On Saturday I received a text message from an ex-boyfriend that reminded me of the worst part of myself and one of the most painful periods in my life. He wanted you to know things from his perspective rather than just from mine, so I thought I’d share the text as he wrote it (with a few observations in footnotes) and take a moment to do some self-reflection on why I should practice what I preach as a feminist and as a Christian. (Note: he’s a political consultant with ties to my community, so I’m not using his name in this piece.)
His text is as follows:
Sometime last year you wrote a pity me post on Facebook that said how I said you would die alone. Of course you did not offer any reason why I’d have such strong feelings against you: such as contacting the woman I left you for and offering her advice (she truly hates you for that by the way), calling my best friend and his wife when I left you, listening to me repeatedly tell you I loved and wanted to be with someone someone [sic] else while I last slept with you, you pathetically insisting that we’d wind up together, you instigating the initial break-up between J—- [sic] because you claimed you cared about my well being, you diagnosing me as a sociopath in an email to J—-. Please share these facts with your Facebook friends. Also let them know that despite their claims that it would be me who actually dies alone, I will be be be [sic] married soon to a woman much prettier than you (admittedly a low bar) but also much smarter (a higher bar). I’ve found the most percent [sic] match, I know you have not, and will not, because who’d want to be with you? Ugly physically but also spiritually. Repulsive in every way.
All of this happened three years ago. I took a couple of years off from dating after that, because I was genuinely shocked I could let myself get treated that way and behave so horrifically. My parents raised me with a sense of my own value. I have only said “I love you” to three men in my life; one of them was incredibly kind but realized before I did that we were not actually a good match (and both of our lives have flourished apart from one another), one was kind but a bit of a mess, and then there was this guy, who presented as kind and vulnerable and wounded—why do we get sucked in by wounded? Before me, it was his ex-wife who had caused all the pain and heartbreak in his life and who he wanted to see die alone and miserable. (He was devastated by reports that she was happy with her new fiancé–when he bumped into said fiancé in the street one day, he tried provoking the man into a fight by saying he knew the man’s father had committed suicide, and “I can’t blame him; I would commit suicide too if you were my son.”)
I like to think of myself as a feminist. And I don’t like to admit that the abominable article in 2001 “The case for settling” got into my head at all—the one about women in their thirties having to make do with mediocre men they had rejected outright in their twenties. (Or the article I read in high school that the most likely to die alone were women with the highest educations and most success, because men won’t marry up.) But I had spent the second half of my twenties waiting for the right man to find me and the first half of my thirties looking for the right man, and I was probably beginning to believe that the most I could hope for was a man I had things in common with who was kind, or at least not unkind. And I convinced myself to fall in love with that. And then I desperately clung to it long after it had become both hurtful and humiliating. I blame patriarchy for unteaching me what my parents taught me and replacing it with “since you’re not thin enough or pretty enough, you need to settle for someone who can tolerate that. And since you’re really smart and ambitious, you’ll need doubly so to settle.” And I promise you the dating world reinforced that message in so many ways that while I started out aware that this man was not the man for me, I eventually convinced myself this was as good as it was going to get. And I fought for something that was truly awful, because I thought it was as good as I was going to get.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of role model I am for younger women, and this particular relationship makes me think I might be more of a cautionary tale than a role model. I want to tell younger women that they deserve better than they let themselves get treated, and I want to tell them that they should be kind to everyone but not a sucker for anyone. I want to tell them that just because a man is willing to be with them doesn’t make him worth being with. And I want to tell them to be kind to their sisters. A little part of me wants to tell them this is why they should wait until they’re married to have sex so they don’t end up with trifling men, except that I know lots of trifling married men, so that’s no guarantee whatsoever in a patriarchal society.
I’ve done a lot of work letting go. I don’t hate him any more. I regret not letting his girlfriend at the time make her own decisions, even if that had caused her a whole different type of heartbreak. I definitely deeply regret sleeping with someone who was in a relationship no matter how much I loved him, no matter what I thought of his current relationship. And I hope I have done enough work on myself that I would rather be single for the rest of my life than let myself get mistreated and used. I also hope that I have done enough work on myself that I would not rationalize being a part of mistreating another woman just because I believed I loved a man—that was a level of rationalization I am still trying to forgive myself for, because I know that any man who mistreats a woman he claims to love will not treat any woman the way she deserves to be treated. And I’ve done enough work that I’ve gone out with a couple of guys in the past year who were not bad guys but weren’t going to meet my needs (or vice versa), and I have ended things for their sake and for mine. And while it’s taken three years, I’m getting to the point of forgiving myself for making such a hash of my own life and that 21-year-old’s life three years ago.
