A few days ago, someone said to me in reference to her soon-to-be ex-husband, “I can’t believe I wasted the last four years of my life on him.”
Her statement interested me because I’m not now, nor have I ever been, big on the idea of wasted time. I really think that our experiences are meant to teach us something that we need to learn in order to move forward on our life’s path so I asked her “Why do think you wasted time?”
“Well,” she said. “In the beginning our marriage, he was really cool and sweet and lovable with me, but that only lasted a year.”
“And then how was he?”
“Lousy. His drinking started getting worse and worse and then he started cheating on me with strippers. I stayed with him because I kept hoping that he would go back to the way he was in the beginning. ”
“I’m betting he never did.”
“Nope. He never did. Our relationship got worse and worse until I couldn’t take it anymore and now it’s over. I mean, I still love him, I just can’t take it anymore.”
And there it was: The idea of a thing versus the reality of a thing causing conflict within someone. In my experience, that tends to be a big part of a person’s high level of stress. We all do it. There’s not one of us who hasn’t wanted something to be a certain way, but then in learning that the reality of that something doesn’t mesh with our idea of that something, we become conflicted. Sadness can then emerge as a result of this inner conflict. Then, within the conflict, the time spent appears as wasted.
But again, to me, there’s no such thing as wasted time.
There’s always something to gain from every situation we encounter on this planet. Whether any given experience is positive or negative, there’s still something that shapes us and that we can then use as we go forward. Many people take negative experiences, process them as purely negative, and then project that negativity on other experiences they face, going forward. In time, those experiences feed more negativity into the person’s worldview and then that person becomes bitter towards all of life and actually seeks to create negativity where there is none.
Rather than become bitter, I would argue that negative time isn’t wasted; rather, I think we should try to reconcile our ideas of things with the realities of things and then find ways we can gain positive lessons from our experiences. So I asked the woman, “Do you love him or the idea of him?”
“Well, you have an image of him that was true in the beginning of your marriage, but then became less and less real as time went on. Is that the person you love or this person?”
“Now that you mention it,” she said. “It was him of the first year that I love. I can’t stand this version of him.”
“Well,” I said. “It’s good that you learned how you like to be treated. Now that you go forward, you know more about what you’re ‘ok’ with and what you’re not ‘ok’ with. The time you spent with your ex wasn’t wasted; really, you appear to have become a stronger person because you are now ready to move on from a situation that you cannot accept.”
“I had no choice but to become stronger because I was always alone.”
“Still, you’re stronger now than you were. You can take this strength with you and use it to make things better in all things in your life. Or you can become bitter about the hurt you’ve felt. Either way, the time spent will not have been wasted. It will have been time spent in informing the rest of your life.”
We soon finished the conversation; she seemed to understand. I don’t know how she’ll absorb the end of her relationship, but I can say for certain that her time spent wasn’t wasted. None of our time on the Earth ever is. I hope that we can all remember that the things we experience can be carried forward positively or negatively, but either way, how we carry our experiences from today forward will define tomorrow.