If I had to guess how I’ll die, it will probably be at the hands of a jealous ex-lover, or a man who I’ve denied. A man who will not take no for an answer.
I wouldn’t be the first to go this way.
Which is why I’m writing this now (July 2016), while I’m still safely overseas, oceans away from my ex-lovers and their vindictive impulses. Just in case.
Why do I suppose? Because, already twice in eighteen months, two different men have shown up uninvited at my door, intoxicated and distraught, because I told them that I didn’t want to see them.
But they still needed to see me.
Which is why twice, in the last eighteen months, I’ve locked and blocked my door with furniture and fortified myself (and my roommate) inside, stayed up all night, wide-eyed and silent… watching, listening and waiting… wondering if my intruder might return, if so, for what… forming escape plans, just in case the door I’ve fortified should fail… or prevail, therefore, trapping me inside, should he decide to start a fire, forcing me to find an alternate way out, say, through my only window… casing the place for any object that could double as a weapon if need be, or a shield, and which shield could deflect a bullet, should he exercise his right to bear a firearm. Knowing all too well what he is capable of, sweating bullets wondering of what he’s willing.
Twice in the last year and a half, I’ve felt unsafe in my own home. Feared for my life. (And my roommate’s. I’m honestly surprised she’s stuck around.)
But surely it’s my own fault. I brought these men into my life. I brought this fate upon myself. I was asking for it, I guess you could say. I went out fishing for a beast to take the bait, cast my line into a sea of hungry fish and caught myself a few too many, with appetites too great for me to satisfy. I did that.
But the truth is, these men aren’t monsters, just guys. And I didn’t bait them; I just dated them. And when I meet them, they’re respectful, reasonable men. People change. The sense they speak when we first meet, the respect they show me as they get to know me, the trust they earn from me, the love I learn to give them—go away. And in that order.
In my limited experience so far “playing the field,” I’ve seen these same patterns repeat in many men (not all, but most), to varying degrees (not typically to this extreme). The same patterns that could potentially result in my defeat, if they had played out any further.
Insecurity. Obsession. Possessiveness. Entitlement.
I’ve been web searched, phone stalked, and physically followed. Sometimes by men that I’m still seeing. Sometimes long after I’m through seeing them, but they’re not finished seeing me.
One threatened me with suicide if I left him. Men beg me and blame me. They tell me they need me, they cannot go on without me, that their well being, happiness, security, sobriety—depend on me.
Grown fucking men.
I’ve had to reassess my expectations of what is “normal” conduct for these men. The men I date. The men I don’t. The men I work with. Men that I serve coffee to. And, frankly, men in general. So if I seem “too slow to trust” you, fucking sue me. I am not withholding anything from you that I am due to give. And just in case you’re still not clear, I’ve composed this handy, comprehensive list of all the things I owe you:
I’ve also composed a list of things that you might think I owe you, but I definitely don’t, to avoid any further confusion, including but not limited to:
I think the average man probably knows I don’t owe him these things, going in. I think it all becomes unclear once I’ve dared to share these things with him, because it’s not until I “fail to deliver” them when they’re demanded of me that their “rightful owner” then comes into question. So let me clarify, again:
Just because I gave it to you once—or any number of times—doesn’t mean it’s yours to keep. I am not taking anything away from you, as it was never yours. I was, still am, and always will be the only rightful owner of my privacy, time, space, attention, body and consent. My love is only ever mine to give. Just because I was willing to give it to you then doesn’t mean that I am now, or will be tomorrow. I, the barista, the woman, reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. At any time. For any reason.
And, again, I’m not the only one who’s fallen victim to this ugly pattern. The same is true of many of my friends, who I won’t name. Same story, different target. Boy meets girl. Boy thinks God or some other higher power put her here, on this earth, to cross his path, for him to love. That she was fated to be loved by him. Belong to him. Be saved by him. Her purity preserved, by him. To be his, and only his. The angel Heaven sent him. At his command. “Yes, Master, as you wish.”
But we are not your angels. We were never “meant to be” with you. We were not put here on this earth to serve you. We’re not damsels, or dogs, for you to rescue. We’re not instruments of your agenda. We’re not property for you to own. We’re not trophies for you to win.
