There were Davids or How the Universe Prevented Me from Making the Same Mistake Three Times
Today while chatting with a friend about relationships, I remembered two of my worst. I have used them as amusing anecdotes and the butt of jokes, but funny is really the last word that comes to mind to describe what transpired between us.
The first one felt surreal and like a slow vortex of my self, dribbling into unfamiliar intimate relationship territory that was familiar everyday life territory. It wasn’t good and I did not know how to defend myself until I just ended it with anger.
The second was an intensified version of it, the kind of relationship I dreaded I would have after escaping the first. They were not back to back, thankfully. They did not last that long, maybe 6 months, tops. But they were the longest relationships I had at that time. None of my relationships lasted very long at that time, the late 80’s — early 90’s, because I was learning what I needed and wanted and how to communicate it. Since I did not grow up in a working model of this, it took a while — years of therapy, writing, and talk, talk, talking to friends in hopes of cracking the code on the mysteries of how relationships work and work out.
Undermining My Self Confidence
Both relationships presented a similar self-destructive issue — constant confidence-undermining situations in which I fought to prove my intelligence and emotional strength. I did not recognize all of these situations as such and it felt like I was constantly swimming upstream. I am not a salmon and so there is no reason to do this. But as a woman, it is a familiar feeling throughout my life. A heterosexual woman having a relationship with a heterosexual man is just more of the same greater culture sexism present any minute of the day, with the possible bonus of a caring, sex positive partner and someone who might beat the odds and develop emotional awareness and mindful communication skills.
There’s quite a lot working against a best case scenario, including my own internalized sexism, doubting the possibility of such a partner and the masculinity of such a man. I know I am not the only woman who ever quested in hopes of a malleable sexuality, one that could feel open to the possibilities of feeling aroused by any gender in order to have options to heterosexuality. I came to the conclusion that I am hetero since I never dreamed about being with another woman the way that I desire a man. Apparently changing one’s sexuality can’t be forced. I remain open to the possibility of sexuality changing over time but so far it has not struck me as my reality.
The constant presence of situations to undermine my confidence was a soul sucking way to hand over my power to men who did not deserve an ounce of it. They both preferred for me to feel off balance with them and this, unfortunately kicked in a self-defeating mechanism determined to prove them wrong, that I could withstand anything. Girl, why? Well, I can’t say for sure but my gut guess is that my feeling secure about how I feel or do things was not in line with how they thought I should feel or do things, matched with my historically metaphorically swimming upstream feeling a need to prove that I was not weak because women are stereotypically seen that way.
For the record, pride and shame tend to get me in hell of a bind, of my own making if the right elements are on hand. And these situations were definitely built of those elements. Pride and shame never helped me gain superpowers to deflect the bullshit. No. They heaped that bullshit right onto the very special mountain of self-doubt they helped me create. I could not ever feel like I was enough, and the worst part was that I lay myself bare for magnified scrutiny, not only being microjudged by them but by me too, every move I made physically and mentally, trying to make them happy without “giving up myself.” What I meant was that I was not giving up. I dug in my heels, one labeled “pride,” the other labeled “shame,” and gave all my power away. It was not possible to make either of them happy. I felt the perfect failure inside, trying to mask it to the outside. Damn exhausting and a true waste of time.
They both new that I was strong and smart. If I weren’t it would not be much of a challenge to steal that from me. It seemed they did not want me to feel power except at their will. And when I didn’t feel my power, they saw an opportunity to trample what was left. And portend that I needed them. It felt like shit.
When I realized what was happening, it felt like a ton of bricks released onto me from above. CRASH. I had betrayed myself. I had allowed this to happen to me. It did not feel consensual. I did not feel in control of what was in my best interest. Over two decades of sexism had taken its toll on me. I felt a resistance present in me but I muffled it, disregarded it, told it “You’re wrong. What could you possibly know?” I am grateful I was able to break with this doublethink, but it was hard. I used anger to pull me through the fog, to sever the captive ties I had allowed.
