I could never forget one of the harshest truths my guy friends told me face to face one night as I sat crying, waiting for a logical explanation. I was 18, elsewhere it was Lovapalooza, and my drunk friends were giving me some advice, which to my mind, was defying the laws of intoxication. But I listened.
“He never wanted you for that; he just wanted…”
Of course they didn’t say it that way; drunk people never sound so grammatically correct. These are just my attempts at paraphrasing the surprisingly sound advice my grade school friends gave me. And drunk people are brutally frank, totally honest.
Up until that moment, I never realized how naïve I was and oblivious to a guy’s true intentions. Blame it on the fact that I hardly dated and if I did, I always thought we’d end up married. I had the first-boyfriend-no-more syndrome. I believed in absolutes. I believed, generally, that if you do decide to date, if you do get into a relationship, you do so with the guy you know you’ll get married to, no backing out. First-and-last boyfriend, fairy tales and happy endings. It still happens.
It came as no surprise then that the early demise of my first dating experience broke my heart into many thousand pieces. I was devastated, for months depressed, and I never looked at relationships the same way after. Where was the prince and why did he become a frog? What were those promises of sunsets for, those rare serenades and songs of sweet sunshowers? My prince of light became a prince of darkness.
I’ve gone past that teenage romance. I was young, but somehow the lesson stuck: Men always put their best foot forward to win your heart; whether or not they do that in the long run, only time will tell. So I have to be on my guard.
Now as my views on relationships matured, this lesson remained constant. It made me more cautious, more observant to a fault, because honestly, I want to spare myself another heart break. I know I couldn’t hold on to absolutes anymore, but I could still hold on to lessons tested over time, one of which is the value of reading a man’s true motives. And I’ve often come to realize that one of the best ways to do this is to find out if they will stick even as the fire cools down.
What I mean is this. A guy likes you at first. He finds something in you that’s attractive, something that makes him want to get to you know deeper. He engages you in conversations, he becomes friends with you, and he gives subtle or maybe not so subtle hints that he likes you. A friendship blooms. As a girl, you like the attention. You like that he tries to know you, so you give him that chance. You talk about faith because faith is important to you. You mention books because you love reading. You write about your climbing adventures because that’s what you do. You tell him you don’t eat pork so that he’ll know what to order on a date. You’ll ask a favor from him to fall in line with you, because this line spells fulfilling a dream to see your basketball idol. Little things. You make yourself known little by little.
And then, as the friendship develops, the big things come. You talk about why you don’t date someone of a different religion. You talk about ideas in books you’ve read. Your climbing notes reveal your fears and the fact that you expect a lot from male climbers. You confide in him about your diet-related conditions. You’ll ask favors from him, like buying you Gatorade because you’re feeling very sick. Big things. And that’s when things start changing.
He settles. He becomes “content” with a setup. He no longer pursues you with as much fire as he used to, with as much inflamed desire. When he came to know the real you, the fire sizzles. Is it because he’s afraid he’ll get consumed? That he was getting more than he bargained for? Did it overwhelm him, that fact that this is who you are? Was he just there to light the match, play with fire, and when it’s too hot, to extinguish it? Like I said, a man will always put his best foot forward as he tries to get to know you. His motives will always show in the end.
I’m 26, I still believe in happy endings, and at this point, anyone who won’t walk across the fire for me does not cut it anymore. We owe it to ourselves to be as honest as possible, and I think it’s about time people stop playing with fire. A relationship is a serious thing, not a teenage drama. If you start lighting a match, COMMIT TO IT. Don’t stay on the surface. Invest. Dig deep. Pursue a relationship. BIG THINGS.
I don’t settle for setups. I don’t even settle for coffee dates or movies, if at the end of all these, I am reduced only to a casual affair and to a routine. When the fire has cooled down and you see me as I am, stripped of labels you had on me, and you are now emptied of all your preconceived notions about me, when you now have the chance to know who I really am, will you stay? Or will I hear again my friends’ advice many years ago, “He never wanted you for that; he just wanted…”
It’s heartbreaking, this playing with fire. When it all cools down, what next?