These are the Important Life Lessons You Can Learn from Your Ex

Every girl emerges from a breakup with at least one solid piece of truth in her arsenal—about herself, men, or life. We got Cosmo girls to reveal their biggest life lessons from past relationships.

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So, you've been through a soul-shattering break-up? Or, are rolling in remorse about the not-quite-Mr-Perfect whose calls you just couldn't bear to take any more? Well, here is good news for all you solo sisters who've been to Loveland and back: you went through what you did because there was a lesson there exclusively for you. Think of it as karmic debt. "Everyone we come in contact with has a message for us to learn, and we also have lessons to teach. Very often, we ignore the messages and the people who enter our lives for a very specific reason. Sometimes, it is only after someone has left us that we realise what we were meant to learn. And the lessons aren't always easy," says Martin Schulman in Karmic Relationships.

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Sometimes, we miss the lesson altogether too—caught up as we are in our own web of hurt and anger. But the trick is to look out for it. Find 10 minutes of silence every day, attempt a non-judgemental flashback, and soon you will see the pattern you were playing out. And having seen it, you will break free, forgive him and yourself.

For the girls we spoke to, the big message came in many shapes. For some, it was about learning that time doesn't heal; only understanding does. For others, realisation eventually dawned that in a relationship, it's not just your heart, but your head too that needs to participate. Then there were señoritas who figured that giving in too often is as harmful as not giving at all... With so much introspection at our disposal, we concurred it'd be best to categorise the outpourings. So, here are the truths girls like you discovered about sex, money, fights, fidelity and more.

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TWOSOME TUTORIAL 1

It's all about you

What every relationship does first, is tell you some deep truths about yourself that you may not learn by your solo self. "I realised that I am not as calm a girl as everyone (including me) thought I was," says Deepti*, 33, film maker, after the object of her affection turned her from Miss Reliable to super-obsessive wretch.

"I had always been the sane one. But when I hooked up with this emotionally unavailable guy, I transformed into someone I could barely recognise. I'd throw tantrums, SMS him incessantly, and analyse to death every word he uttered. It took me four years, but eventually I figured out what was happening—I needed to be told I was loved, just like everyone else, and all that composure was just a façade that helped me steer situations," she says. "I discovered two things when my marriage broke down," says Payal, 28, writer. "One: I am temperamentally accommodating, but this can go against me. Two: when I follow my instincts, I regret nothing." Post-wedding, she learnt that her hubby was heavily into a spiritual practice, and they had no couple-time. "Initially, I went along with it. But three years later, nothing had changed. And the day I decided it didn't work for me, there was no self-doubt."

Expert speak: "If you take an honest look at what you've gained from each contact with another person, you'll find that they reflected back to you what you most needed to know at that moment. Even in uncomfortable situations, you may be learning how to care for yourself better or how to negotiate win-win outcomes," points out www.circleoflight.com.

TWOSOME TUTORIAL 2

Bedroom booty is big

So you know precisely where ex X scored and where ex Y failed when it came to lovemaking skills. But more than that, your bedroom quotient with a given guy can clue you in to how twosomes function.

"It's okay if nooky with your long-term love doesn't leave you weak-kneed every time," says Reema*, 28, homemaker. "I indulged in an extra-marital fling after six years of marriage. But I soon learnt that when a relationship originates in chemistry, there is no stability in it. You feel a constant flow of emotions; it's absolutely wild. But those passions alone can't hold a relationship together. What actually lasts is the steadier, more consistent kind of sex," she says.

"Speak up" is the mantra Malini, 26, graphic designer, arrived at. "You have to tell your guy what you want. Many girls just let the man lead, but if you are thinking mind-blowing, tell him your preferences." "You need to stop being judgemental about sex," Payal discovered. "When I was younger, I broke up with a guy because he wanted to sleep with me. But now I know it's possible to be in a liaison that's just about sex—and that doesn't demean it or make it any less significant."

