photo courtesy of the author
Eyes feeling tired? Take a listen to the full essay below. I'd love to read it to you.*
*I hope you'll excuse the few, minor flubs. What can I say, sometimes the truth is imperfect.
I don’t really know how to begin, except to say, I think of you a lot.
I think, and I wonder, and I ponder what it’s like for you. If you are happy. If he’s happy. If and why you were somehow the answer to everything I wasn’t. But mostly, I wonder if you have any idea what actually happened, or if you just accepted, at face value, his version of it all. Well... wait, I don’t wonder about that. I know you did. And I know the version you were told. It was the same version he told me.
There was such a delicious poison in being left for a younger woman. It seeped into my pores and made me question everything I thought I knew about myself. Like a pin in, what I thought was, my otherwise full tire, it slowly, methodically, silently sucked out every last bit of air until I woke up one morning and found myself unrecognizable; a soft puddle of rubber, clinging to my rusty rim.
It was poison because it killed so many good parts of me; kind parts, trusting parts, confident parts, safe parts. And because it multiplied so many bad parts of me; jealous parts, insecure parts, parts that were holding onto some “one”, some identity I had no idea I cared about. And worse, that I had promised myself I didn’t care about. Seemingly in an instant, the parts that once told me I was pretty and desirable. That I was thin enough and good enough and smart enough and young… enough started telling me I was the opposite. The chilling and most persistent of all, the parts that shrieked on day after day, and loudest, night after night, “You got old and you got left.”
And it was delicious because it automatically made me the victim. What a gift to be so distracted by you that I didn’t have to deal with him; his lies, his falsehoods, his actions, his manipulations. Drake said jealousy is just love and hate at the same time, and while I would never openly refer to myself as a Drake “fan”, I was quite surprised when I heard that lyric for the first time. (It actually sort of changed my whole perspective on some things, including this, and now I find myself referring to life in the A.D, After Drake.) Because that’s exactly what it was, what it felt like; it was this sick combination of loving what you had and hating that you had it. And not just him, all of it. Whatever it was that made you so irresistible and me so easily disposable.
Why is it our first impulse is to fight for the men who leave us, cheat on us, and mistreat us? As if they are some kind of prize we’d be lucky to win.
Looking back, I feel a lot of shame about it all. I really wanted to be better in those moments for you, the younger woman. To pave a new way, to show you it didn’t have to play out like he wanted it to. That, together, we could reverse years, decades, lifetimes of patterning and narrative and… create some new way of behaving ourselves out of this all too common occurrence.
It was like, as the whole sordid affair was happening, unfolding before my eyes, there was this part of me, hovering just above my actual self, hoping I could somehow connect to my higher self. Wishing I could be the stronger woman, the more mature woman, the woman who knows just how to respond to it all, the woman who sees the silliness in it and chooses a different path. The path that would have bound us together against a trope too old and too tired, rather than the path that pitted us against each other, fighting for a man boy entirely unworthy of either of our attention and affection. Why is it our first impulse is to fight for the men who leave us, cheat on us, and mistreat us? As if they are some kind of prize we’d be lucky to win. The truth of it all is that there is no prize. Just programming designed to keep us too busy clawing at each other to notice the sad little boys behind the bright green curtains. Who knows what would have happened if I had wrapped my arms around you, held you tight, and told you the truth. The truth that can only come from the one part of me you don’t have, age. Who knows where we would be if I had been better and you had known better.
I still find it all very confusing. Because, and I don’t want this to seem weird, although it probably is, I wanted then, and still do now, to protect you. I want to make sure you’re being treated differently than I was. I want to make sure there isn’t a little voice inside you that you’re ignoring. The one who whispers to you in your dreams, the one whose truth is too disruptive for you to accept; knowing accepting it would leave you no other option but to demolish your entire world, or worse, live with yourself knowing you didn’t. I want to make sure you’re making a conscious choice, and not just settling because you think this is the only choice you have.
I was hoping to tell you this sooner (but before time and growth and therapy and… Drake, I was incapable of bridging the impossible gap between you as the other woman and you as a human being), that moment when you approached me in the street was brave. I don’t like how you handled a lot of what happened. I don’t like a lot of your behavior during that time. But to be fair, I don’t like a lot of mine either; some of which you know, lots of which you don’t, and most of which I’m not sure I could ever share with you because it would shatter your perception of the man he has so carefully crafted himself to be when he’s with you. But that moment, your moment, was brave. And I’ve always admired that about you, your bravery. I just wish I had witnessed it under different circumstances.
