I'm engaged to a wonderful, loving man, and it wasn't an easy journey to get to where we are today. I sat through a lot of first-date interviews, awkward breakups, and a roller coaster of heartache. I met and dated men who changed and challenged me. And I still love them.
But I don't love them in the way that you think. I don't love my exes in any romantic sense, and I really don't talk to any of them anymore, but I love what they've given me.
I love what they taught me, what they shared with me, and who they were. I love the memories I have and the person I've become, in part because of them. With each ending relationship, I took part of my ex with me, or the lesson I learned from him.
There are six ways my exes changed me for the better and helped me love someone so fully now:
1. They taught me what I like
Clearly I liked something about them when I met each person who came into my life. Some were carefree and loved being the comedian, while others were well-rounded and kind. I learned what qualities I liked in the different people I dated.
For example, one ex had a great sense of fun and childlike passion for life. Another was smart and well prepared for his career. I appreciated certain qualities in them, and I knew what I really wanted after each relationship ended.
2. They taught me what I don't like
On the other side, my exes definitely helped me learn the things I don't fully love in someone. I won't use this part to talk negatively about people, but it didn't take long to learn what qualities I liked. There's a difference between dealing with someone's personality and behaviors and truly loving them.
3. They made me speak my mind
When I first started dating, I was not myself. I didn't speak my mind, and I politely agreed with what my boyfriend would say. I was even afraid to say what wedding colors I liked—I was afraid he wouldn't like the same ones. So I stayed silent.
Going on dates and having relationships helped me become the most "me" I could ever be. Maybe it was because I answered so many of the same first- and second-date questions, but I became confident in whom I really was.
4. They humbled me
I've never thought I was the most beautiful, charming, or hilarious person out there, and I've had lots of dates who never called or text again. But I had always been the person to end a relationship. So when someone broke up with me for the first time, I was sad and humbled at the same time. I was humbled as I learned that I had many flaws, and that I still do.
Many people have this thought while dating: "We're either going to get married or break up." So many people look to the end of the relationship and try to predict where it's going, and I'm one of them. But I love that my exes pushed me to make decisions, especially decisions about the relationship.
I had nervous conversations and frustrated phone calls, plus many nights of tears, but I always had that gut feeling to move on. It has helped both me and my exes find who we were really meant to be with.
6. They pushed me
The people I dated didn't push me physically or even emotionally, but they all pushed me toward the man I was meant to be with. Maybe you don't believe in soulmates, but your past relationships and trials may be pushing you to the places you're supposed to be.
Because of my exes, I learned what I liked and didn't like. I spoke up and grew into who I am today. And because of the choices I made, I was pushed to the person who will give me the best kind of life I could have ever hoped for. I love my exes for what I've learned from them, and I love my fiancé a whole lot more.
Jenna Koford is on the content team at FamilyShare. She graduated with a degree in Communications—Journalism and a minor in editing. Jenna enjoys painting and calligraphy, planning a wedding, and Pinterest and Netflix.