My father died last week, and after I got the news, I coped how I know best. I wrote about it, and the ensuing outpour of support was much more than I expected.
I thought that I would be socially punished for posting private things about my family and my time growing up. In part, this is why I hesitate when it comes to writing about my own experience, even though I have wells of information to draw from. So when friends near and far came out to give their condolences, I was truly touched.
Some friends reached out to tell me that my story reminded me of their own relationships with their fathers. Others just wanted me to know that they understood the complicated feelings I have for my father through my story, and others just wanted to check in and let me know that I always have an ear with them.
Even my former next door neighbor, a high school friend who doesn’t have Facebook, called to check in with me. However, as the days passed, it became more and more obvious that I had not heard from a very specific group: any one of my exes.
You see, I’ve had about, say, five great loves in my life, all guys who were friends first. Three of those men are people that, if they came back to me offering love and support and companionship for real, I would drop everything for.
At varying points in my life, these men, without fail, have popped back into my life. Some have come back after we dated, admitting that they took me for granted and wishing for a second chances. And the others, the ones that I never really ‘dated’ but were significant to me all the same, ‘bump’ into me socially, often pretending that they don’t remember the reason I severed ties with them in the first place, sometimes even giving me a really good reason why things went down the way they did. A variation of, “You see? I’m not really as horrible as you thought, you just had the wrong impression this whole time!”
I’m sad to admit that it took until my late twenties for me to notice this pattern, that I was in these endless cycles with guys that are perpetually Not Ready For A Relationship but kept me on the back burner all the same, whether as a safe bet or a backup plan or just for the attention. And too often, when they came back into my life, I’d be so happy to hear from them that I’d be too willing to forgive and forget.
But I realized that nothing ever changed. In fact, I noticed something that made me stop in my tracks. These guys, these guys I loved with all their flaws, really thought they could say horrible things to me, treat me like an option and not a person, and all they had to do was wait until I’d be willing to forget.
On guy didn’t disclose that he’d been sexually active with other women when we had been involved, and when I called him out on it, he told me he was a shark, you see, and it was my own fault for not knowing. Another treated me like I should be grateful for the attention our entire relationship, only to hit me up a few months after his wife left him, asking me to come back to Hartford, as if I had been sitting by the phone for his call.
And the last one, the one that hurt the most, didn’t tell me he had been in a long term relationship the entire time we’d been messaging each other. His response? I only talk to you when I need a break from my kids (as if we hadn’t been sending each other explicit messages since we were both teens) and, anything I said to you was true at the time.
(Plan another funeral, because I died from that.)
It seems to me that as a woman, giving love and being there for others are not just parts of who we are, but they are parts of us that are often expected and taken for granted. I have never been mistreated more than the times when I had uncontrollable crushes on guys that were just my type: Hispanic, tall, smart, and often, trouble.
Once I got to New York, I dated and hooked up with guys all over the spectrum, until the only common denominator was Hispanic, and I found that many of these guys fell within two different camps: the guys that are used to having girls tripping all over themselves to get to them, so they never have to make an effort, and the guys who wished they were the type of guys that had girls tripping all over themselves for them.
And it all came down to this: being taken for granted. Random disappearances or silences when bringing up something they didn’t want to discuss. Getting gas-lighted into taking the blame for something I couldn’t have known or something they did. Or being used as a temporary girlfriend while their real girlfriend was out of town. (That last one, by the way, is some scum of the earth behavior.)
We still live in a world that assumes that women exist to make men happy, and it’s a world that teaches women this expectation from puberty. I was not allowed to talk about boys or date, but my primary training at home was cleaning and learning how to be pretty and docile. The docility never took.
And the thing was, I was as boy crazy as the next girl. All I wanted was a boyfriend, and as I hit puberty, I thought I was so hideous that no boy would ever like me. The boys I liked were so mean that it only reinforced this idea, and when I finally met a guy who liked me, I was so relieved it was ridiculous.
But as I dated as a teen, I never understood why they boys I loved treated me like crap. I didn’t understand why the guys I loved did underhanded things, acting like it was my job to accept it once I found out. The big one was other women, and most often, I was the other woman without even knowing it. I realized then that relationships with these men were not really about love, but what I could do for them. The girl that makes me most comfortable wins.
I couldn’t be a part of that. As an adult, I made the decision to not be a part of that, understanding that it would lead to a very lonely life. But it would be a life that belonged to me and no one else.
So why am I pissed right now? Because giving condolences after someone’s father dies is a sign of sincerity. If any of those guys who lied to me, treated me like I should be grateful for the scraps of attention they paid me, side-chicked me, or kept me in the dark like a fool, if any of those guys had made the slightest effort to be there for me, then I would have known the gesture to be true, because it had been for me, not for them.
Not one of them did. And I won’t forget. Just ask my dad.