Netflix dropped a bomb on me this week: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s a movie about a junior in High School whose secret love letters somehow get mailed to the five loves of her life. Teen melodrama ensues. And it’s fuckin’ magic.
This is the kind of movie that I would normally put on to lull me into a deep sleep. The mindless fluff that promises sweet dreams. Or so I thought.
Instead, I found myself giddy with all the feels. I was utterly invested in the leading lady’s journey. I was kicking my feet with excitement when she and her co-star finally express their feelings for each other. It didn’t hurt that John Corbett, or rather Aidan from Sex & the City was also in the film. Remember that episode when Carrie finds out he’s using Rogaine and he’s all “I don’t want to talk about!” Well, it worked. The man still has a damn good head of hair.
I used to think maybe I’d grow out of my appreciation of a teen rom-com, but now I know it’s here to stay. And I’m okay with it. Riverdale, Love Simon, The Duff – I eat it up. And I’m no stranger to rewatching the faves from my teen years either – Clueless, Mean Girls, 10 Things I Hate About You, 10 Things I Hate About You again because it’s so beyond brilliant. Unlike Zac Efron, I have no desire to be seventeen again, but fuck if I don’t love watching stories about that time in my life.
Maybe it’s time I write one myself…
There are many things I am sure of: my favourite colour is purple; my favourite song is Mr. Big’s To Be With You; I prefer cats over dogs; I have an unhealthy relationship with food; I love to laugh more than most anything else; I’m stubborn; determined; a feminist. I could go on. Despite being able to make such a list, I still get blindsided every few months by how little I know myself. And not like, “oh, that was weird” when acting in a way outside myself, but more like “WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED?”
The most recent moment of pure confusion came when I was talking to a friend about what my perfect guy looks like. I couldn’t answer. I mean, I could: long-haired, bearded, tattooed, burly, glasses a bonus. But running through the list of men I have been with would suggest otherwise. No one on my list fits that description. Oh no wait, there is one. But he only achieved said look after we first slept together. Ain’t that the way?
If none of the people I have slept with fit my quote-unquote ideal, then am I actually really attracted to what I think I am? Or have I just been perpetuating this idea because I hadn’t stopped to ask the question in so long? I’ll take this opportunity to stroke my own ego and say that I’ve never dated this guy because at the end of the day, I care less about the wrapping than the gift itself. I know, I know – I’m a really good person. That must be the reason. Yeah. Well. That OR men that look like that tend to be assholes. It’s definitely one of the two. Probably the latter.
But really I think it comes down to the fact that I am a queer woman that has dated mostly men. The lumberjack vision is antithetical to the parts of me that are attracted to strong, empowered women like the Cara Delevingne, Evan Rachel Wood, and Janelle Monae’s of the world. And until I fully explore that wonderful world, my idea of what I am attracted to will remain just that: an idea. A shoulder shrug. A moment of pause followed by an, “ummm… they just have to be able to make me laugh.” At the end of the day, that’s what I want. And it’s okay to not know the rest.
According to google dictionary, of which I am not sponsored, to gaslight is to, “manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.” Up until a week ago, I was not familiar with this term though it was an experience with which I was all too familiar.
My ex was a master of manipulation. It would start off by me making some completely reasonable statement like, “I’m just going to go relax in a bath.” Next it would become unfair of me to have alone time when there was nowhere he could go to get away from me. I’d offer options, “go for a walk, go to the gym, have a bath of your own” to which I would be told that I’m not understanding his point. Am I crazy? His point was that he had nowhere to go to be alone, wasn’t it? He then clarified that he didn’t want to go for a walk, the gym isn’t relaxing for him, and he didn’t like taking baths. Okay…? I wasn’t sure how to solve his problem because I couldn’t find what the problem was anymore. That’s when he would let it come out, “the problem is that you shouldn’t have to need alone time.” But everyone needs time alone. He would counter by saying that he didn’t need time away from me. But WAIT! That’s not what I was saying, I wasn’t saying “I need time away from you specifically, I was saying I need time to myself.” Then all of a sudden, I was told I was being selfish. And I’d struggle to find anything that proved otherwise. I would stand there in a moment of confusion as the reality of who I had believed myself to be my whole life was being dismantled. Then after a long moment of silence, “you can come with me?” Posed as a question because I was grasping at straws to figure out what he wanted. I’m not selfish and I wanted him to know he was loved. He’d run over and kiss me. Ten minutes later I’d find myself in a cramped bath that was anything but relaxing, telling the man squished up against me “I love you” while the woman in my head screamed and banged against the walls of my skull for someone to save her.
When he wasn’t in the mood for a bath, he’d come in and sit on the toilet while I took one. And if it wasn’t the bath, then it was drinks with coworkers, which then morphed into drinks with friends, which eventually became doing anything at all without him. In hindsight it is so easy to see that what he was doing was wrong. But in the moment, all you can do against the psychological attacks on your character is come to the conclusion that this is what compromise looks like. That is until the day you look in the mirror and all the changes he skillfully forced upon you don’t look like compromise, but actually look like abuse.
I was lucky enough to get out of that relationship, made possible in part by two friends who could hear the screams from inside my skull. If not for them, I would not have found the courage to stand up for myself. If not for them, all understanding of who I am and what makes me unique would be long gone. And here’s the hardest truth: if not for them, I don’t know if I’d still be alive.