Bowflex

He texts me, Update: I’m trying to figure out how to do sled pulls on the Bowflex. There’s so much wrong packed into this statement that I don’t know what to say to him, so I decide on silence instead.

Nothing obliterates my interest more quickly than men trying to relate to me through a common interest in the gym – mostly because it’s powerlifting that I’m actually focused on, versus being able to claim that I “hit the gym” however many times a week. I actively avoid the strange, ineffective bodybuilding routines that I see men performing; bad programming is just something I don’t tolerate or respect. To that end, I absolutely would not be caught dead on a Bowflex. (Although up until his text, I forgot those were even a thing. For the rest of the year, and perhaps for the rest of my life, I’m going to be perplexed by the fact that someone tried to woo me via their experience with equipment advertised on TV at 3am, following demonstrations of OxyClean and Nad’s.)

Also, no one can do sled drags on a Bowflex. That’s just a solid case of what the fuck.

He texts me a day later, Change of heart?

I say, I’m just really busy. I can’t really do a lot of back and forth texting. I’m sorry.

I block his number. I guess I’m one of those girls.

 

“I think I love you,” he says, rubbing his bristly, balding head against my arm.

For the past several hours, I’ve spent the night hearing about his job and his friends. When I mentioned that I like video games and played World of Warcraft in high school, he added very one sided conversations about his experiences as a gamer to the long list of topics he went on about. Things haven’t improved, and instead of engaging with anything I say in response, so far he’s just smiled dreamily at me before rolling into whatever subject next came to his mind.

The “I think I love you” statement catches me by surprise, though. We’re a few drinks deep into a long night, and if he’s already drunk, I’m embarrassed for him. We’re not exactly connecting and yet he seems to think there’s a vibe; I briefly wonder if I’ve been in his current position without realizing it on first dates. Before I can tell myself the thought isn’t worth my energy, he kisses my hand several times, sloppy and with sound, bringing my mind to a decision tree where the first fork is a choice between pulling away and letting him do his thing. I’m not here to make him feel bad, so I just deal with this overt public display of affection from a man I do not know all that well before interjecting with, “It’s getting late. The trains aren’t running as frequently past midnight. I should make a move.”

“I’ll walk you back to the PATH,” he says.

Oh, goodie.

We leave the small West Village bar and walk in a silence that is more uncomfortable for me than it is for him. I’m already thinking about how I’ll tell him tomorrow that I just wasn’t feeling it, or that it’s too much trouble for me to go into the city with my current routine. He, on the other hand, is humming, rubbing his thumb against the palm of my hand. He’s happy. Because of me, or because he thinks this is a very successful date.

When we reach the PATH, he leans in to kiss me. I reciprocate because it’s the easiest thing I can do at this stage. I don’t want to deal with his disappointment. I want to avoid a confrontation.

He’s attractive enough. Still, his self-importance leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

 

Alone on a Sunday, I find my thoughts drawn to the men I did love. I’m not unhappy to be relaxing by myself at home. I don’t miss them. Relationships, I’m coming to realize, are probably the worst thing to happen to me. It’s in this area that my self-esteem is worn thin, damaged by long history of abuse, and still recovering. (I wonder if my usual detachment to dating is only interrupted by the men who will break my heart because that’s my conditioning. Love is pain, sacrifice without gain.) I’m afraid that most people are too good for me. Give me a man without a car, who doesn’t know where he’s going in life, and I’m in love.

Perhaps I find silly reasons to write off successful people. Maybe I should give the man trying to impress me with the Bowflex a chance or see if Mr. Self Important is better at having a conversation after a couple more dates. On the other hand, maybe it’s time for me to be alone, to not use dating as a crutch. In some ways, I feel like all I’m doing is conducting a search for the next fuck that will make me miserable, but who I will nonetheless be devoted to as part of my pathological inability to form, or even want, healthy relationships.

Grief, Love

My grief is not for the men I lost who never wanted me, but for the time and effort I wasted on blaming myself.