Expert speak: "Often, couples will talk about everything but sex, even though it's fundamental to their relationship. Problems inother areas will show up in your physical connection, so honest communication about your needs is extremely important," says Arpita Anand, consultant psychologist, Sama Nursing Home, Delhi.

TWOSOME TUTORIAL 3

A spat is a start

Being intimate with someone means that there'll be times when you'd want to tear each other's hair out. But when you sit down to think about why you fought—or didn't, it can reveal tonnes about your duo.

"When you are insecure in a relationship, you will initiate fights just to have the other person woo you back," says Reema. Her tiffs with her paramour were somewhat unique. "I'd fight about the smallest of things, simply because it gave me an emotional kick, whereas a disagreement with my hubby meant that we'd sit down and talk, and figure out solutions," she says.

To not fight is not necessarily a good thing either—because when this happens, one of the partners is always repressing emotions. Gunjan*, 30, teacher, learnt this after 10 years of marriage. "I got married while in college, and expected my hubby to be my knight. He turned out to be an extremely domineering man, and the funny thing was, we hardly fought, because he got angry and I just wanted to keep the peace." It was a volcano waiting to erupt, and Gunjan realises that had she stood up for herself from the very beginning, perhaps she would not be filing her divorce papers right now.

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Expert speak: "We all grow up thinking that true love means never fighting. So, when we do start to get on each other's nerves, or fight about very real issues, one of our first thoughts is—this is bad. This is over," says Leanne Bell, publisher of www.andtheylivedhappilyeverafter.com. "But couples who fight, respect their link enough to want honesty. They may be scared of losing their relationship, but they would rather know that, or find a way to change, than to lie to themselves for the sake of a shallow equation," she adds.

TWOSOME TUTORIAL 4

Career, cash and couples do clash

Think money is best left to banks, and work is way too worldly to come between you and your love? Think again.

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"Never discount what a guy does, or doesn't, for a living," says Reema. "The man I was seeing had never worked consistently in his entire life. He'd do something for, max, two years, and then there'd be a dry spell. I chose to remain blind to what this suggested, but now I can see that he had moved from relationship to relationship in the same spirit," she says.

"It's critical to be financially independent, whether you are married or simply seeing a guy," says Gunjan. "I used to think that cash is only Uncle Scrooge's concern, that it was below my dignity to discuss it. I wasn't working when I got married, and it turned out that money was always his money, instead of being our money. I've since realised that your own bank balance can do wonders to your self-esteem," she says.

Expert speak: "The first issue you need to address is your own attitude to work or money. And then assess if your partner shares this attitude, and if he doesn't, whether you two can meet mid-way," says Dr Avdesh Sharma, consultant psychologist and director, Parivartan Centre of Mental Health, Delhi. Don't do this, and you sure are headed for future conflicts, he says.

TWOSOME TUTORIAL 5

Befriend his pals at your own peril

It's inevitable: a guy will mark a halo around his beer buddies. So, what're your options?

"It helps to get extra-friendly with one of his friends," Nandini, 22, writer, got to the root of the matter fast. "Not flirty, just friendly. Talk to him about his girls, his favourite beer, his neurotic mother...he's already on your side." Smart move, but what do you do when the 'friend' belongs to the feminine gender?

"You have to deal with your man's guy and girl mates differently," says Malini. "My ex had this female pal who was around all the time. She just didn't feel that we needed time away from her. Finally, unpleasant as it was, I just had to make it clear that she was not wanted," she says.

Expert speak: "You have to accept that in a committed relationship there will be aspects of his life that you may not entirely feel a part of—and friends is one of them. Assess the dynamics of your guy's affection for his mates, ask him about the kind of equation he'd like you to have with them. And remember, certain boundaries are important," says Anand.

TWOSOME TUTORIAL 6

Watch out for lies and lovers

To tell or not to tell; to forgive or walk out— those are difficult questions in love.

