First off, hi, xoJane, I missed you.
Second off, Jane just texted me with psychic insight about my new relationship, and I knew that I needed to write this because as usual, she is ON IT.
Here’s what Jane wrote:
Pretty insightful, eh? And spot on when it comes to where my potential failings might lie as a girlfriend.
I’ve been dating Pat Dixon, a stand-up comic, for a little over two months now – and because I have some kind of a personal memoirist’s death wish, I have also been writing about it every week online. It makes sense in a certain respect because he is a public figure as a comedian, and I am whatever the hell I am, public nuisance, I guess.
Jane is dead to rights when she says that we are perfectly suited for each other, but there are some reflexive bad habits that I need to work on that I didn’t even realize had become so deeply ingrained.
Over the course of writing about sex and relationships for the past decade, I’ve willingly or not, had a lot of game-playing, cock-teasing material sink into my subconscious and settle into my interactions with men. What I always say is that I know all “The Rules” and why you should “Marry Him” and all that crap, but I just can’t do it myself. But one thing I’ve never acknowledged in all of this – is just how deeply the entire power dynamic of flirting with men is part of my nature.
Recently, someone wrote this weird edit on my Wikipedia about how I was the basis for a character in this author’s book, and I was telling Pat about it, and we decided I should email the guy to find out more. Before I emailed the query, I stopped myself and showed Pat what I wrote. I had first quoted the passage that said I was the basis for one of his characters – and then I wrote “Nice to meet you.”
I read it aloud to Pat.
He looked at me askance. “It sounds kind of flirty.”
Without even thinking about what I was saying or who I was saying it to, I replied, “Yeah, that’s kind of my default mode with men.”
What. The. Fuck?
I had never honestly examined that before in the course of a relationship. When did this happen? Had I always been this way? Have I always, always, always used any sexual or feminine wiles or hint of possibility as a means of power? I’m afraid to answer that. I don’t know if I’ll like what I see.
In the past, with boyfriends or my ex-husband, I think I regarded other men’s interest as some means of validation that the guy I was with had made the right choice. “See! Check this out, aren’t you lucky – oh boy oh boy.”
Well, not really.
How is it lucky to be with someone who is willing to devalue their romantic partner like that – by making the guy you’re with look like a total dickhead because you’re willing to dangle sexual possibility in front of other men right in front of your partner’s face? Even if it’s totally on the down low, even if it’s insidiously subtle, I think we all know when we are doing this. It’s the whole emotional cheating thing.
With the email that I had written and then read aloud to him, I felt a pink flush of shame come over me, and I agreed. I knew what I had been doing. I knew my moves.
“Nice to meet you.”
You can just hear the little sickly sexy-baby voice and outstretched limp handshake that would accompany it. It wasn’t the tone of a professional. It was the tone of a flirt.
“You’re right,” I said, looking at what I had written and feeling kind of disgusted with myself.
Pat looked at me – not angry but more wary.
Over the course of dating, he has revealed to me some of his past experiences where a girl would suddenly reveal a longstanding flirtation with another man and then shrug disingenuously as if to say, “What? I don’t understand. What’s the problem? We’re just friends!” Even when there is sexual discussion – and it’s so clearly heavily charged with innuendo and disrespect.
I didn’t want to be that girl, although I certainly understood the impulse to be that girl.
Here’s how I would describe that tendency. If you’ve ever had your heart broken, your entire world gets upended and any loyalty you had starts to feel like total goddamned naiveté. You begin to think, “Wait, am I the only asshole doing this? Everyone else is just flirting it up?”
That’s how I felt the first time I found a Word document saved on the shared computer that I had with my ex-husband. The title of the document laying right out there on the desktop was “Apology.doc.” I am not nor have I ever been one of those snooping types (I actually just prefer not having too much information – I feel like it makes life much bigger than the alternative: small, constrained and obsessive), but I could not resist. I (foolishly) thought it might be some heartfelt letter to me.
What I found instead when I opened it was an apology to a young woman who my ex had recently hit on explaining how he was sorry for making her feel uncomfortable BECAUSE HE HAD A WIFE and how he wanted to be friends and the special feeling that she gave him of possibility and on and on and on. It makes me want to puke to this day. That’s the feeling that flirting without regard to your partner feels like. You feel like a total fucking asshole.
I don’t remember how I handled that incident in particular although I’m sure I choked it down with whatever excuse I was given – and besides, it turned out to be nothing compared to so many others. But I do know that when I entered the dating world again in 2005 – I had dropped from a size 14 to a size 6 and I was sorority-girl-ing it up in my looks – it was a totally new Mandy.
This Mandy had no loyalty to any man. This Mandy waxed her eyebrows, shaved her pussy, wore makeup and dyed her hair regularly. This Mandy was out for herself and would never be so dim as to believe the notion that two people could cherish each other throughout a lifetime of monogamy.
Let’s be real. I had been the only asshole left out of that joke before, and I would never ever let it happen again. I would portray all the trappings of a good girlfriend but when push came to shove, I would always have my eyes open to better offers just the same as I knew men were doing with me. I was in it for myself. I knew the brutal realities of love and dating. Or so I thought.
And then I found myself head over heels in love and in a serious relationship with Pat.
This guy has absolutely rocked my belief system when it comes to dating. He is the first guy who I dared vocalize to, somewhat meekly and apologetically at first, that I did actually want monogamy, that it wouldn’t be okay if he cheated (my speech for a long time had been “You know, just don’t humiliate me” because I didn’t want my expectations to get up too high).
I remember a few weeks back Pat and I were walking along in Queens one day, and there was a gorgeous skimpily attired brunette on a bike, dressed to kill. Without even realizing what I was doing, I side-eyed Pat to see if he was checking her out. He was not.
Later in the day he smiled and said that he had seen me do exactly that.
He told me, in no uncertain terms, “When I’m in a relationship, I take that seriously. I’ve cheated before, and I know what comes with that. It’s not a road I ever want to go down again. When I am devoted to someone, I am all in. I want to be the kind of guy who someone would say, ‘That is a guy who really loves his girlfriend.’”
Pat is pathologically honest (I’ve seen it demonstrated again and again, and it’s perhaps what we have most in common), and I trust him on this. We’ve both cheated. We’ve both done a lot of self-inventory to figure out what makes us happy and what we want out of life.
When I finally emailed that author about the Wikipedia edit – without the whole “NICE TO MEET YOU, BOOP BOOP DEE DOOP” tag, what I sent was professional and unambiguous, and the lesson of the experience stayed with me – the searing accountability that such situations require.
The other day Pat was at his computer, and he got a Facebook message from a girl we both know. “Hey sexy boy, want to play?” it read and then went on with more details of cocaine and K and partying that made me sad for where she must be at in her life right now. I unfriended the girl, and he blocked her.
When we talked about it, I couldn’t help but think about an alternate universe where another guy would never even reveal to me this chick had done that and would instead secretly relish in the cat-and-mouse aspect of it, even if no cheating was ever to be had.
I am on board for this level of trust again. Gone now is my reflexive receptivity to the small flirts that come at me from various men – close and strangers – throughout the course of a day, a week, a life.
I am not uncertain. I am not vague. I am straightforward.
Because I want the same thing he does.
I want people to say, “That is a woman who really loves her boyfriend.”