Well, I figured out in high school that I didn't like dating people, so this is a high school story. If you wanna do the math, this was the mid-1990s.
My first relationship, if you can call it that, was with another ninth-grader in my previous school, and though we were pals there wasn't really anything passionate about our relationship. I had honestly accepted being the guy's girlfriend because he was the first person who asked me out. By the time I started at my new high school, I'd decided dating wasn't really a "hey, why not?" thing, and that I wasn't going to date anyone unless I actively wanted to.
Please note that the rest of this story may require a trigger/content warning for self-harm/suicide.
Phil was a guy who hung out with people I didn't know in the grade above me in approximately the same space that I liked to hang out with my chorus friends in the morning. To make a long story short, he thought I was really cute and started messing with me and teasing me, but then one day when he found out I was a writer, he asked for my number and claimed he wanted to talk about it. We did. I let him read one of my in-progress books and he made comments about how similar he and I were to the main couple in the book. Yeah sure.
The next couple years involved him asking me to be his girlfriend and me saying no. I wasn't attracted to him at all (surprise!) but I cared about him as a person, and had become friends with his friend group. Everyone in the group kind of treated Phil like he was just something we kind of had to deal with--his outbursts and sulky attempted manipulative behavior and antics were just expected, and though sometimes we recognized it was serious and tried to help him, it was just an accepted fact among us that sometimes Phil acts like this and we have to deal with it because we're his friends. I kinda followed their lead on that. But when we'd talk or he'd write me these soulful letters about his loneliness and worthlessness, he'd make it clear that he didn't just want friendship from me. He wanted me to designate him a special friend--you know, the kind with "boy" at the beginning and no hyphen or space in there. And every time I said no, he'd say something unkind and turn up at school the next day telling everyone about wanting to die or the various types of self-harm he was engaging in.
I didn't feel guilty, because even as a naïve sixteen-year-old I didn't feel like I was obligated to date people because if I didn't they'd hurt themselves, but I did feel bad for him because he was a human being who was clearly hurting, and I tried to make it clear that not being attracted to him didn't mean I didn't like him. I had never been attracted to a person that way, I reminded him, so it wasn't his "fault" and there wasn't anything he could do differently to change things. But eventually, during what must have been our fifth or sixth badgering fest where he tried to convince me to go out with him, I told him agreeing to be his girlfriend would be misleading because "girlfriend" usually means you feel certain things and want to do certain things together that I have no desire to do, and he insisted that none of his expectations would change if I would agree to let him use that term for me. I was the most important person to him, he said, and he just wanted something to indicate that our relationship was something different from all our other friendships. I didn't feel that it was, but I wasn't sure how to make him feel loved without being the one to love him. So when he said "girlfriend" would only mean that we were very close friends, I replied to that, "Then I guess we already ARE." He took that to mean we were dating.
And then proceeded to pressure me for sex within the week, of course.
He wasn't incredibly aggressive about sex (and I never did sleep with him, incidentally), but he began to dispense a tired arsenal of manipulative tactics to try to wear me down. One of the favorites, of course, was that I could not possibly know if I liked something unless I tried it, and while I was actually a pretty actively repulsed person, I did try out some kissing and cuddling and other more intimate things with him just because I thought once would be enough to avoid that argument. (Oh, how idealistic I was.) Apparently once I'd tried something and then didn't want to do it the next time, this was a shot right through the heart of his self-esteem, branding him a bad lover who'd ruined everything and there must be something wrong with him. Sighhhhhh.
It is important to note that this time in my life was stressful, because again I did care about what happened to him, but nearly everything he did to try to coax me into the girlfriend corner (with weepy begging when I'd refuse) was regarded with a big eye roll from me. I was getting more and more frustrated with it, and eventually a little desperate because I couldn't figure out how to escape the situation without hurting him irrevocably (remember, in high school we all think we can never heal and our relationships are Very Serious, but sometimes they are). But I just tried to go on with it hoping eventually he'd get tired of being with someone who didn't want to be intimate the way he wanted me to.
He tried a ton of things. He tried "treating" me to things I wasn't really into. He gave me weird gifts. (Like, I got that he was into marine biology, but I don't really know what to do with shark jaws you cleaned yourself. I still have one somewhere.) He tried bringing me to his functions and social events. He tried telling me he would "have to" cheat on me and/or date other girls at the same time if I wouldn't sleep with him. (And I immediately granted him permission for that last because I literally did not have even an iota of possessiveness toward him, and he dated one of my friends at the same time, but she didn't sleep with him either.) And during his senior year, we had a pretty terrible prom together.
|I look so happy, right?|
Things were pretty good for a while after he graduated from high school and I was still a senior. He went away to college and we had a supposed long-distance relationship. There was a fiasco where he was hitting on my best friend (she had a sort of history with him; it's how I met her actually), and she was upset because she didn't want to doodle with my boyfriend if he was my boyfriend, but I told her oh please, seriously, if you actually want him that way you are MORE than welcome to take him off my hands, so to speak.
