What It Is Wednesday: Through the Lens of The Last Guy
So I…I met someone. Um, yeah.
You think you’re surprised? Ha. Think about how I feel.
I honestly didn’t think I’d ever allow myself to be stirred again, out of self-defense, let alone actually meet someone who has so many of the qualities I desire in a man. I’m a bit thrown off kilter, but…joyously so. After Thelag–you know, THE LAst Guy because nicknames like DirtBag, DipShit, and DumbAss are getting old and my friends still call him those regularly–I didn’t think I’d ever trust a man again enough to even consider these pesky feelings that are now all a-stir, let alone meet a man who could be trusted. I was prepared to resign myself to the fact that such a man would never darken my door for the rest of my life, and that finding someone who really does it for me at every level is just something I’ve missed in this incarnation and not meant to have.
Don’t misunderstand. We’ve met only recently and we are only friends at this point, albeit close friends, but he is so full of heartwarming surprises that I would be open to more than friendship. And that’s a big deal, because I haven’t been open to more in years. I’m ready now. And just now ready. I’ve just, since knowing him and through something he showed me, been able to drop suddenly the heavy debris Thelag left tied in chains of barbed wire around my ankles, the heaviness I’ve been dragging behind me every time I tried to move forward. Friendship is good place to start and a wonderful basis for more if the stars align. This new man in my life–let’s call him The Dude–is leading me to new places in my spiritual journey and teaching me new things about myself. Not always good things, either.
Namely, that I sabotage my own faith by turning my problems and desires over to a Higher Power and then yanking them back to deal with them myself and that I’m likely to sabotage the chance of being more than friends with The Dude because I cannot yet stop looking at him through the lens of The Last Guy. Yeah, Thelag really did a number on me, and even though I like to think that I’m healed from that relationship, Thelag trained me very well to expect upheaval and pain, a human roller coaster of high emotions followed by the lowest lows, enough so that I have trouble looking at honest intentions and not immediately thinking it’s another lie before reminding myself that The Dude is not Thelag.
I know, absolutely know, that The Dude is not like Thelag. Oh, I know. Really. Stop worrying. I’ve checked him out. He’s also opened up to me in ways that no other man in my history has, and he’s let me see the real him rather than hiding behind walls I could never in decades climb over because the walls only rose higher in mid-climb. He’s a good man and a genuinely nice guy, and I have no idea what to do with that. I’ve spent the last few years coming to terms with dating my dad and his mother, psychologically, and understanding the type of men I’ve chosen so poorly and why. I’ve both gleefully and painfully broken the code on my choices. I’ve met and dated men whom I saw through almost instantly and waved them away. Nope, not going there. I recognize the signs. I’ve learned. It’s like I’ve worked through all those old wounds so now I’ve leveled up to the possibility of new joys but also to new spiritual lessons with a new kind of man. New for me, anyway. Not a liar, not a cheater, not an abuser, not a manipulator. Just a good man. One who rather easily convinced me to trust him, maybe too easily–not though promises but through continued and repeated trustworthy actions, proving himself to me with every action he takes.
“Relationships,” a counselor once told me, speaking of both platonic and romantic relationships, “bring up your shit like nothing else.”
A few months ago, after saying for a couple of years that I would never trust anyone again, I realized that I in fact did trust someone. With my life. With my kids’ lives. That someone is a close friend I’ve had in my life for 8 years, and he is like family to me. The little brother I never had. The trusted friend that Thelag was so jealous of that he tried to make me choose between them. This realization was a major breakthrough: I could and did trust and deeply. Maybe I could trust again…even though it didn’t seem likely. Still, with my surrogate little brother and others, I’ve not had problems looking at our relationships though the lens of my history with Thelag. These matters have come up only with The Dude. And maybe that’s because The Dude stirs such sweet and warm feelings that I expect to be crushed at any second. Like it just can’t be real. I’m not sure he’ll ever understand how much of an impact he had to gain my trust and how dangerous that ice is for me to be stepping out on again.
Not that The Dude has ever disappointed. Not that’s he’s like Thelag. Sure, he has flaws, but I’m not a constant emotional mess because of any crazy manipulations. And this is where I’ll likely screw up everything and my friendship with The Dude will fade into obscurity because I’ll do something really stupid, react some illogical way that won’t make sense to him but made perfect sense with The Last Guy, all because I forget that he’s not Thelag.
