What do you prefer, being surprised by something awesome happening in your life or being prepared for it and seeing it coming? One offers a more intense shock factor (which I guess could be good and bad) and the other is more of a slow-burn kind of happiness. But what about pain? Do you prefer surprise pain or seeing it coming?
The underlying issue for a lot of grumpy girlfriends is that they refuse to be surprised by pain. The most important thing in the world is seeing it coming and being able to say “I knew it” if it were to happen. This unwillingness to be surprised is the reason girlfriends can’t just relax and be happy… they have to be looking out for signs of danger and make sure they “interpret” everything correctly.
In this post, I want to explore with you the difference between surprise pain and seeing it coming. I also want to compare two scenarios where we might have a different approach to surprise vs. preparation pain.
What is surprise pain?
Surprise pain is exactly what it sounds like. Something happening out of the blue that you weren’t expecting, and then feeling pain about the thing that happened. For example, in a relationship, you are broken up with or cheated on and caught off guard completely.
To our primitive brains, this kind of pain is extremely dangerous. If we don’t have time to prepare for the pain or see it coming, there’s a bigger risk that we will not be able to survive it. The problem is that if we’re constantly looking out for danger in order to not be surprised by it, we are living in a reality where everything is a threat to us. This puts us in a constant state of fight or flight, which is extremely taxing for our nervous system (and it makes us act crazy in our relationships).
Without really thinking about it, we choose a slow-burn kind of pain where we suffer a little bit every single day just in case something bad happens, just to avoid the surprise. But what is it about the surprise that is so bad that it’s worth suffering daily to prevent?
A loved one dying
Let’s start by taking a look at the scenario of a loved one dying. Would we rather be surprised by their death and caught off guard, or be prepared for it and see it coming?
Personally, I have only lost two loved ones in my life; our puppy Rascal who passed away in a very shocking and traumatic way a few years ago, and my grandmother who had dementia for a few years and passed away from COVID. I was very prepared for my grandmother’s passing and even though it was sad, I wasn’t surprised or shocked by it. I was not at all prepared for our puppy passing away from a seizure in the middle of the night.
My guess, without knowing for sure, is that very few of us would choose the surprise option over knowing ahead of time. It’s a different kind of grief that comes from not having the time to say goodbye one last time. Not being able to savor every single moment together before they’re no longer with you.
Basically, we want to see it coming because we want to enjoy every single second we have left with this loved one and really make the most out of it. We want to hug them and kiss them and talk to them. We want to cuddle with the puppy, give them all the treats, and sniff their fur as much as humanly possible.
We want to be prepared for the pain, not to lessen the pain itself, but because we want to enjoy every last second of love before the pain arrives.
“You might not be here tomorrow, so I want to love you 110% today”
A relationship ending
When it comes to a relationship ending, we have a very different view of surprise pain and seeing it coming. We don’t usually say “Hey, I want to know if you’re going to break up with me or cheat on me two months from now so that I can savor every moment we have together.”
If we knew ahead of time that the relationship would end, most of us would probably just end it on the spot. If we were to use the same logic on a loved one dying, it would be like saying “Oh, I found out that you’re going to pass away a year from now, so why not just cut to the chase? Why waste this year enjoying each other’s company and feeling good?”
At the core, I think we all have this idea that a successful relationship lasts forever, and if a relationship ends it was a failure and a waste of time. I know that you intellectually can see the value in relationships even if they do end, but despite this, we judge past happiness in a relationship if something goes wrong.
“I don’t want to be “fake” happy and in love all this time if you’re going to break up with me or cheat on me anyway. I want to feel real feelings so I need to make sure this is real and not pretend.”
But the truth is that even if you’re happy and in love for 6 months while your partner is cheating on you, your feelings are real. Your feelings aren’t “wrong” or “incorrect.” They are exactly what they’re supposed to be.
The biggest mistake we make when we are surprised by the pain of a relationship ending is that we look back into the past and judge how we felt. We judge what we knew and didn’t know. We judge ourselves for not seeing it coming.
Being happy right up until the day you find out about something that happened and then being sad is not an error. It’s exactly how it should be.
What’s the difference?
We don’t think that the love and happiness we feel for a loved one during their lifespan is wasted, wrong, or naive simply because they pass away one day. Maybe it’s because we know that death is inevitable and we just don’t know when it’s going to happen… so we don’t judge it as harshly as a relationship ending because of a choice someone made.
But what would it look like if we viewed our romantic relationships the same as our relationships with loved ones?
Knowing that the relationship could end one day doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves today.
I get that for a lot of girlfriends the idea of spending your life together and making plans together requires that you can “see” into the future and be certain that your relationship will last. Like buying a house, getting married, or having kids. And because of these big commitments, we have to make sure that the relationship will never end.
But the reality is that relationships end all the time even if you’re certain they won’t. And even if your relationship is amazing and it’s on track to last forever, you never know what will happen. Your partner could pass away at any point. Or they could choose to end the relationship at any point.
The difference is that we don’t hold back our love and commitment or ruin our enjoyment in the present moment because there’s a risk that our partners will unexpectedly die one day. We accept that risk and choose to be happy and enjoy the time we have together.
If your partner unexpectedly passes away, you don’t tell yourself you “should have seen it coming” or that you “wasted all this time loving them and being happy.” You don’t call yourself “naive” or “stupid” because you choose to love a person who passed away. You’re just sad. You feel the clean pain of losing the person you love.
What if you accepted the clean pain of a potential breakup in the same way, without judging yourself or looking into the past saying that everything was fake?
Choosing surprise pain in order to enjoy the present moment is not an easy thing to do. But if you can get to a place where you accept the reality and risk of the relationship ending, the same way you have accepted the risk of a loved one potentially dying one day, it helps. If you commit to having your own back no matter what and never calling yourself names for choosing to be happy, it makes it a whole lot easier.
Feel free to leave a comment on this post with your thoughts about surprise pain vs. preparation pain. What would it be like for you if you accepted the risk of the relationship ending one day and chose to be surprised by it when that day comes?