"There's something like too much honesty," says Payal. "Stop thinking that you need to spell out every little thing that happened in your life the moment you hook up with a guy. After all, an event when you were 16 may be totally irrelevant to who you are now." Payal has also learnt to be less moralistic about fidelity issues. "You have to discriminate between a one-off event, habitual philandering and genuinely fallenin- love-with-my-colleague. And before jumping to conclusions, ask if you're above all indiscretions." Malini too agrees that there's no need to go with the bare-all attitude. "My parents divorced when I was young. For some people, it's an issue; for me it isn't. But still, I won't talk about it to a man on date one—on date 10, maybe."

"A player will never make you happy, and no, you can't change him," feels Reema. "If your man has slipped once, it's perhaps forgivable. But if you are with a guy who's had a series of flings (as I was), beware of the fact that, at some level, he is a confused and mentally-ill person. It's not likely that you will have a happy ending," she says.

"Make him grovel before you forgive him," is Nandini's ballsier advice. "If you do want to be generous to the jerk who cheated on you, don't give in without making him cringe. This not only helps restore your battered self-esteem, but also tells him that he shouldn't mess with you."

Expert speak: "Fidelity is a crucial cornerstone of a couple's link. I won't even suggest that you experiment with an open relationship," says Anand. "As for honesty, you can judge whether you need to tell or not by thinking about how significant the confession may be to your twosome."

TWOSOME TUTORIAL 7

Your body image is what you make of it

Hasn't every lover told you a little fact about you—you know, how the curl of your lip is so cute, or how no one does the cowgirl as good as you—stuff you were clueless about until a guy said so? But strangely, flattering as such observations are, all the girls we spoke to had discovered deeper facts about mirror-mirror on the wall.

"Being appreciated for who you are, is far more important than the high of hearing you've got pretty dimples," says Reema. "This guy would say things like 'you are knocking me off', and it was a wild feeling. But if a fellow wants to hang out with you just because you dress well and are the life of a party, be wary. Sure it adds to your selfconfidence, but only for six months."

"No man cares if you've got somewhat fat thighs," is Malini's conclusion. "You've got to have your own style, and stick to it no matter who comes along. I recently got braces, and I have to tell people that believe me, it's no problem. I know what matters most is how comfortable you are with yourself." Payal agrees. "If you are confident about your physicality, that translates into you attracting people. Men don't let a model figure stand between them and a woman they like."

Expert speak: "What's most critical to your body image is that you define for yourself who you are—not just physically, but also as a personality. You may use the feedback you get from people, but put together all the opinions you've ever heard rather than being dependent on one man's voice."

TWOSOME TUTORIAL 8

Breaking up is never easy

Be it the dumper or the dumpee, there is no getting away from the sense of loss a break-up brings. No twosomes to plan any more, no one to show off that fab dress to, no snuggling after a hard day, and worst of all, no sex! Just how do you do it, so that it's a teensy bit easier this time?

"It's better to dump before you get dumped. It's always easier to get over someone who you have said buh-bye to. Getting dumped leaves you with puffy eyes, and the constant suspicion that people are saying nasty things behind your back," says Nandini.

"Escapism works best when you want to put the brakes on a relationship," is Payal's wisdom. "I was seeing this guy, and I did the slimiest thing—I just wouldn't take or return his calls. It's most painful for someone when you keep them guessing, but I figured I'd rather that someone else felt lousy instead of me!"

"The moment you spot the lessons a relationship taught you, you feel healed," philosophises Deepti. "No matter how pretty, popular or successful you are, you are sure to hit rock-bottom during a split. But it's best to face the grief. And when you're done crying, remind yourself that people come into your life for a reason."

Expert speak: "Often, people hang on to dysfunctional relationships because the person fulfils something that's missing in them. So, a break-up should be the time when you analyse the void, figure out your role in the split, and find ways to focus on your own growth. Use this time to reconnect with people, rekindle hobbies, and work harder," says Dr Sharma.

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