The last guy I dated was going through a divorce. Everyone warned me he wasn’t ready for a relationship, including him. But, I didn’t listen. I hit restart on my life and everything was falling into place—why would falling in love be any different? I’ve spent a lifetime learning about happily ever after in 120 minutes or less. Surely my time had come for that, yes? Apparently Hollywood lies. Weird.
There are a lot of things that imprinted on me during my time seeing the last guy, but the one that sticks with me the most is when he apologized for how he treated me, how it ended, and called me “collateral damage”. Wow. Collateral damage.
collateral damage (n.) 1.the killing of civilians in a military attack. 2.any damage incidental to an activity.
Assuming he wasn’t referencing the first definition he basically was calling me damaged, which I took offense to at the time. Great offense. But the more I think about it, and really look at the definition, it was actually a pretty apt description. He never meant to hurt me, or cause damage to my confidence or psyche, those were just side effects – incidental to what he was working through on his own. I was, in fact, collateral damage.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot the past few weeks because I worry about causing the same damage to others. How does one appropriately assess the potential for collateral damage, better still – how does one decide the acceptable amount to exchange for the pursuit of one’s own desires? I assume the military has some sort of formula; I wish they’d release it to the rest of us for use in our personal lives.
If my life were told in a series of movies, I’d currently be in the 80’s teen angst rom-com by John Hughes. The ingenuous, wistful, lonely girl whom everyone is rooting for to find love as she tumbles through mismatched relationship after mismatched relationship. You’ve all watched the scenes where you cringe at my awkwardness and throw your hands up in frustration as I choose the same wrong guys again and again… and yet, you continue to stand by me and help me brush off the dust from my many falls, despite my many unheeded warnings.
I charge headfirst, unthinking, toward each new guy, no longer knowing the difference between the good ones and the bad ones. I hear your advice as you try to teach me the difference, but I don’t listen. And yet, you love me. Again and again.
A few weeks ago I decided to try something new. I decided to listen to your advice and I gave the “Nice Guy” a chance. You know the one – the puppy dog who looks at me with adoring eyes, but I overlook his gestures. The one who time and time again has watched me get my feelings hurt by others and is there to pick up the pieces. The one who comes early to the party to help get ready, and stays late to clean up. The one who keeps asking for a chance, just a chance. The one who says he’ll wait as long as it takes. The one whose friends tell him to give up, it’s never going to happen and he’s starting to hit the stage of pathetic. The one I could hurt again and again and again… and he’ll keep coming back for more. In short, the boy version of me.
So, I gave in. I decided to give it a try. I just don’t know that I feel it. But at this point the only thing I’m really sure of when it comes to relationships is that I can’t trust my own instincts. So, I’m trusting yours. It’s the last five minutes of the John Hughes film and the lovesick best friend is finally getting a chance. But… what happens after the movie ends? John Hughes never wrote that script.
I’m really torn on how I should proceed. I don’t want to cause collateral damage. I don’t want to be collateral damage. And I really hate seeing what it’s like on the receiving end of such devoted attention. It’s a bit suffocating to be honest. And, even though everyone keeps telling me age is just a number, the guy is ten years younger than me. Ten. I could have been his teacher (gross). I made a joke about Mrs. Robinson… and he didn’t get the reference. Neither musically nor theatrically. So… there’s that. He is a nice guy, but is that the only reason I’m giving him a chance? Shouldn’t there be more than that? A deeper connection, a gut feeling, a pride at introducing this man as a part of you? Do those things take time or should I expect them to be instantaneous like they were with the wrong guys? I don’t know. I second guess it all. I overthink every moment. I no longer trust myself. All part of the “collateral damage” I suppose. I really wish John Hughes would have gotten around to writing this script. I could use the help.