I usually do not blog, post or publicize my dating life in any way. Some reasons why:
- I don’t want to dwell on shit that doesn’t work.
- I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I’m 40 and still dealing with immaturity – it’s nearly embarrassing at this point.
- I don’t want to seem bitter – I am disillusioned, but not bitter. Unfortunately, when a woman talks about how she was done wrong, her words will likely be twisted into “She’s a bitter bitch.”
- It’s personal – I don’t want to share the ups and downs with anyone except people I love and who love me back.
I want to write every possible thing you could think of me for posting this story before you say it because that’s how hard it is to be a woman and talk about relationships publicly. But damnit, this is real and raw and I got something from this experience so here you go.
This most recent experience made me think deeply, and has been the catalyst for redefining of what I want out of a partner and who I want to be as a partner.
I met this man, we’ll call him Derek (because that was the name of my very first crush, way back in the 80s) within my first week in Seattle. Very quickly, there was a connection. We live within blocks of each other, so it was very easy to see one another every day, and we did, unless someone traveled, which we also did a few times. It wasn’t long before he was laying it on:
“I’m not seeing anyone else. I’m off the apps.”
“I bought us tickets to a concert in September; if you’re not sick of me by then.”
“You’re so impressive. You impress me.”
“You could use my car when I’m at work.”
“Let’s go away in June. I want to go away with you.”
You get the picture – he was saying big things. He’s also in the middle of finalizing a divorce, which was a red flag for me. I asked more than once: You sure you’re ready for something? The answer was always, “YES.” So I believed him.
And then one day, a switch flipped. I could feel it from down the street, the length of the seven minute walk from his apartment to mine. Something changed and I couldn’t put my finger on it, but he had gone cold. Now, he was a sorta socially awkward, tech-nerd, still-developing-compassionate-social-skills kind of guy (which, I find adorable, so it was cool) so I thought, maybe he’s having an awkward moment. Finally, after returning from a visit to CA, I asked him: Something feels off. Is something up? He answered with exaggerated innocence, “Nope.” I looked him directly in the face and repeated myself: Something feels off – are you sure nothing is wrong? Again: Nope. Okay, well I can’t bully the guy. But I did not believe him.
The following week sucked. He avoided me the whole week. Scant texts, curt messages, just very different and such a stark contrast to the open warmth he had been giving. So I started my mind games with myself. What did I say? Is he seeing someone? What did I do? Is it my new haircut? (I admit, I was nervous about cutting it so short…men get so weird about hair). I put myself through the flames of blame. Then we made plans to get together that Saturday for brunch and shopping.
I arrived at his place and he was friendly at best. I asked him to sit on the couch thinking I’d bring it up again and lost my nerve. Instead we made small talk (WTF? I hate small talk) about the week, then got in the car to go get food. My stomach was churning the entire 20 minute ride and when we parked, I asked him to stay in the car.
“What’s up? You’re acting strange something is off and I know you said it was nothing, but we’ve barely spoken this week. Something is fucked.” [truncated for your reading ease]
Then, a paltry attempt at an explanation that blamed being busy, blamed him wanting to only be positive in a relationship and he’s been so stressed about work that he couldn’t bring the that positivity, and “Well, do you want to take a break?”
I said I did not, but obviously he did and I didn’t like that he was trying to flip it to me. Again, silence. He couldn’t even look at me.
I told him he hurt me by avoiding me. I felt I deserved an explanation of what happened or why or how his feelings changed. Silence. Literally, silence. Head hung in shame, silence.
I told him to drive me home. The next 20 minutes as an excruciating blend of more of his silence and me intermittently talking: how hurtful non-communication can be, that I’d spun and spun, was confused and blamed myself. After what felt like eons of his silence, he finally sheepishly eeked out: “I guess maybe I’m not ready.” I might have accepted that given he was going through a divorce. But with him, I didn’t believe it. It wasn’t the truth. Well, it was but it wasn’t the whole truth. I didn’t believe it and I still don’t believe that was the reason. But it was an easy place for him to land and given his avoidance of me, I shouldn’t be surprised that he took the easy way out.
I got out of that car knowing I had spent a week blaming myself when in truth, he was simply not grown up enough to hold himself accountable. He didn’t say, “I’m sorry for how I avoided you.” or “I could have handled it differently.” His ability to own up to his part in this was not only deflating, it was highly unattractive. He morphed from a man who I thought had it together, who I viewed as an adult and someone I respect, into a weaselly, inexperienced, immature boy who was afraid to have an adult conversation and confrontation.
It’s been a month since that gross car ride and here’s what I’ve come up with:
- What I want from a man/in a man is that he let me love him and be proud of him. He was very busy being “perfect” and trying to meet some “unreasonably high standards” that he forgot how to be human. What I saw is that these standards shut him down emotionally and were kind of annoying to listen to, now that I think about it. No one is perfect definitely not me. I like grit and messiness, courage to try something unabashedly and fuck up. That’s who I’m trying to be in my life and I need that in a man so that we can push each other to fail and be better. He wasn’t willing (that I could see, at least).
- Who I want to be in a relationship is more of who I am – more honest, more forthcoming, more courageous and more of an inquirer. I want to trust my intuition and know that if something is off, it’s off. I held back. I was trying to be patient and give him the benefit of the doubt and it felt awful for me. It felt like I was crazy (and men wonder why women are a little bit crazy).
- The man I want is someone who can speak up even when it’s hard. If you deliver truth to me in kindness, my respect for you remains in tact and it gives me an opportunity to understand. When you withhold, you’ve taken away my choice in the matter and blinded me to any way to see opportunity for growth or change. (side note: do NOT fuck with my opportunity for growth or change).
Look – I know that ultimately this wasn’t my man. He’s not a bad guy – in fact, he’s pretty terrific. He just wasn’t my guy. I wanted to believe what he said and when I saw I couldn’t, I was dumbstruck with hurt (and foolishness).
The reason I write this is because I think there’s an important lesson for me here. It’s this: I have a deeper ownership of what I need, who I want to be and how I want to show up for a man. I also have shed another layer of the “What’s wrong with me?” onion. The answer is: Nothing. Nothing is wrong. The only thing I can do here is put that experience to the side and do my best to not let it color my future experiences (which is ridiculously difficult, but doable).
I’m pretty sure this story isn’t so different from what many single women deal with – being surprised by a sudden change in a man’s feelings and getting no explanation. It doesn’t ever get easier. While the emotion has passed, I still think about the experience and what it meant for me, at this time in my life, when I’ve moved across country, turned 40…it feels poignant somehow.
What I can say is that it’s a damn shame for him – I could have loosened him up and made him more fun. Just sayin’. His loss.