You Hurt Me and I Loved You

Recently I read a book called Principles by Ray Dalio. In this book, he mentioned the concept of first, second and subsequent-order consequences. He said, “By recognizing the higher-level consequences nature optimizes for, I’ve come to see that people who overweigh the first-order consequences of their decisions and ignore the effects of second- and subsequent-order consequences rarely reach their goals. […] Quite often the first-order consequences are the temptations that cost us what we really want, and sometimes they are the barriers that stand in our way.” For example, our goal is to lose weight. Yet, we immediately overemphasize the pain from going to the gym and overlook the long-term physical benefits. What we should do instead is to ignore the first order consequence (gym pain) and actively focus on the subsequent ones to keep ourselves motivated.

Funnily enough, it makes me think about my past relationships. There was excruciating pain, yes, but there was also so much positivity and blessing in disguise that advanced me as a person. So, in a love connection that didn’t work out, the broken heart, while overwhelmingly numbing, was just the first-order consequence. The second-order consequence, importantly, was the growth. The point is, you shouldn’t write off all the failed relationships just because you were hurt, and you should never stop yourself from connecting with people just because you’re scared you will get hurt again. Because you’ll gain so much regardless of the outcome, and that should be your focus with every human connection. (I know I don’t have to talk about relationships using this order of consequence notion but I just thought it was an interesting reference, like how someone might use quantum entanglement to talk about love).

The fact that there are different orders of consequences (e.g. something hurts you but can also be good for you in the end) also raises a notable point about how nothing in life is perfect, or black and white. See, I once wrote an article called I Promise Someday Someone Will Love You Just Like This — a positive, hopeful, and comforting piece. It was very well-received, but honestly, I would not re-read it myself. I wasn’t proud of it. The reason is that it was written in an absolute, idealized way. Personally, I don’t think that way for myself and I now know it’s not healthy to be thinking that way. I make it a point to not read things that refer to people (mostly exes, or future lovers, in this instance) as one-dimensional (either good or evil). The reality is, people who hurt you aren’t always hurting you, and they aren’t always hurting everyone in their life. People who do right to you aren’t always doing right to you either because we’re all just flawed humans.

We’re quick to look at things one-dimensionally and prefer to have a definite closure (either this or that) because that helps us make sense of what happened and find our peace of mind. It’s stressful when something is always neither this nor that and we have to go on with the uncertainty without being able to draw a conclusion about its state (which also leads to the inability to make effective decisions). In psychology, it’s called cognitive dissonance — the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. For our own functioning and well-being, we should indeed try to minimise this contradiction, but over time I’ve learned that we don’t have to reduce people into extreme characters in the play of our lives to achieve this. We could leave the people alone, accepting that they’re multi-layered individuals who can be good and bad at the same time and are deserving of our kindness and compassion. To gain mental consistency, we could make conclusions about the situation itself or about ourselves. (“I’m not happy so this is not working for me and I should move on” instead of “They hurt me, they’re a bad person, and they will never have me again”)

I believe that no one is out to get anyone (I’m excluding those intentionally malicious cases). As humans, we have self-interests. Generally, we’re just trying to be loved and happy, and sometimes it means compromising someone else’s interests and hurting them as a result. I also believe that in a romantic context, when someone does and says something, in that moment, they mean it. That moment is done and it adds value while it lasts; the outcome is irrelevant. With this mindset, I don’t have to victimise myself. I don’t have to villainise my exes. I become more forgiving and accepting, my soul lighter because I don’t have to carry the past hurt with me. I get more comfortable savouring the good memories from a broken relationship, admitting the existence of love by someone who did wrong to me. Undoubtedly, it’s not always easy. It takes great energy and maturity to practice this daily. But I don’t see a better alternative. Life will always have a level of uncertainty to it — The point isn’t to try to eliminate this uncertainty but to learn to live with it without getting anxious or going insane.

You hurt me and I loved you, I would say to one of my exes. It’s not but. It’s and. I could live with that.

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