Let’s do this, trees. Let’s show everyone why you trust yourself least of all.
Over February break, I went out to dinner with a girlfriend (C) from work. She’s around my age and never married (not because she didn’t want to…it just hasn’t happened during child-bearing years); I asked her about her dating experiences in hopes that she had some wisdom to offer.
I was especially curious, because a mutual friend refers to M as “[my] ‘John.’” John is a guy who was in the picture with C for a long time, but it never turned into a monogamous, boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.
John’s feelings, as filtered through C’s stories and our mutual friend’s opinion, seemed genuine to me. They had this ambiguous relationship that we all thought would pan out when the timing was right. I found out that night that he was, in fact, emotionally unavailable to C at best, and a womanizer at worst. I found this very troubling.
I thought he had real feelings for her. Looking back, we made an awful lot of excuses for John. What does it even matter how he felt about her given his actual actions?
(That’s how I feel about most of the people I’ve dated. I don’t think that anyone I’ve dated was out to hurt me. I regret my decisions because I did get hurt even by people who weren’t dishonest because they were emotionally available. I worked hard to focus on the “feelings” part and avoid the above question. I knew what I wanted, and I’m better at realizing where I can’t find it…but I don’t necessarily act on it. I’m embarrassed to find myself making excuses after my last boyfriend, so I’ve just get quieter in real life).
I told C that seeing only M has given me some quiet to reflect on my experiences and behavior while I was “out there dating,” and the sum total of a year of my life was me trying to convince myself that what I had was acceptable and meaningful in any way even though it wasn’t at all what I wanted. Strip away the very thin disguise of self-exploration, and it is bleak.
Unfortunately, she agreed with my summary.
Maybe other people have a hard time seeing this because I overshared certain things to divert from the fact that I left out some BIG information–the behavior and stifling limitations** that I colluded to accept from people I’ve dated. I also worked hard to spin things in a falsely serene way because I wanted to find the beauty in what was possibly the best I could do if I didn’t want to be alone. I ended up romanticizing interactions with men who treated me neutrally at best and kiiiiiiiiiind of like garbage at worst.
** what I was allowed to say or ask
** what I could expect from the guy in terms of contact or emotional support even months into seeing each other
** how much affection or attachment I had to hide
** the spectrum of feelings that I had to keep to myself
If I could “fix it,” I’d have filtered out some of those fellows before it got to a first date. If I went past that, I could have politely told the others that what they were looking for was not the same as what I was looking for, and they would be out of my life without any histrionics. Some guys were politely honest enough to end our correspondence once I told them directly “I think you’re looking for casual sex or a friend with benefits, and I’m not interested in that.” However, the truly despicable ones (fuckboys) see that as a challenge and a good way to get a “virgin” to act like “whore” for them.
I tried so hard to find some meaning in it, to find a way to assuage myself into thinking that no one was a waste of awake time, feeling, or energy. It didn’t work, so I’m trying to accept it, forgive myself for being such a fucking idiot, and stop being a fucking idiot.
I want to be very clear that what I mean when I say that men treated me poorly is that I accepted that kind of treatment, and no one forced me to stay in it. With the exception of the guy who had a girlfriend and a poor understanding of consent, I’m not angry at any of the men I’ve dated. I’m angry at myself. Even in the cases I was mistreated physically, I could have easily gotten out before it got to that point. Why see someone who you know is at the end of a bender? Why continue to see someone who was abused as a child, and you just have a bad feeling that he’ll eventually live what he learned? This is not “ugh, men are such assholes, I deserve so much better.” I was the one treating myself horribly by allowing it.
I may go all the way back, because this horrible judgment goes back decades. What matters most now, though, is my judgment dating as a 40 year old woman. I need to acknowledge my past (the last couple years especially), take responsibility for myself, recognize it when I’m repeating past mistakes, and get out of it.
I’ll start in spring of 2014. I felt ready to meet people because finding out about my ex’s affair finally quashed any false hopes. I felt sadder, but much more free. I hadn’t been on a date since 1997, so obviously I didn’t know how things work. My frame of reference was my relationship with my ex, which was long distance for 6 years, so I very quickly (and foolishly) ended up in in a long distance relationship.
I didn’t talk about my boyfriend all that much here. I don’t think I was blogging a lot of the time. However, I think I ended up locking a couple posts during that time because I was ashamed that I stayed with someone who started out as controlling and worked his way into an abusive “grey” area before I ended the relationship.
I honestly don’t know if I’m forcing myself to acknowledge things that make me cringe in order to not repeat them, or if I’m just punishing myself by sharing the worst parts of my life. But let’s do this.
