I tend to think of my life as defined by my mistakes. There are more of them than successes, so it’s easier, in a way, because it’s so much easier to think of times that I’ve messed up than it is to think of times I’ve done the right thing. Mistakes are a part of me. They’re even how I think of myself internally. If I were to give myself a title, it would be “The One Who Fails.”
Now, I could probably go on for ages just listing all of the things I’ve done wrong in my life — that time I didn’t study for an exam because I thought it was next week; that time I backed over an (empty!) baby stroller; that time I got my mom something for her birthday that made her cry rather than smile — but after a while, just listing things that way gets boring. There’s no shape to it. My life is a shapeless mess, but the whole point of telling someone about something is to give it a shape. That’s what storytelling is. Shaping unshaped lumps of happenstance.
I know that you probably don’t want to start dating a guy only to have him talk about all the times he has failed. I know that writing this to you is a mistake itself. That’s okay. If we’re going to keep getting closer together — if you’re going to be something other than a mistake — I want to know I’m not going to drive you away just because I’m… Well, a failure.
I have hurt people in the past, because of the ways that I tend to mess up. It’s not intentional. I don’t like to hurt people. I take no joy in it, and I actively try to avoid it, but I’m so far from perfect. I’m so far from figuring out how to live a life that doesn’t end up in myself or others feeling my failures. Maybe everyone is like that, and I just feel like it’s only me, but it really feels like I’m worse about it than other people I have known.
I had a friend in college. I’ll call him Anton, because that’s the first name that popped into my mind and I don’t want to make the mistake of letting you know who he really is. I haven’t seen him in years, and I don’t feel like you’ll ever meet him, but if you do, I don’t want you to know he has a part in this story. I feel like you’d look at him and at me and at the stuff in-between and have judgements already laid out, and I don’t want to inflict that on him. I’ve done enough to him already.
I was a sad guy in college. Looking back, I would have to say I was depressed, but I didn’t really understand what depression was well enough to label myself that way or to seek any aid from it. This caused a lot of things — a lot of bad grades and forgetfulness and declining relationships — but one of the things I focused on harder than I should have was that I could never seem to find a girl that stayed interested in me.
I don’t think much about how attractive I am, but people have said I’m not bad to look at. I don’t know why. I guess I just have a nice-enough face. I don’t work out or anything, so it’s not my body, and I’m not very fashionable, so it’s not my clothes or my hair. It’s not my personality, or at least, it definitely wasn’t in college. I was way too down on myself to like that.
I knew I wasn’t ugly, so I would get very, very frustrated when a girl I liked didn’t show any interest back to me. I’m not even talking about hooking up, which the stories I have heard would lead me to believe a lot of people — especially attractive people — do plenty of in college. I’m talking about dates. First dates, second dates, third dates. I never had a third date that I can remember, but I got to the second one a few times.
Now, there are a lot of guys who take out their frustration way differently than me. Some guys get violent. Some guys get angry, and they start to hate women and blame everything on them. Not me. I knew it was something wrong with me, and that it was my own failing, because that just followed perfectly with the patterns I’d established throughout the rest of my life. I’ve been the one who’s not good enough, and the one who fails, far too long to blame it on someone or something else.
Girls were not interested me, and I wanted them to be. I could barely keep a conversation up with a girl. They got bored, or were never interested in the first place. It took me down into a deep, sad place. I slept a lot. I didn’t go out with friends. I barely did my homework, and I didn’t do anything fun. I did just enough to keep from failing, and even that took a lot of my energy and effort.
But. But, there was someone who, despite all of that, was interested in me. I don’t know what Anton saw in me. I’ll never understand, honestly. I was not an interesting or good person during that time, and I know this because I let him think… Well. I led him on, because it made me feel a bit better.
Now I know some girls think it’s weird to be with a guy who has been with other guys. I guess that’s why I’m telling out. Some girls think it’s a turn-on, too, and maybe that’s a part of why I need to tell you, as well. It was a one-time thing. It’s not for me. I’m not into guys, and to be quite honest, that’s why I feel so awful about Anton. That’s why I can’t tell you his real name, because then if you ever see him, you’ll know what I did to him was wrong.
He flirted with me a lot. He was my roommate’s friend, so he was around all the time. It gave him a lot of opportunities. I completely missed it, to be honest, for the first month or two. I wasn’t looking for that kind of affection from him, and I didn’t expect it from anyone. Nevertheless, my ignorance did nothing to discourage him. If anything, I wonder if it had the opposite effect, since I never outright rejected his advances.
When I did finally notice that he seemed to be attracted to me, I was more confused than anything. I knew that Anton was interested in men, so that part didn’t bemuse me. It was more the idea that anyone could be attracted to me at all, after so many of my failings with women, that set my head to spinning — and, with time, intrigued me.
I wanted to know. I wanted to know if he was being genuine. That wasn’t what I told myself at the time, but it was probably closer to the truth. In the moment, I tried to convince myself that I felt bad for him. He wasn’t having much success romantically, either, not that I could tell. He didn’t have a boyfriend, and when I asked him if there were any guys he was interested in, or guys that were interested in him, he would blush and change the subject.
I wanted to help him, because he seemed sad like me. I thought that, if I could make him happier for a bit, that it would make me happier to. In the end it wasn’t fair to either of us, but I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. It just seemed like the almost-right thing to do.
I invited him up to my bedroom. I remember how nervous he was. I remember the look in his eyes that said, very clearly, “Is this really happening?” I remember how awkward I felt, and nervous, just like him, because I’d never been with another man and even in that moment I had no real interest in it. I just wanted — I wanted him to be happy, maybe — but really, I just wanted to feel like someone wanted me.
Afterwards, we sat next to each other for a while. He wanted to cuddle. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I felt horrible, because I knew right then and there that I’d done the wrong thing. I’d made another mistake. He thought that I felt something for him that I didn’t. I’d gotten what I wanted, in a way. I knew that it was possible for someone to desire me. But I hadn’t given him anything in return. I couldn’t want him back. I couldn’t even like him, after that, because whenever I saw his face again I only felt guilt.
I hurt him. I don’t want to talk about the aftermath of it, because I’ve already taken what I could from it and tried to use it to make myself a better person. I don’t think the details should really matter to you. I apologized to him. I’ll say that. I told him I was sorry, but it didn’t make the pain go away, and it didn’t change anything for the better.
I’m not a good person, but I try to be. I make mistakes, but I look at them and I try to say, “I’ll do better next time. I won’t make that mistake again.” Sometimes I’m wrong, and I don’t do better; sometimes I make the same mistake again without realizing it. I’m going to apologize in advance for all the times that’s going to happen, and I’m going to say this:
I care about you. You make me want to do better. You, more than anything else, make me want to stop making mistakes. I don’t want to fall prey to some horrible error that ends up with me losing you. I don’t want to hurt you, like I hurt Anton, but I’m afraid that I will. That’s why I’ve been so slow. That’s why I don’t take things quickly: because I’m not in this just to test whether you care about me, or to use you to make myself feel better.
I know that you’re impatient. I can see it in your eyes and in the tension in your shoulders. I’m asking you. Please, give me time. I want to do this right.