For a time, I was angry that I fell in love and allowed myself to be vulnerable. But more recently, I’ve come to understand that this quality is what separates me from those damaged, emotionally unavailable men I’ve chased. They claim they are a certain way and can’t help it; their interior lives are stagnant as they cannot even comprehend that they can and should change. Unlike them, I have changed. Despite everything I’ve gone through, or perhaps because of it, I’ve learned how to love productively and completely. My flaw is not my capacity to care for another person – it’s that I relate to and empathize with people who grew up feeling as I did, and hold onto them for as long as they want me in their lives. Going forward, my goal is to not bury my wants and needs in favor of privileging what others ask of me.

Javier cheated on me. Worse than that, when I confronted him, he ghosted me. We had been dating for nearly six months, and I defended him against the naysayers that told me our relationship sounded like it didn’t matter to him or that I should be concerned I was his woman on the side. Yes, we averaged seeing each other four times a month, but I sincerely believed he was both busy and someone who valued spending his little free time by himself. I only became nosy when he didn’t want me to post a picture of us together on social media. At that point, with very little digging, it became apparent he was seeing at least one other person – on weekends he told me he was working. After that, many other elements of our relationship made more sense and supported the fact that he was cheating: I wasn’t allowed to call him, he was supposedly not on Facebook, I could’t come to his apartment, and I was always being told I’d eventually meet his friends and family without any definitive plans to do so.

It’s unlikely I’ll ever get closure, and a part of my mind will always wonder if I overreacted to this information. Maybe I’m crazy, you know. Perhaps there’s an explanation. There was a moment or two where I believed it was my fault he vanished, as I reacted strongly to finding out that he was with another woman. A bigger part of me knows that this is all immaterial. After nearly six months, the fact that I felt compelled to ask him if I could post a picture of us together is insane. Whatever my reaction to the realization I was not the only woman in the picture, spending half the year together warrants an explanation – even if I will never get one.

While I may never know the actual timeline or specific details of his cheating, my experience with Javier gave me an opportunity to see where I’ve gone wrong with the men I pursue. This time around, I’m determined to be gentler with myself about my relationship falling apart: blaming myself in the past did not help me create healthier patterns, after all.

The takeaway isn’t to shutdown or be cautious to love another. I will continue to give future lovers the benefit of the doubt. I’ll care about and fall for someone without letting the baggage of my past get in the way of being vulnerable enough to do so. The lesson here is to cut my losses, though, when it’s clear that the person I’m investing in is emotionally unavailable. Going forward, I’m not going to let my strange White Knight complex convince me that I’ll save a broken man. It’s patience that’s hurt me, not love, so I will not wait for the things I want out of a relationship.

I’m proud of myself, especially given how rough things have been for me up until recently. When I initially discovered my relationship with Javier was a farce, I was afraid my progress would be undone and that the rest of my life would surely collapse around him. But even with this bump in the road, I’m doing better with my eating disorder than I have since being raped almost a year a half ago. Powerlifting, which I had contemplated abandoning after the rape, is once again the cornerstone of my life, and I’m on the path to competing. I’m at a point in my current career where being fired by my last employer is now a good thing, as I’m earning considerably more in a company that actually values my work ethic.

The only person I can control is me. The parts of my life that are good exist through my ability and determination. And it took time and healing to get to that point, too – to have the confidence to exist in corporate settings, to strike out on my own and gain the level of financial independence I now have. As heartbroken as I still am, I know that it’s likely I must also heal in this area. So I will work on my confidence, and I will stop feeling bad for broken men who justify hurting the people who love them with “I’ve always been this way.”

That’s their choice. I will make a different one, always.

Javier

Through repetition, I become a master of bad habits. Ignore the omissions, time lost to promises broken or partially fulfilled. Tell myself that love is fickle – between my dedication and passion, I maintain, you will come to find a home in me. Patience is a virtue, I say to an empty room, yearning to see the shape of your lips on a Friday night.

You’re slow, you say. I assume I know what that means: slow to fall in love is something I can accept. There’s no significance in how little I know of you outside of us, you tell me. You’re just a private person, you respond, when I ask to put a picture of us in plain view. It’s not that you’re ashamed of me, no. But I still don’t know your friends, your parents. I cannot come to your apartment. Two seasons later, and I wonder if I’m your girlfriend outside the walls of my bedroom.

