Trigger warning: suicidal ideation.
Men are things to be used and thrown away.
Just kidding! I totally don't mean that. But for a time in my 20s, this was my perspective.
Aside from my very first and very last boyfriends (the last being the one who became my husband), I approached men as though they really were things to be used. But I wasn't exactly picking the cream of the crop here. In the 11 years of dating I had between my first love and my last love, I typically picked the guys most likely to cheat for the entirety of the relationship. I knew, sometimes they knew I knew, and we kept the charade going until I finally decided to end it and move on.
I didn't date much in college, but was always considered "one of the guys." When I was 21, I met someone who gave me butterflies, and it was the first time I'd felt that since high school. I decided to give dating a shot.
Ty* was cool at first. He wined and dined me as much as a 21-year-old can. We had fun together. We both had an odd sense of humor.
When we finally had sex, everything changed.
You see, Ty was my first. I didn't tell him this until a few days after slept together. Prior to telling him, he was the same loving guy. Afterwards — well, it was like I was his property. He'd never had a virgin.
Things progressed and at 22, I was sitting in his apartment, drunk. I hadn't gone to class or work in a week. I'd been wasted almost the entire time and barely eaten. This had become common. On average, since 19, I consumed at least one bottle of wine per day. This week was just more special. It was April 2001, five years since my mother died.
Ty, who also happened to be a clinically depressed mama's boy, came home early from work this day.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he asked. I continue to stare at the TV. "Hello?"
He muttered, "Jesus Christ," under his breath and walked into his bedroom. I could hear him on the phone. He'd been cheating on me. He thought he'd been careful. I must have foiled his rendezvous plans. I'm too numb to care.
He stormed into the living room.
"You can't keep staying here," he ordered. "You need to leave."
Still staring at the TV I say, "Dude, you know what week it is..." I trailed off. Wait, is he breaking up with me? I don't care.
I slept it off, and the following day I managed to get the energy together to email my professors. I told one I'm having relationship troubles. His daughter was going through the same thing. I told another I'd been too sick to leave my house. I called the manager at my job and BS'd my way into getting back on the schedule. I was still buzzed, but hell, at least I was showing up again. I got back to some semblance of "normal."
A couple of weeks later, I woke up in Ty's bathtub with one of those big chopping knives in my hand.
How the hell? What am I doing in here with a knife?
Between the drinking, which I continued at a high level until I was almost 30, and my own mental problems (depression and anxiety), I'd been blacking out quite frequently only to wake up in empty bathtubs. They'd become a haven of sorts.
Ty had gotten into the habit of calling me a whore. At that point, as I mentioned, he was the first and only guy I'd ever slept with. I'd recently told him that I want to stop having sex so we can work on other parts of our relationship. During our last sexual encounter he had all but raped me; I said OK, but cried the entire time; he put a pillow over my face so he could finish.
Ty pounded on the bathroom door. That must be what brought me back. I turned the tub faucet on to drown him out. I looked at the knife, then my wrist. I gently moved the knife up and down my left forearm, remembering what a fellow depressive once told me: Slit vertically. I should do it out of spite.
Fully clothed, I sat in the tub as the water rises, my Doc Marten-clad feet dangling over the side. Still pondering to slit or not to slit, I debated if I should let the tub overflow. It was his apartment, after all. I could leave if he ever stopped pounding on the fucking door.
Knife still in hand, I rose from the water. Insults — some about my mother — still flying from the other side of door, I looked at myself in the mirror. Mascara ran down my face from the water's steam. I look badass. I unlock the door and open it slowly.
"Talk about my mother one more time..." I said in a voice that didn't sound like my own, pointing the knife at him.
He called me "babe" and said he doesn't want to call the cops.
"Keep your hands off me and we won't have any problems," I said as I backed down the hallway to the living room to grab my bag. I still had no idea what happened to make me flee to the bathtub.
He pleaded with me, saying he loves me and I'll never find anyone who will put up with me. Romantic. It was a gamble I was willing to make.
I wish I could say that was my last unstable relationship — that I learned something from it — but it wasn't and I didn't. This behavior became a pattern throughout my 20s; not the knife wielding, but the unhealthy relationships. Guys and booze were a distraction from the constant thoughts of losing my mind.
While I jumped from newspaper to newspaper after college, I also jumped from guy to guy under the same scenario: A guy would become obsessed with me because I was quirky and funny and cute. I was the cool chick who could hang with the guys, not only in conversation, but also in consumption of booze. They bought me dinner and groceries. "Hey, can we do dinner at my house tonight? Can you pick up everything before you come over and we can cook together? Oh, I also need milk and cereal. Thank you!"
I manipulated each one of them. I justified it as a means of survival. Once I used them as far as I could, I'd jump to the next sucker, fooling him by being quirky, funny, and cute.
Then, I met my husband.
I didn't want to use my old tricks with him, and I also wanted to push him away so I wouldn't ruin his life. He was different somehow — genuine — and unlike anyone I'd ever met. And he looked like John Cusack, so that was a plus. You were never supposed to bring that up.
"Hey, did you know you look like John Cusack?" I asked him coyly the night we met. We were out with mutual friends in The Village in NYC and one told me not to ask him that. What can I say? It was a good ice breaker. He rolled his eyes.
"Nope, never heard that one," he said in his New Jersey accent, smiling. I could tell he thought I was cute but was also very shy by the way he was guzzling down his beer.
"You're with these guys, right?" I asked pointing to the group. He nodded. "What's your name?"
"Squirrel," he said.
I stared. He laughed.
"Why?" I asked.
And with that, except the two weeks between our first meeting and our first date, we've been inseparable. He's never taken any of my bullshit because, unfortunately, some of my bad habits returned. One night, about three or four months after we started dating, I got snarky with him. Not regular snarky — passive-aggressive snarky, which is so much worse. I didn't think anything of what I said until he said rather sternly, "Hey, you're an asshole."
I looked at him a bit stunned and said nothing. As I sat there, thinking about what I said, I realized he was right: I was an asshole. He was just the first one brave enough to point it out.
I walked over to him and said, "I think I just fell in love with you. Always tell me when I'm being an asshole."
He smiled and nodded in agreement, and said, "I love you, too."
We've been together for almost nine years, and I proved Ty wrong. I could find someone to put up with me — even love me.