I wish a lot about that time.
I fell for it, too. In fact, I’ve come to learn, we all do at one point or another. That every woman I talk to about him just smiles and says, 'Oh honey, we all have one.'
And I think it’s with this, dare I say nostalgia, this hazy dream-like state of uncomfortable and surprising good will, of wishing and realizing and wanting and needing and hoping (coincidentally, I’ve discovered I do that a lot) for you, that I write this. That I question and wonder and ponder … you. That I ask you, in all sincerity, with only the best intentions, the following questions:
Do you know it’s your right to be heard? Really heard? And do you know it’s your right to as much physical and sexual pleasure as him? Do you know you’re not there solely to please, appease, engage, listen to, defer to, agree with, be with him? That you get to stand on your own, beside him, not walk two steps behind? Do you know you have the right to your own life, your own success, ideas, interests, anger, frustration, happiness, joy? And that none of that, none of that, is up to or centered around or only available to you because of him?
Do you know you have the right to speak up, all the time, all day, every day? To speak your truth even if, and especially when, it doesn’t align with his? To have boundaries and keep them? To keep a separate bank account and not to lend him money because it’s not your job to support him and his inability to support himself? Do you know you’re not stupid or naive or frivolous or too young to understand or too gentle or too kind or too whatever it is he might tell you you are to keep his fragile ego as large as possible and yours as comfortably small?
Do you know he will never actually quit drinking, no matter how many times he promises or how many “bad nights” there are? Do you know he will never stop talking to other women behind your back? Do you know he will never stop making you feel little, as he simultaneously works extra hard to make himself feel big? That every woman he actively flirts with in front of you is his effort to program you to react in the exact same way I did when he left me? That he is priming you to fight for him because if he didn’t, he’s terrified you’ll wake up one day and realize what a complete and utter disappointment this whole thing is and leave him?
Do you know he will never stop talking about himself?
Do you know you’re not that special, and that he told me the same shit he’s telling you? And that he told the same shit to the girl before me, and the girl before her, and the girl before her? Do you know that’s what he does? Casts a net as far as he can to see who is just green enough to bite? That the little notes and texts and songs and jokes and nicknames and plans for a future that will never materialize … they’re all the same and include him being better to you, being the father he never had, a dog, and giving you the life he knows you want and never plans to give? That a promise to him is just a statement made to quiet your suspicions, because he senses (as he is so keen at doing) perhaps you’re on to him, and it would be in his best interest to quell your valid fears by creating a fantasy in your mind built on exactly what he knows you want to hear? He’s not someone I would define as smart, but he sure knows how to play the system, yours in particular.
Please don’t misinterpret any of this as an affront on your intelligence. I fell for it, too. In fact, I’ve come to learn, we all do at one point or another. That every woman I talk to about him just smiles and says, “Oh honey, we all have one.”
Do you know what he did to me he will do to you? Not today, not tomorrow, but someday. Because he can. Because we keep allowing him to. Because, unfortunately, until we break the chain, there will always be another me and there will always be another you.
And finally (because I’m afraid you might be feeling a little sick to your stomach), do you know you could do a lot better? That just because you fell in love with someone two years before you were legally allowed to consume alcohol doesn’t mean you have to be with him? That your individual growth, as a person, a human, does not have to coincide with his or yours as a couple? And that if at any time you realize the relationship no longer serves you, or never served you, because you’ve grown or changed or evolved or woke up, that you must, as hard as it will be, must get up and walk out?
Because I didn’t.
But maybe you do.
So if your answers are yes, then truly, from the bottom of my heart, I’m happy for you. Maybe you did possess a magic something I didn’t, and your good somehow transformed his bad. I have to believe if I can change, others can, too. And maybe he did.
But if one or more of your answers are no, then I’ve got a bottle of wine with your name on it and a whole lot of truth to share.
Until then, I feel it’s important for me to state, I don’t hate you. I never did. I honestly can’t say if I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t have done the exact same thing. Hell, for all you know, maybe I have been in your shoes.
And that’s the real shame, the cycle of it all.
Perhaps progress is not me growing my way out of jealousy, or us becoming, somehow, friends. Perhaps progress is when the tables inevitably turn and you, seemingly out of nowhere, (when did I become old?) find yourself in my position, you pave the path for her that I wasn’t strong enough to pave for you.