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Those Were Different Days (Joce)

We're sitting around the table, everybody on their second or third margarita, worn out from a long hot day, but the mood is light and easy. Somebody asks Brandon about his sister, she's had a lot of trouble with men in her life, good juicy gossip: Her live-in boyfriend got somebody else pregnant and left her, then the next guy she dated was dealing heroin. Heroin! And went to jail. "She's just one of those girls," says Brandon, "that if you tell her she's pretty, tell her that you love her, that's all it takes. She holds on and won't let go." Everybody laughs. We all know girls like that. So insecure, so desperate for the approval of a man, oblivious or forgiving of the red flags. We pity them.

I laugh, too. I laugh at Brandon's sister and those poor, pathetic girls starved for the affection and validation of a worthless, piece of shit guy. I laugh but I don't say anything. Because, in my heart I know that I, too, am that girl. I order another margarita.

I made the error of writing about love in May as if I knew something, anything about it. As if being love thirsty for all these years and years has given me insight into what love is. As if keeping a blog about relationships and dating and feelings qualifies me as a love expert. What a fool!  Enter swift karmic retribution -- I got tangled in a couple of flash-in-the-pan relationships where the word love was bandied about, one was just a lie, a messy, twisted love lie, and the other was unwanted and non-reciprocal love. I realized I know nothing about love. Not one little thing.

I used to think, up until about a week ago, that my big relationship character flaw was having too much empathy for others. Did he have a bad childhood? Was he unloved by his mother? Was his heart broken in 15 different places by 15 different women? Is he naturally timid? Or mean? Or manipulative? I understand. No problem. I can help him overcome. I can heal his wounds no matter how deep or wide. My comforting and kindness and nurturing will make him whole again. He will change. He will love me, too, eventually, finally, and we will live happily ever after.

Wrong.

I realize now that my big relationship character flaw is not empathy, but the exact opposite. I am totally incapable of understanding the motivations, the inclinations and impulses of others, anyone. I can understand that he might have good reasons to behave the way he does and then give him a pass to be exactly that person, but I always assume, that he, like me, has good intentions. He wants to be genuine and thoughtful and generous in the relationship. I always, always give him the benefit of the doubt. He is doing the best he can, with the tools he has, right? Like me! I would not knowingly hurt someone. I would not lie and manipulate to serve my own desires at the expense of someone else's heart. I would not cheat. I would not say, "I love you and I want to be with you," if I didn't love him and want to be with him. How could anybody feel differently? Admittedly, this is tragically naïve.

I know there are genuine, thoughtful and generous men in the world. I know many of them personally. But, insert BBBD REVELATION here: the men represented in my blog are not the exception, they are the rule, and the genuine, thoughtful and generous men, well, they are the exception. The world is full of men* that lie, lie, lie all the time. Men that act hideously and are chronically self-serving, because they can, and are, because they have a good reason for it, or because they don't. I've met and dated a not-insignificant amount of men that are manipulative and cruel and that have hurt me, ON PURPOSE. Men, who in my experience, say things, all the time, that they don't mean, that they can't back up with action. They change their minds...after a week, a month, or a 12-year marriage...and then change it back again. Even I, smart, savvy, pretty girl that I am, cannot convince a guy to be a better man than he is. I have lost a lot in trying.  

Even after years and years of craptastic treatment at the hands of these men, when I hear myself tell the stories that populate my blog, I have hesitation in my voice. I find myself insisting on shedding some light, applying some reason, showing some understanding, to even the worst offenders. Ken was abused by his step-mother, neglected by his father, conditioned by the military; Bryce was an only child who had been pressured by his parents to succeed at all costs, he was a workaholic who meant well but that would regularly bite off more than he could chew; Malik had a chronic substance abuse problem and hippy parents who didn't set appropriate boundaries. It wasn't their fault. Maybe if I'd tried something else, reached out in a different way, was more forgiving, the outcome would have been more positive...STOP!

You guys, I'm 39 years old and I'm just now realizing that I don't have the slightest idea what real love is. I've searched high and low (mostly low) to find it and it has eluded me. And I've tried to shoehorn relationships which were so obviously dysfunctional and ugly (no love anywhere)  into a fairytale framework. None of that worked because love is the rarest commodity. It is so rare it's not even listed on the periodic table of elements. It's elusive like a jungle cat. I might encounter real love once or twice in a LIFETIME. I may never find it at all (good news, loyal readers, this project is just going to go on and on and on). I'm not going to meet my soul mate in line for the loo, or at work, or through my best friend. I mean, obviously, I might, but mostly I'll stand in the loo line 350 times and not meet the love of my life or I'll simply meet one guy once there and go on one date with him. 

But now that I've had this revelation I must act accordingly, so, take note: friends, Romans, countryMEN, I'm done. No more passes.  No more looking under dirty rocks for gemstones. No more clubbing cavemen on the head to try to change their minds, their behavior. No more trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. If he acts like a jerk, maybe he's just a jerk, not just "misunderstood." No more swooning because some random ass dude says "you're pretty," or "I love you." From now on, proof of love is required, not just words, words, words. Maybe the cream will rise to the top. Maybe the better man will win. Insert other appropriate clichés here.


*I'm sure this could apply to some women, too, but I don't date women so it hasn't been my particular experience, and if we all know one thing it's this goddamn blog is ALL ABOUT ME.