There was this cute movie Jenny McCarthy once did called “Dirty Love”.

It was fun for what it was – a mindless, fluffy, sexy, comedy – but you’d hurt your brain if you looked too deeply. Which, natch, I tried to do. While the message is supposed to be good – about seeking out “pure” love versus “dirty” love with the kind of low-level sorta person you think you “deserve” (note my overuse of sarcastic-quotes here; more to come; brace yourselves), it really didn’t demonstrate that. Sure she ends up with the nice guy – but even his climactic monologue has to do with how beautiful she is and how when she smiles, she’s even more beautiful – and that’s why he replaces her camera equipment her ex trashed (not, ya know, “you’re my best friend and an amazing photographer, and it’s like art itself when I see you creating art… and that’s why I replaced it… and that’s why I’m in love with you.”)

But Nice Guy’s lack of depth wasn’t what wore on me.

It wasn’t until I overheard a breakup convo between a couple early 20’s girls, that I realized what was bothering me. That term. That term “deserve”. That cliché we use to meaninglessly comfort each other during a breakup so that we don’t actually have to be empathetic and bring anything worthwhile to the table as far as an emotional resolution goes.

“He doesn’t deserve you.”

“You deserve better.”

“You think you don’t deserve better so you settle for d-bags.”

I always wonder if the person hearing this perfunctorily issued consolation phrase feels as nauseated to hear it as I do as a third-party observer. Sure, we’re all entitled to happiness. But, there’s a catch: much like our forefathers outlined, it’s something we have to work for. Go after. It’s a pursuit. And that means you, me, and everyone else have to meet it halfway in any endeavor or relationship. I highlight romantic relationships because these are the ones in which we’re making on specific human being unique, special, “yours”. And that also means that you have to now consider the entire world you think you know… through the filter of a pair of completely different see-organs. Ones that sit in front of a think-organ filled with completely different experiences than your own.

I haven’t had a serious long-term relationship for a while.

But when I reflect on my history of failed ones, this lack of other-sight in highsight is almost certainly responsible for at least 90% of my dynamic downfalls in the past. But it’s not just about the empathy of “How are you doing? Where are you from? What was your favorite book in the third grade?” It’s the kind where you almost have to make a full circle back to selfish. Look deeper for qualities and defects till you find… you… in both their good ‘n bad.

And that’s where that other phrase I hate comes into play: “I keep picking the wrong guys.”

Good job on taking responsibility for being a suck ass. But let’s work on the wording. Maybe “I keep picking the wrong approach to guys” is better. I get that former outlook because I’ve long had it myself. I’ve picked men who hulk out when they get angry because it’s sexy and scary and exciting. I’ve picked men who are callous because it’s entertaining and funny and appeals to my low level needs. I’ve picked men who are vain because I am – and it’d make it okay. But you know who else I picked when I those men (this is starting to sound like a nursery rhyme)? A shit ton of other traits that I bypassed in their quality-garden. Had I been looking for the good stuff instead, I’d have seen it, watered it by interacting with that level of them, and then watched it blossom into a fruitful relationship where we do whatever healthy couples do that I don’t know because I have no context for what that’s like.

(*kicks ball gag and anal beads gently under the sofa*)

“We’ll just put this on and bend you over till Joel Osteen comes back from commercial, hunny.”

It’s a hard thing to admit when your romantic history that plays out like a gag reel of Vine fails is something you have to take responsibility for. And to be fair, I don’t think most of us “get it” right away. It happens on a subconscious level – seeking out a common darkness that you share with another person. Nobody wakes up, stretches, smiles, and utters the words “I like being miserable and pretending that I’m not,” in a sing-song voice, “I like placing the blame on somebody else! I like staying in a relationship that I’m not trying to make work and then blaming it on the other person in the relationship!”

The problem, I believe, is that we meet somebody and they make us feel good because of our interpersonal interactions – the romantic feelings, sexual attraction, and initial infatuation of meeting somebody who gets your cuddle hormones flowing. If we have any logic that says something like “All we have in common is what we hate”, that gets tsunami’d by a sea of oxytocin. And what happens when the initial high wears off and we’re still chasing after it? What lies beneath?

So we try looking for things that we have in common.

