He just sat there dumbfounded on a plastic white chair. His eyes glazed over, his lips parted slowly as his jaw dropped open, accentuating the folds of his double chin. And for a guy who was built like a rather robust defensive lineman, he suddenly appeared small and helpless. “You’re right,” was all he said into the glass rim of his beer bottle, the words sliding slowly down its neck and disappearing into the bubbles of its fizzy contents.
Admittedly, I was disappointed by his tepid response. That’s it? I thought as I shifted in my chair, turned my head and rolled my eyes over my shoulder. I left feeling like a fool for putting myself so far out there. But on my birthday, less than a week later, an email popped up in my inbox at work with the word, Dinner? sitting boldly in the subject line. I no longer felt like a fool and couldn’t help but smile. We exchanged a few more flirty emails, then set a date to meet; just like that, it was on.
I’d first met Mike at a drunken barbecue hosted by some mutual friends a year earlier. I can’t remember what it was about him that attracted me initially. Physically, he wasn’t at all my type and I was usually turned off by guys like him—those ones that couldn’t seem to get enough of themselves. His accomplishments as well as his loves and likes dominated the bulk of our first conversation. I knew that he once owned a bar that tanked after September 11th. I knew that he backpacked Europe. I knew that he had his Masters. I knew that he was a great musician, an outstanding performer and a talented cook. And I also knew that he had just broken off an engagement with a longtime girlfriend and all he got out of the deal was a cat that perpetually walked into walls. By the end of that first night, I knew everything there was to know about Mike and he knew absolutely nothing about me, even though I tried numerous times to insert myself into his ongoing, self-absorbed monologue. I should have put a stop to things right there but I told myself to keep an open mind.
After all, on the surface at least, he wasn’t anything like the guys I’d gotten tangled up with in the past. He wasn’t anything like Keith, the bumbling alcoholic I dated for eight months who would drink himself into a coma, drive home to his loft in Long Island City and then pass out on his steering wheel with the stereo blaring. There was also the night Keith showed up at my apartment completely toasted and accused me of cheating because I had makeup on. It got so heated that I had to force him out of my apartment, though I had enough sense to break up with him the next day. Then there was Damon, the belligerent cokehead who would dip off into the men’s room every 15 minutes when we were out together. Damon was the most emotionally unavailable guy that I ever met and unfortunately it took me quite a long time and a lot of tears to accept the fact that he would never be able to give me what I wanted. Finally, there was Dave, a verbally abusive alcoholic who would get blasted and say things to me like, “You’re such a fucking loser”and “You’ll never amount to anything.”That was another relationship that extended way past its expiration date. But eventually I learned and let go.
Clearly, I thought, Mike wasn’t anything like those other fools. But I eventually found out that I was wrong—very, very wrong.
Mike offered to pick me up at my apartment on the night of our date and take me back to his place where he would whip up dinner. When he arrived, Biggie Small’s thick voice was melting out of his truck’s rattling speakers. I opened the passenger side door and lifted myself up onto the padded seat. Mike smiled and said, “You look beautiful.” I blushed and squeaked, “Thanks” into my lap. I couldn’t remember the last time a guy referred to me as beautiful and I liked it.
Thirty minutes later, I was standing in Mike’s kitchen slicing up mangoes and chopping up onions for the salad. He pulled out a bottle of red and sipped a glass while prepping the chicken. The conversation played out much like it had the very first time I’d met Mike: he indulged in a run-on monologue about the highlights of his life while I struggled to get a word in edgewise. At one point, I managed to squeeze in the fact that I was leaving my full-time corporate job to go back to school, something that I was really proud of, and he just looked at me, busted out in a pretentious rumble of laughter and said, “That’s so stupid. Why would you leave your job?” I squeaked out a nervous laugh and let the comment slide. After all, we were just getting to know each other and maybe the red wine was getting to his head.
It wasn’t until immediately after dinner, when Mike blatantly asked for a blow job, that things got really weird. Admittedly, I was shocked and confused by his request. “Um, I’m sorry but I’m not comfortable doing that,” I said as several drops of sweat trickled down my back and my cheeks practically caught on fire.
“Well,” Mike said as he stood up and grabbed his car keys off the table. “You should be cool with blow jobs at your age. You’re not in high school anymore.” And with that, he marched toward the front door, keys in hand, and headed for his truck. Clearly, I’d upset him and insulted his massive ego, and as a result it was time for me to leave.
Days passed after the blow job incident, and I didn’t hear from Mike. I felt horrible for what happened and couldn’t help but feel like I had done something terribly wrong; all I wanted to do was fix it. So, like the true codependent that I am, I called him with the intention of making him feel better about what had happened.
I think we were on the phone for a grand total of 20 minutes when, in true Mike style, he dominated the entire conversation but now instead of boasting about himself, he used it as his opportunity to tear me wide open. When he told me that I was a paranoid freak, I felt helpless. When he insisted that I had too many issues for him to deal with, I felt exposed and when he told me that all of our mutual friends thought I was an asshole, I started to cry. Before we got off the phone, Mike asked me if there was anything that I wanted to say to him and the only thing that I could come up with was, “Well I think you talk about yourself too much.” To which he replied, “I’m Italian and that’s what we Italians do.”
I’ve seen enough therapists to know that I am susceptible to seeking out dysfunctional and abusive relationships that remind me of home. But I was under the assumption that I was safe as long as the guy I was dating didn’t have glaring addiction issues. I didn’t realize until Mike that the codependent in me, the one who remains sickly loyal to people that don’t deserve it and the one that assumes responsibility for everyone else’s thoughts and feelings, would also be looking for love.
I can honestly say today that I’m grateful for the blow job incident and how it inspired me to take a fierce inventory of the quality of men that I let into my life. After all, Keith, Damon, Dave and Mike didn’t force me to go out with them; I willingly entered those relationships and I have to take responsibility for my part. Amazingly, after I did, I found an emotionally available, stand up guy that I now call my husband.
This post originally appeared on After Party Chat
Photo courtesy of evolutionmale.wordpress.com