not too long ago, i was embroiled in an emotional entanglement with a no good person who made it past my filters during a vulnerable time. i won’t pretend it was all his fault: i let him in. once he pursued a little, i pursued back full force. it was an ill-fated relationship from the start, and i thought that by stating my desires out loud, i was setting boundaries. let’s be real, though: i have historically been rotten at follow-through when it comes to actually enforcing my boundaries.
between my sentimentality and my unfortunate emotional transparency, i’m a total fucking sucker, and unscrupulous dudes know it. they can smell it in my sweat.
when i told my friends about this no good person, and mentioned that there was a significant age gap, i got the same response from multiple people:
but…you’ve always liked old dudes.
it’s true: i’ve been dating inappropriately aged people since i started dating, and i’m a sucker for a mature man (the definition of which has changed as i’ve aged, naturally). i, like every other young person, thought i was soooooooo mature for my age.
SPOILER ALERT: i was not and i am not.
naturally, that particular older man was one who capitalized on that typical and self-destructive combination that often makes itself present in smart, young women–a perfect cocktail of inexperience, arrogance, and an unrelenting desire to be known.
here’s how i know i’m not a very smart person: i have fallen prey to the bullshit spun by dudes who recognized that combination in me multiple times. MANY times. it’s embarrassing to admit, because even now, i want to believe i’m an intelligent, capable person.
maybe not so much.
this dynamic played out with my most recent ex perfectly: we met when i was freshly twenty three and he freshly thirty. seven years doesn’t seem so long, but in retrospect, looking at the gap between myself four years ago and myself now, the difference between twenty three and thirty is practically an ocean. the rapid maturation that happens during this time makes a massive difference, and there is no way i could have known that then.
he was single, sure, but he was also stringing along an ex of his–one who committed the sin of Being Cool with him in hopes that it would make him treat her the way she deserved to be treated. my introduction to her was not spectacular; she was openly not all that kind to me. to this day, i resent it; i’m not the one who committed indiscretions against her, and picking on some young woman who gets caught up in a dude’s mythology is just cruel.
her unkindness fueled my socialized inclination to treat other women as competition, even when i intellectually recognized that this was an ugly thing to do. i did what so many of us do now, and e-scoped the fuck out of her online presence. what did she say about him? what did she say about herself? what did she believe? what were her weaknesses? where could demonstrate that i was clearly the better choice, and that the problems between her and my ex were clearly because she was a fucking monster?
although i surely found fodder for propping up my self-esteem, it was thin. i realized that while she and i clearly had some fundamental differences, this was a smart, attractive, funny woman who, at worst, wasn’t making the most confident and self-protective choices.
when i found out everything that happened between her and my ex, it was clear that he’d been stringing her along for attention and sex while she was obviously in love with him. it made sense that she responded with such anger and sadness. she didn’t handle it well, but it was damn understandable.
at the time, i said to him, “you know, i don’t feel bad for you, actually. you both have treated each other terribly, and you kind of deserve each other.” i seriously considered breaking up with him then; i said to him that i recognized that she and i were more alike than not. i asked him, “how do i know that you won’t treat me the same way?”
“i don’t know. it’s just different.”
i recognize now that what the difference was; he was an immature guy, looking for someone equally immature–a young woman who wasn’t a total pushover, but also wasn’t ever genuinely going to hold him accountable. he wanted a woman who didn’t expect real life things of him. he wanted a woman who was feisty enough to be entertaining, but overall easy to be around because she let his flattery carry far more weight than it should have. she, at nearly thirty, had hit the point where she wasn’t okay with being that gal anymore, and i, at twenty three, didn’t even have the capacity to recognize the problem.
we dated for years. i told him later that if i was faced with that situation again, i’d probably bow out. i don’t like being pitted against other women, and i don’t want to be involved with any dude who has such a critical lack of self-awareness that he’s dangerous to be around. after all, if you don’t know yourself, you cannot act with intention. when you don’t act with intention, you’re less likely to have follow through on the things you say. this is how people get hurt.
to be clear, i’m not some fucking saint. i fucked up plenty in my relationship with him due to my own lack of self-awareness. i’ve spent the eleven months since our breakup, especially the last six or so, putting in a concerted effort to figure out what i want and what my core values are, and to behave in a way that meaningfully backs that shit up.
he was guilty. i am guilty. if anyone deserved each other, it was probably us.
one of the most important things i have taken away from all of these missteps is that i don’t actually want to play this fucking game. there was a time when i chose style over substance while simultaneously convincing myself that i was better than that. i convinced myself i had a special kind of depth, that i was this unique creature that “won” based on my merit, but i was wrong. it wasn’t about me or her at all; it was about him.
i’m still no saint; i’m still guilty of peeking around the virtual corner, sizing up my perceived competition. after all, we’re fucking animals, and this shit is primal. with every glimpse, a conclusion i came to long ago is consistently validated: every woman i’ve ever been pitted against by some middling romantic prospect was at least one thousand times cooler than the dude we had both vied for.
the sisterhood saved me, and, like amy winehouse said about weed, “does more than any dick did.” the women in my life are the ones who have stuck it out over every other. these are the people who have truly loved me, cherished me, and respected me–even when i was fucking it up, even when we’ve fought, even when we didn’t like each other very much. they are the ones who call out the trash for what it is, even when i’m not willing to listen. they are the ones who encourage me to aim higher.
if being alone means being with this chosen family, well…that doesn’t look much like being alone at all. i wanted to do this before when i didn’t have the stones, but i have them now, and i’m not looking back. they are the ones who made me realize that i want to choose myself, and i want to choose you, over some fucking fool who is wasting our time. every goddamn time.