I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
I was sitting on the couch in my sweatpants catching up on my DVR when my phone lit up. I read the text as it flashed across the screen. “What are you doing right now? Can I call you?”
She only sent these texts when there was guy trouble so I took a sip of water, grabbed a few pillows, made myself comfortable on the floor and put my feet up on the wall like a teen from an 80s movie poster.
“So what did he do now?” I groaned.
“Thank you for calling. I’m so sorry but I didn’t know who else to call.”
That was a lie. She only called me about these things.
We once had a bit of a fling years prior. Nothing significantly romantic but we ended up as good friends who occasionally joked about the one awkward make out we had outside of a Starbucks on a cold fall evening. She jokes that I got way to passionate in public and I tell her that my fire cannot be contained and we laugh and make fun of each other before she gets to the drama. Now I serve as the permanent shoulder to cry on. The sympathetic ear to listen while she tells me all of the details of her failed dates. I do my best to decode typical guy behavior and it shocks me that I seem to be the only one who sees these shitheads coming a mile away. I wish I had a nickel for every “I told you so” I held back. Instead, I keep my mouth shut because I know this is more about her venting than it is her listening. She talks a mile a minute seemingly without breathing. She goes from choking back tears to manically laughing the next minute and back again and I don’t even find this as odd. Frustration will do that to people who intentionally ignore the red flags wrapped in attractive potential. Like I have always said, the hotter the prospect, the more likely it is we will make excuses for their dismissive or disrespectful behavior.
“It’s my ex. He won’t stop texting me.”
This was bad because he was so terrible. Emotionally abusive, go-nowhere do-nothing, who only gave her the attention she desperately craved when he felt threatened that she would leave him. And now he was back to his old manipulative ways. She told me that he would text her that he missed her. That he loved her and wished he had said it more. That he knew he fucked up when he cheated on her and that she was the greatest thing to ever happen to his life. And who knows, maybe he was telling the truth. But there is something to be said about a person who only steps up to the plate when they are feeling desperate and alone. If you don’t know how to be a stand up motherfucker on an average Tuesday well then you haven’t earned the right to a healthy relationship.
“What does he want?” I asked.
“He wants me back.”
So I asked the question that has the best odds at getting an honest answer, “Well, do you think it would be healthy for you to get back together with him?”
If there is a pause. If the response begins with an “ummm”, basically, if the answer is anything other than an immediate “Yes!” then you know they do not feel confident. And if they don’t feel confident, there is a reason. And that reason is your subconscious screaming, “Run away NOW and don’t look back!” But luckily, she knew the right answer.
“No. I know it wouldn’t.” She said, “But goddamn I miss him more than anything.”
“You miss what it could have been had his lies been the truth. But they never were. They were nothing more than unfulfilled promises. He was a master manipulator who promised to be there for you and support you and love you more than anyone. But he wasn’t. He was out all night and never even gave a convincing excuse as to where he was. He called you names and chased away your friends and in the end, you caught him cheating on you with multiple women.”
“I know I know.” She said, “It’s just hard, you know?”
“I don’t doubt that he didn’t and doesn’t love you.” I said, “But I know for certain that he doesn’t know how to love you the way you need to be loved.”
“So what do I do?”
“You allow yourself to be happy and you leave it alone.” I said, “There doesn’t have to be another break up screaming match. The most effective separations end with a quiet fade out. No big blow ups. No ridiculously long late night emails. Just silence. Because confident silence conveys conviction and strength and the best thing you can do to distance yourself from an abusive ex is to show them that you can and will make it on your own.”
“So should I just not respond?”
“Well do you want to respond?” I asked.
“Because I am curious as to what he will say.” She said.
“Then you’re not ready.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re still willing to give him the chance to talk you out of walking away when you know he is not healthy. I understand that you miss the idea of him. You miss the promises he made. And part of you wants to rush back into his arms high on hopes that he will make good on everything he promised. But that’s not how this story ends. It ends with him making you smile for a few days and returning right back to his old behavior. As a general rule, most people don’t change. And the least likely to change are abusive men with a head full of manipulation tactics and a heart full of insincerity.”
She said she wouldn’t text him back but I knew her well enough to know that was a lie. And that is fine because my friendship is only so powerful. Certainly not strong enough to overpower her blind devotion to empty promises and a charming smile.
I hung up the phone and wondered how many other women were going through the same thing all over the world. How many women were sitting on their couch, giddy with excitement staring at their phones while there was a person scheming away and plotting a way to take advantage of their trust and love.
I turned off the television and thought about how most people don’t change.
But that night, I promised myself I was going to my best.