Don’t get me wrong, friends. I’ve seen some real jackassery in the past couple of years, and some of the outrage I’ve expressed has been proportional. But there were times when someone fucked up at about a 3 and I got upset at a 10, making it hard to have any perspective or move on with any kind of grace, often leaking friendships and potential friendships in the wake of the panic and hurt.
Part of the reason that guys’ messups end up being so devastating is that often I interpret them as containing some information about me. When Mr. Sweetheart forgot that it was our phone date night, I felt like the message was that I was inherently forgettable, not that he was just maybe a little silly and overbooked that week. When The Man acted like I wasn’t there, it activated a deep-seated fear that I might not exist, that he treated me like nothing because I actually was nothing. To fight that fear, I had to fight him, but that got me exactly the opposite of what I wanted. That’s part of the reason I’m trying to excavate and acknowledge those fears—it’s no one’s job but mine to soothe and fix them.
I think another reason I’ve made guys into enemies is out of some crackpot subconscious attempt to stay close to Sweetie, a way to let her keep saving me. We could snuggle up together and bemoan whoever was breaking my heart that week, and it kept me from having to actually go ahead and open up. I’ve tended to blame her introversion and monogamy for our isolation, but I was fighting off expansion too. I didn’t want to lose her to what I really wanted, so I made what I wanted into the enemy.
Like anyone who lashes out, I’ve often done it out of a sense of helplessness. For most of my life, I’ve seen myself as someone who is made automatically powerless by men, who has to always fight to get that power back. That’s just a false impression brought about by the tropes of trauma, and I’m doing my best to train myself out of it.
But I think a lot of the misdirected anger came from frustration—it was hard to live without male companionship all those years—I’m angry that I’m almost 39 and just now learning to let go and enjoy PIV sex in the grown-up way that I want to. I’m very sad that it took me this long to make friends with the penis, and now I have this ravenous urge to make up for lost time that just hasn’t translated into real life.
I am angry at Sweetie for all of the shame that came out of our mismatch, all of the times she called me a slut or a stupid cunt or a whore, all of the times she contemptuously spat out “Just because I don’t want to fuck anyone else…” or “Just because I don’t have a penis…” She said “fuck” and “penis” in the same tone of voice she might also use to say “George W. Bush.” I’m angry at her for reinforcing my fear that I’m a bad feminist for wanting to submit, and I’m angry at her for crying over recreational bruises or hot blog posts. The things I most love about myself, or most want to love, were the things that made her miserable and bitter.
I am so angry with myself for refusing to admit what I really wanted, for keeping us in a no-win situation for so long. I’m angry about the nonsense I’ve put up with in the hopes that the right boyfriend might take the pressure off and save the marriage—I’m so glad if that factor is never a part of my dating life again.
When we made the decision to divorce, about 80% of the anger just evaporated. I started to feel embarrassed about all of the times I’ve lashed out, and I made a mental apology list. I’ve been unblocking and refriending people and doling out apologies, and each one is a humbling relief. It feels good to come out and say hey, I was an asshole, but I’m committed to being less of one.
About a year ago, Sweetie and I had a terrible fight during which she locked the door and refused to let me leave. When I finally got past her and out the door, I sat in the car and called my mom to ask her to help me get a divorce. Mom talked me out of it, telling me that even if I had a different partner, I’d never be better, that the fights were a part of me I couldn’t change. (Never mind that no one else had ever locked me in an apartment or called me a cunt.) I am excited and inspired to start proving my mother wrong, to heal myself and then find partners who can disagree and express unhappiness without being terrifying, to stop going through the world always a little bit scared. I believe I can be better.