Don’t Play Games with a Girl Who Can Play Better (Notes on Ugly Men and Relationshits)

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.

P.P.S. Holler at me: Flourish in Progress on Facebook and on Instagram (@flourishinprogress).

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  • Rachel

    Amazing post, it brought tears to my eyes. It is so brave of you to share your past and your hurts and to share all you’ve learned from your experiences. Really, well done!

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Thank you. xoxo

  • Elizabeth Aquino

    Yeah. The tears. Yah. The tears. Yes. The tears. I won’t say more.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      “Don’t cry. Dry your eye….” -Snoop Dogg

  • Alexandra

    Same. Ugly guys are no insurance, i learned that. Xo

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Damn skippy. xo

  • theblahblahblahger

    Friend, your vulnerability is so dang beautiful…

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Ain’t gonna lie. Already thought about taking this down, like, 10 times. lol

  • Eve Sturges

    sucker punch; good one. #tears

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress


      (Also, I want to be you when I grow up too.)

  • Kathy W

    I understand completely.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress


  • Corrine

    Girl, I am so very happy for you that you found such a wonderful man. YOU DESERVE IT!

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Thank you. I hope I can do right by him. xo

  • Dawn

    Isn’t it funny how we can’t hear or see that we are worthy until all of a sudden the right person says it. I remember the moment I stood up.
    Well done

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      *fist bump* for the right person coming along and showing you the truth.

  • H Geezy

    I wanted to say something profound and maybe even a tad encouraging….but alas, words in meaningful sentences escape me. So I say this…you give me hope.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Geezy my homegirl, you deserve only the best. Don’t forget.

  • Misty

    I knew the story of how Harv returned, but didn’t realize that he literally saved you from yourself (and that dickhead who you were allowing to destroy you). I have a greater and deeper appreciation for that man you married, and I didn’t think that was possible. So glad you found each other. This was a beautifully written post. I loved it.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I wish I didn’t need so much saving from myself….even now. ;) Thank God that man is so patient.


  • Erin Janda Rawlings

    Oh, this post is so touching. I am so happy that you found someone that treats you with kindness. Also, that he does not throw away your craft store coupons.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      The kindness is great, but the coupon thing….now that is Keeper material. xoxo

  • Sarah Stars

    Beautifully worded. Again and again, I’m so glad to hear that you’ve found such a wonderful, amazing and supportive man for not only yourself, but for Cal too. You’ve done such a great job of learning from your past, and I think you do a great job of helping us learn from it too. As always, thank you for your words, and thank you for sharing.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      You are always so kind to me. Thank you. It’s such a boost. <3

  • Heather Ales

    Oh how I love you. I loved you back in the day in Omaha at that sparkly place that is no more. And I still love you today. You have way with words, girlfriend. A brilliant way that I pray is never dimmed! XOXO and all kinds of glittery shit!

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I SO wish Omaha wasn’t a thing of the past but something I could still look forward to in coming years. You put me at ease when I felt so awkward and out of place! Thank you. xoxo

  • unitedstatesofbecky

    Oh my God. My heart is doing that…thing…the fluttery “holy crap I told myself I wouldn’t cry” thing.
    Well played.
    I love how you can inject humor into even the most tender subjects and conversely, fill a humorous post with emotion and growth.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I like how you think I write much better than how I think I write.

      Thank you, once again, for your kind words.

  • Amy @ ToothbrushTravels

    “Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned to walk without having feet. Funny, it seems to by keeping it’s dreams; it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared.”

    I don’t know much about you, but Pac’s words stick with me. You had a tough former life, but you don’t let it hold you back,you write about thing so beautifully and the stories you choose to share with us are always so thought-provoking and inspiring.
    You’re not just a rose, you’re a motherfucking rockstar xo

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I LOVE EVERYTHING in The Rose That Grew from Concrete and probably flip through it once a week. I sometimes pretend the poem “Elizabeth” is for me. (sounds very mentally unstable, but we all have our dreams, yes?)

