I think there’s a particular kind of relationship — specific to each person — that you must endure before you find the one that you are going to spend the rest of your life with. In fact, you’re grateful that you went through it because when you do find the right person, and you start to notice your partner’s idiosyncrasies, they are nothing compared to that asshole you dated before.
We met at the hair salon. You could tell right away that he put a priority on being well groomed and that he thought highly of himself. This high degree of confidence was an attractive thing, at the time. Turned out that the particular kind of confidence he possessed translated as “I’m perfect, and all other human beings are not.”
I spent four grueling years trying to measure up, trying to be his Mary Poppins kind of perfect. When I look back, the only good thing about the relationship was that my dog liked him. I always thought that dogs had a special, keen sense of who is a good person and who is not. I don’t know what made me think that, since there are evil people who abuse their dogs, and the dogs remain loving and loyal.
I didn’t know at the time that the well-groomed thing meant that I was supposed to be perfectly groomed, too. His definition of groomed: “Wear expensive designer clothes that must symbolize success.” He would spend an hour in the bathroom; the stench of his hair products would pollute the place. He liked going to Nordstrom because the sales people would cater to him. Before walking out the door to go anywhere, he would ask me, in a condescending, pompous voice, “Are you going to wear that?”
He sold software for a living. He said, “Selling software is more important than being a doctor.” He said that anyone could be a doctor; it takes special talent to sell software. He traveled a lot, so we only spent weekends together. He spent holidays with his family. I wasn’t perfect enough to be invited.
I discovered that with the average five days between dates that I would start to forget the criticisms I had received from the previous weekend. What I’m trying to do now is explain the four-year timeline of torture that I allowed myself to experience.
I haven’t yet mentioned: He would try to get out of paying, for anything. At first I thought it was because he needed to keep some money aside to buy expensive clothes for his sales job. Then I started to think about it. He was in the shower...I wanted to see just how desperate his finances were. I found a wrinkled ATM slip on the top of his “exquisite” dresser (everything had to be of the best quality, preferably made by well-known designers).
The reason he didn’t pull his wallet out was because...well, because he didn’t. The ATM slip showed that he had $50,000 in his account. He didn’t pull out his wallet not because he was struggling; it was because he was cheap. He could afford the finer things but couldn’t afford to contribute to the tip for restaurant service. “Do you have a couple of bucks?” he would say. “I don’t want to break a five.” We split everything 50/50. He always ordered the “special.” I would order the cheapest salad, and then we would split the bill. Not only did I pay for most of his superb meal, but I ended up paying for most of the tips because the service was almost always never up to his expectation. “After all, that is their job,” he would say. He had an important career; everyone else had a job.
He told me that he had once been robbed by “two black guys” when he lived in Pacific Beach. From that point on, apparently all black people were not “safe.” Whenever we saw a black person he would insist that “our safety is compromised.” If we had to get from point A to point B, and the journey would take us through Pacific Beach, we had to take another route.
I recall an occasion at a Blockbuster video store. There was this really cool Jamaican guy who worked there — he’d seen us often over the weeks and months — and one day this guy kinda snapped. In front of everyone in the store he declared, in a warm, Jamaican accent, “Wha tiz wrong wit ya, maan? I see ya here all dis time — not one time have you used your wallet, maan. It’s obvious you can afford it. You wear expensive tings; why you not help pay for dees movies?” I baked that guy a batch of chocolate-chip cookies. From then on, the jerk I was with stayed in the car when I rented movies.
He would always say that I lived in a “box.” It was a box — 200 feet of box from one of the most popular and scenic beaches in the world, Windansea Beach in La Jolla. He lived in a small room in a house on a noisy road with two other guys. But he loved to drive us through the scenic hills of La Jolla, judge the nice houses, and then give me a hard time: “Are you always going to live in a box?” You see, he was in a “transition” where he lived, while I had made my choice to live in a “box.”
He insisted, demanded, that I save a parking space in front of my box so he could keep an eye on his precious, clean car. We were always driving around parking lots to make sure that we found the perfect space so that no one could damage his shiny green BMW.
He wore two condoms, for “safety.” He would ask, regularly, and I mean often, “Are you still taking that birth-control pill?” It was like I was scheming to trap this dashing good catch with a pregnancy, or that my vagina was diseased and dirty and he didn’t want his precious dick to touch it.
In preparation for his weekend visits I would spend my days off scrubbing and cleaning. He would open a cupboard to get a glass and ask, in an offensive tone, “Is this clean?” I took his tone as a suggestion that I spent my spare time putting soiled dishes in grimy cupboards. I spent even more time cleaning; he would smoke a stinky cigar in the “box” and then spit his tobacco saliva on the front doorstep.
The relationship largely consisted of him telling me how he didn’t like what I lived in, how I wore my hair, what I wore or how I wore it, how I socialized, who I socialized with, or where I worked. There was always, always something that I could be doing better to improve the quality of my life so that I could be his girlfriend.
That was ten years ago. I recently saw him in a grocery store. He was impeccably dressed and had every hair in place; my hair was in a messy bun, and I wore comfortable sweats. When I saw him I immediately had the feeling that I imagine you would get coming upon a decaying corpse with massive maggots thriving in it — you just want to get away from it as quickly as possible.
If I had paid attention to my red flags, it might have ended amicably. Spending your life trying to be the person that someone else wants you to be sucks. It doesn’t matter who gets dumped. What matters is you recognize — exactly when, or as close as you can get to it — that moment in time when you realize, you know, that it’s not going to be a good match. Try to force a relationship to work and you will wake up one day wishing that the guy you’re dating would just die, painfully.
I have married a man with the integrity of a monk. He also has the baggage cargo of a 747 airplane — he comes with a mean, vindictive ex-wife and three kids that barely tolerate me. I’ve never been happier.
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