Lessons in love

Recently, I was chatting with a couple of guys about love, about life, about relationships.

One asked me whether I'd ever been in a relationship where I thought I would get married. I said, yes I had, once.

He asked me what happened. Before I had the chance to say anything, he clarified the question. "Who broke up with who?"

"Yeah," his mate echoed, curiosity sparked. "Who got dumped?"

It was a loaded question and clear by the expressions on their faces that the answer mattered -  whether I was worth pursuing, whether there was something wrong with me.

I squirmed and then, shamefully, I settled on a lie. "It was mutual," I said.

They both looked visibly relieved.

It wasn't the first time I had seen the reaction that the question - and answer - evoked.

The first man I dated while still reeling from said break up was asking about my last relationship one day as we were driving.  "So, what happened? Who broke it off?" he asked.

I told him the truth. "He did."

He looked at me sidelong, in the car, sizing me up. Searching for what craziness must lie beneath the calm exterior to have caused it.

I didn't like the look, but I got it. One study by the University of Michigan titled Rejection Hurts: The Effect of Being Dumped on Subsequent Mating Efforts looked at how we weigh information about potential partners.

"The ending of relationships is potentially information rich because the decision to terminate a relationship entails a loss of investment from someone with a great deal of information about the person in question," the authors said.

"Dumping can be seen as similar to selling a car... sellers have a lot of information about their cars, and the fact that they are selling it is itself information that buyers ought to take into account."

Unsurprisingly, they found that "male and female participants' ratings of how much they would like to date [a] person ... decreased significantly after learning he or she had been rejected."

It makes sense and I would venture that there's even more of a stigma attached to female dumpees.

This is because women tend to initiate break ups more often than men. In fact, women are said to initiate between 60 and 90 per cent of divorces.

So, I was in the minority and could see my fellow in the car was wondering, "what's wrong with you?"

The worst part was, I was wondering it too.

I had spent far more than my fair share of time pondering that exact question, examining every flaw, turning over every quirk and aspect of myself that might explain the unworthiness. The wrongness.

But, within that search, I found something right too. I found myself amongst the shit I was sifting through.

As the dumper, in the past, I'd never had the inclination nor the impetus to really look at myself. Now as a loser in love, I took a good, long look at the gunky sides to my soul.

Uncomfortable and ugly as it was, I learned and grew more out of being heartbroken than I ever did from being a heartbreaker.

By all means, those who do the dumping can be reflective and evolve after an important relationship ends. Similarly, those who are dumped can dig their heels in, resisting change and the great chance it provides to reflect on who they are and how they are in relationships.

More often than not, both sides play a part in the demise of a relationship. Dumpees and dumpers can be right and wrong, wrong and right. It is not mutually exclusive or absolutely deducible.

Gauging people by their previous relationships is natural. But, if we want to gain insight into someone, perhaps we need to dive a little deeper and discover what lies beneath a break up - not who did the breaking up, but what, if any, lessons a person has learned from love.

And, if we take the car example from the Michigan study, information about the car we are potentially purchasing is important. But, surely what we want to know is not whether the car was ever flawed, as virtually every second hand car is, but whether and how well it was ever fixed. Right?

This story Lessons in love first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.