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.

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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).

How to Break Your Addiction to the Past

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I started this post before I left for Atlanta at the end of April to speak at Mom 2.0 Summit. It is one of the few times in 44 months that I didn’t finish and publish a post the same day I started it. I guess I finally figured out how the internet works because I suddenly felt shy and naked about sharing so many of my sordid imperfections and poor life choices. This leads me to believe that I’m a slow learner cuz, like, 44 months? Come on, homegirl. Instead of working through that fear, I decided to go to Target to see if they had any Easter candy left at deeply discounted prices.

I lived in Atlanta for two years after Cal was born until I moved to Los Angeles at the age of 21. Most of the memories from my time in Atlanta are fragments because I am filled with shame when I remember the gas vouchers I received from my social worker so I wouldn’t miss my welfare appointments and the rotisserie chicken I had to put back because my food stamps didn’t pay for hot prepared foods and the time I didn’t buckle two-year-old Cal into her umbrella stroller and she fell out. Those little moments are the base notes, and they are the ones that stay. Occasionally, I recall something funny and beautiful, but like top notes, they evaporate quickly.

On this most recent trip to Atlanta, my past collided with the present. The dark waters of all the fucked-up shit I used to do started filling in the empty corners of my memory. I suddenly understood why I’ve been feeling like a fraud for years and years. My life is so good now. Is it okay to admit that? I get the sense that if your life is pretty solid, you’re supposed to point out the flaws and defects, but it’s such a weird and wondrous privilege for me to be able to say those words and actually mean it that I don’t want to dumb it down or cut into its beauty.

My life is pretty good. But on many days, I’m still not very happy. And I’m not happy because I still see myself as the person I was 5 years ago. 10 years ago. 20 years ago. Not much has changed in my self-view because I am a prisoner to my past. I live in fear of it and I keep my sins close because I don’t want to be surprised when every bad thing I’ve done boomerangs and slices me in two.

When I came back home from my trip, I had forgotten that I had even started a post. As I was about to open a page to start a new post, I saw the title of this one.

How to Break Your Addiction to the Past

I don’t want to brag or anything, but I gave myself a couple of high-fives (looks like clapping but more boisterous) for being psychic. Some sixth sense knew that I would go to Atlanta and come back ready to untether myself from the myths I’ve believed about myself for so many years.

I don’t keep in touch with many people from my past. Sometimes, it’s by default because they are dead or inaccessible due to incarceration or other unfortunate circumstances. Mostly, it’s by choice. Regret was not one of my strong suits when I was younger. I assumed that every mistake I made would add to the rich patina of a fast and wild youth, something I could look back on with amusement. Instead, it’s the kind of past where I now have to ask questions like I did in Atlanta.

I stayed in town for a couple of extra days because JK, my best homegirl and one of the few vestiges from my past that is still a part of my life, now lives in Atlanta. JK threatened to kick my ass when we first met, but somehow, she became my ride or die. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding.

On the last day, I spent a few hours with JK’s homeboy who was in charge of looking out for me (clearly, these people know that I am too irresponsible to be left alone). Almost an hour into casual conversation about everything and nothing, he stopped mid-sentence. I saw a shift in his face, and he said very slowly, “I….I think I know you. From a long time ago.”

There are few things I dread more than hearing these words. I had no recollection of meeting him, but he looked so sure. So I asked the question that I sometimes have to ask because my past is what it is.

“Did I sleep with you?”

He didn’t hesitate before saying “no.”

“So why were we hanging out then?”

He went on to describe multiple occasions in which we had spent time together, just the two of us. Once for coffee at Starbucks. Once to an arcade. Once at the one-bedroom apartment he shared with several friends. And once, at the weekly stay motel I was living in with Cal. He had even met Cal. “You were easy to talk to,” he said. “And look at you now. You look like you’re doing really well. Nothing like the girl I knew back then.”

I believed him. His words brought me so much comfort and relief. For a long time, I believed that I was beyond repair and very, very bad. But this person who had known me Then and met me again in the Now saw the truth.

For hours afterwards, we filled each other in on the last twelve years. I realized that my misery and shame and fear and regret changed nothing but my present. And my present is good. Really good. Out of habit, I still find myself turning around to meet my past. But then I think about the shitload of problems this has caused and I remind myself I am free to move on. Anything is possible. This is how I break my addiction to the past.

“It may have just been a moment for you, but it changed every single one that followed for me.” – I Wrote This for You

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Holler at me:
Flourish in Progress on Facebook: I kick it on FB, like, all damn day.
Instagram (@flourishinprogress): My Insta profile reads: Hallmark ornament collector on the outside. Ghetto as fuck thug on the inside. Just letting you know in case you’re looking for flower pictures and shit.
Twitter (@ElizabethJLiu): I write stuff on here sometimes. Oh. I tweeted this out yesterday, but does y’all know any track that says “Versace, Versace, Versace” besides the one from Migos?