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I recently received an email from a reader sharing the story of the worst breakup of her life. Her story was long, complex, and painful, but several aspects of her story resonated with me, and I would imagine with many women, so I’m sharing them below.

“…I was very happy with this guy. He made me laugh, he behaved like a gentleman. He had a good job, a decent vehicle, and seemed to give a damn about my feelings. Fast forward to our fifth year. Things had degraded on his end. While I was doing well in my career, he had been fired from his job (due to laziness on his part), he was no longer dressing in a neat manner. He had joined the Johnny Cash School of Fashion: black everything because that made him a bad ass. He wasn’t washing his hair very often (which had grown long and was now kept in a greasy pony tail). I thought this was all a post-employment phase. I thought that WHEN he got another tech job that he would return to looking neat and presentable…

“Over a short period of time, we started arguing more and more about his late hours, sleeping all day, and general complete change of behavior. Since we had been so happy at Christmas only two months before, I thought this was just a relationship ‘phase.’ We would work through it and go back to how we were before the fighting began.”

Unfortunately, Miss Longsuffering was wrong. It got worse and worse, with her paying the bills and picking up all his slack, waiting for the day when things would go back to the way they used to be.

And then, one day, he told her they needed to talk. He said he did not want to break up, that he just needed some time apart. She agreed, unwilling to give up on the relationship, hoping that a little time would give him what he needed.

“I started reading all sorts of books about people in my situation. How often times men were evaluating commitment when they pulled stunts like this. The next step might be a proposal when he came back. It was only a matter of time before he came to his senses. I believed all of the crap I read, hoping that it would come true. Time passed and I cried every day. I couldn’t help myself. What did I do wrong? How could this have happened to me?”

It took about three months before Miss LS realized that Mr. Douchebag did not want to be with her. He kept telling her that he was confused, but she eventually accepted that she was just his back-up plan, the extra nickel in his pocket that he was unwilling to spend, just in case he’d need her again. She realized that a man either wants to be with you—or he doesn’t. But there is NO in between. There is only a passive attempt at a breakup, when the man treats the woman worse and worse until she breaks up with him, which is what finally happened.

Miss LS eventually kicked Mr. DB to the curb and has since moved on to a happy and fulfilling relationship. Miss Longsuffering suffers no more!

The aspects of this story that resonated with me did so because they reflected my own experiences and/or the experiences of women I know.

1. There are some gems out there. You just need to stop wasting time with the douchebags, because time spent on them is time you’re not available for a gem. I know it sucks being lonely and wanting a relationship, but don’t you want that relationship to be worth your time and energy once it finally happens? And it’s not going to happen if you’re tangled up with someone else who is draining your energy and will to live.

2. If the guy can’t step up to the plate early on, he isn’t worth your time. Don’t hang around waiting for someone to change. They don’t. If anything, at the beginning, they are on their best behavior. It’s only going to get more “real.” Men are not fixer-uppers.

3. There are men who WANT to be with a woman and behave the right way. It just can feel like a maddening process finding them. Weeding through the flakes to see who is worthy can be exhausting, but if you don’t have the energy, take a break from dating. Don’t take a break from your standards.  

4. We all have our weakness. We all have that girl or guy we got stuck on that everyone else just says WTF and shakes their head over. I spent three years on a guy who was a total waste of time. It happens. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Just chalk it up to a learning experience and move on, resolved never to make that same mistake again.

5. Chemistry is a bitch. Don’t let it blind you. Raw animal passion is awesome, but it’s not everything. (Unless that’s all you want, and then it’s fine. Go for it!)

6. As a woman, we are trained to take responsibility. We think it is our job to keep things copacetic on the home front. We internalize blame and judge ourselves when things go wrong, rather than just admitting that the guy might merely be a douchebag, and we didn’t do anything wrong. Stop doing that. It’s not your fault or your responsibility. It’s a two-way street.

7. We need to be pickier up front (see #2). The older I get, and the more I feel like I fail at dating, the more adept I become at recognizing red flags, and the quicker I may be to walk away. This does not make me a bitch. This does not make me a princess. This makes me smart and perceptive and self-protective. (And if I tell myself this often enough, maybe one day I’ll believe it.) But yes, honor your inner bitch. Listen to that red flag and your gut. When they tell you someone is creepy or needy, they are probably right. It’s okay to cut someone off at the pass. This does not mean that your standards are too high. This just means that you’re learning and paying attention and taking care of yourself.

8. So many women don’t know what’s good for them, or are afraid to ask for it. We are trained to think that we don’t deserve the best, or that asking for the best is somehow bitchy, or self-entitled, and wrong. But it’s not. Don’t be a bitch, but have standards—and don’t be afraid to respect them. You deserve it.

9. Don’t be “too nice.” I think this is also a common problem women share. Stop taking care of him or paying his bills or going with him to his therapy sessions because you need to save him. You are not his mother. You are his partner. You deserve to be treated with respect and decency and love and compassion. You deserve to be cherished. Because you are you and no one else is like you.

10. Something I keep struggling with, because I can so easily slip into being too damn nice, is reminding myself that men like to work for it. They like to be the pursuers. I’m still working on this one. I know men like bitches, but that’s not me. It’s hard for me not to be too nice, too nurturing—and then easily taken advantage of. It’s a process, a search for finding balance. But if we were born perfect, there would be nothing to work on.

Some say dating is simple. Some say high school is the best time of your life. I’m not sure who these people are. Life is hard. People are complicated. And dating is both. But when it works, it is one of the greatest feelings ever.

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