Sometimes I wish that there was a site, kind of like Yelp, where I could check out a guy’s rating before I went out with him, or, let’s be honest, write my own.
I think I’d start with my college ex boyfriend, the one who told me we needed to talk and took me down by the campus lake one beautiful evening, only to tell me that he’d noticed that I had a belly, and thought I should be taking better care of myself. Up until that point, I hadn’t worried much about my body image. I felt cute and good in my own skin. Those comments changed that for me. For years I thought about how my thighs looked, and took myself on long walks, not because I enjoyed them, but because I wanted to whittle myself down to a size he might approve of, long after we broke up.
Next, I’d write a brief review of the physical therapist who dominated the conversation during a first (and last) dinner date. Not only did he not let me speak much, but on every point on which he disagreed with me, he refused to allow for the possibility that I could be right, or that we might both be right.
Then there’s the boyfriend from my mid-twenties, the one who told me he’d buy me dinner at the baseball game, but conveniently forgot each time that they only accepted cash. The guy who sold our hamburgers once quipped: “I see you brought your wallet with you.” Meaning me.
And I’d like to warn a few women about the guy who recently kissed me after a lovely evening, but then changed his mind, because he didn’t want to ruin our friendship. “Oh, and I should tell you,” he said. “You’re not my physical ideal.” It took me a long time, that comment continuing to ring in my mind, for me to realize that he wasn’t my “physical ideal,” either. But I’d never have told him that.
But even as I think of the catharsis this might provide—to spell out in black and white how men have stepped on my toes and not treated me well—I wonder what might be listed under my name. I have not always behaved in an exemplary way myself. One classmate might comment on the tone deaf way that I rejected his admission of romantic feelings. Another might mention that time I was so tired of waiting for him to let me know when we were going to see each other again that I drove an hour and a half to see him. These aren’t my proudest moments.
My having some stories of my own doesn’t negate the behavior I shared above. There are reasons why I’m not with any of those people, not all of them listed here. There are other people and other stories, as well. But a glance at my own past makes me realize that we all make mistakes in certain moments. It’s part of being human. I’m hopeful that I’ve learned from my own past foibles, and hopeful that the guys in the paragraphs above did, too. Maybe our past isn’t the best predictor of our future (though it’s certainly something to keep in mind). Maybe defining ourselves by what we’ve done in the past isn’t the best way to live—at some point, we have to move forward.
A little internet sleuthing tells me that apps like this have existed—and failed, maybe for some of the reasons I suggest. In theory, it sounds great to get the lowdown about the person you’re falling for from the people who have loved them in the past, but the reality is that those relationships failed, likely for reasons on both sides, not just for that one bad moment stuck in an ex’s brain. Those people didn’t mesh then, or they did, but they aren’t there anymore. They have grown, hopefully, and changed. There is more to them than who they were in the past.
I’m thankful for the hope that the sort of relationship I want might be right around the corner, waiting for me. Should it come to pass, I will bring my past with me into it. But each day I will get to choose whether or not to let it define me.
Now, as I think back on bad dates and situations that still make me squirm, I can slowly open my hands and let go. Those people found ways to show me that we weren’t a good fit. Brief discomfort is better than a life of misery. Maybe they learned from what happened between us, and maybe not, but I did. I learned, through those hard moments, that I was worthy of being treated well. As I combatted some of those words in my head, I told myself that I was strong and lovely. Slowly, bit by bit, I’m learning to believe it still, and to act as if I do.
Cara Strickland writes about food and drink, mental health, faith and being single from her home in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys hot tea, good wine, and deep conversations. She will always want to play with your dog. Connect with her on Twitter @anxiouscook.