Very early on, he dragged his feet when it came to taking down his profile on OkC. He said he couldn’t figure out how to do it on his phone. After I bugged him enough, he gave me his password and told me to take it down. So I logged in as him and saw that he was still messaging girls. I revised his profile to be a bi-curious (he was more than mildly homophobic) guy in search of a bear who would accept his iguana fetish and changed his password.
Then I confronted him about it. He told me it was because I was going out with people from work that night, and that’s what his last girlfriend told him the night she cheated on him. He also told me he loved me. This was just weeks into it.
That was my chance to get out. Why didn’t I get out?
I talked to a girlfriend who had gone through the same with her live-in partner, who’s a “weird Twitter” person. She said that, if she were to do it over, she would have gotten out. She didn’t, though, and I chose to interpret that as a sign that it was acceptable to stay with him.
My therapist at the time noted that my enthusiasm for him peaked about a month in, and gradually went down after that. She’s right. Why didn’t I get out? Was I that desperate for security? I could have had a nice, quiet summer here, cultivating the friendships with women from work who had taken me in and invited me along with things after I found out about the affair. I could have taken up a new hobby. Instead, I became more and more isolated, only seeing him…partially out of laziness, partially out of fear of him acting out again.
He was never a demonstrative, mushy, sensitive guy; even though I knew that wanted someone who was those things, I figured that I’d never find someone like that after my ex, so it took me a long time (and until he was treating me poorly) to see that that made him a bad match. he went from that to being…whatever is the opposite of compassionate? I remember the first time he “shushed” me because I was talking during a commercial that he wanted to hear, I was astounded and amused. Later on, that became “shut up.”
I thought it was cute that he took an interest in what I wore. I felt like a doll. Later on, I found myself bringing a suitcase full of clothes to him and him picking out what I was to wear when we went to visit his mom in Cape Cod. I also remember feeling panicky when he pushed me to wear what was clearly a shirt/tunic that required leggings as a dress without even tights. I didn’t do it, but I was afraid of what would happen if I took enough of a stand.
He’d pout if I didn’t wear my makeup the way he liked, and he’d hound me to do it, even if I’d just arrived there after a 4-hour drive.
The last time I saw him, we had gotten a hotel room because his roommates were throwing a party. We were horsing around, and I was on his shoulders while he ran around. I knocked my head into a place where the ceiling became lower, and it hurt like hell. He just kind of looked at me as I cried and stated his innocence. Later that night, we were watching a show about a horrible storm on a cruise ship, and I started having a panic attack because people were vomiting. He wouldn’t turn it off.
He never hit me, although I am quite certain that he was working his way up to that. He did take a pot in which he’d just cooked oatmeal and wake me up by putting on a bare part of my ass because he thought it was funny. He also spit water in my face for the same reason.
Whether you feel that he showed himself up front or that his treatment of me declined significantly in just give months, I want you to know that I’m aware that I’m a grown-ass woman who accepted this treatment. I don’t feel that I’m the victim of abuse. I wasn’t trapped. I could have walked away at any time without any complications.
I found myself listening to Lana del Rey a lot; that was the first thing that made me think about breaking up with him–not him spitting on me.
Even when I broke up with him, I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to stick with it. The next day, the things he said to me rung in my ears. I knew that someone who loved me wouldn’t call me a piece of shit, that there are certain things that a guy can say to a girl that he really thinks he loves that indicate an irreconcilable issue with disrespect.
I changed the codes on my door and told two people that I was afraid of him just so that someone knew. He got obsessive after we broke up, but he never drove the four hours to confront me.
It wasn’t that hard. Why did I wait five months? Oh. I thought that this was my punishment for the behavior that led my husband to have an affair and leave me.
I probably thought it when I actually did get physically abused a couple months into dating again.
My ex noticed the bruises. I laughed and said, “oh, ha, you know me, that’s nothing,” and turned away so I didn’t have to know if he still had a crease between his eyebrows. He didn’t bring it up again.
I don’t want to exaggerate. I wasn’t in any physical danger. Most of the episode (him biting me on the face) happened in public. I guess the drunk people around me thought that telling him to stop, pushing him off of me, and then crying was some kind of weird sex game. It wasn’t. But I wasn’t hurt badly. The worst part was (is) having to live with the knowledge that I was so desperate for affection that I allowed that.
I knew all of this, and I stayed with it. In every case (except for the situation in which I switched to seltzer for a couple hours until I was completely sober so I could leave), I could have stopped it at any time, and there would have been no negative consequences.
I knew that if I kept on the path I was on, it was only a matter of time until I got the shit beaten out of me. I disabled my profile from February until May, although I did carry with me two guys that I saw just a couple times at the beginning of that break.