Harv and I take turns picking Date Night restaurants. His choices are always varied and adventurous, a reflection of his refined palate. My two major takeaways from Harv’s fine dining selections: 1. An amuse-bouche is a one-bite appetizer the chef sends out before your meal, and it’s not okay to ask for extras “in a doggy bag for later” because you will get MAD side-eye. 2. If your server and/or husband offers only a vague description about a menu item, lift your hand into the air while consulting your phone. That’s the white collar sign for “Hold up. Let me Google this motherfucker real quick.” I’m not going to tell you what to order, but sweetbreads are not croissant-like pastries.
Last Friday, it was my turn to plan Date Night. I picked Hot Dog on a Stick. Not only were we able to enjoy dinner without the assistance of any utensils, but I also found a new dress while walking from the mall food court to the parking garage. I stepped out of the dressing room to show Harv, and he gave me a small nod. “You look beautiful,” he said.
It’s still hard for me to accept his compliments. And it’s even harder for me to believe that I ended up with someone so unlike any other man I’d dated. His differences made me wary of him at first. We tend to pick the same type of companion over and over again, not because that type suits us, but because bad and familiar can be more comfortable than good and unfamiliar.
Unlike most men I’ve dated, Harv has never been arrested, evaded arrest, incarcerated, on probation, on parole, or in rehab. He has never been addicted to drugs or alcohol. He has never sold drugs or stolen car parts. He has never killed or maimed. He doesn’t have a GED. Instead, he graduated as valedictorian of his high school and has two Ivy League degrees. He did not have a minimum-wage job, live with his parents, or share a mode of transportation with anyone when we started dating. He has never hit me, called me names, belittled me, embarrassed me, shamed me, or ridiculed me. He has never made me feel like an object or a whore. He does not swear. He believes in God. Most importantly, he never throws away craft store mailers because he understands that the only thing better than metallic embossing powder is metallic embossing powder purchased at a 40% discount.
Harv is a handsome motherfucker. That’s new for me too. I favored ugly men back in the day because I thought that they would treat me better. I stayed away from the pretty boys not only because I thought they would be womanizers and generally untrustworthy, but because I felt too self-conscious and unworthy for a handsome man’s affection. The ugly men suited me- they mirrored what I felt about myself, about my self-worth.
What I eventually learned is that ugly, stupid, poor, uneducated men are just as susceptible to bad behavior as the handsome, smart, successful, and educated. Actually, they may even treat a girl worse because they themselves deal with enormous waves of insecurity and doubt, and they project this negativity onto their partner, reining them in tighter and obsessing harder.
When things became sour and violent and bitter, these men would invariably blame me. I didn’t question their accusations. I asked for forgiveness and another chance.
On the first date with the last man I dated before reconnecting with and marrying Harv, I ended up at a bar. When I headed for the restroom, a male waiter followed me in, locking the door behind both of us. Before I had a chance to react, he reassured me that he meant no harm. In a hurried mix of English and Korean, he warned me, “I’ve never seen you here before. That man with you is not good. You seem like a nice girl. Only be a friend, not a girlfriend.” He left before I could respond.
I wish I had listened to this stranger.
When the abuse started, I was too afraid to fight back. What I find most fascinating about abuse is that eventually I became numb. It didn’t hurt as much. I cried less. I zoned out. Sometimes, I mentally reorganized the contents of my refrigerator during his attacks. I thought about my favorite rides at Disneyland. I weaved my way through It’s a Small World. I spun around in circles on the teacups. I stayed quiet. I let him do his thing.
And then one day, I opened up Myspace and saw a message from Harv. I hadn’t seen or talked to him for over twelve years since we had met as teens at a sleepaway debate camp in Oklahoma, but he found me. His note was brief and friendly. It broke me.
I suddenly became enraged, not only with the boyfriend who was treating me like shit, but with all of the ugly men before him, ugly both inside and out. My rage trumped my fear, and in ways I can’t yet talk about, I slowly extricated myself from that relationshit. I learned something about myself: I don’t like losing to losers. And I learned something about life: Don’t start a war you can’t win. Because I will find a way to fuck you up.
After I married Harv, I went back to this bar, hoping to find the waiter. I wanted to thank him. He didn’t know who I was or how I was connected to the man I was with, but to him, it was worth the risk to warn me. I didn’t get a chance. The bar had shut down.
Good man, I think about you often. I hope the kindness you showed a stranger is returned to you tenfold.
Ex-boyfriend, I hope you’ve learned not to play games with a girl who can play better. (I wish I could be there the moment you realize the truth about yourself. I’m sorry that you’re such a failure and that I actually have everything you only pretended to have.)
And Harv, when sadness was the sea, you were the one who taught me to swim.
P.S. A couple of weeks ago, I posted a picture of Harv on Instagram (@flourishinprogress) with a line from I Wrote This for You: “When sadness was the sea, you were the one who taught me to swim.” The talented Kal Barteski created this amazing original work (above image) on luxe watercolor paper. She’s got some serious baller status skills.