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Ask Polly: Why Did My Dream Man Dump Me?

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Hi, Polly,

I have just finished reading through lots of your advice and wanted to thank you. I love your blunt style and honesty. Hoping you can give me a dose of that.

I recently fell hard for someone and was unceremoniously dumped after what should have been a romantic vacation together.

I finally thought I had met my match. He was charming, older, devastatingly handsome, intense, well-dressed, wealthy, shared my passion for wine — my dark knight. Finally. Fucking finally. He lives across the country, but what the hell? He comes here for work all the time, and that’s why they invented planes, right?

I’m 33 and have been mostly single for most of my time in NYC. I’ve always prided myself on being strong, independent, not your typical rom-com-loving, jealous, cookie-cutter girl. I drink whiskey. I don’t want kids. I work in a male-dominated business. I like horror movies. I can hang with the boys. I also like stilettos and lingerie and make pretty good arm candy. Decent package, right? So when I met him, I knew, just knew he was the one. We were so obviously perfect for each other.

I have been looking for someone who can “handle me” for so long, then I found him. He immediately started talking about our future and saying, “Where have you been all my life?” and, “I want your body, mind, and soul.” We have amazing toy- and lingerie-laced sex. For hours. He invited me on vacation for the holidays with his friends. He went back to California. He came back a week later. Another week of passion and intensity.

A month went by, and contact started to wane. He wasn’t being as responsive. Work was busy and stressful for him. I booked a ticket to go see him, although he warned me work was crazy and we wouldn’t get to spend the whole weekend together. I didn’t care; I have friends there. Sex wasn’t the same. I figured it was stress. He started being a bit distant, but he booked my ticket for our holiday vacation anyway.

Vacation arrives, and we meet in another country. He’s sick with the flu but is sweet, and it is so nice to just be next to him. All through dinner he tells me how beautiful I am and what a good heart I have. No sex the first night, but he’s sick. The next three days it’s more of the same. Then he starts accusing me of not eating enough and making fun of little things about me. Still no sex. Finally, on the last day I have to ask, “What the fuck is going on with us?” His response: “It’s just not happening. I’m not attracted to you anymore.” He won’t give specifics and says it’s him, not me. Really? Loves hanging out with me but just doesn’t feel it anymore.

There was no yelling. No tears. Nothing. I just felt hollow and sad and totally unfuckable. Was it those little pimples I got on my jawline? Did I snore? Get too comfortable too fast? Was I too weird? WHAT WAS IT?

We politely made it through that day and night and hopped on planes and have not spoken since.

I know I’m not perfect, but I love myself and like who I am for the most part. I think I’m pretty, smart, and try to be a good person.

So how does a 180 like this happen? What the fuck happened? In hindsight, I realized that he was pretty self-absorbed and narcissistic and only kept friends around who were very impressed by his stories of his very fabulous life. But I still want him. What is wrong with me?

Disillusioned

Dear Disillusioned,

I’ll bet you know how to dress and how to act, and I’ll bet that when you meet a man, you turn on the charm and make bold statements and get him to laugh, and then you pretty quickly trot out all of the evidence that you’re a sexy badass. You order a whiskey on the rocks and say something cavalier. You make a nasty joke. You hint at your love of sex toys. You hint that you can hang with whatever. You are smooth. You are beautiful and smart and funny, and you don’t give a shit. Almost any man with a brain in his head and a functioning libido would ask himself, “Where has she been all my life?”

There is nothing whatsoever wrong with being a sexy badass, as long as you can keep that shit up forever. As long as what you really want in your life is other sexy badasses who are going to swiftly (and rather intensely) decide that they simply MUST HAVE ALL OF YOU RIGHT NOW and who are later going to swiftly (and rather unexpectedly) decide that they never want to see you again, then being a sexy badass is great. Sexy badasses say things like “Where have you been all my life?” and “I want your body, mind, and soul.” And then, later, they say things like “I’m not attracted to you anymore.”

To sexy badasses, dating is like wine tasting. Taste a great wine, get excited, shout about it, savor it! Order it again, savor it again! Order it a third time, meh. Time to taste something new.

Sexy badasses are glamorous and deserve to be surrounded by glamorous things. Stuff should be exciting, not boring! People should be fun, not a drag! People should listen when you talk about how fucking fabulous the stuff you do is. People should get it. People should put on the lingerie and make things sexy for you.

Nah, not feeling it today. Go away, people.

Disillusioned, you’re not making giant mistakes. I was so much like you when I was about your age. My confidence was hitting an all-time high. I thought of myself as a superior product that would draw many customers. I just had to choose the one that matched my superior vintage: maybe someone charming, devastatingly handsome, intense, well-dressed, wealthy. Wasn’t I attractive and smart and successful, so didn’t I deserve someone attractive and smart and successful? Yes, I did.

But I also deserved someone who appreciated regular, flawed human beings who sometimes have jawline zits and feel unwieldy negative emotions. I could handle those things. I could handle imperfections and self-doubt and bad haircuts and financial uncertainty in someone else, so I deserved someone who wouldn’t take me at my worst moment and say, “Your inability to remain the perfect, sexy badass makes me less attracted to you.” I didn’t know this about myself then, though. I didn’t recognize that I was actually pretty forgiving and flexible with men; I was okay with the fact that all men have flaws, so I deserved the same attitude in return. BUT — important! — I wasn’t okay with my own flaws, so I figured no one else should be, either.

