Over the years my love life has proven to be quite the game of whack-a-mole. Except instead of moles popping up to say hello, imagine a variety of smirking penises, and instead of a mallet slamming each down with vehemence, imagine a pinky finger poking at them in a “Oh, uhm, hi… ooh, no… no no no… go back down there,” gesture. While some women would enjoy nothing more than taking any form of weapon to their ex’s genitals, I’ve somehow set the precedent it’s OK to keep trying to get into my holes without fear of aggressive rejection. A “keep playin’ till you score” mentality, if you will.
Every few months without fail a ghost from fuck buddies past will appear unexpectedly, usually with more facial hair and blatant cockiness than when we last spoke, eager to catch up and fill me in on whatever they’ve been up to, as if we’re platonic pals who’ve never seen each other’s junk. Either out of the kindness of my heart or some bizarre feeling of obligation due to the reality of said junk viewing, I don’t turn them away. I’ll meet them for coffee (because by now they’ve forgotten my abhorrence to the substance), or make small talk on the phone (because the rekindling of our bond requires the sound of each other’s voices), and they’ll slip intimacy into the conversation as subtly as “Work is going pretty well, I’m definitely eye fucking you right now, I’ve been thinking about getting a beta fish, prove I’m responsible, remember when you let me touch your boobs cause that was chill.” I’ll accept their thinly veiled compliments, very aware I’ve basically figured out my hair situation and how to contain my social anxiety to an endearing level, yet I’ll be pleased they noticed nonetheless. They like the new me, they’ll say, proud of themselves for knowing me back in my cocooning phase, unrightfully taking ownership for my growth and new cavalier attitude. When it’s over we’ll exchange a slightly too long, too tight hug, he’ll tell me we should “do it” again, and I’ll tell my girl friends oh my god can you believe that?
But I can believe it. I used to joke about the first guy I was ever with, telling friends “Just because he took my vcard doesn’t mean he gets an all access pass!” as if I wasn’t torn up he only wanted my body in moments of post-breakup loneliness. As if I wouldn’t go on to secretly sleep with him repeatedly every time he came around. And I can’t entirely blame these guys for having the gall to ask for another go. It’s more of a mutual using than I tend to let on. I keep myself easily accessible. I write brazenly about my personal life, sharing details about my relationships and mental health, the daily screw ups most individuals would choose to keep private instead of paraded all over the internet. Alcohol goes first to my head, then to my fingers, goading me into texting old hookups just because!, just to see if they might also be three Shock Tops deep and thinking about me, too. I’ve maintained an open door policy, letting guys come and go as they please, never locking anyone out because I might some day need their company.
I used to find it flattering to have them show up at my step unannounced, never with flowers or See’s caramel patties but always with half-assed apologies, harmless curiosities about what I’ve been up to even though they very damn well know. It was a reassuring discomfort to be so loosely tethered to these men, connected simply by the possibility of predictable sex, the promise of familiar conversations. To settle because it was easier than starting fresh, getting complicated, falling harder, trying. Cue staged aloofness, minimal groveling, a dash of delusion, and we were on again. I convinced myself every round two/three/four would be different. It was on “my terms,” I knew what I was getting into. I knew breakfast didn’t mean boyfriend material. 2 AM calls weren’t invitations to go star gazing and remain fully clothed. There would be no exclusivity, no introductions as anyone other than “my friend Katie.” And I was OK with that, for a time. I was content with a warm body without any surprises and the ego boost of their return into my life. I told myself their horny boomerang tendencies meant they truly did care about me, even if it was merely conditional affection.
I’ve heard the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I’d like to amend that to sleeping with the same emotionally unavailable asshat over and over again and expecting a happy ending that extends further than the bedroom. Insanity is getting into casual relationships over and over again and expecting yourself to be any less of a sucker for any small semblance of romance.
As I write this I am in the middle of yet another round two. I have yet again agreed to be in a relationship with someone who hurt me and apologized (though in his defense, he did come armed with sunflowers and Cheeto puffs). Yet again I am going to claim it’s different. Because this time I’m actually in love with the asshat, something I’ve never experienced before. And despite everything I’ve supposedly learned, despite the seven month gap of self-doubt and insecurities between popping my “I love you” cherry and hearing those words returned, I can’t help but hope I’m not just kidding myself this time. It certainly hasn’t been easy. I’ve made little effort to check my emotional baggage, and am laden with worries of never being quite enough. I worry my worth will always be measured in comparison to someone else’s, that I’ll never seem like the right girl until other options are explored and eventually cast aside. I’m scared people will forget to appreciate me as I am in this very moment because they take me for granted, expect me to linger and wait around every time I’m set free. I have spent so much energy feeling like a consolation prize for the ones who never fought for me in the first place; a security blanket for the ones who thought they’d outgrown the need for a blankie, only to realize months later it’s been sold to the next schmuck browsing through Goodwill. I’m finally starting to understand why people close their doors, and I’m terrified I’m unintentionally shutting out the wrong guy.
I am not “the girl that got away.” I am the girl that gets let go, pretends not to care, and has no fucking clue how to use a mallet.