      As I was writing this, I kept on thinking “what the fuck am I writing? this doesn’t even make sense!” but then I got very hungry and decided to post it because I don’t let myself eat until I’m done. I’m very glad that it made sense…and hearing that it well-received makes me so very happy. Thank you.

  • Suebob

    Well dang. Now that I have read this, I’m in love with Harv, too. I’m glad you found each other.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Harv was very tickled by your comment. Please don’t say any more nice things about him as his head and ego are getting too big. ;)

  • Brandi

    My husband, a city police officer, is puzzled with me, sometimes, because I cry when I watch COPS with him.

    “That guy wore socks!!”

    “AND A BELT!”
    “Do they not match? I’m confused.”
    “I know they’re on meth, and I KNOW they made a lot of bad decisions- but they’re people. At some point this morning, they got up and put on their socks and belt. And they have a name because someone loved them, and a last name because they have a family somewhere.” I sob. A lot. He just sighs and pats my leg.

    I’m so grateful that, on his day-to-day, he gets that. When he runs someone to our local psych office for suicide attempts (most recently a mom who had lost her husband and son a year prior), he prays with them. He checks up on them later and learns she’s doing better. He knows the old man with Alzheimer’s didn’t have anything in his kitchen, so he brings him groceries. He tells little kids in restaurants that he won’t arrest them for acting out after their parents scare them with “I told you to sit down or I’d call the police!”, and (when he has them) gives out stickers.

    Before him, though, I dated a guy for several years that was the exact opposite of my husband. In fact, he had lots of experience with the police- but it was all very negative. He was not attractive at all (inside and out), but my man in blue (er..grey..) makes my heart flutter after nearly 10 years of marriage.

    So glad to hear your Cinderella story, Elizabeth. You’re such a rock star.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      God, I can’t even think of a way to make this sound less-than-wrong, but….I used to tell a lot of cop jokes. Like, really not very nice ones. But since knowing you and learning more about your amazing husband, I don’t joke like that anymore. I’m glad you ended up with someone who is good enough and kind enough to be on your level and to be with you.

      • Brandi

        Awwwwwww….I haven’t had a single warm and fuzzy today. Thanks for taking care of that.

        But…and this is important…

        No one should ever pass up the opportunity for a good cop joke. I dont. I think I’m getting him a donut birthday cake this year.

        Carry on!

  • lauriewrites

    Harv was never not going to write you on MySpace, but I’m glad he did.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      God bless MySpace Tom.

  • Amanda

    Thank you so much for continuing to reinforce this message. There is life after survival, and once all that crap is gone, all the blessings come in threefold! I’m doing 20 times better after than I ever was during. It’s so embarrassing that I went through my own mess, but the empowerment is a feeling that can’t ever go away.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Girl, you got this. I always tell myself that if I can weather what happened to me back then, the rest of…well, the rest of my life should be a breeze. Of course it doesn’t feel this way sometimes, especially when I am dealing with the emotions surrounding my past, but thank god it’s just emotions and not the actual person.

  • MelB

    I love your words. Very well written. And I love the quote! Go HARV :)

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Thank you! xx

  • CRB

    Thank you for being open and brave and putting this out there for us to read. Gives a cynical heart like mine a ray of hope. Related, have followed your blog for a while now and I see you’ve locked down your Instagram so I’ve sent a follow request

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I felt the exact opposite of open and brave when I locked down my Instagram. Because I am obviously ignorant and slow, I somehow willed myself into believing that those who I did not want looking at my life weren’t looking. Still LOLing about that.

  • Emily Trout

    Girl, if anything, you are one brave lady for writing such beautiful words and posting them on the internet for all to see. Glad you didn’t take it down because I’m late to this one. :)
    It makes me happy for the fate of the world that you and Harv found each other. That’s good stuff right there.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Ending up with Harv gives me so much more hope that Cal can and will eventually meet a man who will treat her with love and respect because she has seen those qualities in her dad growing up and knows what to look for…and what to walk away from.

