Men are stupid.* Love is a b*tch. And I might be one, too.

* Some of them.  I also have some very nice, smart friends and family members who are male. This post is not about them.

Staying at a place that only has champagne glasses.  It makes liquor come out of the bottle faster, somehow.  But don't it look pretty!
Staying at a place that only has champagne glasses. It makes liquor come out of the bottle faster, somehow. But don’t it look pretty!

A couple of weekends ago, I was able to meet up with someone new to Beijing, a friend of a friend who is starting a really cool business here. He is 25, several years younger than me, and the whole talk reminded me how dumb we are in our mid-twenties. It turns out that this very nice young man had fallen in love with a friend of a friend, formed a long-distance relationship, and just met the object of his affection for the first time in person. After a few months of talking mostly online, they had a ridiculous amount of interests in common, but a week into their physical meeting, the woman said she just “wasn’t feeling it.”

Ouch. But also, you know, understandable, since they had never met before this time. And such is life; such is the inane, random nature of affection, right? Except this new friend of mine isn’t going to take it. He has told both his ex, and now me, that he intends to stay friends with the girl and wear her down.

Two weeks later, he admits it’s not going so well, though she responds occasionally to his texts and is generally friendly. He’s clearly in agony, and though I tactfully suggested he move on, it’s clear he’s decided that she’s mistaken. Which is odd, since she has tried to be up front, honest and clear about her feelings. In a much more heartfelt letter than her initial words suggest, she clearly explains why it’s just not happening for her. She expresses the many things that she respects about this guy. But she also clearly states that she is not interested. I know, because for better or worse, my new friend asked me to read what she said. And I totally got choked up, because the girl is a great writer and obviously cares for him, but not in that way, and even as I sensed the pain and love in her words, I knew that the guy she was writing to was an idiot.

I have a tendency to feel empathy for people in pain, but the myriad of ways this guy’s experience mirrored, opposed and conflicted with my own past lit up reactions in me like a goddamned sparkler. To start out nicely, let’s be merciful and point to age. I’m amazed at the difference in life between 25 and 29. At this age, I was begging my ex-husband to stay with me. So what if he went days without acknowledging me? Threatened to leave, and then acted like nothing had happened? Refused to let me visit family, buy groceries or admit to our friends how nutty he was in private, while buying a new iPad, car and insisting we enjoy a trip to San Francisco and eat out where he liked? We had chosen to marry, dammit, and I was not a quitter.

Two important things here: first, a dear friend listened to me babble on about the awful nature of our affair, and finally said, “Why don’t you leave him?” I responded passionately, “I love him!” She responded, “No, you don’t. If you love the person he is, you are insane. You love who you thought he was.” This was true. Secondly, huge in general in any relationship in life, I realized why I was failing at marriage when I had never failed in anything in life (unless you count basketball, and those schmucks in the rec league had been playing their whole lives, so those mother-fuckers don’t count). Unlike almost any other “big choice” in life, a romantic relationship takes two people to succeed, even if you’re married. Hate your job? Quit. Want to improve your life? Sell your stuff, go back to school, work out; do whatever. Want a happy, or even healthy, marriage? If he don’t want it, it ain’t happenin.’ Unfortunately, no matter how much you love or desire a thing,

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you cannot control another person.

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No matter how much bargaining, pleading, changing, or accommodating you do—even if they’re not a narcissist, sociopath, or other serious and possibly incurable type of pathological person—if they don’t want you, you can’t make them. And you shouldn’t. The dirty little secret of my marriage is that my ex decided on our honeymoon that he had made a mistake. In the middle of our all-inclusive, resort-style paradise, we had a fight, and in his adolescent, reactive mentality (which his life showed, and I’d ignored), he decided on that trip that he had married the wrong woman. He told me as much a month later…and here is where “the stupid” (n.) happened for me.

