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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Remembrance of Things to Come

Let me start by conceding that I am no Proust. But you already know that from reading these posts. The title I chose for this particular post, however, is more than a cute play on words. It’s not about Déjà vu, but rather the experience many of us have had when we knew with certainty that something we were about to experience would lead us to a place we’ve been before. Bear with me here. I am not talking about some cognitive trick or violation of the space-time continuum.

It is true that we tend to think of time as something which is linear—and for that reason we assume that we cannot know what is to come, only recall what has been. How then can we know—much less with certainty, the outcome of something that has not yet transpired? One way, of course is the recognition of cause and effect. We draw on experience to forecast the future. If something we’ve done in the past has led us to a positive experience we are inclined to repeat it, believing that the past is prologue to the future. The same holds true for negative experiences—we tend to avoid those that will lead us to pain or unhappiness.

It all sounds so simple and yet we have evidence to suggest otherwise. We will routinely do things we know from experience will lead us to a negative outcome and avoid things experience tell us will be good for us. An example may serve to demonstrate my point.

People in relationships often find themselves drawn to certain personalities—and sometimes those relationships founder and end poorly. Nevertheless, they will pick themselves up and make the same error all over again and then wonder if they are just destined to end their relationships badly. Worse yet, sometimes they may conclude that all men or women—are, fill in the blank. They are not the cause of their own unhappiness; the deck is stacked against them. As impartial observers, we can see that the choices they made were ill-starred from the beginning, so why can’t they see it?

It all begins with a little trick we play on ourselves. The truth is we generally do know when we are making a bad choice, but we convince ourselves in the blink of an eye that this time everything will be different. It is more than a struggle between our emotions and our intellect. We have something to prove to ourselves, something that will justify the bad experience we have just had.

If we were operating out of an objective perspective we would step back after the first negative experience and ask ourselves some questions, starting with what just happened? Some healthy introspection might lead us to insights about ourselves and others that would show us what we might need to work on and what we want and need in a relationship for it to succeed.

Unfortunately, just when we need objectivity we are in pain. Regardless of how well or badly things ended—and generally relationships do not end without some hurt, we are not in an ideal place to assess. Chances are we are licking our wounds, feeling a little sorry for ourselves. It takes some time and distance before we can understand what happened and why. And that is the last thing we permit ourselves, time and distance. Instead we want to stop the hurt, and the best way to do that is to jump right in to something new—and let the negative feelings be overwhelmed by the short-lived emotions of a new relationship. Our egos will be salved and that rush of endorphins we refer to as ‘chemistry’ will dull our thinking about what we have just done. We’ve set ourselves up for the fall.

It doesn’t have to be this way—we can escape this loop. But to do so, we need the all valuable distance from the experience and a powerful force that will balance our tendencies to simply assign blame to ourselves or our now estranged one. If only the tincture of time worked reliably, but sadly it doesn’t.

I cannot speak for anyone else but I can say that for me, faith is what saved me from playing that trick on myself. A strong and abiding belief that I am loved, forgiven, and worthy, has sustained me through some of my darkest nights. That faith allowed me to look at myself and my experiences through a loving and forgiving eye. I did not need to lay blame on myself or anyone else—but accept that I was in part an agent of my own undoing. Knowing that I was loved, allowed me to assert the love for myself that is so essential in overcoming adversity—whether in inter-personal relationships or any other circumstance. It sustained me through what seemed interminable periods and tempered me so that when the time was ripe for change I was prepared.

Where and how you find this faith is a highly personal matter. I speak of my relationship with God as one in which he dwells within me—a higher self, if you will. But, however you characterize your relationship, I hope you have learned what I have. It will never let me down. It will always point me in the right direction, and lead me, in whatever time and whatever way to the destination that is best for me.

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