I've been neglecting Genie's Living Out Loud projects, and I really don't want to--I love her prompts. So, this month, I'm doing it early. Genie's question:

Tell me something nice about one or more of your exes. Maybe they wooed you with their love of music (and later turned you off with their inattention to hygiene or paying bills on time). Maybe they were good at organizing events (even if that meant they would flip out if something went outside that plan). This is your opportunity to focus on the good without getting into all the reasons he or she is an ex versus a current. They couldn't have been all bad, and if they were you might need to create a search committee to approve any future relationships you enter.

This isn't all that difficult for me. I don't have that many exes (at least not "official" ones, and I'm only going to go into those here), and I don't really hate any of them. It's a good exercise, though, I think, to remember, and to remember fondly.

My first real "boyfriend" was in the 8th grade. He lived in another town and long distance phone calls were still expensive, then, so we wrote each other letters. Nearly every day. For several months. I loved those letters. It was so important, at that age, to have something tangible, a way to show that this exciting thing that was happening to me was real. While it's hard to look back on a relationship like that one, which was completely immature, and see anything of real value, or anything much at all, save nostalgia and amazement at ever having been so young, I have to admit that those letters were a fantastic, fabulous thing. He took so much time, so much effort, for me, which is odd, when you consider we're talking about a 13-year-old boy. In retrospect, I'm impressed.

My next boyfriend was in the fall of my freshman year of high school. He was a senior, had a truck, a nice smile, and a plan for college. I felt so special to have been chosen. That one ended up really bad, but while it was happening, it had its moments. I remember him telling me once that the song "The Sunmaid" by Soul Asylum (very popular that year) reminded him of me. (Tell me how you get that shine/you must polish all the time.) He was, I think, the first person who really made me feel pretty. He had that gift. I haven't seen him or heard anything about him in years, but I imagine him still being that same kind of guy, who makes you feel special, feel pretty, when he's talking to you. It's a quality that I don't think most of us realize how much we appreciate until we find ourselves with nobody like that in our lives.

My next boyfriend was in the winter/spring of my sophomore year of high school. More than any other "ex," he's someone I feel like I'd be friends with to this day if we lived anywhere near each other. He's a bright, funny, gentle, wonderful soul, and was even then. Dating him was the first experience I had with dating someone I actually had things in common with. Plus, he was my first (and last) prom date. I was all melodrama and hand-wringing at the time, but looking back, I appreciate the honesty with which he ended our relationship, and he insistence on treating me like a person, rather than forcing me into the narrow mold of a high school girlfriend, which made little sense for either one of us.

Boyfriend #4 followed immediately after #3. Like, a week or so after. It's a complicated and boring story, and one that makes even less sense now than it did then. It was a brief, strange, contentious, physical relationship. I have a very distinct memory of being upset about something--very upset--and having him hold me against him and let me pound on his chest. It's something I've thought about often over the years. Though the relationship was really a back-to-front disaster, that moment, of him realizing what I needed and coming through with it, was, and still is, worth something to me.

I didn't have any more relationships in high school. My junior and senior years were spent single. At the time, it was problematic, and I was often upset about it. Looking back, I'm grateful. Not having a romantic connection to my hometown only made it easier to leave, and I can't think of anybody that I could have successfully dated anyway. I wasn't in a hurry to get into a relationship in college, either. And neither was the guy who, fairly early on in my first year at Reed, became my boyfriend for the rest of my time there. In fact, we had a long talk, when we were first circling each other, beginning to show our interest, about how neither of us wanted anything too serious. We probably would have been better off if we'd stuck with that plan, honestly. But life intervened, and we ended up together for nearly four years.

This question gets a bit more difficult at this point, just because it starts to leave the realm of childhood and get into a real, grown up relationship. It's certainly more complicated. But you don't date someone for four years if they don't have redeeming characteristics. First, I guess I should mention that this boyfriend was (and is) extremely attractive. He's the only person I've dated that I can honestly say is better looking than me (which has its own set of issues for a vain girl, let me assure you). But really, that's not what it was about. He's an extremely fun, entertaining person. I had a lot of good times with him, and he exposed me to things I never would have seen otherwise, from a rave (good God, never again) to Cabaret on Broadway (a formative experience). He was also willing to try, for me, to be something that he really has no natural inclination to be (monogamous, a partner, a grown up...). For a long time, his failures to be those things pissed me off, but time heals all wounds, or some such, because now, all I really feel is grateful to him for trying.

My last relationship was for just a few ill-conceived weeks the summer after I graduated from college (right before Mark and I got together). The whole situation was so stupid, and so completely unlike me, that remembering feels like hearing about someone else's life. But I know I was there. And I learned a few important lessons, most of which I am better off not going into here. Once thing I will say it that he taught me that I can be in control, that I don't have to wait for things to come to me, but can reach out for them myself and make my own decisions. Which was a good thing to learn at 21.

Looking back, I'm amazed by how it all seems to make sense. Though none of these were the right relationship, and most of them were actually the VERY WRONG relationship, they were all kind of the right lesson I needed to learn at that time. I guess retrospect has a way of making things look that way. Then again, there isn't anything I'd take back if I had to do it over again.

Thanks, guys.

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