Dating Archetypes

The Abuser

The Abuser does not value or respect you as an equal. His own thirst for control takes priority over your health, happiness, and well-being. You find yourself doing things you would have previously believed to be out of character, and never in a good way. Apologizing for having the nerve to go out with your own friends for once instead of his. Crawling for his forgiveness after spilling the beer and making him hurt you. Needing to prove your love in various ways from which he himself remains curiously exempt.

(There are plenty of existing studies and literatures that describe abusive behavior far better than I am qualified to do, so this description is by no means comprehensive.)

You stay with him because he is uncannily manipulative and knows how to charm you into believing he is not a monster even after you’ve felt his claws and fangs.

The Loser

This type of partner offers little to no value to you in a relationship. Although he does not actually hurt or manipulate you, he is still a burden who drags down your sense of self-worth lower than it would be if you were simply single. He is a leech and perpetual work-in-progress wholly uninterested in making an effort.

Be careful not to assume someone is a Loser simply because earns a lower salary or does not know how to cook. A partner can and should improve your quality of life in many other important ways: emotional support, quality time, exposure to new interests and experiences, humor, assistance with chores, and so on. A Loser may achieve some of these from time to time, but the overall picture is bleak.

You date him when you think you don’t deserve any better.

The Oscillator

When the circuits are on, this individual can be a great Friend—maybe even a Saint (see below). He spends tons of time with you, makes you laugh, and remembers key details. When they’re off, he is cool and distant, leaving you wondering what he’s up to or what you might have done to push him away. This fluctuating, unpredictable behavior can make him seem addictively mysterious and intriguing to the unseasoned dater. Furthermore, because there seems to be so much potential for a real relationship, you can’t help thinking you might be able to change him and/or get him to fall in love with you someday.

You see him when you crave those intense intervals of passion. When you become surer of yourself and what you want, the lack of communication and commitment becomes unacceptable.

The Friend

This is not about the “friendzone,” a fallacious concept typically popular with immature, disgruntled victims of unrequited infatuation. Rather, the Friend is someone you date because you have a lot of things in common and get along well. You both love outdoorsy activities, evenings of wine and board games, and the HBO show Westworld. You have generally similar worldviews and life goals, though some of the nuances may differ or even conflict.

Occasionally, you may undergo periods of restlessness and wonder if there should be “more.” Maybe you should be looking for someone with a value system that aligns more closely with yours, or who inspires more passion and drive. You then dismiss these questions as side effects of having heard too many fairy tales as a kid.

Ultimately, you stick with the Friend since he is loyal and has never done anything wrong, and you do not know if you would be able to find anyone better.

The Saint

The Saint is infinitely, mind-bogglingly patient. He is always kind, understanding, and respectful. He is never angry with you when you forget “one last thing” on your way out the door, lead him several blocks in the wrong direction in search of a restaurant, or accidentally punch him in the stomach in your sleep. He makes you feel motivated, energetic, and stronger.

Dating the Saint is undoubtedly easier and better than the Abuser or Loser, but it comes with its own surprising set of difficulties. You feel ashamed for being annoyed at him for trifling matters because you know he would never do the same to you. When you hurt him, the awareness inflicts deeper pain within yourself than any rage-filled screaming match. You are forced to reflect upon your own faults and how to become a better person.

You hold onto him because he is the embodiment of grace and unconditional love.

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Dating Advice

“What you order at Chipotle says a lot about the type of person you should date,” read a friend’s Facebook post. I paused in scrolling through my feed of recent updates to give this some thought. Horoscopic and facetious for sure, but could it mean anything regardless?

Could there be an underlying personality trait motivating someone to order a burrito versus a burrito bowl? If one person preferred chorizo and the other tofu, was their relationship doomed? Or was this more about the options and add-ons: double meat, brown rice, that extra $2.75 for guacamole?

I liked pretty much everything at Chipotle, so I wondered if this meant I would be compatible with pretty much everyone.

I always imagined myself capable of “making it work” with most people. Another friend once wrote on her high school blog, “The three things that matter in a relationship are timing, location, and personality—in that order.” This stuck with me ever since, and I was reminded of it again now. You could meet the same person at multiple points in your life, and whether a bond developed could depend simply on whether you both happened to be in the right emotional place for it to happen. Whether you were both at Chipotle, so to speak.

Many relationships fail due to unrealistic expectations of romance and love. Those who haven’t been brainwashed by Disney movies agree, “Love is a choice.” I didn’t see why two people couldn’t stay together as long as they shared similar goals and tried to be kind to each other. Tolerance, acceptance, and compromise were more important than sparks and red-hot passion.

Maybe liking all the menu items at a fast food restaurant was comparable to being open-minded about giving chances and trying to make things work in a relationship.

~

My first boyfriend was a chubby white Japanese major I met at a party in my first semester of college. He wasn’t particularly good-looking, but neither was I, so I figured it would be hypocritical to be shallow. At least he had nice eyes.

It didn’t occur to me that he had a creepy Asian fetish. My best friend at school looked like an eighteen-year-old Nicole Kidman, and I was flattered that he focused on me, instead. (After we broke up, he dated a series of other East Asian women, eventually marrying a Korean who barely spoke English.)

He sometimes cracked jokes that made me uncomfortable, but I went along with them because I wanted to be cooler and less uptight. When he took his shirt off, I thought about the funny feelings I would get from looking at pretty girls and wondered if I would ever get them from a guy. Sometimes I agreed to sex when I didn’t really feel like it, because relationships are about compromise.

I believed I loved him because he was kind to me and called me beautiful. In the back of my mind echoed a line from The Perks of Being a Wallflower: “We accept the love we think we deserve.”

~

It was a weekday, but I did not go to work. I was lying on the couch at home and watching a romantic comedy on TV called This Means War. Reese Witherspoon was struggling to choose between Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, unaware that the two were friends and coworkers at the CIA. The movie was formulaic, but entertaining and well paced. Good enough for passing time when I was too depressed to move or think.

When Reese’s bawdy best friend (played by Chelsea Handler) advised her, “Don’t choose the better guy; choose the guy that’s going to make you the better girl,” I started sobbing. I don’t usually get emotional during rom-coms, but I must have been the first and only viewer to cry during this one.

My boyfriend came home a few hours later, at around seven in the evening. He headed straight to his computer, asked me to tell him when dinner was ready, and started playing a game.

I met this boyfriend, my third, through a mutual friend. At the time he was a financial analyst, but he quit because he “wanted a long vacation.” He worked temporary gigs for two years, until he signed on to a secretive new job that paid under minimum wage and turned out to be with a multi-level marketing company.

It never occurred to me during our three years together that he was supposed to inspire me to be better and stronger. When we moved in together and I had to do everything his mother used to do at home, I accepted it as part of “making it work.” That he cared more about partying with his new cult than spending time with me felt like a natural progression of a relationship long past its honeymoon phase. That I was more or less the sole source of income seemed to be a reasonable, if less than ideal, result of feminism.

Something in me finally clicked into place that day, after over a decade of contemplating a myriad bits of relationship advice. In all those years of following what I thought was expected or obligatory, I never truly considered my own wants or needs. I could do better—even if it meant being alone.