Until fairly recently, I was technically single for five years -- all throughout college and my first two postgrad years in New York City, a.k.a. my most formative years. I say "technically" because I "dated" guys for the exact reason it's in quotes -- we were dating (as in I have no idea what that means either), but nothing was defined and could not be assumed to be exclusive. So, yes, I was "single." (Goddamn these air quotes and things being "complicated.") But in a way, I think it served me well. Even if these in-between guys were not technically boyfriends, I've learned something important about myself and what I want in each and every one of them. I can't say I know exactly what I'm looking for in a future partner, but they have at least helped me cross off what I don't want. But beyond that, they taught me about myself.
Because the thing is, when I love someone, they can have anything and everything. Elizabeth Gilbert said it best in Eat, Pray, Love:
I disappear into the person I love. I am the permeable membrane. If I love you, you can have everything. You can have my time, my devotion, my a**, my money, my family, my dog, my dog's money, my dog's time -- everything. I will give you the sun and the rain, and if they are not available, I will give you a sun check and a rain check. I will give you all this and more, until I get so exhausted and depleted that the only way I can recover my energy is by becoming infatuated with someone else.
This is what I thought love was: You give, give give, until you don't have anymore to give, and then you give a little more. Or, as people like to say, I am the one who loves more. (Love? Who are we kidding, I mean, like. I like you more than you like me.) I am the girl who will go down on you and won't ask for you to reciprocate. I will wait four hours in line for two Cronuts and give you the other one. I will travel almost 300 miles with pots and pans in my luggage to cook you a Thanksgiving meal in your dorm room kitchen. I've always been the girl who feels awkward on the first date when the check comes and you offer to pay and I have to do the awkward wallet grab to be polite. I truly believe in equality and yay feminism. I believe in celebrating March 14th (Steak & BJ Day) as much as Valentine's Day. In fact, after my high school sweetheart asked me to senior prom in high school, I did the reverse and asked him out as well to even the score. Yeah, that's the kind of girl I am. This also means I'm the kind of girl that always somehow ends up with guys telling me how thoughtful I am and how I'm the kind of girl they want to marry, but for now, they want to screw anything in a dress while they spend their summer weekends in the Hamptons, so thank you and goodbye. (OK, fine, they didn't say it this explicitly and in so many words, but I got the point.) Great.
What I've realized is that that's not right. A relationship requires both give and take. I'm great at the giving, but I'm learning to take, no, let's not say "take," it sounds so selfish, let's say "receive." And the reason I'm even writing all this is because I know that I am not alone. Us girls, and some boys out there, are givers, but we give way too much of ourselves to all the wrong people. My best friend in high school told me to that he felt like he lost a little bit of himself to each girlfriend he fell in love with and then subsequently broke up with in a completely serious way that only 17-year-old high schoolers, who clearly know so much about true love and have far too many feelings, can. I stared him straight in the eyes and told him to not make me barf and to get over himself. I argued that while we give ourselves to other people, it's not something we lose; it's something that is innately us, so there's always more of it -- like donating blood, your body will produce more blood cells to replenish what you gave. But now that I am older and none the wiser, I think he may have actually been on to something.
The thing is, I lost a little bit of my optimism and myself after breaking up with my high school sweetheart. Then, with each subsequent boy in New York, I slowly began to believe that maybe I deserved to be treated that way, no matter how awesome my friends said I was. Why would all these guys be doing the same thing if it weren't for something fundamentally wrong with me, since I was the only common thread among all these guys? It wasn't until I went on three bad first dates in a span of one week that I finally pulled back and thought, Why? Why am I doing this when I'm quite fabulous solo? And that was how the rest of the summer went. I see some of my girlfriends who are bit more "princess"-y and needy, and somehow they meet guys who will treat them that way and coddle them. But I refuse to be like that. I refuse to be needy It's like the mother who shuts her baby up by giving into its every whim and it's no surprise that the baby grows up to be spoiled. I am a giver and I believe good behavior will be rewarded. However naive that line of thought may be, I believe in it. Ever heard of karma? Yeah, that's what I thought.
Once I decided this and cut off a guy, I got the chick flick ending every girl dreams about. A boy I can best describe as being on/off with for almost a year circled back to me after I told him I was done and quoted Mariah Carey with my (and every other girl's) favorite Christmas song, "All I want for Christmas is you." In every romantic comedy, we cheer for the heroine and the guy to get together and they do in the end. But guess what? This isn't Hollywood. The fact that he had to make the "grand gesture" just means that he already used up all the opportunities that I had given him before. I think about it with my business brain -- if a company is consistently losing money, why would I invest another huge round of funding when nothing has changed? It's a sunk cost -- cut your losses and run. Oh trust me, emotions are never that logical, but at some point, you have to be strong. A "Happy Holidays, thanks, but no thanks." text is never quite that simple, but it is necessary.
So, if you're reading this and nodding along and it sounds like I've got you pinned to a T, then stop. Be more selfish. Take what you need from a relationship. Set real expectations with what you want from someone from the get go and if they're never going to meet them, then end it. Don't answer that booty call text (I know and you know that it's a booty call and that he's not curious about your well-being at 10 p.m..) He's not going to change and you're definitely not going to change him. For the all-time famous quote, "He's just not that into you." You are the exception and special and someone's dream girl, just not for this guy. I still don't think you can give all of yourself away. I believe that if you are inherently a giver, then you always will be. But stop before you grow hard because one day, you will wake up and meet Mr. Right and find that you may not be so open to him anymore because you kissed too many frogs before that. It's always hard to say no when you're in the thick of it, but just try and think about it logically, if this were another guy treating your best friend or sister this way, what would you tell them to do? Exactly, so follow your own advice. Trust me, you're worth more than that.