learn, explore, understand, relate and make mistakes. Our experiences are what build common sense, because after all, common sense isn’t really common. Rather, it’s a series of experiences coming together to help us form judgment. Our experiences lead to how we perceive situations and how we interpret the meaning of what happens to us, around us, with us and by us.
Even if we attempt to erase the documentation of our experiences, they don’t really vanish. Instead, the memory stays with us. The feelings stay with us. If we pretend the experience never happened or stop talking about it, then how does that impact us and our ability to move forward?
In some situations, like my son’s breakup, I believe the impact is minimal. He is young, he is learning and there will be many more relationships in his future. I did offer him this advice: don’t pretend the relationship didn’t happen but remember the experience – all of the experience. For it’s a piece of you that will be a part of who you are as you grow up and meet other girls.
I am not sure how much of my advice stuck with him. I just move forward, hopeful that pieces of my message will help him. Just like this blog. I move forward, hopeful that pieces of my message will help you.