We met at a bar during college. I joke around a lot here about how I have a drinking problem, but in those days I spent more time blacked out on Pomegranate Burnett’s than I did in class. The night I met my now ex-boyfriend was no exception — my sorority had a bar tab with some random club sports team, and my M.O. back then was to double-fist rail cranberry vodkas until the money ran dry. Seven drinks and one hearty buzz later, I was on my way to happily blacking out like usual.
I don’t remember most of that night. The small bit I do recall, however, was when I met “Josh.”
Josh stood across the bar. Wearing the finest Ralph Lauren Polo his parents’ money could buy, I immediately realized he was bi-racial and, because I had a weird fetish about those things back then, quickly made my way over to introduce myself. And by “made my way over,” I mean I threw a bunch of awkward winks at him from a distance, waved a few times and then pushed the other girl he was talking to out of my way so I could become the focus of his attention. And that’s all I really remember from that night — I’d like to leave out the part where I drunkenly tried sticking my hand down his pants on the dance floor, but between that and puking in the middle of my plant sciences exam the next morning, it’s mostly a blur.
Assuming you read the title, you probably don’t need me to tell you that Josh was a douchebag. The kid prided himself on every bedpost notch he could charm into his campus apartment, thought the world was created to cater to his overinflated ego and that, god willing, one day everyone would line up to kiss his feet and accept him as the “Greatest Fucking Thing To Ever Happen.” I know people like this. I know men like this. I had Josh pegged within two minutes of talking to him — and yet here I am anyway, three years later and fresh off a breakup with the guy.
How did I get conned into dating him, you ask? It’s not like he made it easy when we first started out (or even anywhere in the middle or the end, if you want my honest opinion.) But after some serious self-reflection, I think the trap I fell into is the same trap a lot of people get caught in as well:
You can’t fix people.
I looked at Josh as a challenge. On my birthday that year (before we were dating) he came over to my house to hook up; later I found out from him bragging that I was the third girl he’d fucked that day, no shower in-between. The next birthday (when we’d been dating for eight months at this point) he kept trying to talk me into wanting a charm bracelet that “All the cool girls in X-Sorority” wore because “They’re hot, why wouldn’t you want one too?” The birthday after that was uneventful, but this year he called me “ungrateful” because I was upset that he spent the whole dinner complaining about how his job is hard and how mine is stupid. And I haven’t even gotten to all the times I caught him texting girls, hiding numbers in his phone under fake names or the lies he spit at me every time.
You might’ve read that and been horrified that I dated someone who treated me so poorly for so long. I hope you did, because maybe it’ll spare you from doing the same dumb shit I did for three years. I rationalized everything. Instead of pointing fingers I looked inwards and asked myself what I was doing wrong and why I wasn’t good enough — his friends liked me. My friends sorta-kinda liked him but were too nice to say anything definitively otherwise. And time continued to tick on, with every little “Win” in my book, like him remembering to hold the door open for me as I’m walking in behind him, or him asking me out on a date night instead of the reverse, telling me that maybe, maybe I can fix this guy. Maybe he really can get molded into the responsible, mature adult I always envisioned he could be.
“I’ve come a long way from when we first started dating,” he told me a few months ago during one of our pseudo-breakups. “I’ve matured a lot. I’m a better person. Don’t throw three years down the drain.” To be fair, Josh had come a long way — and I will give credit where credit is due and say that he is, by leaps and bounds, a better person now than he was when we first started dating — but we’re talking about an incremental growth of maybe two points of goodness a year. He’s still self-centered. He still plays the victim in arguments and turns everything around to make it seem like I’m a harbinger of doom trying to ruin his fun. And in the end, our breakup wasn’t the explosive death match you’re all probably hoping for — all it really came down to was me realizing that:
1. I don’t want children, so why am I dating one?
2. I am tired. So, so so tired.
I’m tired of being told I’m not “fun” and that I “bring him down emotionally” because I don’t have sunshine and rainbows squirting out my asshole at all times. I’m tired of feeling like I’m not good enough every time I catch him texting some 6’2″ brunette when I max out at 5’7″ with purple hair. I’m tired of being blamed for things not going right in his life when he’s the one living it, not me.
In the end, you can’t fix people. People aren’t “challenges” for you to complete and they’re not DIY projects you pick up at Home Depot for a weekend of amusement — they are who they are. The douchebag across the bar might make it seem like applying a new coat of paint could be fun, but that doesn’t mean the drywall underneath isn’t rotted all to hell.
I failed this challenge; Josh can’t be fixed. Neither can whatever dickbag charity case you’ve gotten fooled into taking under your wing — but that’s not going to stop any of us from trying again and again, now is it?