It’s a Saturday night, and I’m waiting for Rob to text me to hang out. I’m 18 years old, all alone at my new college, and don’t feel like anyone on campus particularly cares that I exist. Rob makes me feel special and, most importantly, wanted. I sit and wait, logging onto Facebook and watching late-night television. At 3:30 am, I go to bed, feeling rejected and stupid for waiting up, and more alone than ever.
When he does text me days later, I’m thrilled. Maybe this means he wants to date me for real instead of just hanging out and watching TV in his dorm. Maybe he will save me from the loneliness I’m feeling, help me through this rough time and be someone for me to lean on. When I ask him to go out for coffee and to the movies and he declines, I get the message.
I used to let guys treat me like I was nothing. I gave them all the power, making myself completely vulnerable and revealing my insecurities as soon as we became involved. I was terrible at playing the dating games that everyone else played – acting nonchalant and like I couldn’t care if he texts – instead I fell hard – and got hurt – very quickly.
One guy I was dating didn’t want his family to know he was with me, so when I picked him up in my car, I had to do it around the corner from his house. We had agreed to be long-distance dating for a month before our senior year of college, but he was completely fine with not seeing me for those four weeks. I cried and begged for him to visit me. Eventually he gave in. When he missed his bus to come see me, he was angry at me. I cried until he hopped on another one and begrudgingly showed up.
Right as school started, he broke up with me. We hadn’t fought, and I hadn’t seen any hints from him that things were not going well. Though there were the obvious red flags, like hiding me from his family at first and being reluctant to visit me, I was caught completely off guard. I was so blinded by my feelings for him that I didn’t see what was obviously a bad and one-sided relationship. Still, I didn’t cut him off, and I even went out with him a few more times.
There were others, too – like him in certain ways, and different in others. I thought that I was just dating jerks, and that I was attracted to Very Bad Men because that’s what women love, right? It’s the stereotype perpetuated by movies and TV shows. Carrie from “Sex and the City” couldn’t stay with nice guy Aidan Shaw. Instead, she had to cheat on him with the married Mr. Big, who didn’t treat her very nicely. And somehow, it worked out in the end! We can change the jerk!
It wasn’t until I met and started dating Danny – who is now my husband – when I was 21 and a new college graduate that I finally gained some clarity. After telling him about my experiences, he said that it was possible that these guys weren’t such terrible people. They weren’t right for me, and they “just weren’t that into me.” Perhaps Danny was right, or maybe they were jerks. Either way, I thought I deserved to be treated badly because I had low self-esteem, so I stayed with them.
Learning this information about myself was a turning point. I started to see my past differently and was finally able to make some peace with it.
Had I respected myself, I never would have put up with how these men treated me. I wasn’t able to stand up to them. I thought I wasn’t pretty enough, that I was too fat, that I didn’t match up in worth to the other girls around me.
Looking back, I see now that I was a knockout. I was (and am) attractive, smart, talented, and determined. I put myself way below these men, whom I thought were better than me. But I only know that now – at the time, I couldn’t see it. I thought it was the other way around. I thought they were out of my league.
After the conversation with Danny, I began to think about some of the problems early on in our relationship. He would tell me I looked beautiful, and I wouldn’t believe him because I wasn’t wearing any makeup. I didn’t know if he was being sarcastic. He’d go to kiss me while we were walking down the street because he thought I said something particularly endearing. I would back off – and it wasn’t because I had an issue with PDA: I just didn’t believe I deserved it. I realized that I had initiated fights with Danny because he was expressing his love for me.
Following my realization, I started going to therapy weekly and figuring out why I had such low opinions of myself. My self-esteem issues stemmed from being bullied about my weight as a child and not feeling like I ever fit in. During college, when I was pursuing those types of men, I was looking for a validation and a cure for my loneliness. I thought that a guy would come along and give me a sense of comfort and belonging and tell me it was all going to be OK. Instead of looking inward for reassurance, I tried to achieve it through starting a relationship instead.
I’ve been with Danny for over six years, and I know that this is what love is supposed to feel like. It shouldn’t be one-sided or unrequited. It’s not healthy to long for someone who doesn’t want me. It’s not good for love to feel like crap.
I credit Danny with opening up my eyes, but in the end, the real work I did came from within. He couldn’t make me have higher self-esteem just by telling me I was cute or treating me well, though that helped, I needed that inner voice in my head to reassure myself that I deserved a great guy. I had to quiet the nagging ones telling me, “You’re not good enough,” and defer to the positive ones instead.
Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles who has been published in The Jewish Journal, Tablet Magazine, xoJane, and Time Out NY/LA. She previously wrote for GrokNation about converting to Judaism, body image, and befriending women. To learn more about Kylie or read more of her writing, visit: www.kylieoralobell.net.