I Will Not Be Gaslighted For Speaking My Mind While Dating
This piece is Wagatwe Wanjuki’s fourth dispatch from the front lines of her romantic life for the #ItsTotallyMe dating series, which follows Establishment writers Wanjuki and Katie Klabusich as they utilize professional matchmakers and the insights of various experts to get to the bottom of their perpetual singledom. You can read the series’ introductory post here, Wanjuki’s previous solo dispatches here, here, and here, and Klabusich’s solo dispatches here, here, here, here, and here .
At the end of my last update, I lamented my painful initiation into the life of dating as a “normal” person. After some successful dates with Dan, a man I had initially met on OKCupid and with whom I had been texting daily for over a month, I thought we were well on our way toward achieving my ultimate goal of finding a committed, monogamous partner. Unfortunately, we were far from being on the same page.
Dan had basically dumped me to see another woman he claimed to like better, so when he texted me at the end of the last update to complain about her — after knowing her for less than a week (and me for over a month!) — I felt a weird performance anxiety over my potential response to him. There were so many things that my mind was trying to process: Should I reply? Why is he telling me this? Is he really so immature that he’d make a blanket statement about the class view of all doctors? (#NotAllDoctors)
One of the most challenging aspects of dating for me is deciding how to apply the common phrase “Nobody’s perfect.” Unfortunately for me (and perhaps fortunately for you, readers?), this weakness of mine was put to the test before I even had gotten my first match! I struggled with finding the elusive perfect balance between knowing that everyone has flaws that inevitably lead to them messing up from time to time, and acknowledging that forgiving those mess-ups can open the door to accepting unacceptable and/or incompatible behavior from a potential partner. This seems like a balance that can only be discovered through . . . welp . . . experience.
I officially have a love-hate relationship with the phrase “Practice makes perfect.”
Because so few publications support high-quality work from marginalized voices — and pay.theestablishment.co
Before this series, I found comfort in that perfectly reasonable saying; I’d say it to myself as a reminder to be patient when trying out something new. But when I had to apply it to my dating life, it became a platitude I bitterly muttered to myself as fuel to (reluctantly) keep going.
Despite my strong urge to go to my default reaction of ignoring Dan’s text and never speaking to him again, I decided to take a different route. After all, this #ItsTotallyMe experiment is about doing things differently in the dating realm, to see if a change in my behavior could solve my dating woes. So I took a deep breath and responded. I didn’t want to veer too far off my usual style of texts, so I typed a short, noncommittal, “ha!” and quickly pressed send, before I changed my mind about not mentally declaring him dead to me from that moment on.
It’s official. “Do it for #ItsTotallyMe!” is totally my version of “Do it for the Vine!”
Unfortunately, that three-character text didn’t carry the subtext I hoped. Dan couldn’t read between the lines, though maybe that’s because the text was only one line. To my disbelief, he continued to text me like nothing happened between us. “Dammit. Of course texting would fail me,” I thought to myself.
I tried to resume my day with business as usual, but Dan seemed to be in full conversation mode. My annoyance grew after each new text from him arrived, and over the course of a few hours, I found myself in a vicious cycle. I’d hear my phone’s familiar text notification, get excited because I thought I’d received a message from a friend I actually like, and then feel my heart drop from disappointment as I saw his name on my phone screen.
Eventually, I felt a wave of indignation rise inside me as I looked. Who does this guy think he is? Why does he think I’ll be perfectly okay with being his second choice? But insecurities crept up as I saw this rejection, which I started to read as not being “good enough” for him, as part of a larger pattern. I thought we had a few successful dates, and we kept in constant contact in between. In spite of this, he kept actively looking for new people to date. Is this another sign that men will always see me as less of a catch and therefore never first choice? I felt my inferiority complex kicking in as tears welled up in my eyes.
This is where I usually disappear from the person’s life. There’s no question that he’s just not that into me. So I did something uncharacteristic. I thought about a friend of mine (aside from Katie) with whom I often exchanged dating horror stories. She never hesitated to tell men (read: boys) what she really thought of their behavior toward her. So I decided to take a page from her book. I took a deep breath, let my fingers fly across my phone’s keyboard, and pressed send before I could change my mind. (Take that prone-to-overthinking brain!).
I felt my inferiority complex kicking in.
“I have to admit that I am surprised to be hearing from you. When I last heard from you, I was hurt that you thought it was okay to cancel a date with me last minute for someone you didn’t know as well as me. You obviously have a right to see whomever you want, but it was frankly disrespectful to wait until the day of to cancel (after I reached out) and then reappear without addressing that. And it’s not okay.”
I got a reply almost immediately and jumped when I heard my phone vibrate. “I clearly don’t have the nerves for this,” I thought as I gingerly picked up my phone and peeked at the text notification with only one eye open.
“Yeah, you’re right,” was Dan’s lackluster reply. But I didn’t care! I was too busy celebrating this milestone.
OMG! I stood up for myself!
OMG! I shared how I feel!
OMG! I practiced healthy vulnerability!
Before this, I had never been able to tell a guy I’ve been dating that he did something messed up without being gaslighted. I would always end up regretting saying something because the guy would respond to me standing up for myself by creating a confusing, derailing argument. Until now. The streak has been broken! Saying what I truly think and feel doesn’t have to end horribly! Who woulda thunk?
Even if things don’t work out with Dan, I could end right here and declare that #ItsTotallyMe is a success in helping me gain more confidence and learn more about what I want in a partner. I realized that I want to be with a person I can speak my mind to without feeling afraid that the person will lash out.
But don’t worry, I’m not ending right here. I must admit I wanted to keep seeing how things develop with Dan, despite his dick move. And besides, my first meeting with my matchmaker Emma was coming up — maybe I could *gasp* end up dating more than one person at a time?!