Learning Something from Men Who Aren’t Dirtbags
I want to say thank you. Thank you to the men in my life who aren’t dirtbags.
Lest you think I’m being a misandrist, I really don’t have a general hatred for all men, but I do have a profound distaste for some of the more prominent men who’ve populated my life. I’ve had enough of them to believe at times that all men were dirtbags, even when I knew in my heart that it wasn’t the case.
See, my dad was a dirtbag. First class, though class had nothing to do with it. I learned from him how men were supposed to be, and that led to significant relationships with men who had certain things in common with him: being a dirtbag. Not only were the men who were a big part of my life and my time dirtbags, but their insecurities prevented me from having really nice men as friends whom I could depend on when they failed me. So the nice men were out there, the good men, but too much interaction with them–sometimes any interaction with them–led to my romantic partners becoming overly critical of where I put my attentions, even though there was no straying on my part into the lane of my nice, platonic male friends.
This is one of my big life lessons that I’m piecing together at the moment. It started with realizing my father’s mental illness three months ago and its effects on me as a child and later on how I chose my romantic partners. All my life, I thought either all men were the same once you got to know them or that I was incredibly unlucky in love. Really, though, I was just picking the same man over and over and over and over. It’s a pattern I hope I’ve broken, but I’m tiptoeing, unsure, looking at everything. Everything. I have to make sure I’m beyond my old mistakes. And that takes putting more of my focus on nice men and learning to recognize dirtbags the first day they show up at my door and not the first day that they walk out. I have to take it slowly, make sure that the men in my life–in any regard–aren’t dirtbags but good men. I have to make sure I can recognize what that is before I dare give my heart away again, because I’ve certainly been fooled in the past.
In sharing my concerns with my 21-year-old daughter, I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that she has adopted all my male friends as her male friends and that she adores them. She thinks they’re wonderful, and they really are. And why not? One of them taught her how to maintain her car as a teen, something no other man in my life had time for, regardless of all their promises to be there for me for anything I might need. None of them could spare 30 minutes to get under the hood with her in the driveway, but a male friend offered without being asked. She has these friends of mine–and hers–on speed-dial if she ever needs anything at all, and at least one would probably drive across the state to pick her up if her car broke down. During my last romantic relationship with an insecure man, I found myself distancing myself from such good friends because the predominant man in my life felt threatened. I’m ashamed that I allowed that to happen.
Then my daughter told me she’d never cared for any of the romantic interests in my life. Ever. Not a one. Dislike would not be a strong enough word.
“What about ___?” I asked.
“He was a dick.”
Why? Because of the way they treated me. It was always better than I ever saw my dad treat me or my mom or any of his kids, so it seemed better than normal. In fact, by comparison, it seemed I was pretty lucky in having better partners than my mom had had. With my daughter, she’s still young and lacks the emotional baggage of multiple relationships so it’s all rather simple for her. And simple was what I needed to hear, however hard it was to hear from a starry-eyed 21-year-old.
Things are changing, slowly, though I so want to be done with the introspection and healing and put all this behind me. It’s taking more time than I’d like, and I’m a work in progress. I am a healing in progress.
I’m understanding why I’ve spent my life attracting dirtbags for romantic partners. That’s the first step in changing my reality. Realizing the pattern itself, then being willing to break it, then making sure I have. Even knowing the pattern and the reason for it changes the future I manifest. Having the veil lifted three months ago changes everything. Or can, if I desire it, and I do.
I’m finally, this week, having a lot more confidence in men, overall. And, as a reflection of that, in myself and my choices in the men closest in my life. It takes a tremendous leap of faith in one’s self to say, I have spent my entire life attracting men who were really horrible for me and I’ve spent my life swimming upstream toward happiness but I’m not going to allow that any more. No more epic dirtbags, just epic men. Men who can and do make me a priority instead of an option, just as I’ve always done for my romantic partners who were, well, not very deserving it would seem now.
Though life gets better every day, I still have triggers that upset me, then annoy me once I think about them, because the men in my life now have absolutely nothing to do with those triggers. It makes me angry that I have these triggers, these leftover thorns broken off beneath my skin that I don’t realize are there. I don’t want the triggers. I want them gone.
What’s helping? It’s the positive reinforcement that’s been the biggest help to me. There were so many things that I was just…used to…going back to my dad and later to various exes. All the same guy, really. Different ages, different faces.
The men in my life now are all just friends, but still. When the triggers fire, I catch my breath, then step back and assess. It’s nice…to the point it makes me want to cry sometimes…to realize that “This isn’t ___” or “This isn’t ___,” etc. Or “Oh, hell, no, this isn’t Daddy!” Not that I thought these men were my father or my exes, but that little triggers get pulled and I have to swivel sometimes, still, from those old expectations.
The positive reinforcement is minor, but it’s important for me to look at it, again and again, and remind myself just how many non-dirtbags are in my life these days. It’s simple stuff, like knowing that if I had a hole in my roof tonight, I could call one particular friend and he’d come help me, paid or not, and how truly amazing it is and what a relief to know I have a handy friend I can depend on. That’s something I’ve never been able to depend on with past romantic partners who disappeared when I was in trouble, leaving me to make excuses for their absence.
It’s other simple stuff, too.
It’s knowing that I could be way outside the norm or even (hypothetically!) royally screw things up at work, and my male boss always, ALWAYS, has my back. I wouldn’t call him a friend exactly–the nature of our professional relationship would preclude that, I think–but it’s a solid and rewarding professional partnership and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him on every level. He is just a gooooood guy.
It’s seeing male colleagues, ones I’ve poured a lot of effort into helping and others with whom I’ve formed alliances to get the job done, step up and follow through on projects with no complaints or making sure I get what I need.
It’s the simplest, most innocent of activities that choke me up. Like last week–and ironically this is a big one for me because it was so abused in the past–I had lunches with several different men I worked with, mostly interns I mentor…and by “had lunches,” I mean we went to lunch and ended lunch together. Not a one stood me up. Or was late. Or had a whiny fit and backed out. Or quit lunch early because he was in a bad mood. None. That was my regular emotional roller coaster with men in my past. Every time I got excited about a date or a lunch, I never knew if it would be yanked away from me at the last minute for little or no reason…and if it was rescheduled at all, it was usually at a time I already had a mandatory meeting or a doctor’s appointment and had to make a choice between my romantic partner and everything else in my life. Yeah, no wonder my daughter still hates these men.
One of my lunch dates last week was with a 20-something I’ve mentored for 4 years, one I’ll miss dearly as he leaves the State in a great career move. He took me to a local restaurant as his farewell gift to me, and at one point during an energetic and fun lunch, I just stopped and thought, yes, this is how it should be…mutual enjoyment and encouragement with the opposite sex with no drama.
And it struck me that these days I really do have some very nice men–GOOD men–in my life and that’s rarely been the case for the bulk of my existence. I have more now than I’ve ever had before and they are not eclipsed by the dirtbags in my life.
So thank you, guys, for being good men, and for being good to me. You’ve taught me that it’s possible in my world.
Love you all.