Have you ever kicked a puppy? Of course you haven’t – you’re not a monster.
The beginning of my sophomore year of high school was like something out of a teenage romance movie. A hot transfer student came to our school and set his sights on me, of all people.
I was awkward and shy, still growing out my Richard Simmons perm from middle school. So when this dreamy dude showed up with his mustache and muscles (so maybe he’d repeated a grade or two – who cared?), I expected him to go after a cheerleader, or at least someone who’d been asked to a school dance once in her life.
This guy – let’s call him Frankie – used to press sweaty, intricately folded notes into my hand at lunch. I can still see his small, careful handwriting, the dark and smeary pencil marks betraying how hard he’d pressed down in his nervousness. I’d read these notes, declaring his devotion and extolling my beauty and sweetness, and my mouth would go dry.
My parents came to a school event one day and Frankie introduced himself and shook their hands, then put his arm protectively around me, showing them how well he was taking care of me, I guess. I felt a little sick.
The final straw was when Frankie started leaving his classes early so he could wait at the door of whatever classroom I was in and carry my books for me between classes. I lasted a day before snatching my books back and snapping “I can carry them myself.”
Have you ever kicked a puppy? Of course you haven’t. You’re not a monster.
When I saw Frankie dutifully toting a cheerleader’s books the next week as she floated down the hall next to him, starry-eyed, I felt a stab of jealousy. I had to remind myself I could have had him. I had had him. What was the matter with me?
Frankie was Sensitive Man #1 in my checkered romantic history.
Sensitive Man #2 came along senior year, when we were starring in the school play together. We started off as friends, whispering together during creative-writing class and talking on the phone late into the night. We had similarly fraught childhoods; he had a dry sense of humor and haunted eyes. I made him laugh. But one afternoon, he showed up to rehearsal with his guitar. He told the cast he wanted to sing a song he’d written, and looked straight at me the whole time. I sank a little lower in my auditorium seat.
The song was beautiful. I wish I could remember it. All I remember is how uncomfortable I was. How had this happened? We were friends! I felt betrayed. But when he asked me to homecoming, I said yes. Maybe, I thought, I could get over myself and learn to return his feelings. Maybe I could be a regular human.
The next day, my “friend” Emily marched up to me, teary-eyed. Did I forget to mention Emily, the girl who’d confided in me that she had a huge crush on my balladeer? She was furious that I’d agreed to be his date when I knew she liked him. Not to worry, I assured her – we were going as friends and nothing more. I didn’t like him like him.
Shortly after that conversation, it was my sensitive musician’s turn to come up to me with tears in his eyes. Emily had told him everything. He was devastated. Long story short: they went to homecoming together and I sat home alone like the monster I was.
The next year, it all fell to pieces with another guy who started out as a friend – but this time the feelings were mutual.
We fell for each other during a day-long car ride to a church youth conference, listening to Garth Brooks. That night, we pressed our bodies up against each other during the welcome dance, hearts pounding, and the chaperone came over to us with folded arms and a raised eyebrow.
The next morning, the conference organizers gave us all a personality test so they could sort us into groups. I immediately sussed out which answers would land me in the Orange group, the fun one with the partiers and the risk-takers. Little did I know that would be the end of my romance with Sensitive Man #3, who’d been sorted into the Blue group with the moody kids and poets.
The thing was, deep down I knew I probably belonged there too. I’d purposely thrown my test, answering the way I aspired to be, not the way I really was. Fake it ’til you make it, right? I turned my back on that soft-hearted boy and ran with the party kids all weekend.
And then there was the last one: Sensitive Man #4, aka Big Dumb Bob. (I swear I called him that affectionately. He was really very tall.) He was only a little dumb. Maybe simple is a better word. Simple and sweet. And so, so sensitive. Once again, we started off as friends and everything was ruined when he fell for me. I’ll never forget what he said the night he confessed his love and I begged him to knock it off.
“Elizabeth, do you really think this is something I can control? If I could stop feeing this way, believe me, I would. I’d never choose to be in love with someone as fucked up as you!”
I often think I should have married Big Dumb Bob and had lots of babies with him. We’d probably be very happy right now – you know, if I wasn’t so fucked up.
So what’s my deal? Didn’t I have what we’re all supposed to want: a sensitive man who adored me? No, I had four of them. And yet I chose to date a string of assholes instead. You know, the ones who want to fuck you but who will never call you their girlfriend. And then I married a man who, while he wasn’t exactly an asshole, told me years later in couples counseling that he never really thought I was “the one” for him – that was just one of the reasons I knew I had to leave him. I followed him up with an abusive alcoholic who tormented me for years before I got up the nerve to end it after noticing all the signs of being in a toxic relationship.
Yep, I sure can pick ’em.
I know I’m not alone in my preference for bad boys over sensitive men. But why? Why do we do this to ourselves?
Maybe it’s all down to biology. A study back in 2013 showed that married men who do more housework – traditionally a more feminine or sensitive task – have less sex. Maybe what women really want is a caveman who will drag us by our hair and have his way with us. But then again, maybe not. A more recent study showed that couples who share the housework equally have the most and best sex.
All I know is, if my Lloyd Dobler – a crush of mine from one of many movies that ruined any chance of me having a healthy relationship – had ever actually shown up, chances are I would have kicked him to the curb. Because no one actually wants a sensitive man. They’re the worst.
Comment: Am I crazy for ditching sensitive guys for bad boys, or do you find yourself in a similar predicament?