“What exactly are you looking for?” my date asked me, as we made small talk on two barstools at a tiny Mexican restaurant in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood last weekend.
I’ve been asked that question about my love life so many times over the last three years that I’ve lost count. But this time, instead of spewing out the same old answer (I want to settle down with someone who’s intelligent, handsome, driven and who cares about me … yada, yada), I spouted off a list of everything I wasn’t looking for:
“I won’t date liars or cheaters or guys without ambition, guys who yell, guys without manners, guys who have been in music videos, guys who only talk about their exes, guys who do Crossfit — it’s a cult, I’m sorry — guys who spend their spare time preparing for the zombie apocalypse…” I went on for bit.
My date looked shell-shocked. The list was long, my friends.
That awkward date brought me here to you as the new “Dater X.” Let me introduce myself. I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey with a supportive, large family before becoming a New York transplant a few years back. I’ve always been a hard worker, graduating at the top of my class in college, plowing a successful career path while scrupulously maintaining a solid group of friends that I’ve known since the sixth grade. For 26 years, I’ve had my shit together … mostly.
My last serious relationship ended in 2010 after I caught the love of my life, a man who I planned to marry, in a web of lies that have left me scarred and, frankly, in need of a lot of therapy. We met just before college graduation and were together for a year and a half when I accidentally stumbled upon a notebook in his apartment that tore my world apart.
As a military man, my boyfriend was required to complete a special, prestigious training course after graduation where participants were completely off the map for 61 days. I’m talking no phones, no Skype, just snail mail sent to and from the woods. Every day for two months, he asked me to write a diary entry in a notebook that I would give to him once he completed training. I did just that.
But the notebook that I found once he returned was not my own. It was filled with journal entries (dates included) from another woman who did the exact same thing I did. I skimmed the pages feeling nauseous, reading lines like Everyone’s asking me when we’re getting engaged, and I can’t wait to make love to you when you’re back and I got your letter today.
I felt betrayed, sick, naïve, furious and lifeless all at once. From the moment we met to the moment we fell in love and started planning our future together, I discovered he was also seeing her—and he had been for 7 years. As any noble woman would do, I tracked her down and told her. She was equally as destroyed by the news.
To keep us from finding out about each other, his lies were complex and meticulously executed. He removed his Facebook profile “for work purposes,” gave us each scheduled times to call him so he wasn’t “in the field training,” and went to extreme measures to make sure our paths didn’t cross. He had two separate groups of friends who didn’t know each other— those who knew of her as his girlfriend, and those who knew of me as his girlfriend. He would swap out pictures and photo albums in his room when each of us visited, erasing every trace of the other person. He lied about his whereabouts during holidays, telling her he was visiting a college buddy in Canada, while he was really here with me in New York and vice versa. He sent bouquets of flowers to each of us on the exact same day, took us on the same vacations to the same hotels only weeks apart and had the same conversations, verbatim, with both of us. He was a professional, fucked up liar. Let’s call him Patrick Bateman.*
After taking some time to pick up the pieces of my life, I started back on the hunt for Mr. Isn’t A Psycho and it’s been a HELL of a search. I’m always the girl friends try to set up with their hairdresser’s son’s best friend’s brother, and I’m certainly no stranger to meeting men at bars. But so far, I’ve met the most of my dates online.
Thanks to Patrick Bateman, I’m less trusting of the guys I meet now, though my friends often tell me I’m “too nice” (which, in their eyes, means I shouldn’t hook up with someone if he’s paying more attention to the football game than he is to me). Maybe they’re right.
I know exactly what I want in a partner, but this whole ordeal has also left me feeling like I have to prove that I’m worthy enough to date, without my guy also needing a side piece. Having been royally screwed over, the one thing I HAVE loosened up on is, well … screwing. Sometimes I find myself doing it because I’m lonely and other times I’m genuinely into the person. Mainly, it all boils down to me wanting to find that intense, perfect chemistry—sexually and emotionally— that I had with my ex.
Yes, screwing all of those frogs was healing and liberating for a while, but I’m determined to find someone who will take me seriously … and it’s hard to do that with my legs behind my head. Truthfully, I don’t want to be that girl anymore, but I’m not really sure how not to be.
I know I must not be the only 26-year-old out there who’s going through this. I’m going to need your moral support and advice in finding new ways to approach my search for Mr. Isn’t A Psycho. I’m so familiar with the dead end, that I’m not sure how to navigate something new when it’s right in front of me. Hopefully you can help me get there. With the way things are going, maybe I’ll end up taking you home. But until then, the journey continues.
‘Til next week,
* Bateman isn’t his real last name. But it should be.
[Photo from Shutterstock]