In the sixth grade my boyfriend Mark had shaggy blonde hair, baggy pants, and a skateboard that he rode everywhere while listening to Green Day on his Walkman. It was the mid-nineties, and he was the type of aloof, attractive character that caught the eye of every girl in school. And I was actually able to call him my boyfriend for five glorious months in a row. I spent most of that time sitting perfectly cross-legged with my friends on a grassy knoll adjacent to the parking lot where he skated, or practicing making out behind the local movie theater. When he dumped me for a redhead who had already grown boobs later that year, I was devastated. He spent the remainder of the year carefully ignoring me in the school hallways.
As you’ve probably guessed, I’m one of those girls who habitually falls for absolutely terrible men. Men who have girlfriends, men who are married, men who are dating six other women on rotation. Men who are charming and good-looking and confident. Men who have commitment issues. Men who have bad relationships with their mothers. Men who have no mothers. Seriously fucked-up men of all kinds.
I’ve had plenty of other options. Hordes of nice guys have tried to date me. Nice guys who have claimed that I am perfect. Nice guys who have patiently waited for me to notice them. Nice guys who didn’t even see the other women when we stood together in a crowded room. All of these nice guys have drastically failed to hold onto me—writing long letters of affection and leaving them on my car or in my inbox just to have me hit the delete button or ignore them completely. I’ve perfected the art of dumping the men who would treat me well. I’ve pushed them aside systematically in order to subconsciously and then physically fall into the arms of men who are unattainable, unavailable, and emotionally detached.
Because of my profound ability to attract this type of man, I’ve experienced all manner of terrible behavior from my long line of incredibly fucked-up suitors. I’ve had a guy leave my house in the morning, only to be tagged twenty minutes later in a love-professing Instagram photo with his long-time girlfriend. I’ve had a man sext me while lying in bed next to his fiancée. I’ve had men make up all kinds of stories in order to hang onto my affections for just a little bit longer—stories of military-induced PTSD and family illnesses and unhappy home lives. I’ve watched men play into my propensity for kindness. I’ve watched them inspire me to “fix” them. I’ve watched them hold me close until the last possible moment. I’ve watched men wrestle with their consciences, give into their weaknesses, and run away from their problems altogether. I’ve made excuses for them. I’ve tried to help them. I’ve given them the benefit of every single doubt.
I’m not the only one. There are millions of fucked-up men in the world and even more fucked-up women out there ready to fall for them. Maybe you’re one of these women, like me, who find it so easy to forgive and excuse. Women who consistently try to see past the web of lies and bad behavior in order to uncover the potentially decent human being underneath. Women who give fucked-up men chances they shouldn’t have, respect they haven’t earned, and kindness they have no ability to reciprocate.
I’ve become an expert at leaving before I am left, at cutting my losses before I get hurt, at saying “take care” when I really mean “fuck you.” I’ve become an expert at dancing between the raindrops, at moving on, at distracting myself, at leaving one fucked-up man behind just in time to find myself immediately ensconced in a new tryst with another.
I’ve also become tired. I’m tired of accepting circumstances that I know I should question, I’m tired of always being the “cool girl” who disappears into the night. I’m tired of being the prior lover that men think about while they’re fucking their wives to keep themselves from sexual boredom. The muse they once enjoyed. The affair they’ll never forget. I’m tired of smiling and laughing in the streetlight like Marilyn while Jackie enjoys the stress-free life at home.
Skater boy Mark probably grew up to leave many more broken hearts in his wake, while I grew up to find an endless supply of men just like him. You can analyze and speculate as to why each of us continues us engage in self-destructive romantic behavior, or you can just accept the fact that we do. You can dismiss us as broken people. You can claim that we just haven’t met “the one.” You can try to counsel us, try to change us, try to set us up with nice people that we’ll probably destroy. You can forgive men like Mark for their adult transgressions and condemn women like me for giving in to them. You can make any number of judgments or blanket statements about how immature or puerile or ridiculous we are, or you can ignore us completely.
The fact is, women like me—the ones who date terrible men—are never going to change until we decide to. We’re never going to give up the late-night rendezvous and bad romances and exhausting affairs until we’ve had enough of them. Until we cannot even smile at another man without picturing the fuck-shit-stacked ghost of a relationship to follow. Until we can no longer answer a late-night text and effectively hide the disdain in our voices. Until we decide that we no longer want to date men who make us question our own actions or judgment once again.
You can’t save us. We can only save ourselves. We’re the women who don’t stop traveling our own fucked-up paths until we independently decide that we’re ready to do so.
I think I might be ready to do so.