I lie next to you after waiting days to hear the sound of your voice, my stomach full of acid. I am not happy, I realize. I feel like my lungs will collapse. I am just so tired of bad habits, of waiting in empty rooms, of day dreaming that you will see me more than five times a month. My gut feeling, the one I’ve denied for so long, tells me that I’m less than a fraction of your life – that you’re a cheater and I’m a choice you refuse to make.

You’re not slow to fall in love. You’re slow to utter honest words, to let go of what keeps you warm. And what lies you tell her, or them, I can’t guess. But I will remember you always by those you told me. I don’t want you to be sad.

Happy Anniversary

“I miss who you were,” Scott says. We are laying in bed together but as far apart as the mattress allows. He is turned to face the wall. I am looking at the back of his head, contemplating the force needed to bash in his skull. I don’t want to be touched, he had told me minutes earlier. I’m just really sensitive after I cum.

He never bothered to get to know her, whatever version of me he claims to miss. In a truth he can’t admit to himself, it’s just that he doesn’t like the girlfriend he’s received post-treatment. We got along best when I spent more of my time bent over one of our two toilets, letting my anxiety and depression explode from my mouth and pour into cool porcelain bowls. On the occasions that he’d confront me about my behavior, he’d tell me that I was ruining the house. (When I continue to reach down into my throat years later, I think about the damage I’m doing to the pipes, not the potential eruption of my esophagus or my courtship of sudden death.)

“I thought going to Renfrew would cure you,” he says. Scott doesn’t bother to turn towards me. “You’re still at it, though. And you’re so angry with me all the time.”

I’m only clawing at the inside of my mouth when time stretches my willpower so thin that I can see through it like glass. But yes, I am angry. Now that I don’t puke more often than I shit, I feel my emotions.

“I’m sorry,” I say.  It’s what he wants to hear.

 

“Your arms look fat,” Scott says, a few months before I commit myself to a facility for women with eating disorders. I’ve made the appointment already: between my hair falling out and the acid burns around my perpetually chapped lips, he sees how poorly I’m doing. Still, he’s grimacing, absorbed in his observation. The object of his distaste is a photo: I stand with a group of women in front of a limousine, dressed for a leopard themed bachelorette party.

 

Before and after Renfrew, I try to fall asleep, tired from working, school, or most often a combination of the both. At certain points I’m a nursing student and tutor, a vet tech also putting hours in at a pet store while taking a class or two in between, leading my clinical rotations on the days I’m not working 10 hour shifts at an animal hospital. I probably nodded off on the chair in his parents’ basement or slipped to the floor from the narrow couch in our living room. (He was most likely playing FIFA. He most likely ignored me.) Whenever I get to that point, I make the decision to get more comfortable, to move myself to a more appropriate surface.

In my bed or ours, he’ll wake me up an hour later (as soon as I’ve settled into sleep), and he’ll stroke himself while he talks. I wonder why I’m even here if I’m not thinking about his strange desires. I want you to fuck people for money, he says. Just be a complete whore. I’m not shocked, really, not anymore, but it’s still perplexing. There are times when I play along, and others when I’m silent. On a couple occasions, I cry. But he always gets what he comes for, no matter my reaction, leaving or turning away from me before I can ask for comfort, care.

My needs don’t really matter to Scott. I suppose they don’t matter enough to me, either.

Oh Baby, or: The First Half of 2018

I’m not sorry that I remember in words. Whether or not our past takes shape through language, these are facts –

One: I was raped in my apartment by a man with more hair on his back than on his balding head, who wore the Star of David around his neck. He reminded me of an Italian wise guy, the kind you see in movies that get fat on wine and veal. Two: For a long time, the only person I told about my night with a rapist was my fuck buddy, a pretentious and confusing shit I understood to be a legitimate friend, especially after he encouraged me to move in with one of his pals from film school. I wouldn’t say he left me since he was never really quite there to begin with, but I was still devastated to find him drawing away from me emotionally, less than a month after the rape. When it became clear that his actions were part of launching into a relationship (”I’m just not ready,” he told me, but he supposedly had feelings for me too) with a mutual friend six years our junior, instead of being irritated or angry, I was pathetic and desperate for us to still remain friends. I got no credit for remaining friendly with her, although I never understood being anything less than civil with another woman just because a man fucked you and then fucked you over. Three: I had a medical abortion that became an incomplete abortion that became vacuum aspiration and while I was reasonably certain my resilient little fetus was not the result of being raped, the alternative explanation was worse. I was alone by choice because I didn’t want to be alone by necessity, terrified he’d deny his role in fertilizing the parasite growing inside my stomach. Four: At the point I lost my job, I had already fast tracked myself to earn the title “alcoholic” and quite frankly didn’t care. I was dirty, desperate, dumb. Pregnant, because this was before the abortion, and somehow I found myself depressed that I lost any choice to keep a baby I didn’t want anyway due to my excessive drinking. This thing will come out looking like a fucking elf, I told myself at one point. I was probably drunk.

