I thought that since I was nearly 30, I had to find someone to settle for, who was willing to settle for me.
I thought I was too damaged; I had too much baggage. I thought I just had to find someone who was enough of a saint to put up with dating me. I thought I should be grateful for anyone willing to deal with my faults.
I scoured for men across the internet. I found someone to settle for who seemed ok with settling for me. He was pretty set in his ways, but he was so romantic.
He wrote me beautiful love poems. English was his second language, but he spoke the most beautiful English, using all these flowery words, like someone from a past century. But he flipped between being loving and critical, between complimenting me and demeaning me, even threatening to break up with me until I begged him not to.
He kept reminding me of my faults and convincing me that I should be grateful he was willing to date me despite my failings.
It was long distance, and he always promised to visit me but never did. When I visited him he ignored me half the time, impatiently explaining that he had too many things to do to talk to me.
My last memory is sitting on the floor outside his apartment, knocking on the door for a full hour, crying because we had plans and he wouldn’t come out. Later, over the phone he told me he had been asleep and had forgotten about our plans. Then he broke up with me.
Devastated after the break-up, I was flattened.
My ex had taken my fragile self-esteem and smashed it with his toxic combination of love poems and verbal abuse. So I went back online. I was in chat rooms flirting with random people, sending racy photos.
At first it seemed safe since it was just online, but then people started saying cruel things about me in the chat rooms and it wasn’t fun anymore. I got scared thinking about who had photos of me, these mysterious people I spoke to that were just names on a screen.
I started going on dates with random people, hopping between men in the hope that if I kept moving, I wouldn’t hurt so much anymore.
I felt like I would do anything for a compliment.
I just wanted someone to tell me I was beautiful and hold my hand. One man left bruises on my shoulders. After he left, I stared at them in the mirror and cried.
I felt like I was at rock bottom. My roommate kicked me out of the apartment because she was sick of the men I was bringing home.
I moved to a new neighborhood, in this cheap, crappy one-bedroom apartment where the landlord thought if she painted everything white, we wouldn’t notice how the doors were warped and the plastic shelves were so cheap they could hardly support my things and the closet was so narrow it was useless.
I didn’t know anyone around me. I sat on the carpet in my apartment and cried.
I look back at that self and I ache for her. She felt so broken that no one would ever want her. She felt like she had given away so much of herself to the men she dated that she didn’t own herself anymore. I want to tell her, you still own your body. You are still the strong, beautiful woman you were before. You are not eternally broken. You have some new scars but you are not less than you were before.
Two weeks after moving to that apartment, I met the man who eventually became my husband. We were friends first. I confided in him because I was hurting and desperately needed a friend. The first time he came to my apartment, he was bringing me chicken noodle soup. He dropped a box of soup, crackers, and gatorade into my arms and bolted as I opened my mouth to thank him.
I never expected to date him, I just thought he was the friend that appeared in my life when I needed a friend.
Somehow he became more.
My husband is imperfect but he is right for me. I didn’t have to settle for someone after all.
I still look back at my former self, sitting on the carpet in her new crappy apartment, surrounded by boxes and crying because she feels like she is nothing.
I did’t want to tell her she’ll find someone better. I didn’t want to promise a storybook ending that isn’t real.
Instead, I wanted to tell her that the men she dated didn’t take pieces of her away. The photos she sent to strangers online didn’t destroy her integrity. She made a few bad choices. But she is still the same strong, beautiful person she was before the whirlwind started. The abuse she endured didn’t make her less of a person. She has scars now. She has battle wounds. But she still has integrity and she still has ownership of her body.
I want to tell her that now she is in this new, white-washed apartment, in a new neighborhood and she has a fresh start. Her bruises will heal slowly, over time, and she will learn how to trust again.
I watch my former self. I see her lock the door to her apartment and walk across the street in her new flip flops to the park nestled there. I see her sitting by the creek with her notebook, writing about how she feels. The June breeze tousles her hair. A mother comes by with her two children, and they stand by the Don’t Feed the Ducks sign, feeding the ducks bread crumbs. She laughs. She picks up her notebook and walks back to the apartment, blinking rapidly to fight away tears. She takes a deep breath, tells herself that she has a fresh start and things are going to be ok.