What we internalize often comes out in unguarded moments. When attacked or attacking, there is little thought and much instinctive regurgitation of whatever vitriol we’ve allowed to brew and become part of who we are. In moments when we are driven by a feeling and less thought, what comes out is what is already inside. I’m not writing about a reaction that is less thoughtful response and more instinct. I’m writing about the intentional distance used to negate a deeper connection we might otherwise reach. This is about creating negative and superficial spaces. I’ve been good at dehumanizing men and distancing them for my needs but I’m adaptable and I’m shifting.
Most of the men I’ve dated are referred to as boys. It’s not about them, but me. I realized it when I was talking about someone I saw as a man for the first time. He was more than a decade younger than me. I entertained the idea of dating him long enough to decide I couldn’t be a cougar, but I was talking about him as a man. I dated men older than him and they were all boys, but this (younger than me) man was someone I saw as a man.
I started dating in May and in the embrace of my shallow frivolity they were all beautiful. They all have been able to take care of themselves. They were all easily physically stronger than I am. They’ve all been old enough to buy their own booze and vote on election day. They are grown men, but I called them all boys.
If he’s a boy, I can distance myself from the idea of a serious commitment, which I did. I only considered a serious relationship a few weeks ago but it wasn’t with anyone in particular. I couldn’t imagine anything more than meaningless dates. Recently I imagined waking up next to someone, and stumbling into the kitchen to worship steaming cups of coffee together. I had a moment of picturing meal prep together. I was chopping through vegetables while he was hovering over the stove and we kept bumping into each other with laughter between us, then helping each other wash our hands in warm sudsy water. I imagined hiking together and spending time at the beach together for a sunset. I imagined the crackle and smell of a beach side fire. I imagined doing all of the things that make me happy alone, but I imagined having company and help. That was a big deal for me.
After that day, I started referring to men as men because I don’t need to negate the idea of a future anymore. I can see it and I can almost feel it.
I spent a really long time living with, creating little people with and loving one person. I was a faithful wife, so when I fell in love with him in 2000, I thought that was it. It was a huge deal to have a crush in January of this year because it was the first one since I met the man I once promised my forever to. We’re still legally married, and yet, I call him “the ex.” He’s not even my ex. He doesn’t get a name or a description here. At first it was about fear. My marriage falling apart could have destroyed me and for a while I couldn’t see survival outside of existing for my kids. I had to get through each day for them. I started living for me at some point and I love my life now. I love who I am now.
I started calling him the Ex as a buffer of protection. He’ll stay “the Ex” for the sake of his privacy on my blog, but in interactions with others I call him by name. I no longer fear what he can do.
This doesn’t mean there’s space for love. That died a long time ago. I pity him and the distance in diction is no longer necessary. It’s like standing tall to tell you I’m a woman. It’s who I am and I don’t need to announce it because it’s in everything I do. I don’t love him. I don’t fear him. He’s the father of my kids and I can accept that they are thriving in both homes. I can easily move on with my life because of that.
I choose to come from a place that isn’t based in fear. There’s effort involved. When what we are looking at is unknown, in fear we act out aggressively. We attack so we aren’t hurt. We create walls of protection and find ways to alienate or other what we don’t know. We use words like, “the” to give us distance.