Over the past several years, I’ve been cheating on myself.
With wistful eyes glazed by the sugary lure of Kate Hudson rom-coms, I’ve lingered in halfhearted relationships. I’ve listened to men tell me they want me to keep my hair and nails done. I’ve lain on my back when I wanted to go to sleep or go home. I’ve tried to make it work, knowing I didn’t have anything more to offer a man who gambled with my love for too long. I’ve spent money, time, and energy on men I knew from the beginning were leeches ready to drain the lifeblood from my veins.
I won’t get any of it back. But while I’m still here, I have a chance to recommit to myself the way I would commit to a man.
If I were in a serious relationship, I would be faithful. I would listen to my man, try to meet his needs, encourage him, and spend time with him. As I learned to trust him, I would give him the benefit of the doubt before I listened to others. I would treat him respectfully and fairly. I would criticize him constructively and compliment him frequently.
But if I’m willing to do all of that for someone else, I must do that for myself, because I deserve my devotion first. I need me. Before I can have a meaningful relationship with anyone else, I need to make sure I’ve met my own needs. I must love and care for myself primarily, then spread that love to deserving others. Take it from flight attendants: You can’t be any good to someone else if you’re barely breathing.
In a world full of people who think they know you better than you do, who think it’s your job to spoil them, who try to confine and condemn and control and confuse you, it’s up to you to be faithful to yourself, to the person you know you truly are.
This Valentine’s Day–and every day–commit to you. Don’t cheat on yourself with the Mr. (and Ms.) Wrongs. Love you, respect you, listen to you, and make you a priority. Buy yourself flowers, candy, cards, moscato rose, whatever makes you smile. Write yourself a love note and mean every word. And when someone tries to jeopardize your relationship with yourself, give that person a stiff boot in the rear. Doing so doesn’t mean you’re bitter or cynical–it just means you know how valuable you are and you aren’t willing to settle.
I have my share of bad habits. I lose things. I zone out when people give me directions. I forget to pay my phone bill (thank you, Verizon, for your generosity). All in all, though, I think I’m a pretty good catch. So, if a guy is interested in more than friendship with me, he should avoid the following mishaps:
1. Laughing/joking too much.
I laugh ’til my head hurts. I’ve had laughing fits for upwards of twenty minutes. I find the humor the mundane. If something crashes to the floor in a silent room, I have to tuck my lips to contain my giggles. That doesn’t mean, however, that I want to laugh nonstop with you. Take this phone conversation, for example:
Me: “What did you think about the Time article on female genital mutilation?”
Me: [Side eye. Quizzical chuckle]
Me: [End call]
Laughter is not a substitute for intelligent discourse. If we’re talking about child endangerment or adult illiteracy, a giggle fit is especially inappropriate. Even if we’re talking about something more mundane, I’d prefer that you just chill out sometimes. Instead of being one of those I-don’t-have-anything-to-say-so-I’ll-just-laugh-like-a-hyena people, why not ask a simple, relevant question to move the conversation along?
Sure, a sense of humor diffuses negative energy and makes you feel good. But a guy who doesn’t know how or when to cut the comedy and be serious will most likely end up in the “just friends” category.
I met Joe online. Joe told me he was 25 and 5’11”. When I met him in person, his name was actually John and he was four years older and four inches shorter, with no premolars and a receding hairline. Don’t ask why I kept talking to him. The lies continued: The company he claimed he worked for had been closed for months, he lived with his sisters and her children (not roommates, as he called them), and he kept photos of girls he was supposedly just friends with on his phone.
As time went on–again, don’t ask me why I continued to entertain this person–he just got weirder. He showed up unannounced at my job with a bootleg “Sex and the City 2” DVD. He threatened to take back the gifts he bought me because I didn’t want to talk to him anymore. When I finally cut him off, he stalked me for over a year, no joke. I guess he finally realized I wasn’t playing about calling the police.
While John’s is case extreme, it exemplifies the tomfoolery that lying inevitably spurs. Just tell the truth. If you don’t have a job, say so, but at least put in a few apps every day. If you live with your sister and her six kids in a two-bedroom apartment and have a particularly grotesque case of OCD, that’s alright, too. Just be honest about it. That way, you at least give me a fair chance to say: Next.
3. Calling or texting at o’dark thirty.
I’ve been an insomniac since I was about 10. I’ve tried melatonin, popcorn, Calms Forte, CVS-brand pills, almost everything to get a good night’s rest. Bedtime is just a pain for me.
Even more annoying is when I’m browsing YouTube for tips on how to clean a dirty pair of Uggs at 2:36 a.m. and some random guy pops up in my notification center. What are you going to say that you couldn’t tell me 12 hours earlier? Do you expect me to respond favorably your booty-call-hour small talk? I hope not.
Most of my friends or associates know that I don’t like late-night calls. Still, some forget there’s an appropriate to time to call a lady. Like before 10 p.m. EST. Maybe a bit later for friends I’ve known longer. If you don’t know my middle name, shoe size, or place of birth, don’t call or text me late if you expect to be anything more a nuisance.
4. Buying me stuff at your own will–and then complaining about being broke.
Some men give compliments. Others give pedicures, Skittles lip balm, Snuggies, tickets to Tyler Perry plays, and steak dinners.
I can’t lie: I like gifts. But they don’t have to be elaborate. A simple bag of Sour Patch Kids will do just fine. It’s the begrudged gift-giving I have a problem with. Don’t buy me stuff like I’m Vanessa Bryant and then gripe about your No-be bank account. You only make yourself look foolish if you pretend you’re balling out of control.
I’m not looking for a sponsor. We don’t have to go to dinner and a movie three times a week. If we do, I’m willing to split the bill or take turns paying, and most of the time I’ll be satisfied cooking a lovely dinner at home and flipping through Fios On Demand. You don’t have to pay my train fare, nor must you pick out a pair of Jessica Simpson peep-toe pumps for me. Be honest about your budget and think about creative, economical things we can do together. Make me a collage instead of plunking down cash on something you can’t afford. That way, you won’t need a moment of silence when you check your account.
Attraction to the dude who calls you a snaggle-toothed, pizza-faced heifer only occurs in the movies, if even there. Nobody likes a name-caller. Well, at least I don’t. I usually don’t get along well with people who use the b-, n-, and f- (referring to gay men) words, just to name a few. Those words make you look like a callous buttwipe.
The world is a much sweeter place when we call each other by our given names, not the racist, sexist, homophobic ones folks tend to chuck at random. So just stop it. Use of those terms only reveals ignorance. And the last thing anyone wants is an ignorant man.
When you break up with someone, you have to deal with the pain. No phone calls, texts, or emails. No calling from blocked numbers just to see if he’ll pick up. You have to face the agony head-on, like giving birth without an epidural. I’ve never had to do that, but I imagine it can’t feel any better than heartbreak.
The days will be long. You’ll spend your free time wishing you could just fall asleep but your body will refuse to. You’ll watch the clock, as if marking time will inspire a miraculous turnaround of events. As if you could take back your decision.
That text is just your sister sending pics from her vacation in Miami. The knock on the door is just your neighbor’s brother trying to sell you studded T-shirts and a so-called Gucci iPhone case. Don’t get that desperate.
Go outside. Walk. Feel the air, watch the people, smile at the squirrels. They’re all doing what you must continue to do—they’re living. When you go back inside, cry if you need to. Eat a brownie and drink a ton of water. Ok, white wine. Watch five minutes of a bad movie, then turn it off and watch something else. Cry some more, drink some more—water this time—and breathe. When all else fails, repeat.