09/30/2013 06:40 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2013

What I Learned About Myself When I Ran Into My Ex After 18 Years

Last week, I ran into my high school boyfriend (and his two small children) on the street. Big deal, you're probably thinking. Well, yeah, sure, it has been 18 years since we were a couple. And 18 years since last saw each other. And yes, I definitely cannot complain about the life that I have led since that time.

We had a friendly (but definitely strained) conversation and went our separate ways. I didn't really give any more thought to it until later that evening, when I was planning my lecture for my eleventh grade girls' sexuality seminar for the following morning. Something hit me: this unexpected meeting on Third Avenue brought me back to a time when I was 18, when I was completely overwhelmed by new feelings and when I was not even remotely close to the woman I am today. Well, as for that last bit, I was the same person, but no where near the sexually and emotionally confident and comfortable woman that I have become. And to be perfectly aboveboard, back then, my sense of what it meant to be in a good relationship was severely skewed.

I knew exactly what my lecture was going to be about.

"Tuesday's Gone," I wrote on the dry erase board the next morning. The girls looked at me quizzically. (It was a Tuesday; they were confused.) "It's a Lynyrd Skynyrd song," I told them. "A great one." Since most of my students were born in 1997, there was a fairly good chance that they didn't know that.

Tuesday's gone with the wind.

Life goes on. Something happens. You are forever changed. It's a song I have always loved and found great solace in.

"Girls, yesterday I ran into my high school boyfriend." They giggled. "You're probably wondering why this is important. This isn't the type of ex you stay friends with on Facebook; this is the relationship in which you are different afterwards. Not because of what you've done, but because of who you are."

(Readers, you know that there are some relationships that are unlike those little encounters or flings that you have throughout your lives. You probably have those exes, too. Think about it: no matter how mature you are, the likelihood is that you will never be friends with these partners, on Facebook or in reality.)

I didn't get into specifics, nor am I going to do so here. But the encounter forced me (and by extension, my students) to consider the answer to a very valuable question: What type of person do we want to be when we run into someone from our emotional past? It's easy to say that we want the superficial things: money, beauty, success. But that's not what I mean. Who do we really want to be? I wanted to be the person who found fulfillment outside of her partner status. I wanted to be the woman who speaks up for what she wants and doesn't allow others to make decisions for her. I wanted to be the woman who owns her sexuality and doesn't allow anyone else to define who she is.

I'm not saying that the path that takes us towards who we want to be is smooth or easy. But if you're not on that path, it's time to make a change, now. You never know who you're going to run into.

Train roll on...