For many of us, it seems fitting that winter's frozen lock on the world reflects the cold shoulder we're giving to the idea of a new romance. Perhaps the last one ended so badly that it's a relief to not be out there, smiling, open-armed, acting friendly — while on the inside we’re scared, vulnerable, and dreading the next miserable outcome. We thought we were being smart last time, so how do the really smart people do this?
Luckily, natural selection prescribes that the smart and adaptive from our species are the ones that pass on their best traits. So let’s take a page from Darwin and learn from the best. After talking to smart, broken-hearted people for years in my career, here’s what I’ve learned from the “fittest” — really smart people whose hearts were broken, but who moved on to find new love:
1. Paying no attention to the calendar, smart people sit with their pain until they have had the time to feel as though they've digested their last agonizing break-up. They never wanted anything so badly to work out, never worked so hard to ensure it did work out — and then everything turned into an epic (and often publicly embarrassing) failure. They know that these sorts of catastrophes take time to unpack, and they dig in for the debriefing.
2. Smart people step back and take a look — a good, long look — at what precisely happened. Even if the other person was a classic villain right out of a fairy tale, we all need to admit that we picked them. What the heck was going on in me that I picked this scoundrel? What made me treat him or her the way that I did? What made me put up with behaviors I know better than to tolerate? Why did I make so many compromises that I lost my identity?
3. If they find a failure that goes beyond a one-time mistake in judgment coming from excessive emotional neediness, impulsivity or just jaw-dropping lust, then they open themselves up to a bigger journey of self-discovery. Maybe I keep making the same mistakes. Maybe I'm always a jerk or always a victim. Smart people always get help for this process of growing out of their mistakes. They seek out, find and talk to trusted family, friends and even professionals who can see more clearly because of their lack of personal involvement.
Smart people do all of this because they know that if they don't figure out what they're doing wrong, then they are extremely likely to repeat their mistakes. Smart people know that they have to do this work because they know that they want and need love in their lives. Smart people accept the pain from these in-depth debriefings, knowing that no matter how many tears they cry, they are not made of sugar; they will not melt. They are tough enough to apply themselves to the solution of their very understandable and solvable problem. We're all part of a social species, and our species is particularly good at relationship stuff.
So let's get busy at this and get ready for a more natural selection.