The first guy I fell in love with was pretty much an immature jerk. Oh sure, he had reasons for being the way he was—his parents were a mess and his life was anything but easy. But what I know now that I didn’t know then is that his unfortunate circumstances didn’t mean he needed me. They meant that he was in need of help way past anything I could ever provide.
But at 17 years old, you couldn’t have convinced me of that. I was sure that he just needed someone who was committed to love him through thick and thin, regardless of how his actions affected me. In retrospect, I let myself become his doormat; something that he could walk on whenever he needed something and step right over whenever he would rather do something else.
Our on-again, off-again relationship was a study in co-dependency. I wanted so desperately to be needed by him. I wanted to be the one who would save him, and if I’m honest, I wanted everyone else to see it. When I hung out with him and his friends I hoped they would see how good I was for him and encourage him to commit to me. But honestly, most of his friends were just as far gone as he. And I learned it the hard way.
One night after a bout of heavy drinking with him and his friend, I was woozy and disoriented. I went to his bathroom to regroup and his friend followed me in. Before I fully understood what was happening, the guy started coming on to me. Since I wasn’t in my right mind, I was really confused by his behavior and at first I didn’t know what to do. But when he tried to touch me, I quickly understood and shut him down immediately, rushing out of the bathroom. He left to go home soon after, and I was relieved to finally be able to tell my boyfriend what had happened.
Like any rational person, I assumed he would be livid. But he wasn’t. Whether because of the alcohol or because he simply didn’t care, he waved my story off. It’s just the way guys are when they’re drunk, he said. He probably never gave it another thought.
But I did. I thought about that night a lot; about his flippant reaction to what was a deeply troubling experience for me. Against my better judgment, I stayed with him for several more months. When it finally ended, he was the one that broke up with me.
All the while, and many times since, I thought about that exchange and my boyfriend’s total lack of protection and concern. He clearly didn’t take my sense of violation seriously, so it should have been obvious how little he valued me. I didn’t want to admit that; it was too painful. But it wasn’t nearly as painful as having my heart broken by him in the end.
After I healed from that pain and met with a counselor, I knew I would never stand to be treated that way again. In any relationship worth being in, the loyalty of both persons must be to the other—before anyone else, even friends. I decided I wasn’t willing to date anyone who wouldn’t defend and protect me. I know now that I deserve a lot more than that, as does everyone. Don’t try to save him. Find someone who will be there for you too.