Saturday, March 24, 2007

Breaking Molds

I was counseling a friend this week on letting go of a guy who wronged her. Pissed about how he had treated her I came on strong. “You want a guy who will adore YOU. Jesus, if he’s sleeping with her he doesn’t care about honoring your feelings.” It came out more righteous than I had intended.

She sniffled and fixed me in a stare. “Like you’ve never gotten fished in.”

“Oh, I’ve been fished in. I’ve sold out way worse.” And I proceeded to share with her how much I’ve managed to overlook, forgive or just plain ignore.

“We sacrifice for love, right?” She blew her nose.

I passed her another cookie from the box. “There is a line between sacrifice as in ‘I’ll give him my last chocolate chip cookie’ and sacrifice as in ‘throw the virgin in the volcano.’”

Every time, the hurt comes down to me not standing up for me. Kind of like the old game where my brother would grab my arm and swat me with my own hand taunting “Why are you hitting yourself? Heidi, why are you hitting yourself?” While I struggled to free my hand. Why indeed. Self-loathing is human nature.

When I first moved here, I dated a wannabe TV producer. With no discernable talents, Billy had floated around the TV world for several years but never made any money that I saw. Basically, this guy had convinced his parents to give him his inheritance early and lived in a swank three-bedroom apartment by himself. He had even connived his way into a parent-paid-for Chevy Tahoe.

“Yeah, this is really the right car for me.” He murmured, settling back into the leather.

Even in my star-struckness I remember thinking “but what did you do to earn it?”

I’d get home after a long day excited to tell him about a new work development. I’d ask him how his day was and he’d launch into, and I kid you not, a three-hour monologue about his day I came to call “The Billy Show.” Every single day. Never once in the three month course of our relationship did he ask about my day. And I kept dating him.

I ended up writing his treatments for him and prepping his meetings all the while wondering why he continually described his perfect woman in Jenny McCarthy terms. In case you’re wondering, I look nothing like Jenny McCarthy. He blithely informed me that he usually dated models but he liked me OK. And I kept dating him.

He went to a big TV conference and later told me he’d shared a hotel room there with an ex-girlfriend but nothing happened. But he might have been open to it if she’d been interested. And I kept dating him.

And my personal favorite: he ever-so-affectionately nick-named me “Chubby.” And I KEPT DATING HIM.

I kept dating him after he’d basically told me I wasn’t good enough for him, pretty enough, skinny enough, or interesting enough. The thing was I had been good enough when we met but I allowed myself to become a lesser woman. I had become so afraid of losing this prize of a man that I crept around his house like a skittish mouse.

“I can’t stand how passive you’ve become.” He moaned one afternoon.

And he was right. He wanted a strong woman. And where the heck had the strong woman I was when I met him gone? I was more concerned with fitting into the tiny space he left for me in his life than with being myself. The concept of keeping an eye on what I wanted while in a relationship was foreign to me.

One evening, I met a new guy at a friend’s birthday. He called me the next day and asked how my day was. Something clicked. I dug my strength out of the box in the attic and I dumped Billy on his arrogant ass. He was actually shocked.

“But I was just getting used to your body,” he whined.

“I’m not something to get used to,” I flared, “I’m something to cherish.”

Billy is a hilariously ridiculous chapter in my romantic past. But he’s also a painfully embarrassing lesson for me. I can’t believe I sold myself out like that. In the years I’ve lived here, I’ve come into my own and my tolerance for bullshit has plummeted. I recently kicked a new candidate to the curb when he couldn’t be bothered to open the door for me. You will treat me with respect and that’s all there is to it. Because I treat myself with respect. Finally. I would never date a Billy now. I don’t want my sad girlfriend to date anymore Billies either.

Last week I had dinner with good friends who are a married couple. His eyes lit up as he talked about seeing his wife for the first time and knowing he wanted her. I hand my friend another tissue and tell her he’s out there for both of us, that guy who will light up for us. But it’s up to us to stand up and be the kind of woman that would accept nothing less than a man like that.

“OK. But can we just sit today?” My friend blows her nose and settles back into the couch.

I pass her another chocolate chip cookie and we cookie-toast: no more dating broken boys, no more being weak women. If you toast along at home be sure to wipe the cookie crumbs off your screen.

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