“I was not ready, the day
You gave me your heart.
I was still falling…apart.
But since that moment,
I can’t stop hearing
Wondering about you,
— Emily King
“You know…when my last relationship ended, I promised myself that I was just going to date,” he said, looking everywhere but into my eyes.
It’s five years later, and I can still feel it: that sinking feeling. Actually, it felt more like a death drop. While something had recently seemed slightly ’off’, being dumped was not what I was expecting, at that point. After all, this was the guy who’d surprised me with a romantic spa trip just days before. And now, this same guy was sitting in my dining room—the same room in which he’d recently proposed we host an upcoming dinner party—attempting to let me down easy?
“Lately, I’ve started to think of you as…my girlfriend,” he unhappily admitted. (God forbid.)
I should’ve been thrilled to hear that sentence; but this was a death sentence. Despite the fact that I’d been dating him exclusively, I’d stopped short of considering this man—who I’ve previously referred to as “The Ex”—my “boyfriend”, as we hadn’t yet had “the conversation”. But I could see how he might feel that way, after ensuring that we’d spent almost every available moment together for the few months we’d been seeing each other. From the very beginning, he’d set the pace. So, what was he suddenly so afraid of?
Prior to that moment, The Ex seemingly couldn’t stand to be away from me. He’d show up anyplace he knew I’d be—including outside my home, on more than one occasion. He’d meet me at the airport, even if I’d only been gone a day. As things progressed, he preferred I stay at his apartment most nights, so that he wouldn’t miss me in his bed (his words, not mine). He’d even introduced me to his mother—who’d cryptically commented that her only child had a tendency to be “self-focused”. (A cue I unfortunately missed.)
Reflecting on it now, it all reads as overblown and obsessive; a hard sell, to be sure. Had I not been so smitten, I’d no doubt have thought The Ex “stalkerish”, or at least, a bit intense for such a new relationship. These days, this type of behavior would warn me of a possible “f*ckboy” in my midst. But at the time, I was swept off my feet, and therefore happily let him take the lead, because I believed it was the beginning of everything…
Until suddenly, we were ending; and I didn’t know why.
He claimed there was no one else. But if that was true, what had I said or done—or not said and done—wrong? He couldn’t (or wouldn’t) say. He simply said that as clichéd as it sounded, it wasn’t me; it was him.
But even his goodbye didn’t make him gone; The Ex contacted me almost daily for months, repeatedly reopening the wound, until I finally worked up the strength to ask for no contact. It’d take me two more years to accept that “it’s not you, it’s me” was perhaps the most honest thing he’d ever said to me.
It’s frequently said that men are literal—as well as visual—but in relationships, women are the ones who tend to take things at face value. We assume that if you said it, you meant it. And a man certainly wouldn’t reveal personal things if he didn’t intend for them to be taken personally, right?
But while a man may genuinely aspire to be the “representative” he often leads with, whether he actually has the ability to be that guy is another question altogether. Nine times out of ten, he might as well be talking about what he wants to be when he grows up.
So, when I caught wind of a series of tweets written by a 20-year-old college student named Kiran David about “The Indecisive Perfect Guy,” I was intrigued, to say the least. In 59 “real talk” tweets aimed at black millennials, he’d perfectly illustrated my very Gen-X experience—and the experience of almost every woman I know—from the male perspective. His thesis? That love is a decision; and until a man makes that decision, he’ll inevitably wreak havoc on the lives of the women he encounters by selling them on the dream of his representative, only to bail in reality (sound familiar?). But unlike a few other self-appointed relationship gurus of late, this man wanted women to know one thing: It isn’t our fault.
Yeah, I know. I just wish I hadn’t had to have my heart shattered to figure out that simple truth.
“This man is saving lives,” I told my girlfriends. Matter of fact, where was he five years ago, when I needed him?
Oh, that’s right. He was 15.