I decided he couldn’t really mean what he said. No one is that immature, I thought. No one mistakes a few fights in a new relationship—especially a whirlwind romance—to mean the whole damn enterprise is a mistake. Coupled largely with huge, enormous religious things I’d been taught about marriage, I stayed for another 20 months with a man who didn’t want me. For all his flip-flopping, for all the ways that he lied and manipulated and put me through hell, he never changed his mind on this one fact.* omgth Obviously, I was not exactly healthy myself at the time. I made his life as much a hell as mine by refusing to listen to him, by bending and twisting myself into a variety of women over the course of many months, all because I couldn’t let go of the voice in my head that said he’s wrong, and he’ll realize it eventually, and also, I will never get a divorce, because I made a vow before God.

It’s not as bad as it sounds. I wouldn’t be talking about it if it were. I went through years of therapy, he and I are on civil terms now, and as I said in a previous entry, the kindest thing he ever did was give me a divorce. The subsequent years have been largely happy, beautiful and full of discovery and second chances. But this leads me to another thing: being on the other side. And mansplaining.

Despite having been in exactly the same position as my 25-year-old friend, I was repeatedly struck by several of his words and actions. First of all, he mentioned repeatedly how this has never happened to him before. Now, this guy has a lot of awesome traits. He’s passionate about helping people, he’s got a plan, he’s a bright guy. But he is not one of the most attractive people I have ever met, he is broke, and he never finished college. I am a bit surprised this has never occurred, myself also being broke and having encountered rejection starting at age six at Skate Night (aw, roller blades…) and continuing up to the present.  But maybe he is just incredibly lucky and and more amazing than I could ever fathom.

Next, he totally dismissed her feelings, and then declared that she is “the one” for him, largely in part because she is interested in the Meyer’s Briggs’ Personality Test, is the same “type” as him, likes the same kind of food, and even though they have hugely different political and religious views, they’re just so damn similar!

In other words, despite her clearly saying she does not want him, he cannot believe that she would feel that way, has decided that she is “the one” for him, and has decided to ignore every major difference because he can pick out a myriad of surface-level similarities. All I could do as I sat there was fight the urge to laugh and say, “Good luck, sweetie.”

It’s not all because I have a black heart and resent his prior, freakishly good luck in matters of the heart. It’s because I know better now than to tell someone what he should do, and I learned in the most visceral way possible that pretty much everything that he was saying was wrong, bless his heart. At least when I was married, I had the fact that my spouse had wed me and promised to stay that way forever to tell me I might not be totally crazy. I had a master’s degree, pursued what interested him, worked myself out till my knees ached, and did everything physically possible to be what he wanted—even, at one point, abandoning my sycophantic attempts to please him in every way to “get a spine,” which ended up working out well for both of us–even if he wasn’t pleased with what a “spine” looked like on me, and left once I got it.

My point is that this guy, as sincerely as he loves this girl, is utterly lost. Someone doesn’t love you because you think they should. They love you because…well… they do.

Strangely, despite being rejected in a similar way by my spouse, I have also experienced the flip side of this several times in the past few years. It turns out that a moderately attractive divorcee is like honey to desperate men. I have lost count of the men who have looked at me with utterly sincere affection, told me I’m the one, and promptly lost my respect as they refused to take “no, I’m not” for an answer, and badgered me.

The experience has led to a few regretted actions. One man in particular, who like me had never failed at anything but marriage in his life, evidently didn’t learn the lesson the first time around. He pursued me for a year and a half, and lo and behold, after a traumatic breakup, I turned to him in my hour of need. I went against every instinct in my body and said, “Nah, my instincts are wrong; maybe he is right for me!”

Short story: he wasn’t. Longer bit: I hurt him deeply, and a week before I left for China, he was still begging me to come to see me off. He didn’t understand that I had no desire to be with him. That he wasn’t right for me. And at this point, it was not because I had tried to spare his feelings. This is where the ugliness came in.

I know I’ve heard women complain that men did not love them back. I just did, a little, except that I acknowledged that I should have taken my ex at his word, no matter what marriage vows we’d exchanged a whole week prior, and told him to get the hell out. But never, when a man didn’t want to be with me, have I been struck with the need to lecture him on why he has made a mistake, nor have I ever adopted the tone of his mother and treated him like a two-year-old.