At this point, you have to ask yourself: Can you handle imperfect men? Can you handle men who have bad days and doubt themselves and break out occasionally? And more important: Can you handle these things in yourself? Or are you furious at yourself when those jawline pimples appear? Do you scold yourself mercilessly for giving in and eating the free doughnuts at work or wearing the wrong outfit to an event? Do you expect your devil-may-care attitude and your love of fun and glamour to sustain you for the rest of your life? If you meet a rich man and become his arm candy, will that feel comfortable? If he chooses you because your sexy-badass thing matches the rest of his accessories, and then he sets you aside when you’re 43 years old and you’re having occasional unexplained crying jags and you no longer match his Über-slick, studly image of himself, will that feel okay, too?

Although I personally value soft cheeses and soft pants over painfully tall shoes, I’m not asking you to change what you value. Even though it’s not me, I love the idea of being a woman who never has kids and travels a lot and sips whiskey with devastatingly handsome older men. I admire and applaud that.

No. I’m asking you to change how you value yourself. I’m asking you to examine the woman you present to people, and compare her to the woman you are in your quiet moments. Even if your primary interests are drinking whiskey, putting on lingerie, having great sex, and hanging out with guys, I want you to think about the other things you love that might not fit neatly into that picture. If you can’t fuck or drink, what do you feel like doing?

And if you gained 20 pounds and broke your foot so you couldn’t wear stilettos, would you still see yourself as lovable? Would you still be okay?

When I was 29 years old, I listened to a lot of Alanis Morissette, even though I thought she was fucking cheesy. I was going through a tough breakup, and I was in therapy, and I was starting to question my cool-girl exterior for the first time. I was trying to break through all of my shiny defenses and accept myself for who I was. So when Alanis, whose nail-on-the-head psychobabble lyrics I’d hated for years, sang these words:

That I would be good even if I did nothing

That I would be good even if I got the thumbs-down

That I would be good if I got and stayed sick

That I would be good even if I gained ten pounds

I burst into tears. I played that song every day for about a month, and I played “Thank U” (God help me!) over and over, too, in which Alanis thanks an entire subcontinent for her enlightenment. I even wrote an essay about it, one that begins with a quote from Adrienne Rich, because that’s how we fucking did it back in the day, ladies.

It would’ve been a better essay if I’d explained how disillusioned and lost I felt at that moment in my life. But that’s not how we did it back then. We changed every first-person confession into a royal “we” (or a less royal “you”). We quoted feminist poets, and we skipped the part where we broke down into tears every time Alanis sang, “THANK YOU, DISILLUSIONMENT!” But I look back on that time now, and I feel so grateful for all of it.

Do you hear me, Disillusioned? This is a moment to be thankful for. Because you are living under certain illusions that need to be cast off once and for all. You need to know that even if you get older and develop a love of rom-coms and a stomach problem that eliminates whiskey from your diet, even if you gain a few pounds and no longer feel motivated to entertain self-centered men, even if horror movies start to depress you and you struggle to get it up for a night on the town, even if your jawline pimples turn into a full-blown, treatment-resistant acne and your hair turns gray and you can’t deliver dirty jokes to a drunk crowd the way you used to, you will still be good enough. You will still matter. You can turn into a cookie-cutter girl or even less than that — that average, lumpy, rapidly aging kind of woman who’s currently beneath your contempt — and you will still be worthy of love.

Women who work hard to be better than other women suffer a lot. They don’t actually need to be upbraided for it. They’re already struggling enough. So I’m not saying NEVER EVER PUT YOURSELF ABOVE OTHER WOMEN, SISTER. What I’m saying is that when you try to set yourself apart from other people IN GENERAL, in your own mind, in order to soothe yourself and tell yourself that things will work out just fine for you, in order to reassure yourself that you’re sexier and better than the desperate cookie-cutter girls you see out at bars, it doesn’t actually make things any easier for you. It makes things harder. When you choose to love yourself for superficial reasons, you teach other people to love you for superficial reasons. And when you reject yourself and scold yourself for things that are beyond your control, you degrade your own ability to show up and enjoy your life. You hate your own humanity. You reject yourself for being a fucking mortal.

If you have to be shiny and superior to matter, then eventually you won’t matter at all, even to yourself.

But you do matter. You are lovable and you matter. You deserve love.

So love yourself, even when you’re pimply and depressed, even when you’re no longer queen, and then you won’t fall for guys who adore your sexy-badass marketing campaign but who don’t want a real human being in their beds. Accept yourself and you will suddenly see the cookie-cutter girls more clearly, and you’ll realize that they’re unique, too. Give yourself a break for once, and you’ll feel less exhausted, less frantic, less anxious.

You’ve come a long way to get here. I get that. I know that you really are strong and independent. I believe you. You should feel proud of that. But you can be strong and independent and ALSO HAVE STRONG FEELINGS. Just because the world fucking hates women with strong feelings doesn’t mean that strong feelings are bad. This is your moment to lean into what you consider weakness, but it’s actually real, sustainable strength. This is your moment to feel your way through in the dark, to what you really want from your life, with all of your heart. You may want things that embarrass you. You may want things that don’t fit neatly into your existing image of yourself. Things that embarrass you, things that make you cry, things that feel ridiculous and overwhelming: Pay special attention to these things. Your salvation lies there.

Our truest desires can be obscured from plain sight for years. But this is your moment, Disillusioned. The scales are falling from your eyes. You are no longer queen. But this doesn’t make you unfuckable. This makes you more powerful and alive than you’ve ever been before.

It will feel scary, to no longer be queen. It will feel amazing. Wash your face, put on some flat shoes, walk out into the world, and join the rest of us. Feel the love around you. It’s simple and it’s embarrassing and it is everything.

Polly

Order the new Ask Polly book, How To Be A Person in the World, here. Got a question for Polly? Email askpolly@nymag.com. Her advice column will appear here every Wednesday.

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Ask Polly: Why Did My Dream Man Dump Me?