It Gets Better…but First It Sucks
With Jose, the first of the two, I focused all of my anger on him and tried to force him to see what was happening. I focused on it being his fault. Men are shit, blah, blah, blah. It was a bit of an obsession, going over and over it all in my head, to hold on to the anger and hurt. Finally I let go and decided to listen to my friends and that voice inside me that said I deserve better. But I had a nagging feeling that I would repeat this with another guy and I did not know how to face it nor where to even look inside myself for answers. “I deserve better,” did not feel like enough back up and support.
With David, the second of the two, I was furious at him. I was also furious at myself. I was frustrated, sad, hurt, and so very angry. I would go each day to the my breakfast hangout, The Pancake House, and write and write and write all morning, digging my pen deeply into the pages of my $ .99 spiral notebook, carving my anger and shame into it, with a side of fried eggs and potatoes.
Then came forgiveness for myself and incremental courage. And the poems. I wrote poems. Art from the shit of life. I would memorize them and perform them at open mics. I don’t really feel like looking at those right now. It is all I can do to keep writing this.
There Were Davids
There was another thing that happened too. There were Davids. There were Davids for nearly a year. It seemed the only men I felt a mutual connection with were named David. It was a cruel joke but in truth it made me laugh. A clobber-me-over-the-head reminder: DO NOT DO THIS EVER AGAIN! DO NOT DISCARD
Oh yeah, it is a fucked up, funked up universe for sure! And it helped me to steer clear of relationships for a while. There were the odd “David” dates, here and there, you know, just to be sure that the message in a bottle the universe served up to me in the form of men with the name David was still the big red STOP sign I read it as the first 5 times, ok 10 times. It got so that if I were talking to someone and we were diggin’ on each other, I could almost bet his name would be David no matter from where in the world he or his people hailed. I would ask with hesitation, knowing the answer but hoping the curse might be finally be broken.
“My name is Donna. What’s yours?”
Yes. Of course it is. Won’t this make a great story someday…when I’m finally able to write more than poetry?
A few of the Davids I recall from that year:
+David from Hong Kong, short, dashing, bold, worked as a restaurant manager in the West Village
+David from the Lower East Side, sweet, beautiful smile, fantastic curly hair, I-can’t-believe-he’s-not-gay, great dancer at the afterhours club, his family was from Cuba and Puerto Rico
+David, adorable, honest, full of hilarious stories, sandy blond hair, glasses, amazing painter who lived illegally in the art warehouse studio spaces like so many other artists in the neighborhood, from Omaha, NE
+David, jokey and smart, gangly with curly brown hair, from Northern New Jersey, Jewish, owner/chef of the bakery in my neighborhood
+David, soft dark hair shaved close to his round head, sweet and scrappy, skateboarder/artist from down the block, we’d chat on the train into Manhattan, lived with his parents who moved to the US from Russia when he was 5
+David, thick dirty blonde hair, blue eyes, tortoise shell frame glasses, witty and cute, seemed to be down to Earth despite his constant creativity, almost as though he were living in his fiction, comedian/actor from Ithaca, NY, alternated working nights at a psychiatric hospital and performing sketch comedy on the West Side, Hell’s Kitchen
+David, witty and unique, language spinning, idea twisting spoken word artist/writer, from Queens, who finally told me his secret wish was that I would become the great dominatrix I was meant to be. I can’t say that I was completely put off by his secret wish. It was just not a role I was wholeheartedly willing to consider for real life.
It did strike me that this David’s secret wish for me seemed to be in direct opposition to the amount of self-power I felt while going out with the first David, the second of the two worst boyfriends I ever had. I actually think of David as the absolute worst boyfriend I ever had, despite his being second chronologically. Dark curly hair, warm brown eyes and long lashes, biggest nose ever. He is Persian-Jewish, moved to the US from Iran with his family when he was 17, ran his own small antiques business and seemed to long for a simpler life but was addicted to making it more complicated. Part of that included being an utter asshole to me, inspiring the universe to engage with me in an overwhelming way to prevent me from missing the message that I should never again miss the signs of someone who does not to show their love and support for my strength.
