The Guy She Wishes I Was

The Guy She Wishes I Was

I've got to be the unluckiest guy when it comes to love. Maybe I sabotage my relationships in some obtuse way, or I'm just a creep and am totally oblivious to it until it's too late.

But whatever the real reason, my relationships always involve a previously unknown guy accompanied by the sentence: "He's a good listener."

Gentlemen, when a woman tells you that, it's all over. She's seeing and sleeping with someone else.

My dad and my uncles—all swaggering macho Mexicans—always said that women liked or needed or respected strength and confidence. I asked my mother about this and agreed, but always hastened to add, "Your father wrote some beautiful poems to me during our courtship," as her way of deflating the eye-rolling cocksmanship of my dad. In any case, I looked at my parents and my uncles and aunts and wondered if the times were really so simple back in their youth. Sure, people got married and stayed together because they had to, but when my parents wax poetic about their dating misadventures, they never seemed to have the same psychological mind-fucks that accompany my generation.

It's not like I've dated a lot of women: all told, I've had about three serious relationships. Each of them had me wondering at certain points if it would end with a trip down the aisle. I never made those plans, and my girlfriends never openly talked about it, but I never ruled it out because I think deep inside, I was anxious to settle down. I have a cousin who wanders from relationship to relationship, never finding the right person, but like a shark who'll die if it stops swimming, he couldn't be without a girlfriend. I figured he would be a bachelor the rest of his life, and in those hushed tones I would tell other cousins, "I don't want to be like him."

But invariably, in my relationships, at a certain point on the chart, my girlfriends would lose interest or talk about male friends that were really good listeners. But they were just friends, you understand. I fell for that one the first time out, trying to be an accepting guy and not macho Mexican like my relatives. My girlfriends were independent, they had their own plans, and who was I to stand in the way of them having friends of both sexes?

Well, whatever clues there were, I kept missing them. If I did bring the subject up of male friends or having lunch with male friends a little more often than girlfriends, I got the stock answer: "He's just a friend!" And when I pressed a little bit more, "You're just being jealous and overreacting." Now, as clueless as I generally am, even the most gullible person's instinct will start to kick in, and you begin finding meaning in all sorts of little things that previously might go unnoticed. Especially when it comes to how much a routine changes all of the sudden, or the tone of a conversation becomes sharper and vaguely uncomfortable.

I figured that maybe I just wasn't confident enough after the relationship had settled into a groove. You know how it is in the first stage, when everything is new, every emotion is unspoiled and a world to be explored. You want to spend all your time with that person because the world exists but for them. I think it's part of that natural high that people are in when they fall in love. Whatever blemishes a person has the beginning are just totally endearing to your partner; soon after that, they become the biggest annoyances in the world.

And then I think, was I really in love with these women? No matter what, I can't imagine denying that I was in love. I'm not an overly romantic or sensitive person, but I'm not a clod either. Despite some general cluelessness, there are plenty of hints I can pick up on, even if it causes some strain my existing friendships outside of my girlfriend's sphere of influence. (Come on, guys, how many times have you heard, "Why can't I call you when you're hanging out with the fellas? It's not like you're actually doing anything.") The funnier variation on that is, "But you can hang out with me, and I have sex with you!") And still, the hints I can't pick up are the most devastating ones: when the relationship has suddenly turned like the weather, and there's an uncomfortable, growing distance that culminates in a breakup.

In my last relationship, I often thought that my girlfriend had wanted to be with me, then proceeded deliberately find qualities in other men that she seemed to admire and make sure I was made aware of them. A friend of her friend plays guitar in a band. Another one is very physical and likes doing outdoor sports. So do I, but I'm not a fanatic about it. Still though, it's like a replay of the beginning of the relationship, when you want to work out to look good for your lover. Now, at some undefinable point, you work out to keep your lover and stop her from looking at other men.

By this point, you can tell that there's no small measure of insecurity with me. It's there, I admit it. I am not the most handsome person in the world, but I can get away with certain things that don't require low lighting. Still, I seem to be cursed to hang around a social network where the men are very handsome and attractive in that puppy-like way that women find so endearing. I don't have puppy-like qualities; or rather, the ones that I do possess are of the hard-swatting-so-as-to-never-do-it-again variety. Not exactly the stuff of great romance.

In any event, my three serious relationships ended with the women admitting that they no longer loved me and found themselves attracted to other men. That part sucks, but it's made worse by seems like an agonizing amount of time arriving at that point. "He's just a friend" became a refrain that I did not like to hear, because it was invariably followed by the "he's a good listener" crap. Yeah, well, I may miss a lot of signposts, but men are good listeners to women if there's a chance that pants will be unzipped and panties not covering private parts. Some women may not want to hear that, but it's true. And I won't pretend that I've been Prince Valiant all this time: I too, have been a good listener, but as far as I knew, there wasn't an unsuspecting schmuck waiting to be told that I've got terrific empathy skills.

So, in the end, it's just more fodder for my belief that my parents had it way different from the way we do now. Sure, jealousy and betrayal in relationships is about as old as time itself, but damn it if things didn't seem be less intense when mom and pop were courting each other. These days, it's a crap shoot weighed down by existential dread: You're just not like him.

Talk about a downer.