You know what else is funny? I have also never felt the need to explain to a man that because he didn’t want me, he was broken, scared of commitment, and sure as hell going to regret it. Maybe I’m “off,” but even though I have had some unrequited love since my marriage, I have been smart enough to let go—eventually—and without blame. Yet that has never happened with a guy who liked me, whom I refused.

I don’t want to blame everything on sexism, but mansplaining is a thing, people. What’s odd is when a person who has never shown a shred of similar idiocy suddenly shifts from a pleading, desperate tone of “Don’t break up with me! I love you!” to a condescending prick. The first time was way before the ex-husband. It was my first love, a convoluted, codependent one I didn’t have the will to end till I was in another country (never a good sign). I’ll never forget that tone he took.

He was babbling, going on about how much he loved me, and I was crying and feeling so horrible, and then suddenly it was like he became a different person. He stopped crying and in half a breath his voice became menacing, condescending, patronizing, and he used my full name like my father when I was in trouble. He said my name, then added, “You are making a huge mistake. This is foolish, and you will regret it.”

His voice exactly mimicked the tone my dad would use with me when I was declaring my desire to get a tattoo or jump out of a plane or major in poetry. And just like that, he went from a man I loved and hated hurting, to a stranger I had no trouble rejecting.

“No, I won’t,” I said, and hung up. And you know what? I never did.

It has happened now with no less than four other men in my life, whether or not we’d been together for a long time. And I would like to know what the hell makes men creepy father figures at the moment they realize they cannot manipulate you into being with them.

I get that it might be a defense mechanism. I understand that men are trained to not show emotion and are conditioned to act superior to women in some subcultures their whole lives. But none of these men had ever treated me this way before, and every single time, it served no purpose other than to make me go, “Ew. I already have a dad! Go away!”  (Men younger than, the same age as, and older than me have been equal offenders.)

So when this new acquaintance, truly mourning a love that he lost unexpectedly, began to pull the  same shit, I really wanted to say, “You know what? She doesn’t want you, she said so, and as shocking as it is and as much as you think she’s perfect for you, she evidently does not feel the same. And it takes two, baby, unless you’re the kidnapping, stalker type. So why don’t you try not just loving, but respecting her too.”

I did my best Southern attempt to say this in a nicer way, something along the lines of, “Well, you might need to respect her opinion, and it does seem that she has expressed herself clearly.” But I knew that some of it was his inexperience, having been so goddamned amazing that no other woman ever had the will to break up with him. I am aware that I wasn’t ready to hear the truth at his age, and as awful as it sounds, he will learn the truth eventually. I wish people wouldn’t automatically dismiss painful truths in the opinions of others.

While I’ve never gotten back together with a guy who has taken this patronizing tone, I did consider the words of another man I broke up when he mentioned how little I seemed to value relationships. He might have just been hurt, but he was partially right. I realized that I’d thrown myself into work to avoid connecting to people and risking pain; however, that didn’t change the fact that this particular, hard-working Apple employee who lived with his parents wasn’t right for me.**

I strove to contact family and friends more after that, and to make time for people who mattered to me…even if it didn’t change the need to end our relationship. Because in the end, to grow from other people, it doesn’t require ignoring their wishes, patronizing them, or ordering them around. It requires taking them at their word, acting accordingly, and dealing with the consequences. Having a clue who you are helps, as I mention in this article.

Regardless, my 25-year-old friend will learn over time. Hopefully! Because as people, it’s what we do.

Speaking of which…

* I realize that I sound psycho at this point. I may have been back then, a little, though I was more needy and proud than anything—a dangerous combo.

** I’m sure I’ll eventually stop dating men who live with their parents. After, say, 30, it’s just not okay anymore.***

***I am NOT talking about living with them as you change careers or because your roof caved in or your wife just died and you need a place to mourn for a few years. I mean for the entirety of one’s adult life. FYI.

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