  • Stephanie

    Oh wow. Great post. I wish all women would discover their worth and know that they deserve so much more than the ass-hat they are with. When you find a good guy it sometimes takes a while for it to sink in that they aren’t going to treat you like shit or run for the hills. Then you realize this is the real deal and all the others were a joke. Thank goodness I found a good guy and dumped the ass-hat I was with. 14 years later…still thankful.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      This makes me so happy to hear. Thank God you found a great guy!! Sometimes I look back and think….shit I coulda ended up with THAT dude. And it grosses me out. I didn’t know that I had value back then and I don’t know that I would have discovered that if Harv hadn’t come around.

  • miss_britt

    I love your love story.

    I also love “relationshit”. I’m totally stealing it.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Hopefully only to talk about people in the past and not your present or down the line. You deserve happiness and goodness. xo

  • Veronica Douglas

    Sounds like you have found your inner BAD ASS. Hopefully your story will inspire others to find theirs.
    And to save craft store coupons. You can never have too many craft sticks or Modge Podge.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Learning to not let my inner bad ass turn me into an outer bitch. ;)

      Modge Podge. God I love that shit.

  • Jody

    “in ways I can’t yet talk about, I slowly extricated myself from that relationshit…..Don’t start a war you can’t win. Because I will find a way to fuck you up.” That has me so intrigued! I sooo want to know what you did!
    I love your site!

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Just gotta clear it with legal counsel first. Just kidding. Sort of. ;)

  • uppervalleygirl

    Don’t take this gorgeous post down! Since you’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, I’ll see if old me can re-blog it on W-press, figure that young sh** out.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      This is the exact reason I cannot be on Tumblr. All that young people reblogging shit confuses me. Well, sometimes, turning on the computer confuses me but let’s not talk about that right now.

  • Julie

    EJL that was an amazing post. Thank you for that. He’s so lucky to have you despite your GHETTO ways. :) Hope you won some at WSOP. :)

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      You always know just what to say. Much love to you, mami. As far as Vegas goes, I’ll take whatever pennies I can get. ;)

  • Johanna

    What an amazing post. You are a great story teller. Thanks for such an honest post and for putting yourself out there.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      That may be one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten- story teller. Thank you so much.

  • Guest

    This just made me cry! At work! I only started reading your stuff recently and it often has me laughing and feeling really contemplative at the same time. I just started blogging myself, I can only hope that my ramblings will cause as much of an emotional response as your beautifully written posts. Ok, I’ll stop gushing now, it’s not befitting of a 6 foot bearded man :)

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Thank you for taking the time to read my hot mess.

      Isn’t blogging bizarre and wonderful? I didn’t expect much when I started and I certainly didn’t know what I was getting into, but it’s changed my life and….to be honest, I think it’s saved me from myself. Good luck to you. xo

  • PinkNoam

    This had me laughing and crying in equal measure. You have a great talent for writing, and having just started my own blog can only hope to convey the same level of emotion (which will be mostly sarcasm on my part to be honest..).
    Thank you for the great reads, and long may you continue to be awesome x

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Sarcasm speaks volumes and I find it helpful when I’m feeling fearful or ridiculous to couch my thoughts in sarcasm. At least I’m able to get it out and just putting my feelings down somewhere makes a world of difference for me. Good luck to you!

  • thebrokelife

    Reading this was like reading my life’s story, minus the husband with a fancy palate. Low self esteem is dangerous! I’m happy you’ve found someone amazing.

    A woman recently told me that she only dates less attractive guys, because they’re less likely to cheat. Which of course set off alarm bells in my brain. My response was along the lines of what you said “ugly, stupid, poor, uneducated men are just as susceptible to bad behavior as the handsome, smart, successful, and educated.” She didn’t believe me, but at least I said it.