My entire dating life has felt like a continual fight.
I used to pride myself on the fact that I never asked men for much. I was totally open to splitting checks, dating scrubs and even going out of my comfort zone if it made their lives easier. All I asked was that they communicate well, be honest and don’t be clingy. Easy right?
Except, for some (most) men, it wasn’t that easy. They’d refuse to do even the most basic level of communication. Or they’d try to ghost me or deceive me while thinking they were the most clever player on the planet when a simple honest conversation would do. Or they’d become way too attached, fishing for a codependent-like situation-ship that would only feed their ego (I once had a guy demand to know why I never ‘loved’ his unwarranted pictures on iMessage). Or they’d do some measure of all three.
I had already set the bar near the damn floor and somehow they’d find a way to limbo under it.
So when someone did meet the bar (or come very very close) I’d pounce on them, envisioning a whole relationship based on replied text messages and feigned honesty.
When I got all three from Scruff I knew I should be satisfied. He communicated well enough when he could. He was always honest to a fault (I mean, I believed he was capable of lying but I also believed he never had a reason to), and he couldn’t be too clingy because we were nowhere near each other. So on paper, I really should have been satisfied.
Except… I wasn’t.
I fully understood that Scruff being on a ship made it difficult to communicate. He emailed when he could but for the most part of three weeks we couldn’t talk at all. The dissatisfaction wouldn’t go away no matter how much I tried to rationalize it. I knew this would happen. I knew he was in the Navy. This is what I agreed to. So what was this nagging feeling in the back of my mind?
According to Gary Chapman in 5 love languages, everyone has a love tank that needs to be filled by their partners in order to feel loved. Different things fill the tank up for different partners, which is why it’s really important to understand not only your love language but your partner’s as well. Maybe you really like quality time and so all you’d need from your partner to fill your tank is quality time with them. So you stay in and watch movies or you talk on the phone all night and by the end of it, your love tank is brimming to full. But if your partner’s major love language isn’t quality time, then all that time spent together was simply a drop in the bucket for them.
Scruff and I had this conversation about love languages months ago. It was one of the first things I wanted to know about him so I could act accordingly. Surprise, surprise, his was Quality Time. I told him my major love languages were Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service and Receiving Gifts. After remembering this conversation with him, it finally clicked: my love tank was on E.
It wasn’t that we couldn’t talk, it was the fact that that was all he did: talk. It was what he needed so he actively pursued it. He made time to talk whenever he could, not necessarily to hash out anything important, but to fill up his emotional love tank with time spent together. All while I was getting drops in my bucket.
When Scruff and I first started talking, he came with heavy affirmations: I have a feeling you’re what I’ve been looking for; I’m so happy you’re back in my life; you’re The One etc. He’d also bragged about how he liked to spoil who he was dating, how he liked to surprise them with jewelry and clothes and phones and anything else their heart desired. He asked what flowers I liked. He asked what I wanted from Tiffany & Co. He made a great effort to figure out what I liked and heavily hinted at giving it to me. I was excited. I figured such heavy statements would be followed by heavy actions. I thought, here was a man who wants me and will show it. But after a few weeks, all those affirmations had dried up. All his mentions of doing or sending things for me never came to fruition. It was like, as soon as he got what he wanted (me) he didn’t feel the need to make any more effort. I was there. I gave him my time. Ta-da. He won.
It’s amazing how men see their needs as vital, but the needs of others as optional.
The night before I left The Bay for Norfolk, Scruff called me at 1 a.m. his time. He’d just gotten off the ship and was ready to re-fill his love tank. I wasn’t feeling that generous. I kept wondering, why should I give him what he wants — which was my time — when I wasn’t getting anything in return? I knew I was in a mood, but I wanted to wait and hash it out in person so he could understand where I was coming from.
Scruff had other plans.
“Just tell me what you’re thinking,” He said wearily. This wasn’t the first time I had an attitude on the phone with him. The first time was after he visited his daughter at his exes house. ‘I’m just going real quick and coming back’ he’d said and hadn’t talked to me for two days. So much for great communication.
“I don’t want to talk about it right now, I’ll tell you later.” I said. He’d just gotten off the ship and I really didn’t want to put a damper on him finally getting out of what sounded like prison.
“Tell me,” He insisted.
So I did. I told him about how I was feeling neglected. I told him about his empty promises and I told him how they made me feel. I told him he simply wasn’t giving me enough.
In true Scruff style, he didn’t take it well.
“What do you expect me to do?! I’m on a ship with no signal — ”
“Ok, but that was only for three weeks. What about all the time before that?” At this point, he’d been in my life for three months. And there had been plenty of opportunities to show me love. I figured, if he could look up manga, if he could take online quizzes while talking on the phone with me, if he could order himself $1200 worth of clothes from Nike, he could send me some fucking flowers. Or at least a gift card, damn.
He sighed and sounded exasperated. “I don’t know what you want from me. I try to communicate when I can but I can’t talk all the time. You know I’m in the military. If you can’t deal with that, then I don’t know what to tell you.”
“And if you can’t give me what I need,” I replied, “…then I don’t know what to tell you either.”
The grainy silence of the phone rang through the night air as we could barely look at each other over FaceTime.
“I can’t believe all this over some flowers…” He muttered. “And on the night I get back too. You couldn’t even wait.”
And for a second, I did feel guilty. After all, it was just flowers. Well actually, it wasn’t. It was the fact that he’d promised flowers, and so much more three months ago. And three months later I sat there with phone calls and empty promises. It was the fact that he came to me claiming I was The One but wasn’t giving me The One energy. It was the fact that I gave him so much, I set aside so much time and energy to keep him happy, I dropped everything when he called or when I saw an email from him. I did it because I wanted to give him what he needed. And he had the audacity to try to make me feel guilty about what I needed.
Even though it had been gnawing at me, I didn’t even want to talk about it. I didn’t want to put a damper on his mood because I was still looking out for what he needed.
Wait a minute.
I didn’t even want to talk about it.
“I didn’t even want to talk about this!” I exclaimed after his last accusation. “You insisted.”
“Ok, that’s my bad, I asked. I shouldn’t have asked. I know now to never make promises to you again.”
“I was just trying to tell you how I feel, I didn’t want all of this.”
The argument went in circles until finally, breathless and red-faced, we agreed to squash it and we hung up. I needed to get up for my flight in six hours.
But try as I might, I couldn’t get to sleep that night. I laid awake, rehashing the conversation in my head. I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. Who was that person yelling on FaceTime? Who was that person giving away their power to yet another man who made empty promises? Who was that girl trying to once again hold someone accountable for their words who was clearly resisting? That was me? Really?
I knew I couldn’t force anyone to treat me the way I wanted to be treated. Not by hinting, not by guilting and certainly not by arguing. Besides, Scruff didn’t seem to think he was doing anything wrong. He was communicating when he could, he was honest and he wasn’t being clingy.
The realization suddenly hit me: that wasn’t enough anymore.
It was for the old me. The bare minimum was what I needed, and that was what Scruff was offering. But that wasn’t gonna cut it anymore.
I was tired of the same fight; I was tired of asking for what I wanted and then having to circle back like a teacher scolding a stubborn child on late homework. I was tired of giving chances and second chances to men who were perfectly capable of loving me the way I wanted to be loved and didn’t. I had enough.
My standards had been raised. And the only men who were getting my full attention were the ones who met them. I was done giving my energy away for free.