I won’t lie–there are still a couple of lingering issues. The guy I’m currently seeing has to deal with me running a little hot and cold because he’s totally emotionally present and I don’t yet trust that. But I don’t blame my ex for that so much as realize that’s a muscle I have to re-develop, and I also need to learn what boundaries will protect me without shutting out the possibility of receiving affection. But by and large, I’m feeling more open and less victimized and less self-blaming than I did even a year ago.
There were a few things I thought about writing back to this ex:
- That all of the awfulness between us was three years ago and I don’t know why he feels compelled to annually taunt me when I don’t try to find him, especially when I had tried (obviously unsuccessfully) to block him on facebook, email and my phone.
- That his internal logic was faulty—he kept confusing pathetic with evil, which doesn’t make for a compelling case and unintentionally makes him look mean when his goal is to convey that he’s the victim and I’m mean. So his new wife might be smarter than me, but he’s not.
- That if he’s so in love with such an amazing woman, maybe now’s a time to let go of his past with me.
I’ve done some courses with the Landmark Forum, which is really big on personal accountability. And I’m also aware that even when I am single I’m not alone, so gratitude for my current life allowed me to write the following response instead:
I’m glad you found love. I continue to regret hurting J—-. I remember our history differently than you do, but I hope you find peace. Please do not contact me again and please honor my efforts to block communication. It does not seem to be healthy for either of us. Thank you.
And I actually think I meant it. I actually think I meant it enough that I will start praying that he does find peace and doesn’t need his ex-wife or me to be miserable in order to be happy. And I’ll pray that he does find happiness and is much kinder to his future wife than he was able to be to me during that brief and awful period in our lives. And maybe that’s my own tiny little blow against patriarchy for today.
But if I’m being 100% honest, I also finally decided to post the text message he wrote partly because he told me to and partly because I think it makes him look like a jackass. So if that’s just half a blow for patriarchy, it’s also a blow for scorned smart women, and I’m okay with that, too. To quote the great feminist Steve Harvey, God’s not done with me yet.
 It’s true: a year ago he sent me a text message out of the blue. I believe my facebook post read “I just got a text from an ex telling me I would die alone. It may have been mean, but you gotta give a brother credit: it was in rhyming couplets.”
 This is also true. He started sleeping with her while he and I were still in a monogamous relationship. He did eventually leave me for her. When she went on tour, he lapsed into a severe bout of alcoholism and swallowed pills landing him in an emergency psych hold, so I took him into my home. When he relapsed the next time she went on tour, I took him in again. When he wouldn’t tell her what happened, I did. Tacky and petty and childish, and intentionally malicious. At the time I rationalized that I was saving a 21-year-old girl from a lifetime of hurt. But it wasn’t my job to fix things, and I was just acting out of hurt.
 This is also true, although not exactly the way it is represented. I was devastated when he left me—I didn’t realize he had been sleeping with other women the whole time we were together—and I did facebook message his best friend’s wife saying that if she wanted to put in a good word for me I’d be grateful. Sad and desperate. She told me I was better off without him. The only time I talked with his best friend, though, is the third time he went on an alcoholic binge and his friend called me from LA to see if I could help him again. I said I was out—I had done more harm than good by trying to help him.
 He played this a little more smoothly at the time, since I was taking care of him and in theory trying to get him clean and sober, and brother did not want the beautiful young virgin to know he wasn’t perfect, so he told me he was confused and was so grateful and didn’t know what he was doing until she was on her way back…
 Also true. I did not think a 35-year-old man and a 21-year-old woman were a real life relationship. And I was also 35 and had spent years trying to find a man who was both kind and smart. I was beginning to give up, and he seemed to be both of these things, so even when he was very unkind, I clung on incredibly pathetically.
 I actually told him he needed to tell her about the relapse, and when he refused I told him I would. I didn’t tell her he and I had slept together because I didn’t want to admit it myself, since he was in a monogamous relationship with her and I didn’t think of myself as someone who would knowingly do that. But I did tell her if she was going to continue seeing him she should join Al-Anon because he was an alcoholic. It’s also worth noting that they broke up and got back together and broke up and he showed up at my front door in the middle of the night begging to be taken back…but that’s a different part of the narrative.
 This was two years ago when she hacked into all of his accounts and found out he had been cheating on her throughout their relationship (and also, she didn’t realize she was also letting me know he had been cheating on me when he and I were also in a monogamous relationship, because those dates overlapped) and emailed both of us. In my response, I said I didn’t know if he was sick or sociopathic but while I hoped he got well I wanted nothing to do with him again. I also gave her more unasked for advice that she would find kinder men who were better in bed, so clearly I was still in my mean phase.
 and, if I’m being totally honest, the fact that I’m currently dating someone pretty hot…