Thank you, Cheesy Rider! Lessons from my senior summer
Do memories of past mistakes make you wince? Make peace with your past and you’ll find more joy in the present.
We all have a few memories we regret. I have more than I’d like. I suppose we all do.
Painful, humiliating, and impossible to forget, the mistakes of our youth stick with us. But lately, I’ve been looking at them in a different light.
I remember that bold young version of me, so full of life and confidence. Sure, she made mistakes, but she also lived fiercely. It’s time to make peace with my past.
Take, for example, my brief relationship with Cheesy Rider.
(His nickname should have been a clue: this was not going to end well.)
Cheesy was my first boyfriend, and he broke my romantic, dramatic, 19-year-old heart.
Cheesy spent the summer of 1979 plying me with cold beer and hot kisses. It was a big deal for me, a girl who’d never dated. I was determined to join the ranks of those who were attractive to the opposite sex.
It was the summer between high school and college. I spent it in a tiny Wisconsin tourist town, working in my parents’ bar/restaurant/bait shop (only in Wisconsin!)
Looking back, I can see that I viewed Cheesy through rose-colored glasses. In his early 20’s, he was older and seemed sophisticated, worldly. He had a mustache, wore a black leather jacket, drove a Harley, and once told me he’d started writing a book (be still, my heart!).
I was swept away, by his attention and by the pleasure of stolen kisses in the front seat of my parents’ Plymouth sedan.
At 19, it’s easy to be impressed.
I have to give Cheesy kudos for patience. It took him three long months to convince me it was time to go “all-the-way”. Under the decidedly unromantic fluorescent lights in his tiny, two-room apartment, we finally did.
As you probably suspected, my story does not end well. The next morning, he dropped me like a hot potato.
His excuse was something that should have been obvious to me from Day 1. We were heading in different directions. I was leaving for college in one week and he was, well… he was going nowhere. He was happy right where he was.
It was crushing, humiliating, and a huge heartache for me at the time. But looking back, I realize that it was the best thing that could have happened.
It also taught me a number of important lessons about life and love.
Lesson #1: Love is different than lust
Obvious now, I know, but in the beginning of any relationship it is very hard to tell the difference. Add hormones, loneliness and alcohol to the mix, and it’s easy to be led astray.
Falling in love is a wondrous thing, one of the best experiences in life. New love always feels sooooooo good. It is wonderful to be swept away, consumed by another person, happy just to daydream about the next time you’ll meet.
What’s not to like?
But new love rarely evolves into mature love. Lasting love is the exception, not the rule.
I know. I’ve been down this road a few times. Each time the scenery looks a little different and there are different stops along the way, but the destination is always the same.
I know better now, and Cheesy was my first teacher.
Still, I can’t regret those early attempts at love. I realize now they were not fails, just stepping stones to happiness. Each taught me a little more about what a healthy relationship looks like.
I’m still working on this, but I can honestly say I have a lot more to offer today as a partner than I did when I was 19.
Lesson #2: Take people at their word
People inevitably tell you their truth. You can find it in the way they act, the things they say, and the things they don’t say.
The problem is, we don’t (I don’t) always listen.
Take Cheesy, for example. At no point in our dating did we ever talk about our feelings or the future. Those are some rather glaring omissions, don’t you think?
Did I notice?
Cheesy was quite clear about what he wanted out of life. He was happy working and living in a small town, making enough money to go out and have fun, and riding his motorcycle. That’s all he wanted.
It was not even in the same galaxy as what I wanted. But I pretended it was.
We see what we want to see. This is especially true in love. We assume the object of our affection doesn’t mean what they say, that they’ll change, that we can bring out the best in them.
The reality is that in almost every instance, what you see is what you get.
After the initial glow has faded, you’re left with who you really are. Either you’re OK with that, or you’re not. If you’re not, there is no sense in driving yourself crazy trying to salvage something that isn’t salvageable.
Let’s face it, while we’re busy trying to change someone else, we’re rarely willing to change ourselves in the same way.
Reshape ourselves to fit someone else’s dream? Heck, no!
