You’d Have Wanted to Dump Me

 I got slapped during an argument and I totally deserved it.

I’ll say it right now — I’m the villain in this story.

I’m not proud of it. But I hate it when writers play possum to their mistakes. It’s like “Come on. Every ex was bad? You did nothing wrong at all?”

It was me

I was an intensely immature 21-year-old.

My only goal was to party with my friends and go out drinking. It was like I had a head injury when it came to boyfriend skills. Nothing spontaneous. Dates were rare.

My girlfriend was working a job in addition to taking classes. She’d asked me to be quiet when I came home at night because of her busy schedule. There were other issues too but this one caused the explosion.

I came home bumbling and clunking around in the kitchen, eating food at 3 AM on a weekday.

When I got to the bedroom, she was sitting on the edge of the bed. The lights were on. Flames were dancing in her eyes.

All I can remember her saying was, “What did I say about this. One. Hundred. Fucking. Times.”

We start getting into it. Rather than listen, I was a stubborn jerk who threw everything back at her as though it were somehow her fault.

I’m also an older brother so I know how to antagonize someone if I want to get under their skin. Which led to my most egregious sin.

Mid-argument, I puckered my lips, did my baby face, and said, “Oh baby, I just love you so much right now. Will you marry me?”


Handprint across my face.

I paused wide-eyed with a half-smile. Then she ran out of the room crying.

A big red glove shape swelled up on my left cheek.

She nailed me. She should have been a boxer. It hurt like hell. I didn’t realize she had that kind of power.

Our relationship sputtered along for a few months.

And I don’t want it to sound like it was 24–7 warfare between us. We had beautiful moments and loved each other. But the end was prolonged and bitter.

We broke up unceremoniously and never spoke again — for 12 years at least.

12 years later

She popped up on my Facebook recommendations (we have lots of mutual friends).

On a whim, I sent her a request. I didn’t anticipate we’d have any conversation.

I woke up the next day to this long paragraph from her. It was all these grievances.

I felt guilty. I’d been enough of a shithead that this person still resented me 12 years later. I don’t want to be the reason someone needs therapy.

The next day, I sent her this five-minute-long video explaining things and apologizing unequivocally. It felt good. Then we talked and moved past it.

I see so many articles that women have written about terrible ex-boyfriends — and I don’t doubt their stories. But don’t assume every ex from your past has zero guilt. Men have egos and suck at apologizing. But they aren’t all narcissists.

Regret is a powerful change agent.

I shrivel up inside when I think about my past. It’s a good reminder not to be a douche.

The most important rule of relationship warfare

I’m close with this married couple who is going through a divorce.

Like most divorces, it was long overdue. My chief problem with marriage is that it causes people to stay so much longer in terrible situations.

This couple tried therapy and every trick possible but could never reignite the relationship. Some part of them had died and couldn’t be revived.

I found out a big reason why.

We’ll call the wife Anna for the sake of anonymity. Anna’s sister told me that Anna fights dirty. Like — real dirty.

You know — the type that when you have a disagreement, the devil horns come out. They scream like a banshee and call you every name under the sun. They say wicked, evil stuff — in her case, “I’m glad your mother got cancer.”

Years ago, my mother gave me sage advice about relationships, “Some things can’t be unsaid. If you are going to have a fight, play fair and be respectful.”

We’ve been taught to be forgiving people. Some partners hide behind the guarantee of an accepted apology like it’s a get-out-of-jail-free card.

And look — it’s tough. Living with someone. Navigating the grind of daily life. Sharing a bathroom. Craving peace and quiet and alone time. It can wear on even the most idyllic love stories.

We don’t have a choice on whether to have disagreements. They are going to happen. Or you are a robot.

After my big blowup and power slap to my cheek, I pulled a 180 and avoided relationships and conflict altogether, which created this host of other issues.

My friend Liz broke up with this guy she was seeing for almost a year. She said it wasn’t because of anyone specific thing. She just knew it wasn’t there anymore.

She met with him at his house and had “the conversation” with him. Suddenly, this otherwise quiet and polite guy blew up on her.

He unloaded all these issues he had with her, how she’d been totally insensitive and selfish.

She said, “I felt blindsided.” She knew those resentments probably undermined the relationship.

When I was younger and dumber, I heard so many older people talk about the importance of communication. That word came up over and over again and I shrugged it off.

Today, I get it. Communication is the religion of relationships.

Lastly — I have a challenge for each of you

In your next or current relationship: make it a goal to never raise your voice with the other person.


If you can’t contain your emotions, put off the conversation and go cool off.

If they yell at you, leave and go do something else. Engaging with someone who yells validates that it’s OK for them to yell at you.

My partner and I haven’t raised our voices during disagreements. We make it a point to sort things out like adults. It saves us from saying things we’ll regret and resenting each other.

No relationship is perfect. There are always disagreements. The most important thing is the shared desire to solve a problem.

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