Well, I guess he sort of was in the old photos he used on the dating website. But those photos must’ve been really old, because they didn’t seem to match this gaunt, sunken eyed man. Not unless I squinted. And I did. I spent a lot of time squinting. But, it’s the inside that counts, right?
He had a sordid history. Unwanted by mom, abused by dad, abandoned by friends, and addicted to heavy drugs—stories of the past popped up in conversation and solidified my resolve to stick around, to prove that he was valuable, to show him that he could be loved. I planned to fix him.
I knew that those same stories were the reason he treated me terribly. The explosions of rage over silly, trivial issues—like the time that the phone cut out, and when I called back, he called me my least favorite word for a woman’s anatomy. Or, when I was a “whore” for choosing to skip a night out in favor of working on my thesis.
That’s the thing that gets me. I’m not a stupid girl. I’m smart and self-confident. I wasn’t with this guy because he made me feel great about myself, or because I mistakenly thought I “deserved” this treatment, or because I was desperate for companionship. I genuinely, ardently believed I could just love all that stuff away—the foul words, the creeping hand that touched me when I asked him not to, the outbursts of anger. I felt like he’d been through all of this tragedy, and he just needed someone to prove to him that he was worthwhile. I thought love would conquer all.
Spoiler: it didn’t. And, you know, it shouldn’t have. For starters, being a pushover isn’t exactly the same thing as love, now is it? To quote my gal Ru Paul, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” Sacrificial love has a place, but it takes a little choosiness in determining exactly what gets sacrificed (note: probably not “emotional health,” or “self-respect,” or “well-being”). That same sacrificial love is only worthwhile if it’s being reciprocated. Someone who calls you a c*nt for a dropped call probably isn’t loving you back. For all of my smarts, I didn’t realize that what I was calling “love” was actually just doormattishness, because it was one-sided. And the other thing—love only holds power to those who recognize its value. Though I was caring and investing and (in my way) loving the shit out of this guy, it didn’t make a difference in his life at all, simply because he didn’t value any of it. He didn’t value me.
I wish I could say I realized all of this before he cheated on me, before he threatened to hit me, before friends stopped coming around because they couldn’t stand to witness the emotional abuse any more. Regardless, things eventually—thankfully—dissolved between us. I don’t know where he is now, or if he ever reformed his ways. But I do know that I’m better for learning that there are things love can’t fix.