What I Knew at Fifteen

Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

Back in my mid-20s when I was trying online dating, I met a man for dinner. Attractive, personable, smart, and interesting, he was one of only a three-fingered man’s handful who ever made me nervous in a good way. I enjoyed his company, but very quickly decided he wasn’t the one for me.

Ten minutes into our first date, he asked if I’d ever been in love. I told the truth — once, at fifteen . He scoffed, declaring that was too young to know what love is.

Then he told me about how at twenty-two, he fell for a woman a few years his senior. He worked multiple jobs and saved to buy a house for them, while she stayed home “doing nothing.” Because she was a negligent mother, he often spent time caring for her daughter. Eventually she stole thousands of dollars from him — not once, not twice, but three times. And through it all, he stayed with her until she left him, “because he loved her.” As he related his story, his eyes welled with tears.

Many will call me hard-hearted, but my date’s story proved to me that I never wanted to be with him. Should we forgive those who hurt us? Yes. Should we give people second chances? Yes. Does love sometimes require sacrifice? Yes. But love should never be confused with abuse or exploitation or martyrdom.

There are those men who think that putting up with a woman who mistreats them proves they are nice guys. They think this shows they’re dedicated providers, good father material, men who will be faithful. But mostly they think some suffering entitles them to “the love of a good woman” — a good woman who is not the one who hurt them. That kind of thinking is pretty damn unattractive.

At fifteen, I was still mastering a clutch. I didn’t know how to make a budget, nor had I ever had a job. I wouldn’t learn how to ride a train until I was almost twenty-five. I’m still, at 33, learning to make small talk. But this is what I did know at fifteen:

  • that kindness is the sexiest trait of all.
  • that your best match is someone with whom you can be yourself, without pretense, posturing, or a sense of inferiority or fear.
  • that when someone is good for you, you’ll leave their presence with a lightness in your heart and your step. They will build you up just by being themselves.
  • that healthy admiration of your partner — acknowledging the value of his strengths that are not your own — provides opportunity for personal growth.
  • that you should never settle for less than someone who, when you are with him, makes you feel like you’re the person you want to be.

If that’s idealism, then I am still an idealist these many years later. And I would have it no other way, because sometimes the truths we discover at fifteen are the truths we ought to believe in.

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