And for the record, this way of thinking is by no means confined to the male mind. Anyone, of any sex or gender, can act possessively of anyone, of any sex or any gender. My experience only reflects one tiny slice of a vast and intricately layered cake.
I myself have had my feet in either shoe. I’ve been on both sides of this story.
I’ve been the beggar. I’ve been the desperate, possessive one. I’ve been the one who wanted someone more than someone wanted me. I’ve been the one not willing to let go when my first love wanted to leave. I’ve been the one who thought my life could not go on without him in it. I’ve been the one who threatened him that I would die if he would leave me. Which I didn’t.
If I had, it would have been at my own hands. Not his. Just like the man who threatened me with suicide is still alive and kicking eighteen long months later. Which I know because he texts me, to this day.
Anyway, I’ve been there. That’s how I know, that isn’t love.
The thing I was trying to hold so tight was already long gone. If I would rather have him stay with me whether or not he wanted to, against his will, that wasn’t love. Keeping someone somewhere they don’t want to be—that isn’t love. That’s just captivity.
Love isn’t something you convince someone to give. Love isn’t something that you can extract by force, if you just squeeze a person hard enough. Humans are not tubes of toothpaste. Love can only be given if—and only as long as—a person is willing to give it. It’s theirs to share with you, if and when they want to, and you to accept, if and when you want it.
Nobody is obligated to take your love just because you’re willing to offer it. That’s why love is such a risk. That’s why it’s scary. It’s not always reciprocated. And even if it is, right now, it might not be forever. You have to know that going in.
I had to find that out the hard way. So do you.
And sure, when Romeo shows up uninvited at Juliet’s balcony, it’s “romantic.” Just like Alladin swooping Jasmine off of hers to ride his magic carpet to a whole new world. But when my ex or current shows up at my door, unwanted at that time and uninvited, it’s just threatening and scary. Because Shakespeare and Disney failed to make a critical distinction: that their men were only so “romantic” under the particular condition that the women who received them actually wanted and trusted them to be there. I did not.
The same two suitors that Shakespeare and Disney deem “romantic” could have shown up at the same two balconies, and with the same, most romantic intentions, but if it had been my balcony, the story would have ended differently. Because in a thing called #reallife, the woman decides if the man on her balcony is a harmless romantic or, more likely, a total creep. But despite my calculated lack of balcony, Romeo still won’t leave me alone. Just bust right in through my door like they own the place, to claim the happily ever after I denied them.
Cause Disney said so.
But it’s no wonder we’ve all fostered this possessive sense of love. Just look at Valentine’s Day… “Be my Valentine.”
The love they’re selling you is selfish love. Just listen to any love song. “I Won’t Share You” by The Smiths. “All of Me“ by Billie Holiday. “Gimme All Your Love” by Alabama Shakes. Some of my favorite songs, and written with love, no doubt. But the notion that anyone should give you ALL their love is fucking ludicrous. Nobody owes you all their love. Nobody owes you any, for that matter.
So to the men who wanted All of Me,
You want too much. I only have exactly what I have to give. If I can’t give you every moment of my life, if I don’t want to be your wife, that doesn’t mean that I don’t love you. Let me love, but let me live. If you dignify me my freedom, my space, my time, my privacy—maybe I’ll be more willing to share them with you, and trust you with them.
Next time you open the door to your heart to let somebody in, don’t slam it shut and deadbolt it behind them. Never lock your lover in. Love is an ever open door. If you love someone enough to let them in, love them enough to let them go.
And when you tell me you’ll give me everything I need, don’t tell me what I need. Because all I really need is you to let me be the one to make that call.
To me, the truest way for me to love is knowing you’re not mine, but showing you I love you anyway. Unconditional love is undemanding. It’s selfless. It’s not a stamp of ownership. It’s not a binding contract. It’s not a ball and chain. It’s not an anchor. It’s not a claim for you to stake. Unconditional love remains there, just the same, whether or not it is returned.
I had to learn to love selfishly before I could learn to love sincerely. Maybe you disagree. So let’s agree to disagree. If selfish love is what you have to sell me, I’m not buying.
Not Yours, Truly,