The problem is that if you’re a sad asshat who eyerolls at the “fix your shit first” advice everyone point everyone number of love doctors insist, then you’re SOL. Because if all you’ve got at the center of your tootsie pop is a wad full’a woe, then that’s all the empathetic tools you’ve got to work with. That’s when we start using those tools to mine out the equally negative qualities from our partners. You can mirror any facet of another human person to attempt to change the atmosphere of your relationship. You can do it with your words, with your actions, and with your body language. That means, that if you tried, you could also find the good stuff and focus energy on reinforcing that. So why don’t we? Because a good handful of us have lived a long life as misery junkies and we shoot up everytime we re-affirm it verbally: “I hurt”… “Fuck it’s snowing again”… “I don’t want to go to work.” (Guilty.) Then we start inviting people into hating life with us: “Don’t you hate it when…?” “Wasn’t it awful how…?” “Did you see that hideous dress so-n-so wore?” “Isn’t this cold bullshit?” (OMG guilty.)

And we know that mirroring the good qualities in others means that we have to change. And that’s hard. This is the real reason we reject the concept of dating someone smarter, kinder, or all around capable of making us a better person. It’s not because we think we don’t “deserve” it or don’t know how to “pick” them. We’re just lazy. Sure we all want to be better people in some sort’ve way, but we don’t want to have to work to be these better people – because again – change is hard. And I don’t doubt that another salient factor hindering dating “the right one” (the type of person you know might make you better) is our own sense of identity. What will this mean? How will people see me? Will I be as charming and funny? What if some days I don’t get it right – will that make me a hypocrite or inconsistent or the flaky type of person who can’t stick with one ideology? And then what happens when they leave? I go back to what I was? I think there’s a decent two part answer to this:

1.) Who cares?

2.) Create non-romantic relationships that create that change in you first.

Why not change first? If how you were before – comfy though it was – is spreading into your relationships and making everyone miserable including you, what could be the harm in trying something different? In trying things another way? In order to see the world through the eyes of people you claim you love or even just like, you gotta power on the wipers of your own world’s window first. Make sure it’s good and Windexed before you speak, write, or interact with anyone. I myself have had bird shit all over my windows since as far back as I can recall, driving blind, and causing pathos pileups everywhere I go.

The way we improve, though, is practice – in our non-romantic interactions – then our romantic ones. ‘cause empathy’s a muscle. Friends. Family. Coworkers. Even the annoying waitress. Use ‘em all as target practice for your give-a-shit ammo. The more practice we get with regular everyday people, the better chance the love-wounds of the compassion bullets we leave in them…will bleed over into our intimate dynamics. And we can see and mirror the good shiz they’ve got going on. The bonus? If and when whoever we’re with, does part ways, they’ll have helped bring out more of that new and improved identity from us allowing us to see the relationship for what it was – just a life season akin to winter, which comes and goes and ends up being more memorable like a white Christmas than traumatic like a Snowmageddon.

It’s easy to say I just “happened” to date nada but D-bags.

But if you’re still doing that, mayhaps consider the following: Ever do exactly that – badmouth boyfriends past or girlfriends past blaming everything on them and saying what shits they were and how they could never possibly be happy with anyone because no one could love them as they are? And then like clockwork, within a month or two you find out how well they’re doing? Dating? Engaged? Thriving in their career? Have a nice house? If their time with you was such a good litmus test for how good a person they are, then why are they doing so well with this someone else? Or flying solo? Could it be because you both failed it elevating each other? Yes, it takes two to tango, but we can only change ourselves. I can only change my part. So, instead of keeping score in any dynamic you have (“well he’s not being nice – why should I?”), why not elevate the other person to elevate yourself too? Hone in on the good stuff only and either the relache will thrive for both of you… or they’ll just be committed enough to their misery that you have to leave. I – with my failed long term relationships – may seem like a terrible one to be advising. But in my short term ones, it has worked. It only doesn’t when I don’t work my part and start matching the misery of the other person, which I inevitably end up doing just long enough for the alarms to go off. Avoid! Because misery is a boomerang. But so is compassion. Which one do you want clocking you in the face?

We don’t need to alter significant others.

Or even insignificant others.

Just a significantly altered approach when dealing with any of ‘em.