I drop by The Dude’s place of work maybe once a week, and the whole way there, I’m excited to see him and at the same time, the butterflies in my stomach are competing with the ropes that knot and twist. The whole way there, I can’t wait to see him, and yet on the way, I expect that I’ll get there and he’ll leave me standing publicly embarrassed at a locked door, or that he’ll be gone but texting for a raincheck, or that he’ll claim to be in a bad mood over some altercation with someone else and doesn’t want to see me even though he invited me, or some other excuse that will keep me from running into some other woman in his life that he’s hiding from me or me from her. To put it simply, I expect to be stood up. Because that was normal. Make it up to me later, yes, but it was like Christmas had been cancelled. And always some fantastic excuse. But none of those gut-twisting disappointments are ever there with The Dude. Those are all leftover hurts from Thelag and how he repeatedly trained me to expect disappointment. Instead, The Dude is always there to meet me when I show up as we planned, smiling and inviting me in and looking like sex on a stick. And I’m there with a stupid grin on my face that I can’t explain and he probably thinks I’ve lost my mind to be grinning like that but I’m just so damned surprised every time that he’s not jerking my emotions around on a daily basis like The Last Guy.
And there I am feeling gooey inside and talking to him and thinking, He’s not like The Last Guy.
It’s almost a mantra, and it’ll take time to get beyond all these rancid expectations that have been second nature to me for the last 6 years. The pushing me away hard, and then immediately reeling me back in. The crumbs of affection and promised feasts. The demands for closeness and the distance at his discretion, so often to cover a secret life. The demand for my availability and his frequent disappearances. Oh, but I’ve been so well trained in what to expect when you’re in frequent touch with a man you adore who is suddenly radio silent!
I don’t like the sudden sense of terror I get when The Dude is out of touch, even though the reasons are perfectly rational–and honestly, none of my business unless we’re more than friends. The first time the terrors happened with The Dude, I’d told him I’d be off-line and scarce of availability while I finished an essay test and he gave me both the space and the encouragement I needed, only to disappear for a whole day for a perfectly logical reason. My immediate response upon checking my phone after a day of class work was, “Oh, no. What’s going on? Is he with someone else?”
Of course, I went there emotionally, immediately. So many of Thelag’s disappearances involved other women, and there’s nothing like the man you want to be with disappearing from an ongoing conversation for about, oh, four hours while his phone is off. Or, in other words, long enough for a dinner date with someone he wants to impress. So yes, of course, that was my first thought. I told myself no. Couldn’t be. Then…
“Is he all right? Has he hurt himself? Is he mad at me and not talking today? Is he dead?”
Yes, dead. I shocked myself for going there with The Dude, but I was used to that thought, too. How many times did The lag threaten to put a bullet in his head when I disagreed with him or he didn’t get his way? Did a week ever pass? How many times was I terrified that he’d hurt himself if I considered leaving him and his bullshit? How many times did he have a meltdown and stop answering the phone and cut off all communication with everyone? How many perfectly serene weeks or days did we get through before his drama made me cry or break down or teeter on hopelessness?
He’s not like The Last Guy, I tell myself and breathe through my concern. I don’t need to spend my day pacing or worrying. And it’s not a trick or a manipulation. He’s just busy and offline. Because he’s not like The Last Guy. So I have to retrain myself to respond differently, like someone who’s been cherished and protected and treated with selfless gentleness instead of someone who has to be manipulated to ensure she sticks around. That’s going to take a little while to get used to it.
A friend of mine told me that after her roller-coaster marriage, it took her a year with her new man before she settled into a non-rollercoaster relationship and got used to what it felt like to be with a good man she could depend on. I know what she meant by that.
These are lessons, and I’m committed to learning them, to understanding that all men are not alike and that there are some good ones out there who’ve learned from their past mistakes. Hopefully at least one will be willing to be patient with me as I learn from my own past mistakes and stop looking at his actions through the lens of what The Last Guy did and how I responded to him. I’m thankful for the opportunity…and because I think that only a good man could convince me that all is well.
Key Takeaway: Trust is the foundation of any relationship.