An apology to every woman I’ve ever dated

(crossposted from Facebook)

Happy Valentine’s day. I’d like to issue the following apology to every woman I’ve ever dated:

I am sorry for casting you as the love interest in my movie.

● ● ●

For most of my life, my understanding of how romance was supposed to work was centered around four archetypal characters: let’s call them

  • the Jock,
  • the Cheerleader, 
  • the Nice Guy, and 
  • the Nice Girl.

All of these characters are white. The Jock and the Cheerleader are blonde and the Nice Guy and Nice Girl aren’t. The Jock and the Cheerleader start out dating each other and bullying the Nice Guy and / or the Nice Girl. The Nice Guy and Girl gradually fall for each other even though the Nice Guy is kind of a goofy dork, and maybe something bad happens to the Nice Girl and the Nice Guy rescues her from it, and then happily ever after or something. Along the way maybe the Jock and the Cheerleader break up because they deserved it.

I believed that it was my job to

  • never be the Jock (because he’s Bad / superficial / popular / cares about looks / cares about sports and being physically strong / too masculine),
  • never pursue the Cheerleader (because she’s Bad / superficial / popular / cares about looks / cares about being sexy / too feminine),
  • aim to become the Nice Guy (because he’s Good / not popular / sensitive and emotional / looks beyond physical appearance), and
  • aim to “win” the Nice Girl (because she’s Good / not popular / sensitive and emotional / appreciates the Nice Guy).

I also believed that as long as I stuck to this script, my relationships would basically work out fine and I would get my happily ever after. Needless to say, that is not what happened.

I didn’t understand for the longest time how the thing I was doing to my partners was taking me out of contact with them; I couldn’t see them for who they were because I was too busy seeing them as the role I wanted them to play in the story of my life. Even when I was trying to be emotionally sensitive and understanding, in large part it was driven by my need to perform my own role, the emotionally sensitive Nice Guy boyfriend.

(Separately, refusing to be the Jock held me back in a lot of ways, that’s a whole other post: it’s the reason I was not supposed to care about fashion or fitness, and also the reason I was not supposed to ever openly exhibit sexual desire.)

My edge right now is being fully present with a woman, experiencing attraction and affection for her if that’s what’s there, without making it the opening scene of anything, without layering over the moment a tired narrative that draws me into old patterns and blinds me to the full humanity of the person in front of me and the connection we’re sharing.

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