“You do not need to be loved, not at the cost of yourself. The single relationship that is truly central and crucial in a life is the relationship to the self. Of all the people you will know in a lifetime, you are the only one you will never lose.” -Jo Courdert
I hate red toenail polish with a passion. I hate it because my dad’s ex-girlfriend wore it all the time when they were dating. She was the woman whom he left my mother for and the woman who ultimately killed him (and herself) in a devastating murder-suicide just ten days after my college graduation. Whenever I see red toenail polish, I think of her.
So how did I end up in the chair of a local nail salon watching the Korean man paint my toenails the fire-engine red color I’d just picked out? The answer was simple: it was for him. “Him” being the rollercoaster of a man I was dating. The man who would neither commit to me, nor let me go. Everything I had been doing lately had been for him. He said he liked red toenail polish, so I put my intense (but rational!) dislike aside and got my toenails painted red. For him.
Of course, considering the emotional distress I had to overcome and my inability to look down at my feet as I walked out of the salon, I thought that he would love my toes. Instead he said, “it would be cooler if they had designs.” And that was it.
In that moment, I had the stunning realization that I would never be what this man wanted. Ever. Here I was unable to look at my own feet and the man I’d gotten them painted for had the nerve to only comment on what would’ve been “cooler”.
About a week after I’d gotten my toenails painted red, as I was stepping out of the shower, I took a cold hard look at my feet. It is safe to say, at that point, I was looking up at rock bottom.
It was then that I knew it was over.
I realized that I was firmly entrenched in the habit of choosing men who refused to choose me.
Of course, I still hung around him, still held onto an embarrassing amount of hope. But I’d done the whole “Mr. Big” thing and honestly I was weary of it. This guy, the guy who acted so nonchalantly toward my grand gesture, this guy was my final straw.
He was the last frontier before I decided to make the conscious decision to be with someone who wanted to be with me. Someone whom would allow me to grow, but wouldn’t make me feel that I had to change myself. I wasn’t even convinced this man was out there at the time, but I knew when I was in the room with this guy, the guy I needed to be with, was not in the room with me.
The “red toes” guy certainly wasn’t the first emotionally unavailable man I’d pined after for months. But he was definitely the last.
As I sat in the nail salon once again – this time getting my custom french pedicure – I thought about how many changes I’d undergone for want of true love. There were the small things “red toenail polish”, “wearing my hair down because he liked it.” And there were the huge things “drinking my first alcoholic beverage at 22” and the worst things “having sex with a guy I didn’t even like that much, but whom I really, really wanted to like me.”
What am I doing?, I thought to myself as I had so many times before, why am I always changing myself for men who never change their minds about me?
Though I refused to admit this to myself at the time, looking back I realized I was completely convinced that these men come around. Drunk off episodes of Sex and the City and movies like “He’s Just Not That Into You” (the latter, ironically, served to perpetuate the exact false hopes in women that made the movie necessary in the first place), I was convinced that the guy does change his mind. He comes around. He’ll either track me down in Paris to tell me I’m the “one” or simply bring my forgotten inkpen to my front door and tell me I’m the “exception”. He’ll chase me to the airport or find me sitting alone at the spot of our first date. Either way, from there we will live happily ever after. I figured I could expedite this process by becoming whomever it was he wanted – even if he didn’t really have an idea himself of the kind of girl he wanted.
Ironically, it was this thinking that led me to the man who ultimately loved me for me.
One day, while lamenting my perpetual single state and my inability to find a man who would be serious about me, I became convinced that my bedroom was the problem. I decided that if I wanted a mature relationship then I needed a mature bedroom and pink, sorority paraphernalia everywhere didn’t exactly scream “mature”. Never mind that I had a full-time job, a nice car, my own fully-furnished apartment, and A-1 credit – I was convinced that my “childish bedroom” was standing in the way of me and true love. So I did what any type-A girl with a plan would do – I drove two hours (one-way) to the nearest IKEA and dropped $700 on a new bedroom set.
If you’ve ever shopped at IKEA, then you know you have to put all of that furniture together! Coincidentally, the week after I went to IKEA, I also went on a date with an acquaintance who attended my church. A few dates later, I mentioned that I had a ton of furniture to put together and he offered to help. Over the next several days and weeks we sat in my living room until the wee hours of the night, talking, drinking McDonald’s smoothies, and putting together furniture.
When all was said and done, I had a new bedroom…and a new boyfriend. A new boyfriend who liked ME. No facade, no charade, no frantically trying to decipher what he was looking for so I could magically become that the next day.
The day after we finished putting together all of the furniture and putting it in my room, I commented I should get rid of the pink curtains enveloping my canopy bed, to which he asked: “Why? I think the pink is nice. You seem to like pink and it’s feminine.” “I do like pink!” I exclaimed, “and it IS feminine!” I remember feeling relieved that day — not because he approved of my mild obsession with pink, but because I knew I was finally in the presence of someone who knew who we wanted: me…just the way I am.