I have a virtual Ph.D. in handling relationships with total assholes. When I was single, I had a really bad habit of dating them to the exclusion of anyone else, which took me until I was 38 to break.
I suppose I was working some shit out, apparently taking my sweet time about it. Fortunately, I had a really awesome shrink who helped me get new perspective on those guys, and learn how to take care of myself. Now I’m married to Brian, a really nice guy. (But more on that in point #7.)
But there’s knowledge to be gained gain from dealing with those guys. Below, some valuable lessons I took from each relationship.
1. Can’t fool you.
Listen to enough lies from an asshole you’re dating, and eventually you will develop a world class, industrial-strength bullshit detector. In time, not only will you be able to tell when your particular dude is lying through his teeth, you will have a near-bionic ability to perceive even the subtlest falsehoods in things friends, family, bosses, co-workers and future boyfriends try to pass off as truth.
My bullshit detector goes off the minute someone starts talking too much, and too fast, like my very first asshole. Or when their speech patterns change -- suddenly there are awkward pauses -- and their eyes dart around, like asshole #2 in my life. Or when what they’re saying makes absolutely NO FUCKING SENSE, and they’re banking on your subscribing to the notion that fact is stranger than fiction (another specialty of asshole #2).
2. Self sufficiency!
Yeah, it sucks when the guy you’re going out with isn’t willing to do things for you, like hang your shelves, change your guitar strings or patch the hole in your bicycle tire, even though he’s really good at it and you have no clue how. If you had a nicer boyfriend, he’d definitely do those things for you. But thanks to your very own asshole, you get to learn how to do those things on your own. Be sure to say, “Thank you, asshole, for helping me become super self-sufficient!”
(I have asshole #3 to thank for the tire-patching anecdote. To add insult to injury, when he called the bike store to find out whether they had a patching kit, he told the girl on the phone his "friend" would come right by and get it. We were living together.)
3. Meet your limits and push past them.
If your particular asshole is the kind of guy who invites you -- because you have a car and he doesn’t -- on difficult adventures that are new to you, like, say, steep Adirondack climbs, but then refuses to wait up for you or to give you a hand around the scary, narrow ledges? Well, I think I hear an opportunity to go beyond your pre-determined limits and surprise, nay, EMPOWER, yourself by discovering abilities you assumed you didn’t have.
At least that’s how I eventually came to view my three days of bargaining for my life with Whomever Is In Charge Of The Universe through every treacherous step of my hike over three Adirondack peaks with asshole #3. Thanks to that bastard, I now hike at a level I didn’t know I could, and never would have if he hadn’t been such an unhelpful, cold-hearted prick of an outdoorsman.
4. Co-dependent no fucking more.
If you find yourself again and again with guys who qualify as “projects,” the problem isn’t theirs; it’s yours. But what better way to learn you can’t change people than to fail miserably in your attempts to manipulate some jerk into improving himself for you?
I doubt I’m the only one who somewhere along the line got the crazy idea that the way to hold onto a guy was to become invaluable to him by helping to change him for the better -- usually after first putting up with as much of his shit as it took for him to get attached and feel he owed me. Sometimes it didn’t work at all, as in when asshole #3 looked me in the eyes toward the end of our three years on-and-off together, and said, “How have you not figured out yet that no matter how hard you try, you’re not going to be able to change me?”
Sometimes it worked in the short term. But then, one of us would be come resentful, and either my guy would revert, or I’d move on to someone who represented an even more difficult project. By the way, having someone hang around just because he feels beholden to you? Not even a little sexy.
5. Walking the walk.
When you finally get the courage to walk away from an asshole, you automatically advance to the next, more challenging level, and have an opportunity to really build your self-esteem. Here is where you will need to learn to keep walking when he begs you to come back, because he will. It’ll be so, so flattering! You’ll be tempted to think he’s really ready to change! You’ll have a hard time remembering why you wanted to end things. You might…un-end things.
I first pulled away from asshole #4 when his words and actions stopped adding up. I had seen this so many times before, and it never led anywhere good. It usually cost me weeks, months -- years even -- of trying to parse fact from fiction. Now I just didn’t have it in me anymore.
In the middle of some lame explanation, I stopped asshole #4 mid-sentence. “You know what?” I said. “I don’t even need to know. I’m just done.” Sure enough, he was turned on by my rejection. He was never more attentive. And I fell for it. Hard. I was hooked for another couple months. But once he knew he had me where he wanted me, he dumped me. In an email.
6. Breaking the spell.
Once you’ve dated enough of these guys, you will soon be able to recognize them from a mile away. Where you were once helplessly magnetized by them, you will find yourself naturally repelled, and it will be a big relief. Congratulations! The spell is broken! You’re done!
After a little more time passes, you might be able to find some detached compassion for them (poor, misguided assholes…), and maybe even come to realize the places where you went wrong. For instance, in my case, I didn't want to accept rejection, and so chose to overlook my assholes' not-so-subtle hints.
7. Guys fuck up and then grow, too. (Well, some of them.)
Then some day you might meet a guy who is genuinely one of the good ones…only to learn that he once fell into the asshole column for another girl.
My smart, sweet, funny, thoughtful Brian was once someone’s asshole. He did that thing of trying to get her to break up with him because didn’t want to be the “bad guy” by breaking up with her. So he misled her, and was indirect, and withdrew, but never came out and said he wanted to break up. For a year. And she was 40. And wanted to have kids. He kept telling her they’d have kids later.
I know, I know! It was so totally shitty of him. HE knows it. He feels really bad about it. He says he didn’t have the emotional tools back then. Time and wisdom have taught him better.
Assholedom is not an incurable condition. Sometimes -- often, actually -- on the way to becoming good eggs, guys go through schmucky periods, especially when they don’t yet know exactly what they want, and haven’t yet learned to be direct.
Having been moved by a sincere apology letter I received from asshole #4 years after he dumped me via email, I encouraged Brian to reach out to his ex and apologize. He thought hard about it, and started putting a letter together. But before he got the chance, a mutual friend ran into Brian’s ex. He casually brought up Brian’s name, and she blanched.
“Please,” she said, “don’t ever mention that asshole’s name again.”