You know this character: It’s as much a fixture of rom-coms as the lovelorn, desperate-for-roses-and-champagne woman. It’s the man who can’t settle down.
It doesn’t shock me now that those flings didn’t work out. As my sister liked to tell me, “No dude wants to date himself.” The men I tried to date were just like me; we were two dudes just dudeing around. We were two alphas competing over who was tougher and gave the fewest fucks. It never ended well.
I needed a man who wasn’t as afraid of love and relationships as I was. Someone who could teach me to be more thoughtful.
On our third date—after the prescient socks gift—my boyfriend and I watched Brené Brown’s special on Netflix. In it, she talks about the importance of vulnerability. He paused it every 10 minutes to discuss and share. At the end, he cried. He also cries when he sees old people holding hands and hears ballads on the radio: “I can’t help it. I love love!” When we watch movies together and there’s a sentimental moment, he’ll grab my knee and hug it close to him because he “wants to hold the person I love when I see love.” He’s so emotionally fearless; love comes easily for him. And that, in turn, has made me want to try harder to access those deeper parts of myself. As Brown says, being vulnerable in relationships is hard for some. It’s my “arena” to work in. To be honest, I still love hookups and think about one-night stands. I am admittedly reluctant to give up my bachelor habits. And yet, a cheap thrill on Tinder when I’m feeling insecure isn’t worth losing what I’m building toward.
I’ve spent that last several years on a bit of a Tinder bender to make up for all the years I spent too scared or pessimistic to even hazard dating. Other than one long-distant boyfriend and one open relationship, it was mostly wild affairs, numerous sex friends, and regular one-night stands. These were formative years for me, though, helping me to finally step into my power as a woman in her sexual prime, let go of my shame and fear around my sexuality, and fully embrace my inner “slut” and cougar. These years taught me to stop doing shit I didn’t want to in bed, to ask for what I want, and feel entitled to pleasure. I’m more confident than ever.
But after a while, it all started to get boring. Just like after traveling for too long, new experiences can stop feeling so exhilarating. I was tired. It was just then that I met Antoine and things changed.
After our first date, I thought, “I should probably bang as many dudes as possible before this gets serious!” But I never did. For once in my life, I prefer the depth of a close relationship to the thrill and of a one-night stand.
In a real show of growth for me, I even said “I love you” first. I knew he’d been holding back, afraid that he’d scare me if he said it too soon. So I picked a special moment and not while we were screwing—ugh, I mean “making love”—and said it. He cried.
I’m also working hard on being more thoughtful, remembering the names of his friends, coworkers, and relatives and asking about them often. I tell him how much I love him even though that runs counter to just about everything in my nature, and I try to talk about the future, too.
For the longest time, I thought there was something wrong with me because I’m not like most women. I didn’t want to settle down. I don’t care about Valentine’s Day or all the pink-heart bullshit that comes with it. I don’t believe we need to show love or be shown love with gifts. I have never wanted a box of chocolates. Instead I’m getting the one thing I’ve wanted out of a relationship and the one thing that the media and legions of plastic surgeons tell women we can’t get—the freedom to be a whole, unvarnished self.
Melanie Hamlett is a comedian, storyteller, and journalist from New York City who’s now based in Europe.