Guys Used To Keep Me On The Back Burner…Until I Stopped Letting Them

We’ve ALL been dumb about guys on occasion—even the most put together among us, even the most outwardly tough. And I’ll admit I used to commit one of the worst sins there is—letting guys keep me as an option rather than expecting them to make me a priority. Here’s how my journey from doormat to self-confident woman has gone down so far.

I wanted to be “chill.” Remember when you were 13 and you were desperate to impress the cutie in English class? You swooned when he asked for your number but pretended it was no biggie when you found out he only wanted you to help him write his essay. (Or was that just me?) I held onto that 13-year-old’s fake nonchalance way too long. “Oh, it’s okay if you only want to hang out last minute, late at night. No, babe, I wasn’t sleeping. Come on over.” God forbid I should appear to have feelings or desire for commitment. Better to be cool. Right? But I wasn’t cool on the inside. Nope—this girl was on fire with unacknowledged emotions.

I didn’t think I deserved to be valued. If a guy was treating me like crap, I assumed it was my fault. If I were as beautiful and brilliant as the women he’d been more serious with, he would want to be exclusive with me. As things stood, I accepted my quiet shame at being “not quite good enough” to engage his full attention. Ranking myself low on the scale, it became easy to justify bad behavior. It was eighth grade all over again, except instead of wanting help with assignments, some guys would call me to hang out when they wanted a casual evening or a six-pack of beer.

I had a very defined type, and I was a sucker for him. I knew what kind of man I wanted, right down to the hair cut and career. Unless a dude fit my mold, I couldn’t even raise the faintest interest. Unfortunately, I was so attentive to aesthetic details, I sorely neglected those interior qualities that actually determine a relationship outcome. Compatibility, mutual understanding, trust. (Kissing chemistry was enough for me.) Guys knew they had me from the moment we met. They gave me enough fun moments to keep me around but left themselves plenty of room to detach. Weird as it sounds, they were right too: I think we could always both tell that being life partners wasn’t in the cards for us. Might as well have a little fun meanwhile?

I realized that independence didn’t mean acting like I was cool. Appearances are worthless if they mask writhing insecurity. I don’t remember the precise moment I acknowledged that my gut was hollow and my romances stale. I only know that the whole game had finally lost its appeal. The truly independent women in my life—friends and family whose relationships I had always admired—made it clear from the damn get-go that they cared a lot about things like commitment and consistency and weren’t about to put up with less than reciprocity from the men in their lives. Good to know!

I sent final texts and then deleted all numbers. My phone got a major cleanse. It was so satisfying to hit “delete” on all those numbers representing casual go-nowhere memories. If a guy I hadn’t heard from in a while texted me “What’s up,” I straight ignored him. If he put a little more effort in, “I miss you. Are you mad at me?” I responded with a direct “I’m over you for good” message, then zapped the entry from the address book.

Dudes who had flaked on me suddenly got really interested. Oh God, did they ever. When I was no longer available, they suddenly couldn’t get along without me. It was bizarre how the pattern repeated itself. Now these guys would do anything to get me back: date exclusively, give up bad habits, even return from out of state just to be nearer to me. I guess they didn’t realize that once I’d made up my mind about something, I meant it. No take backs or confusion. So long, fellas. I was over it for good.

I stopped craving guys I knew weren’t serious. Like when you give up processed foods and sugar, after a while, your body and soul prefers something wholesome. “Handsome but uncommitted” didn’t even stimulate my appetite anymore. I’d never realized how much being the back-burner chick had dragged me down. I began feeling lighter than I had in years. Not that it was easy. Loneliness could hit hard. But I also got stronger by the day and more certain that I was on the right track.

I worked on my own behavior. I remembered the frustration of dating flaky, selfish guys and took a hard look at my own actions. Although I had never manipulated any guy on purpose, I knew there’d been times I stuck with a man I knew wasn’t “The One” because I didn’t want to give him up entirely. In the vein of “treat others as you would be treated,” I started to analyze all of my romantic interactions more carefully. And if I knew I wasn’t prepared to give a man the love and attention he deserved, I ended things immediately. I refused to lead anyone on or take advantage of their feelings.

Demanding respect is still a struggle, but I know it’s just a part of my personal journey. For every one of us, working on what we find most difficult is a quest that lasts a lifetime. I know I’ll always wrestle with self-confidence, and in moments of weakness, I’ll anxiously doubt my appeal to men. It will sometimes seem so much easier to revert, grab a scrap of attention where I can and ignore my pain during the tough moments. But I’m not one to back down from a challenge. And every time I choose to honor my own needs instead of accommodating some thoughtless dude, I’ll take another step on the path to true love.

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