The pint of Ben & Jerry’s is gone; the Kleenex box is on its last tissue; the wine bottle beside your bed is empty; and you haven’t brushed your hair since the Clinton administration. Sound familiar?
We’ve all been there—on the dark side of a break-up so bad we doubt we’ll ever recover from it. Our hearts are sunk, and we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re hopeless and unworthy of true love.
It takes a while—and several thousand calories and a half-dozen of hangovers later—to realize that maybe, just maybe, we’re not the problem: the real dilemma is the person we’ve been dating.
Swagger is sexy. It’s a turn-on, really, to see a “bad boy” order a drink at the bar with the confidence of the Marlboro Man or a knockout in a red dress knock out the self-assurance of a man at a cocktail party with a mere look.
They’re daring, provocative, and sensual—so much so you’re at first willing to overlook the way they mistreat you. It could be something as innocuous as her forgetting to remember that you don’t eat chives to something as insidious as him calling you only on Saturday nights after the bars have closed down. With time, and with more and more disappointments, you realize you’re back in the territory you know so well you don’t even need a roadmap: you’re in an unfulfilling relationship.
But then, when the tears have dried and you’ve removed all evidence of your fling from your Facebook page, someone so wonderful and compassionate comes along that you’re stunned speechless, and you’re reminded of the words of Mark Twain when he said, “Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.”
This new man makes dates with you a week in advance. She surprises you with a weekend getaway when you finally receive that promotion. You have long, passionate discussions about everything from politics to your pasts.
It may be too soon to start naming your children together, but what this person does for your health and happiness is nothing short of magical: they tear you out of your dreary landscape and show you a new, refreshing reality—the place where you belong.
And it is there that you have the chance to see seven of the signs that reveal you deserve to be treated right.
1. You’re tired of being a doormat.
When you’re self-esteem is low, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being present for someone when they need you—even if they’re MIA during your most desperate moments. You want to feel empowered and respected, not bullied into “meeting up” when it’s convenient for them—and the difference between the two is vast. When the latter starts becoming your modus operandi, you realize that you’re worth so much more than an offhand phone chat or date when he or she requests it, often at the last minute. You, exactly how you are, merit a home-cooked meal, a vase of flowers, a call wishing you luck on a stressful day. You’re neither a doormat nor a wallflower, but someone richly deserving of time, attention, empathy, and love.
2. You know the old adage is true: beauty is only skin deep.
Players and man eaters are notoriously good looking. They dress well, sport fresh pedicures, and have their hair professionally cut. But what happens when the clothes come off, the polish chips, and the wind blows their hair out of place? Who is the person underneath? If they’re dull-witted, insolent, narcissistic, unsympathetic, slovenly, and mean to your cat. It doesn’t matter if their shirt is from Prada, they modeled in their teens, or drive a Lexus—sexual attraction has a shelf life. Your charm and value—as well as theirs—exists beneath your physicality, and you’re determined to be treated as such.
3. You’re meet-their-parents worthy.
Your Aunt Bea is convinced you’re gay. You overhear your dad say that you’ll turn into a spinster with seven cats if you keep up this behavior. Your sister calls you a man-slut. You envy the foursome at the table next to you, where the eager young man is discussing what Christmas is like in Australia to his beautiful fiancé’s father. And then it hits you: the person you’re “dating” would fit in with your family like Morticia would mesh with the Cleavers. He would start talking to your dad, who is staunchly liberal, about Trump’s “promise.” She would try to drink your Uncle Fred under the table, and mistake the olive oil for wine. In your mind, your Mr. or Mrs. Right (even if it’s only Right Now) would open the door for your mom and not give your sister’s cleavage a first, let alone second, glance. She would cheer on the Saints with your dad and push your nephew in his swing.
The point being: we aren’t that unlike our families, however hard we try to resist it. What they like, we like; what they see as disconcerting, we should see as well—even more so. You know you’re meet-their-parents worthy, and if your partner fails to see it? It’s time to show them the door.
4. You’re starting to forget the name you were christened with.
The men and women you’ve been dating have a variety of “pet” names that aren’t cuddly whatsoever because they are, let’s admit it, so clichéd their meanings are lost in obscurity. You’re Hun. Baby Girl. Dude. Darling. Sweetheart. Bae. All of these nicknames hint at what’s likely a larger problem: you’re one of many men or women in their lives, and they’re having a tough time keeping your first and last names straight. (A problem made all the more difficult if, my word!, one of you isn’t on social media.)
You’re beginning to recall the pleasure of the person you’re intimate with addressing you properly, even, dare I say, asking and remembering your middle name. Seriously: call out “blondie” in a packed restaurant and 50% of the clientele will probably swivel their heads. Now, Paige Monroe? Bradley McAllister? How nice is that?
5. You honor loyalty and candor.
Dating an adult man who can’t hold down a job or seeing a woman who is known around town as Miss Promiscuous requires a certain level of, um, discretion. You have to tell your BFF that you’re going to the gym when He calls because god forbid you’re giving him a twenty-second chance. You have to tell your surfing buddy you’re on a deadline because he’s dating Her too.
You have to tell yourself that you’re suffering from temporary insanity and that it’s good to feel like a naughty teen again even if you can’t remember the last time he or she actually treated you with an iota of respect. It’s getting boring, strenuous, and straight-up time consuming coming up with lies—white or not—to cover up for your absences and I-feel-so-used mornings. You acknowledge, and absorb, that in truth there is beauty, and want someone who has a similar moral compass—one who chooses kindness over impulses, diligence over laziness, principle over pleasure.
6. You love yourself, with or without a partner.
When the baes and handsomes have been inevitably replaced with vengeful and defamatory name-calling, you start to believe it. Think of it as knowledge through repetition, or, in clinical terms, emotional abuse. And, like an ill-treated dog, you start bowing your eyes and sleeping alone in the bushes, hoping someone will come around with a bowl of food and a rub on your rump.
Whether or not that happens, through time, wisdom, self-empowerment, and the introduction to someone who treats you well, you begin realizing what those who truly love and respect you always knew: you’re downright fabulous. You may not be a princess, you may not be President of the United States (or even the bank at which you work), but your positive qualities far outweigh your flaws. And the right person—that person you genuinely adore and admire—will reinforce that you shouldn’t just like yourself, whether or not you’re alone, but deserve to love yourself with all your might.