Isn’t that the very thing we seek in a partner — someone who sees us, accepts us, and loves us for who we truly are?
That’s what I want.
Today I strive to see and accept people as they are, not as I wish they would be. I seek the same thing in return.
Lesson #3: Time heals everything (if you let it)
Getting dumped the day after you lose your virginity is a real ego-crusher. But compared to the many losses, sorrows, and tragedies a lifetime will hold, it is nothing. Nothing.
I just didn’t have the life experience to realize it back then.
I guess that’s one of the reasons we look back so nostalgically on our youth. We were so innocent, so hopeful. When you’re young, anything seems possible. You have no idea how tough life will get or how strong you will need to become.
Life’s challenges teach you that.
Since the summer of Cheesy Rider, I’ve lost jobs, dreams, friends, and family. I’ve been broke, sad, hurt, sick, and lost. I’ve failed more often than I’d like to admit. Occasionally I’ve even had to face the fact that I’ve been a complete idiot.
Each time I bounce back, move on, and find happiness again.
I am hard to break.
You are too.
Now when I look back on the summer of 1979, I laugh. In retrospect, my breakup with Cheesy was about as tragic as a mosquito bite.
Lesson #4: Forgiveness is for you
I love this quote from Lisa Nichols’ book, Abundance Now:
Staying angry at someone is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.Lisa Nichols
It really puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?
It’s easy to hang onto your hurt and rage, constantly picking at the scab. Reliving it over and over again, you create a wound that never heals. It’s always vivid and painful in your mind.
We only hurt ourselves when we nourish our grievances.
The other person doesn’t feel it. They don’t know you’re spending hours daydreaming about their demise. They are blissfully unaware.
Meanwhile, you’re stuck in a rut, wasting time and going nowhere.
Maybe it’s time to put our old grievances to bed. Tuck them in, pat them on the head, and close the door forever.
You don’t need them anymore. Forgive and forget.
You’ll be glad you did.
(While you’re at it, why not give yourself a break? You deserve forgiveness too.)
Lesson #5: Time is your friend
When you’re accelerating towards the end of your life, that’s easy to forget. Nevertheless, it’s true.
- Time is generous. Each year is packed with opportunities to make new friends and enjoy new experiences.
- Time is the greatest of teachers. Every year is packed with lessons. If we are willing to learn, we become wiser with each new challenge.
- Time heals. It eases your pain and mellows your anger. The years take the sting away, granting you objectivity and allowing you to make peace with your past.
- Time provides perspective. The accumulating years provide the distance you need to see beyond the emotions that blind you.
I used to lie awake in the middle of the night and torture myself with thoughts of missed opportunities and paths not taken.
It’s easy to see what the “right” choice is when you’re looking in the rearview mirror. It’s not so obvious when you’re living in the present, moving forward in the best way you can.
Now I realize those “wrong” choices made me who I am today. I cannot regret them.
We make the best decisions we can at any given moment. We learn and we move on. I am smarter, wiser, and more experienced today because of the mistakes I made yesterday.
Truly, there are no mistakes, only lessons.
Now when middle-of-the-night memories threaten to take over my sleep, I refuse to jump on my mental gerbil wheel. Instead, I distract myself with a good book or listen to some music. Soon I’m ready to drift off to sleep.
Make peace with your past
By 50+ you’ve attained the perspective of a 30,000-foot view. Look back over the years. You’ll discover your life has become a beautiful patchwork of experiences, its sum so much greater than its parts.
In my life’s quilt, Cheesy is just a tiny splash of vivid, Cheetos orange. It’s one of the things that makes my story unique. I kind of like it.
I’ve finally made peace with my past. It’s a good feeling.
I wish the same for you:
- Make peace with your past mistakes, they made you the strong person you are today.
- Sleep well and know you are doing the best you can.
- Forgive and forget. It will free you to live joyfully in the present.
- Give yourself credit for your hard-won wisdom.
- Accept yourself as you are, even as you strive to become a better version of yourself.
I hope the years ahead bring you the gifts of new friends, new adventures, and new life lessons.