We Meet Again
I saw him twice by chance after I broke up with him. Occasionally, I had wondered what I might do if I came face to face with him again. It made me feel anxious and nauseous.
The first time I saw him post breakup was in a crowded narrow club on their salsa night. I was with a friend and no one could move because there was a line of people moving toward the door. I was right alongside the line. David was in that line moving toward me. I saw him from a distance and told my friend. He asked what I was going to do. I had no clue. I was kind of panicking. I couldn’t even turn around it was so packed. I did not want to speak to him. I did not want to see him. The words I heard from within me were, “I REFUSE to see him.”
As he approached, I just shut my eyes. What?! Shut up! I was so shocked and happy that my body automatically did this without my mind planning it. “You don’t get to fuck with me because I refuse to see you! Ha Ha!” my Little Donna voice nah, nah, nah, nah, nah’d all over my insides. He would have had to make a real effort to get me to see and listen to him and I knew he wouldn’t do that in front of a date or friends. I won! I felt relief but was worried he’d come back into the club or that he hadn’t really left. I tried to just enjoy the night with my friend and was able to get through it.
The second time was not as easy. I was at work. What I had on my side was that more time had passed and I had done lots of scrawling in my notebooks, fully forgiven myself and hadn’t allowed another relationship like it. I felt more secure.
I was bar tending at a restaurant not too far from the club where I had shut my eyes. He and his friends and possible girlfriend walked in seeking a table. They saw me and decided to take a table near the bar. He and his brother and friend sat at the bar a bit. Initially, it was fine. Awkward but fine. I said hi to the three of them, they seemed happy if not surprised to see me. They ordered a bottle of wine. His friend jokingly asked what I was going to do with the wine. I laughed and pretended to spit in their glasses. They laughed. He said, “It is amazing. You are not angry? You are not upset?” I said, “No,” with an expression that it was ridiculous to consider it. He said, “But you broke up. Why not?” I had no idea what I would say but I heard myself saying, “Because it’s over.” As simple as that. The relationship was over, this moment was over, it all felt over. I was quite happy with knowing that this was what I would say if I were faced with David again.
Of course that could not possibly be sufficient for him. He was a miserable person. He needed to make sure I felt off balance. He needed to show he could control me. There was no reason for him to be at the bar, since his group had a table, but he and his brother and his friend kept coming to the bar, being loud, making drunken small talk and acting like jerks. This made his possible girlfriend feel insecure and she hovered around. I decided to employ some boundaries for myself. I left the bar and had another waiter, Ahmed, from Algeria, look after it for a while. He was young and always interested in tending bar. He was a natural at small talk. I could not manage the small talk with David and I didn’t want to ruin it by telling him to fuck off. He was going to win. That was for damn sure!
I came back to the bar when they were about to leave. He leaned over the bar and asked me in his charming yet passive aggressive way, “You always loved to go salsa dancing. Do you know of any clubs to go to around here?” pretending he had not said anything that might have been a dig at me. He had to give it one last try. “No,” I said, “you should ask Ahmed. He’s always out dancing,” pretending I had not said something to block his attempt. His face went blank. My sideswipe had worked but I had no energy left for even a moment more. I turned and went back to the kitchen and waited for him to get out the damn door.
I leaned into the slapstick humor of the guys in the kitchen to rid myself of that slippery itchy feeling, like a skin rash reaction to his cowardly attempt at hurting me. All the way home I combed through the entire event in my mind, scene by scene. It helped to keep the ending on repeat.
I went to sleep feeling my victory.
Notes: (I wrote for 10 minutes in order to post quickly but found I was continually editing this piece. A more serious self-reflective piece about my journey in relationships sprouted from working on this piece, diverting a couple of hours to it and could see it was a much longer and time-consuming piece.
Eager to keep my non commitment to posting daily, I opted for this one, trying to stay true to the essence of the first 10 minutes. It still needs work and I may occasionally edit it but I am really excited to have felt driven to finish this piece, excited about writing, liking many parts of the piece and feeling like a writer. Thanks for taking this journey with me. This is a story that may have many versions and has been with me for a long time. I’d like to make art from it and move on.)