But my girls weren’t so readily convinced—after all, is this vastly different from the logic espoused in “He’s Just Not That Into You”? In fact, some were downright insulted. He’d identified the problem, but where was the accountability? As my friend Birgitta noted:
“This is an outline of arrested development in men and relationships. They get scared and they get to make up excuses for it. Not be a man and say, ‘Hey, I’m not ready to step up to the plate’…they are not holding this recent piss-poor version of fragile masculinity accountable.”
Well, tell us how you really feel, B. But she was far from finished:
“One day, we gon’ stop backsliding and co-signing on our own oppression. This is where older and mature men are needed to step up and speak up to these types of men. Pimping is saying ‘it’s not you, it’s me; but I’ll still string you along for my own benefit, image, and stunted emotional development.’ That’s pimping all day, and twice on Sundays.”
Having been on the receiving end of my own “it’s not you, it’s me” nightmare, I couldn’t help but flinch at the idea of having been ‘pimped’. But I also had to admit that she had a point—several, actually.
But is this pathology exclusive to men? After all, I can’t discuss my heartbreak without also acknowledging heartbreak I’ve caused. Admittedly, I’ve left someone—okay, more than one someone—hanging by a heartstring; and I know I’m not alone. So, was my experience with The Ex just a necessary exercise in karma? And when it comes to heartbreak, what’s the difference?
Well, maybe this; though it doesn’t excuse hurting someone: as women, we’re not so much doing the choosing—at least, not past the initial interaction—as being compelled by society to “get chose,” even if by someone who isn’t our first (or second, or third) choice. So, we often linger longer than we should, waiting for something to spark, but ultimately wasting everyone’s time. As my friend Natasha confessed:
“But you move forward a little while because ‘he’s a good man.’ Your friends are going to call you picky, even though he just may not be your dude. I would hate for someone else to think something was wrong with them, just because I have different values and preferences.”
Guilty as charged. But is this really so different from the dream peddling and rug snatching of The Indecisive Perfect Guy? Should anyone be expected to commit to someone they’re not completely into, or before they’re ready? Or is this simply a matter of time: time wasted, and timing, in general?
In search of insight from one of those “older and mature men” Birgitta spoke of, I asked these same questions of my (not older, but still mature) gentleman friend, Mr. Gray Area.
You know, strictly for journalistic purposes, of course.
After reading the tweets for himself, he had to admit that there was some accuracy in the portrayal…but sadly, that it wasn’t behavior exclusive to one particularly dysfunctional type of dude.
“All men have been that dude,” he said.
Well, that was honest, if unfortunate. So, what changes THAT dude into a dude worth dating? More importantly, should I be bracing myself for another disappointment? At what point is a man actually willing and able to make the dreams he’s selling come true—not just think out loud and speak in hypotheticals? Thankfully, like Kiran David, Mr. Gray Area believes the answer lies in decision-making:
“Sometimes you have to trump timing with a decision…especially when you realize you’re not in control of time. You have to decide to move forward. As far as timing, the time will never be ‘right’—says experience,” he chuckled. “You get caught up in always finding a reason why you can’t, and at some point you’ve wasted time because you simply didn’t decide. There’s always gonna be a reason; the time will never be right. But time teaches you that, I think, when you reflect on your behavior…”
Sidebar: Have I mentioned how much I dig a self-aware dude? By this point, I was basically swooning…which may foreshadow my downfall. But I digress, and Mr. Gray Area continued:
“Then, you decide to make a change, and just like that, BOOM: Things start happening. You decide to be in it…100%. F*ck the timing. F*ck whatever it is you’re knit picking about, etc… I want XYZ, and she’s the one I will have it with.”
Simple as that, huh? Just make a decision, and pull the trigger? He truly did make it sound simple—so simple that for a second, I envied him his maleness (and the privilege that inevitably accompanies it), knowing full well that it would likely never really be my decision to make.
But it was nice to know that the possibly perfect guy might not be so indecisive, after all.