How I Learned to Speak Up When a Guy Doesn't Treat Me Well
At age 14, I was sure I was going to marry Diego Romero. He was a charmer from Colombia with Antonio Bandaras eyes and hung around with an older crowd that dealt drugs and routinely fought different crews. Serving my crush was the fact that I’d just graduated, cinematically, from “The Outsiders” to “Blood In Blood Out,” trading lost white boys for lost gangster types.
Diego was my friend, sort of. He was a good friend of Alicia’s older brother, and Alicia was one of my best pals, so Diego and I had a connection, and we also went to the same high school. Since most of his friends were older and out of high school, he sometimes looked for me to hang out with him at lunch hour, or to skip classes with.
I did this with the enthusiasm of a dog who knows she’s being taken to the off leash park. I couldn’t exactly speak freely or totally be myself when I was around him because I was trying desperately to be an older, cooler, sexier version of myself, which I didn’t really know how to do. All in all, I didn’t say too much, or at least less than I normally do.
One day, Diego invited me to go to the mall with him after school. I was ELATED. Surely, my months of playing it cool had won him over and he finally realized he was in love with me. We walked from the bus station over the bridge to the mall, and I was asking him to help me with Spanish. (Make ‘em feel useful -- I know how to treat a man!)
As we entered the mall, I was pretty confident in my ability to conjugate the verb Tener and that my hoodlum boyfriend dreams were about to manifest.
Diego turned to me in the middle of the women’s underwear section of The Bay (a Macy’s-like Canadian department store), smiled and said, “Thanks so much for walking with me, babe. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Then he gave me a kiss on the cheek -- the kind you would give your little sister -- and walked away.
My brain hadn’t caught up to what happened and was still replaying the elaborate mall fantasy I had envisioned. We’d eat New York Fries and Laura Secord ice-cream and he’d hold my hand as we went to the arcade, and turn and kiss me after I let him win a car race. But there I was, alone and surrounded by Calvin Klein bras I couldn’t afford (and with my scrawny frame, didn’t really need).
I felt a cry ball rise up and start to choke me, but I pushed it down because I didn’t want to be a mall crier. I paced the mall, frantically looking around for someone I knew, and then decided to call my mom to come get me.
On the way to the pay phone, I walked by the downstairs A&W, which was a hangout for teens because you could sit down and smoke in it (gross, I know -- ‘90s). Sitting at a booth in an orange-and-brown A&W chair, smoking and sipping a soda, was Diego. He was not alone. Across from him, facing me, was a pretty blond girl with enormous breasts.
The cry ball seized my throat and my eyes started leaking. I called my overdramatic Italian mother, who screamed, “OH MY GOD! WHAT HAPPENED?” as I cry-begged her to come immediately. I ran upstairs to wait for her and when I told her what happened, she was so angry, I thought she was going to go yell at Diego. I’m glad she didn’t because that would’ve ruined my entire life at the time.
I never said anything to Diego about seeing him with the girl, who turned out to be his girlfriend that he had never mentioned. He broke my 14-year-old heart, and he never even knew it because I was too scared to say anything. I just swallowed my hurt feelings, continued being Diego’s friend, and secretly pined for him for the rest of the year. This bothers me still.
I’ve always been a little too good at feeling my feelings and very terrible at communicating them. The Diego thing was the first of many upsetting circumstances I would be in, unable to express myself. It’s something I struggle with to this day. Nothing good has ever come from me holding in my feelings. They don’t go away. They mostly sit in my stomach, turning me into an anxious sad sack with digestive problems and stomach ulcers (read: diarrhea).
This past summer, I began casually hooking up with Ryan, a friend of a friend. He was a funny, good looking guy who, from his Facebook pictures, seemed always down to have a good time (and dress up in colored tights). Our trysts were emotionally confusing for me, because I am not practiced at the art of the hookup.
If I like a guy enough to have sex with him, I’m probably going to want to go for dinner, tell funny stories, and ask him about his childhood. I’ve tried to change, but that’s just the kind of dater I am. Unfortunately, Ry wasn’t into my whole “Let’s be bros with benefits” vibe, so the relationship, if I can call it that for simplicity’s sake, only occurred intermittently and on his terms.
I wrote about him because after he checked Tinder while in bed with me and then went weeks before returning a text message, I was offended and done with dating men who weren’t super into me, even if the sex was amazing.
Most of the commenters to that article -- the ones that weren’t calling me a washed up old hag who should pack in her vagina forever -- were very sympathetic to my bad boy problem and told me to never, ever speak to Ryan again. I took their advice… until last week.
Despite my initial reaction to Tinder: that it’s a dirty hookup app that’s ruining romance, I downloaded it out of curiosity, and I actually don’t hate it. I’ve gone on a few dates, nothing out of this world, but nice dates with nice men, nonetheless.
Last week, I was scrolling through my Tinder recommendations and Ryan, the guy who checked Tinder in bed, the one who was the reason I even had this app at all, was suddenly staring at me from the screen of my phone. I laughed, thought for a few seconds, and then swiped right (which means I didn’t reject him). I wanted to see what would happen, and after seeing his photo, I realized I was still into his jolly vibe and no longer mad at him (I only stay mad for a minute, unless you steal my dog or something.) Besides, I’ve always lived my life by the unlit signs, the directionless forces, and the heart above all else.
After we were matched, we exchanged a few light, jokey messages, and I told him that I’m leaving town soon. He said was going away on holidays the next day. We were about to be like ships passing in the night, but he was like “F that noise” and we made plans to see each other that night. One. Last. Time.
We met up and hugged like old friends. There was ease between us that didn’t exist before. I guess he wasn’t worried that I was trying to make him my boyfriend, and I wasn’t guarding my heart like it was the Taylor-Burton diamond.
At a sleepy pub, we sat next to each other at the bar, drank beer, talked and laughed about our lives, jobs and plans for the future. The removal of expectations freed us up to have a lovely time together. Later that night, he looked at me and said, “I’ve had such a fun night,” and not wanting to ruin the moment by asking him why he was such a dick to me two months ago, I said, “me too; I’m really glad we saw each other again.” I was.
The morning was frantic -- we woke up late and he had a flight to catch. Before we parted ways, we kissed, hugged and wished each other the best. I left feeling some reassurance that maybe I’m not as bad at dating as I thought, but I was also disappointed that I didn’t get to say my piece to him.
It was a nod from the gods of fate, destiny or Tinder that brought me and Ryan back together so randomly in this city full of millions of single people. After I got home, I decided to tell him how I felt, not because I thought he NEEDED to know, but because hanging onto words that should be released causes nothing but hurt.
In an email, I told him that I was pissed at him a couple of months ago. He had treated me disrespectfully and that was wrong, but my issue was not bringing this up and expecting him to treat me well when he gave no indication he wanted to. I said that seeing him again was nice and reminded me of why I originally liked him when we first met. It wasn’t the perfect email, but I wrote what I felt without fear or hesitation.
My mind quieted and a calm washed over me as I hit send. I said my piece and 14-year-old me crying at the mall is pretty pleased.