I Made So Many Bad Choices When It Came to Men

Don’t settle for less than what you truly want and deserve.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Once a friend of mine said she thought she wore a sign on her chest (where men always look) that said, “Alcoholic? Drug Addict? Malingerer? Cheater? COME TO MAMA!

I had that t-shirt. I wore the damn thing for 30 years, from the time I fell in love with the town playboy as a teenager (and got knocked up for my trouble) until finally, at 45, I promised God that if he would send me one good man, I’d be forever grateful.

Well, he did and I am. But deep down I know it wasn’t so much that God sent me the right man — but that I learned to quit choosing the wrong man.

My sordid history involves marrying the unbelievably lazy and shiftless, though super intelligent, scion of an aristocratic but poor family at the ripe old age of 18. (Yes, that was after the teenage playboy and the birth of the resulting baby at 16 that my family talked me into giving up for adoption). I learned a lot from his family — including the weekly newspaper business from reporting to paste up to printing. So, he wasn’t a total loss. I also gained a daughter who has been a blessing all her life. But, still, it was a mess. He was a mess.

After seven years of that ridiculousness (he had 8 different jobs the first two years we were married, the boss was always “stupid” and he was much too good to stay there). I had the good sense to stay single for a while. But the romances — oh, the romances. And the plain old-fashioned promiscuity.

I was a cop, so I dated mostly other cops. Well, if you could call it dating. We partied. A lot. I didn’t fall in love with all of them. But I did fall in love with:

  1. A popular controlled alcoholic who was super smart and brave as a bull. He was a great guy, (well, except for the little alcoholic thing), but he eventually told me he didn’t want to be with a woman he felt he had to compete with. Ok. Whatever. Pretty good excuse as far as excuses go.
  2. A player full of charm and good looks who happened to be very, very, GIB, who cheated on me with his estranged wife and a host of other women. He felt it was his duty, I guess, to spread himself around.
  3. A shy and quiet loner who eventually ran from me and all my intensity.
  4. A married guy who, in the end, wouldn’t leave his wife.
  5. Ditto (I know, what a dumbass I was).
  6. A Sunday School teacher I married briefly and who promptly molested my daughter.
  7. A man I really loved but who didn’t love me. Enough. He didn’t love me enough. And it was plainly obvious and had been early on.
  8. A man 13-years younger I married who made me gloriously happy for a while, but an alcoholic. He cheated on me and left after 7 years. What is it with me and alcoholics and cheaters?
  9. Another damn married man. I didn’t really want him to leave his wife. I’d started to figure out stuff by then. A little. Still, I’d make two more bloopers and more than a few quick rejections.
  10. A cute but uncouth construction worker who embarrassed me and left (I think) when it dawned on him I didn’t want to take him to work with me or introduce him to my friends.
  11. A tall, good-looking and hugely charming man from southern Louisianna who was a player of the first order. I stopped that after we were chased by a very angry and jealous jilted girlfriend. Whew. I started to seriously re-examine what I was doing.

That was the last of my bad choices in men — not that they were all bad men — but they were bad choices for me. I finally grew up. I was tired, so tired. I was successful professionally. I didn’t need a man to support me. I went on a fast from men. I stayed home. Kept my kids. Hung out only with my kids. I had to rest after 30 years of making bad choices and acting more on my mental illness than my alter ego, who happened to be a sane and intelligent woman. Not that it was apparent looking at what I’d done with the first 30 years of my adult life.

I was terrified to start anything with anyone. I had finally had enough. I was 45 and didn’t care if I ever hooked up with a man again. I felt battered. I felt, to be honest, empty.

Oh, there was one more halfway attempt that I didn’t have my heart in. Again, he was good-looking (they always were) and worthless as a partner. And, like so many before him, he drank too damn much. He was what we call rough around the edges. By that time I had been places, done things, and acquired at least a little self-respect. It started and then I ended it pretty quickly. A waste of time and effort. I know, I sound like a bitch, but really, I was battered by my forays into romance by then.

But the real thing happened, finally.

Twenty-four years ago, everyone was getting a home computer (even in Arkansas) and I got one partly because I was mayor of a small city and I could do some work at home.

It didn’t take me too long to discover the fun of chat rooms. There was this guy. He was funny, intelligent, and from his photo, a good-looking guy, and he was three years older than me and successful! He was a white-collar guy, and I’d never loved a white-collar man. As a young and dumb woman, I’d never been attracted to them. They weren’t macho enough. But this guy. Oh, yeah, he was macho enough.

He owned his own tuxedo! He went to operas (like in Pretty Woman!). He had traveled to Spain, France, and Italy.

To make a long story a little bit shorter, we fell in love over the internet. We wrote each other long emails almost every day. We checked each other out. He had worked within the federal government so I knew he had been vetted and was unlikely to be a serial killer. I had been elected mayor of a small city. We decided we might meet in person some day.

Then it was time, and I traveled to his state and rented an expensive room on the beach. I met him at a restaurant and we then went to my room. The rest is 24-year-old history. My children acknowledge no other dad, and finally, I got it right. It’s been right for all these years and it is the most significant relationship of my life. Always. He loves me. He will always love me as I will always love him. It just is. He is my mate, even on those odd days when I’m not particularly happy about it, and he isn’t either. Those days come. Yes, they do. But they mean nothing. He remains my mate, my other, and my partner during both good and bad times.

Never settle for less than what you deserve.

The moral of the story is don’t settle. Man or woman, don’t waste your time on relationships you know in your heart are not right. The real one will require no effort. And it will find you. You don’t have to look for it. If you don’t find it you aren’t supposed to be coupled. But, mostly, you will.

I sold myself short so many times in the mistaken belief that I had to have somebody in order to be somebody. Don’t do that. Listen to this old woman who is very experienced in matters like this.

There is a person out there with whom you are satisfied and content, and loved, cherished, and valued. Don’t settle for less. You deserve it.

And don’t forget. It won’t be hard. It won’t make you unhappy and uncertain. It won’t feel like you’re on a downhill stretch picking up speed. It will feel right. With no effort. It will feel like you’ve finally found that one good person you were always looking for — even if, like me, you took a lot of sideroads. He will feel…like family. That’s the best way I know to put it. He will feel kin. He will be your destiny.

If it’s an effort, if it makes you feel strung out tight as a piano string, if it makes you cry a lot…it isn’t right. Forget it and move on — like Abba says, “like a roller on the ocean,” and wait for the right person.

Hold out for it. Wait for it. Don’t settle. Never settle just for the sake of being part of a couple.

Former print journalist, former mayor, retired law enforcement officer. Writing about politics and government along with random personal essays.

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