Bullies

My once friend passes her eyes along the bruised length of my neck, the discoloration left by his teeth extending under my jaw. Sarah Jane’s judgment brings a cold light to the typically unreadable expression she wears. At this point, my co-worker is finding any reason to be unhappy with me (she reminds me uncannily of my father, with her simmering rage over the most mundane things), but I’ve finally given her ammunition.

SJ will be fired in a few weeks, but I don’t yet know that. (I won’t, up until the hour she’s escorted from the office.) I have less to worry about than I realize, but the panic weighs on my stomach like a boulder. Limitless is the word I’d use to describe my embarrassment, but I didn’t ask for a man to bite me in so many visible places. I wish I could say that, explain how while I had consented to sex, I had not consented to wearing imprints of his teeth around my neck and across my shoulders for the days to come.

“I bet you were sick yesterday,” she says. Her words, more like a hiss than human speech, react to the cold November air: clouds form in front of her painted orange lips and drift off into nothingness. (And while the air so quickly forgets the shape of her words, I will remember for weeks, perhaps maybe months.) “Good thing you’re back.”

“I was just run down,” I say, meek as a mouse.

“It makes me uncomfortable to stand so close to you,” she says, apropos of nothing. She’s looking down on me – literally, as she’s got almost a foot on my own small stature – her fire engine red hair hanging past her face like two long drapes. There’s something that approaches malice in her eyes. Maybe I’m just reading into it; perhaps she’s not a bully, and I in fact deserve her quiet rage.

“It’s like I’m some giant,” she mumbles, turning heel before slithering back towards our office.

 

Such a private man, this distraction that’s wound tight as a garrote around my heart. He will tell stories to his friends in front of me, where I am not a character despite the memory belonging to us both. He will not take a picture with me, or create an association between us that is anything more than convenience for himself. But he will leave his mark in all the public places that I occupy alone. (I feel acute embarrassment, a humiliation that is severe but not as disastrously consuming as what will come later.) And still I throw myself at him, desperate for someone to love, accepting he may never care for me because I’m closer to thirty than I want to be but still incredibly and sadly so fucking unfamiliar with the concept of self-respect.

My whole life, survival has meant keeping others happy. If I bury my own wants and needs, I will not be kicked or abandoned. When I tell him I took the day off work because I couldn’t figure out how to cover up the marks he left behind, he just laughs – and I find myself where I often have in the past, afraid of my own anger, more terrified he’ll leave if I express my unhappiness than I am over his callous disregard.

I told you to stop. I told you not there. I told you and you continued anyway. But I swallow air instead.

Modern Sex

“You’re making me feel like I’m forcing myself on you,” he says, pulling the waistband of my leggings down around my hips. After tugging my clothes in the other direction, having already turned away from him in bed, I finally grab his hand and push his clammy fingers away from my body. This doesn’t deter him – but in my experience, that’s never been enough.

“Women who say ‘no hookups’ are almost always willing to fuck on the first date,” my friend with benefits told me. Despite this and his many other absurd observations, he was the fuck boy that ultimately broke my heart – and hardened what remained, to the point someone would later describe me to his friends as “hilarious, but covered in blood splattered armor.”

When I met him, I was ready to love and desperate to be loved. Over time, he made me realize the truth about dating: women do not win this game.

