12/18/2012 01:51 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2013

Thank You, Ex-boyfriend

"Every single person who's drifted in and out of your life is a part of your Divinely chosen experience. As you move into the world of inspiration, you'll find it easy -- and even necessary -- to give thanks for all of these people, and to take serious note of what they brought you." - Dr. Wayne Dyer

(Please note: I encourage you to leave your thanks in the comments section below.)

In my 35 years, I've had approximately a bajillion dating experiences. I've had long-term boyfriends, short-term boyfriends, countless dates with disappearing men, blissful times, just so-so times and incredibly sad and lonely-beyond-belief times. As a young 20-something, I was inclined to see my experiences in the dating world as nothing more than wrong turns, failures and wasted opportunities. I used to wish I'd never met the guys who caused me heartbreak, or that I hadn't stayed with men I knew weren't right for me longer than I should have, including the nice guys but especially the rakes. I took little responsibility for my part in these experiences, nor did I seek to learn from them, avoiding any real introspection.

As the years passed, I put more energy into self-reflection and self-improvement. I began to see just how important all of my past relationships and dating experiences have been to my self-discovery. I like the woman I've become (although, certainly, I'll always be a work in progress), and I am deeply thankful to all the men who have drifted in and out of my dating and love life for helping me to evolve.

As a dating coach, I encourage clients to offer similar gratitude to their exes by writing a letter titled "Thank you, ex-boyfriend." By reflecting deeply on their experiences with past boyfriends, short-term romances, flings and whoever else they select, clients empower themselves to begin letting go of the anger, hurt or apathy that may be preventing them from moving forward. They start to see these past men as teachers instead of wrongdoers or time-drains. Moreover, clients begin to realize they have the ability to take control of their dating and love lives by accepting the past, learning from it and being grateful for it. When you do this exercise (because I know you will!), you may be frightened, surprised, relieved or disappointed, among other emotions, by what you discover about yourself; just remember that whatever it is you do discover has the power to be instructive.

Below is my list of thank you's. They are based on a mix of relationships: those that were pleasant and ended fairly amicably, and those I considered more contentious, ending painfully. Some were long-term; some were short-term. I believe all types of experiences and relationships have lessons to offer. All names have been changed.

Mike: Thank you, Mike, for being my first boyfriend and for showing me that I have value and worth as a woman and human being. Thank you for allowing me to see myself as a girlfriend and partner to someone, that a man could want to put his time and energy into being with me for more than just a fling. Despite our relationship being fairly short at nine or so months and despite our ups and downs, I want to thank you for the time you spent being kind, gentle and patient with me, despite my immaturity and lack of relationship know-how.

John: Thank you, John, for indirectly inspiring me to start seeing a therapist who could help me discover my unhealthy dating patterns, and the connections between my past and present-day behavior. Despite our emotionally draining, rollercoaster, on and off again relationship, I thank you for helping me to grow and learn. Thank you for also indirectly inspiring me to become a writer. Our dysfunctional relationship provoked me to write about dating and relationships, which led to a freelancing career, radio and internet TV hosting gigs, an advice column and now, a career as a dating coach.

Jeremy: Thank you, Jeremy, for being the first man with whom I ever established true intimacy and a long-term relationship. In the three years we were together, I learned about what's important in relationships and got closer to understanding what kind of man would be good for me and the type of of man for whom I would be compatible. Thank you for showing me that I am cut out for long-term love, but that it often takes effort and commitment. Thank you for showing me that I can just "be" in a relationship, that just "being" is good enough.

Kevin: Thank you, Kevin, for definitively showing me that I don't need to chase men to get them to see my worth and that I have value to offer someone. Thank you for showing me that I don't have to try so hard all the time to deserve someone's affections.

Jacob: Thank you, Jacob, for definitively showing me that I butt heads with Alpha males. Despite my misguided desire for many years to be with a dominant, Alpha male type, I learned from our time together that I'm better-suited for a man who is more easy-going, sensitive to my needs, a good listener and allows me to shine.

To all of these exes (and the others from whom I haven't listed but have gained enormous self-knowledge), I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for allowing me to learn and grow through the experiences we shared.

Are you that woman who can't see the silver lining from your past dating or relationship experiences? Do you have a friend who constantly complains about past beaus, crying foul about what she didn't get from those relationships? Remember: Your past relationships and dating experiences are not "failures"; rather, they are assets, opportunities for self-reflection and growth. Take some time out to reflect on your past romantic experiences with men and then write them a small note explaining your gratitude. What can they teach you about who you are and what you know about dating and relationships?

So... how can you thank your ex-boyfriends? Leave your thanks in the comments section below.