What Does It Mean to “Learn a Lesson” In Relationships?

[Alissa’s Note: So…I was supposed to stop writing about men/relationships, but then I thought, Why? It’s my blog. I can write about whatever I want! Lol.]

I once read a quote that said “History repeats itself until the lesson is learned.” (Google.com is unable to find that quote, so now I am wondering if I actually read it despite the fact that it has stuck with me all these years.)

While looking for that quote, I found this quote which serves essentially the same purpose: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” -George Santayana.

Then George Bernard Shaw came along and said:  “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience.”


(Anyone who reads quotes knows that it is very possible to read a profound quote, feel changed by it…and then read another profound quote that completely contradicts the first one. This is why I stick to Proverbs.)

Yes. Learning from history. Learning from experience. Learning lessons. It’s the stuff depressing love songs are made of.

Well, at least one. Alicia Keys and John Mayer Lesson Learned is one of my favorites:
“Yes, I was burned but I called it a lesson learned. Mistake overturned so I called it a lesson learned.”

I think Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw said it best:

People say ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ These people are usually women. And these women are usually sorting through a break-up. It seems that men can get out of a relationship without even a ‘Goodbye,’ But, apparently, women have to either get married or learn something.

I completely agree. This whole “learning lessons from failed relationships” annoys the crap out of me. And when well-meaning people attempt to nurse my hurt feelings with the “at least you learned something” phrase, I want to slap them. Yeah I learned something. I learned that if you don’t dump a 10-gallon cooler filled with “Que Juice” on a man who just told you nonchalantly (in the middle of a crowded party) that he slept with your friend then you will regret it.  Immensely.

Seriously, what is with the lessons learned stuff? I don’t fall in love to learn lessons. I spent 15 years in school, endured countless hours in the library and acquired tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt to learn lessons. I’m done with school. I’m done learning lessons.

Besides, in school they give you a transcript to prove you learned your lesson. In relationships, how do I know if I learned my lesson? There’s not exactly a diploma for it (unless you call a marriage certificate a diploma, but then what can be said of divorce papers?)

If marriage does not result and I am still in the dating game, can I say I leaned my lesson when I stop meeting the same type of man over and over again? But then that begs the question: Am I meeting the same type of man over and over again or am I just finding similarities because I am looking for them? Is the proof that I learned my lesson with the last guy evident by my running away at the first sign of similarities with the new guy?

For instance, hypothetically speaking, if I had an awful breakup with a guy because he slept with the mother of his child does “learning my lesson” mean never again dating a man with kids? Or never dating a man who is close with the mother of his kid? Or never dating a man with a kid the same age as the kid in the other relationship? If I date this new guy who has a child despite the drama with the old guy who also had a child, did I not learn my lesson in the first relationship? Most would say, of course that’s not the case because people are different and what I encountered with Man A doesn’t necessarily mean I will encounter the same thing with Man B. BUT, let’s say Man B does end up sleeping with the mother of his child. Can it be said that I didn’t learn my lesson from Man A and thus I repeated it with Man B? If that is the case, WHAT is the lesson and HOW do I prevent myself from doing the same thing again?

Another scenario, I date a man for five years whom I want to marry but he refuses to propose. (In my opinion, when you’re over the age of 25 — which I am not, so that’s why I’m using this as an example –, five years is a long time to date a man without getting engaged.) When I finally get Mr. Commitment Phobe to admit that he is never going to marry me and I admit that I don’t want to be in a relationship without the prospect of a wedding, I decide to end the relationship. My friends all say “well at least you learned something”. Then I meet another guy and we date for two years and he hasn’t mentioned marriage. Do I stick around knowing that this relationship has three whole years before becoming a carbon copy of the relationship I just walked out of?  Do I ask him how he feels about marriage thus throwing a ridiculous amount of pressure onto my current situation as a result of not throwing enough pressure on my last one? Do I refuse to waste another five years when I know what the outcome will be? Do I ever really know what the outcome will be?

That’s the thing about learning lessons. I don’t really know when or how to implement what I’ve learned.

I scrutinize prospective men looking for similarities between them and my ex-men because I don’t want to repeat the same thing. However, does the expectation that it will be the same thing, then create the same thing? If you always do what you’ve always done then you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten? Or do I ignore the similarities and focus on the differences…then drive smack dab into the same pothole that busted my tire the last time? Closing my eyes to something doesn’t eliminate its existence.

So…I look for similarities, but that’s not fair. I look for differences, but am I being delusional?

For all the “learning lessons”, in a new relationship, can you make up for mistakes made in a past relationship? I hear people say things all the time: “I spent too much money on the last girl. I’m not buying this girl anything.”; “I slept with him too fast. I’m not having sex again until I’m married.”; “I let her move in with me. I’m not letting another woman move in with me.”; “He met my mom and now he won’t leave my family alone. I’m not introducing any more guys to my family.” It doesn’t seem right, but no one wants to make the same mistake twice…especially since we’re all supposed to be “learning lessons”.

Maybe the only lesson in life that we cannot learn is one from a relationship because every relationship is different and every person deserves his or her own chance independent of the past (both their own and the new person they’re in a relationship with).

Or maybe I still believe that because I haven’t learned my lesson…

2 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to “Learn a Lesson” In Relationships?

Add yours

  1. very well written and you make valid points.

    However, the lessons come from learning about who you are as a woman. Identifying what you want from a relationship. Are you dating with a purpose? (i.e. marriage) Or, are you looking for a casual affair? The choice is yours and I’ve learned from my past relationships about MY limitations and MY insecurities and MY inability to ignore red flags. So, when moving forward to a new relationship, I’m not focused on looking for “like” qualities of the ex and the prospect b/c they most certainly will exist. I am focused on my responses to the “like” qualities.

    If you date a man with a “baby momma” ask yourself, what behaviors/signs did I ignore?”

    For the long-term, this is all it gon’ be relationship, ask yourself, “at what point am I going to say, I don’t want this?”

    What are you doing upfront to prevent ending up in these kind of situations? Do you tend to date the same “type” of man? The sooner you know what you want and are able to clearly communicate your needs in words and behavior, brothers will most certainly take notice and step up to the plate or fall off and your love life will be all the better for it.

    I hope this makes sense as I’m at work and can’t fully dedicate more time to this.


  2. I have a Master’s in mathematics and I can say that the mind of a woman is far more complex than anything I’ve ever seen inside the classroom. 🙂 Some (read all) women love to analyze things. I personally believe all detectives, F.B.I. profilers and animal trackers should be women. Women just be thinking all the time. 🙂 Seriously though, I like your ruminations. You give some real specific examples though….real specific…almost too specific to be “hypothetical”…lol. To me, the most important thing is to find a good person. I’ve always had terrific women in my life. The one or two times I’ve had bad experiences I can admit to myself that it was my fault. I always knew things weren’t right, but I chose to ignore it because I’m a man and sometimes we’re weak 🙂 Here’s what you should look for in a guy: boring, shy, genius I.Q. level and chivalrous…basically everything I am and I’m great so if you can find those qualities in a guy then you’ll be good 🙂


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