Of course he called me with his confession, begging me to punish him for sleeping with my best friend, and I guess he was surprised when I told him I was okay with it and he could keep doing it if both of them wanted to. He got even more upset then because he'd wanted me to be possessive and just act like a normal girlfriend already.
We would argue on the phone sometimes and he'd just go on and on about what my lack of "affection" did to him, and I'd basically remind him that I'd always been forthcoming about not being attracted to him and could not generate the emotion/attraction he wanted just because he wanted me to, nor could he "earn" it from me. I came to understand that he had been disregarding what I said about my lack of attraction because he believed women generally don't know what they want and he must be such a good lover that he can awaken slumbering feelings of sexy stuff in just about anyone. The fact that it didn't work on me was really messing with his identity, I guess. To be honest, I don't even know if it was about me in the first place. It was all about his personal mythology and "abilities," and he was so obsessed with me because I'd apparently been the first person he couldn't coax into bed by either being pathetic enough or being so stellar at foreplay. No thanks. I'd rather think about cartoons. (He was actually jealous of my cartoon boyfriend, Yakko. Not even kidding.)
|Can you blame me? He's cute.|
Then there came a time when Phil came home from college on a school break and wanted to spend a bunch of time with me, of course. I entered the most actively stressful period of our relationship, worried pretty much constantly about where this was going to go, because it just seemed hopeless and being a long-distance couple hadn't stopped him from continuing to dominate my attention and bogart my time badgering me for affection I wouldn't have wanted to give him at this point even if I could. Again, I knew I was not responsible for his mental health or his happiness, but I did not want to be yet another woman in a long list of women who had contributed to him feeling worthless. And yet at this point, my own sanity was starting to suffer. I had a nervous stomach all the time and volunteered for extra shifts at my job so I could stay away from him. Because, you know, my teenage self was so good at handling conflict. Sometimes all the stress actually made me throw up. One of those times, he was the person holding my hair.
But finally, he was due to go back to school soon and he wanted to celebrate our upcoming anniversary of being an official couple, so he took me out for a dinner at a Spanish restaurant. I remember it being miserable but pretending to be in good spirits, but I guess he knew something was up. What's unfortunate for him is that he tended to use anything he could in my life to try to push me toward being what he wanted, and when we got back to my parents' house he said this:
"I think we should break up because you're not happy."
That was surely where I was supposed to reassure him that I was happy, or at least that I was happy with us, and probably give him anniversary sex in the car. I dunno.
Instead, I agreed that I was not happy and agreed to break up, and after a short discussion and acknowledgment of what we were doing, I got out of the car and went back into the house. I remember walking across the lawn thinking that I'd been "freed," so to speak, and vowed that I would not let him talk me back into that cage. Because I knew what was coming. I knew him too well.
Predictably, he called me less than two hours later attempting to rescind his breakup suggestion, saying he hadn't meant it, and I was like, "Well, I did." After the arguing became wheedling became begging and I still didn't let him talk me into undoing it, he actually cursed me out on the phone and I hung up on him. I felt really calm, I guess. I was just done. And really tired of having so much of my time and energy and attention dedicated to helping a person who clearly wasn't even being helped by what I gave to him.
Time passed. He went back to school. Wrote me some letters. We had one speed bump where he thought he had talked me back into being his girlfriend and I had to call him back and make it very clear that no, I was NOT dating him, which sent the tail spin in motion again. By the time I went to college myself, I had been sent a letter from him (meant to be a guilt trip, but I took it literally on purpose) saying that he thought it would be best if we just didn't talk for a while. And so we didn't.
I did start talking to him again eventually--we knew all the same people, so it was difficult to avoid--and we had some pretty fun times in college once in a while. I didn't actually see him that often, though there was a short period where he used to come over after his security job in the middle of the night and we'd watch anime and get Denny's at 3 AM. He once told me that he'd done some self-reflection and realized he would have to choose between having me in his life on MY terms or not having me at all, and he'd chosen my terms.
Which would have been really nice if he'd meant it, because he also had a rant one time about how if I ever got "romance hormones" in the mail one day then he "deserved" to be first in line since he'd been waiting, and when I said I thought it would be person-specific if it ever did happen, he said if I ever got married he would come "kick the shit out of" my husband.
I guess some people never stop seeing women as possessions and consider the time they've put into wooing them as some kind of down payment on a transaction. Not cool.
We continued to talk for many, many years but I don't really talk to him now. Part of it is probably just that he continues to embrace things I find repugnant, like how he had a friend who was a policeman and the two of them would deliberately drive drunk because that guy's being a cop would somehow protect them from getting arrested for it. He told me that story with tons of elation and uproarious laughter. I don't like to hang out with adults who think that's hilarious. That and a few other things he's done that I don't feel comfortable writing about here.
I honestly wish that guy the best, but boy was he a disaster. I'm just glad that even with all the nonsense I put up with, he was probably the reason I met Meghan, and that's worth it.