It may sound self-centered to declare this National Bad Boyfriends Day when the reason for the declaration is that my two bad boyfriends happened to share this day as their birthday, but hear me out. The two of them shared other things, though they never met: They were both addicts, and they were both emotionally abusive. They both told me what a sorry excuse for a woman I was, and I believed them for far too long. It took a long time and a lot of therapy to get past what they told me, and that can still bubble up in certain kinds of weak moments. The one thing I regret about those relationships is that they were capable of leaving such scars.
The rest of it, though, I celebrate every year on July 8th. I celebrate how much I learned from those two men who were only a great deal alike in retrospect, and I mean MANY, many years later (although I think some of my family saw the resemblance right away.) I’m grateful both of these relationships happened in my early twenties and that I didn’t marry either one of them, although both times I was sure I had found the person I was meant to spend my life with. I have often thought what an idiot I was to get involved with first one, then the other; why couldn’t I see #1 was poison? Why couldn’t I see #2 was just like #1? Young and dumb, I thought. No cure for those besides age and experience. I was no younger at 20, or at 23, than anyone else; but I look at those relationships and what they put me through and think I must have been a whole lot dumber. These were men I told my deepest hopes and dreams to, the ones that defined who I was as a fledgling human being, starry eyed and full of hope and idealism and energy, and both of them said: "Not if you want to be with me, honey." And both times I hung my head and whispered, ok never mind, I’ll be someone else so I can be with you because if I’m not with you I’m nobody, instead of – as today’s young people say – Bye, Felicia.
I learned so much from the bad boyfriends, and from the good ones I had where the relationships ran their course and then we both moved on. With the good boyfriends, it hurt a lot when we broke up, and looking back I think they broke up with me every time. With the bad ones, it hurt a whole lot worse, and I know for a fact I broke up with both of them and it took every ounce of strength I thought I didn’t have to make it happen. The best thing I learned from the bad boyfriends was how different a good relationship felt, when I met him. The good boyfriend that turned into the husband that’s been here for 32 years and counting that, from about one week in, had taught me: This is what relaxed feels like. This is what it’s like not to worry about what I’ll screw up next, or what insult the world will hurl at him that I cannot deflect but will pay the price for. This is what safe feels like.
Without the bad boyfriends, how would I have noticed that all of this was remarkable and amazing and something to notice and treasure and hang onto? If I’d had only good boyfriends, wouldn’t I have just shrugged and said well, this is like those other ones only it never ran its course and ended?
Here’s why I suggest Bad Boyfriends Day should be a national celebration, not just for me. Men, you go think up your own variation of it, because I think you probably have your own version of Young and Dumb. Women, I know I am not alone in having a time in my life when men could tell me that who I was and what I wanted was unfeminine and unworthy and that I was some kind of freak for wanting it. That can happen in our teens, our twenties, our fifties. It can come from a father, a boyfriend, a husband, a boss. I got out of that with a healthy relationship with, yes, a man who became maybe the best husband the Universe ever put on this earth, but there are other ways: Girlfriends. Family. Writing. Wild journeys in the wilderness. I think most of you are smarter than I was, or maybe we just need a day on the calendar to notice and celebrate: We are all smarter, and deserve better, than what the Bad Boyfriends of the world tell us about ourselves. Happy July 8th!Commenting is not available in this channel entry.