Later in the same year, a guy I was dating who didn’t allow me to leave his home for work before having unprotected sex with me more than once, echoed the same belief. “They put in the app that they don’t want a hookup, but they’re always down to come back home with me,” he had said, during a conversation comparing me to the lesser members of my sex. His criteria for a woman worthy of a relationship was vague and did not factor in his own shortcomings. Lucky me, I thought.

With both men, I was an idea, shaped to fit the category that best suited their own lives. And with both, at various points, I wondered if they realized I was a person, a woman who struggled every day for her autonomy and independence and happiness, rather than a gaping hole where they could stuff their emotions and their dicks.  

Because I don’t know how he’ll respond to the truth (so, you turned out to be pretty fucking weird and offensive, but I’m here and I’m tired), particularly after listening to his drunken rants about eating disorders and how his sister never loved him (how did I get here again?), I lie and tell him I don’t like to have sex when both parties are inebriated.

“I’m not drunk,” he protests. (They always do that, don’t they? That, or it’s some variation of “I don’t have a problem.” Grown, financially independent men who choose alcohol over therapy – gotta love ‘em.)

Am I just a walking sheath? Dump yourself into me, is that what my expression reads? Your baggage, your cum. I can’t imagine anything better than the burden of a broken man who is not aware that their brokenness is not special, unique, that I too suffer and desire and need and that I am not a sieve, I do not catch the shit and the debris so they can leave with the best parts of themselves.

“You ladies say no when you really mean yes,” another man told me, back when I was dating around, aimless and half-heartedly seeking a distraction from Mr. Fuck Boy. The context of his proclamation was troubling, to say the least: he had just rolled off of me after using me like a pump and dump and was sweating profusely onto my sheets. I did not want to have sex, but our night concluded with him finishing on my stomach despite my protests.

Of course, I had experience allowing my mind to slip away from my body, so it wasn’t all that bad, him fucking me even as I said no. For three and a half years, the span of my last serious relationship, I thought it was normal for men to harass you until you gave in, that it was up to you to say no even after you already did, to stop something with words that already failed you. So when this man violated me, I channeled apathy because the alternative was to blame myself.

In the past, I’ve given myself over to the wheedling of men. But I’m exhausted in a new way, unable to bear the thought of yet another disappointment, another trip home feeling disgusted because it was safer to say yes.

Maybe it’s because I’m tipsy, but I think to myself that I’d rather die than let another man take off my clothes when I just wanted to sleep. If trying to connect with another person culminates in exchanging my bodily autonomy for safety, I can’t do this anymore anyway. If the choice is between being alone and playing some kind of rapist Russian roulette with men, then let one of them just fucking kill me already so I can be done with this game.

You could’ve just said no. You could’ve been firmer with me. You’re responsible for your own safety. Why didn’t you just leave? It’s your fault. Slut.

“I’m going to leave,” I say. I don’t wait for a response before I abandon his bed, because after a decade, I can act on what I know. Whether casual lover or girlfriend or something in between, men choose – no, control – when you are a person and when you are a thing.

Snapshot of a Feminist Male

“Don’t you remember? I said I don’t like documentaries.”

Before I can say, well, I do, and I’m sorry I asked if you had any interest in seeing that new Netflix one on the ivory game, he interrupts my thoughts.

“Remember?” He repeats. “They all have too much bias.”

Diplomatic is not the right word choice here; diplomacy occurs among equals, not in arrangements where one party is expected, even if not explicitly, to submit to the other. No, I am learning how to be demure. While I think, yes, a film on elephant poaching is biased towards conservation and the prevention of this mammal’s extinction, bias is not inherently a bad thing, I say instead, “okay.” As much as I want to say, Men think that their self-assessed ability to identify bias makes them enlightened geniuses, I turn my attention to my cuticles and add, “We don’t have to watch it.”

It’s alright to not be enough of myself when I’m with him. I decided that when I decided I was too lonely to spend the final third of the year by myself. There are things I can save for when I’m alone, like my opinions and self-respect.

Change

I put my change in a mason jar

A piece for every lie you told

Bar the most important one

Love’s Lessons

In our time apart, we grew closer; words eclipsed distance faster than our feet covered ground. With each infatuation, I learn something new about myself. You taught me that love, in its infancy, is easiest when miles separate the subject from the object of a verb.