A Tale as Old as Time

I’ve been trying to write something for a week or two now, but haven’t been able to find the most graceful way to say it. I’ve written draft after draft of the same story, hoping that my bitterness and anger would eventually fade out of the narrative and leave something witty, poignant, and sharp. After a few drafts, I gave up hope for a bit and decided maybe I just needed time.

If you’ve been around me or seen me on social media the last few days, you’ve probably heard me talking about this book I was reading for class. The Coquette. Oh boy, you guys. I loved this book. I don’t know if I’ve ever loved a class reading so much. You know how sometimes the lessons you’re learning in class somehow match up with the lessons you’re learning in your real life? Well, that was the situation for me and this book.

Let me give you a brief synopsis of it really quickly, because I’m sure it’s not something most people actually read. Basically, it was written in America in 1797 (over 200 years ago!) by a woman (A WOMAN) and is the story of a young pretty girl who just enters society and wants to enjoy her youth. She goes to a bunch of balls and parties, men fawn all over her, and she just flits from one thing to another, claiming she’s young and doesn’t want to settle down yet while there’s so much life to live (sounds familiar). This pastor guy falls in love with her and wants to court her and she’s like “I’m not looking to get married right now, but we can hang out still and maybe one day we can get married.” He says cool, and they keep hanging out as friends. Then – THEN, you guys, she meets this other dude. He is a known player, and she of course falls for his charms. She talks to her friends who are like “no, really, he’s a jerk. This is the game he plays, don’t be so stupid to fall for it.” And she’s like “I know, but… he takes me to such great parties! Maybe that was all in the past. Maybe he’s different now. I just know he really does like me.” (Ha! Doesn’t that sound familiar?) So she keeps hanging out with him. Meanwhile, Party Guy is telling his friends “I’m never going to marry this girl because marriage is basically death, but I don’t want her to marry anyone else either because I like having her around and I’m an egotistical jerk so that would hurt my feelings. I just really want to sleep with her. Let’s see if I can make her my next conquest!” What a dick, am I right? Anyway, she dilly dallies about what to do, and all the while she is convinced Party Guy has innocent motives and really cares about her. And a bunch of reality TV-style drama happens. I won’t spoil the ending because you should read it; honestly, it’s pure gold. 

ANYWAY. My point is, doesn’t that sound like a story we’ve all experienced in one way or another? And it was written over TWO HUNDRED YEARS ago. Two hundred years. This is really a tale as old as time, is it not? How is it possible that in two hundred years we have not gotten our shit together as a society? As men and women? Like, how is it possible that dudes are still getting away with this douchebag behavior? And why do we, as women, keep letting them?

Now, no one in this story is completely innocent or completely villainous, which I think is truly an amazing part of this narrative (and so true to life). Pastor Guy agrees to be in something he doesn’t actually want to be in because he hopes he’ll get what he wants in the end (the classic “nice guy” who really isn’t that nice because he judges everyone else). Party Guy has evil motives from the beginning, but I think towards the end really does regard her with love (or is it possessiveness?). And the girl… boy is she flawed. She wants to be free and to have a good time (which is great, yay independence!), but she ignores her better judgment and gets involved with someone she knows is not good for her.

Haven’t we all been there? Or is it just me? I somehow really doubt that.

We do this thing as girls. We see these guys who seem so charming and handsome despite their bad reputation. You know the type. It’s such a cliché that it’s almost painful for me to point it out. That bad boy: the boy with the “James Dean day dream look in his eye.” He probably has a leather jacket and rides a motorcycle and will break up with you over text. We see him, are charmed by his wit and casual coolness, and suddenly we think that we are special. We are the exception to every rule that’s ever been made about relationships and love. We know he’s trouble, but maybe everyone else is wrong, maybe we can change him.

Here’s the thing: we can’t.

I learned this lesson the hard way a long time ago. We cannot change guys who already are set in their ways. It’s not possible. I’m not saying it’s not possible for people to change, I’m saying it is not possible for us to change other people. They’ll change their ways if they want to. If they don’t… well then players are going to keep playing.

But we don’t want to accept that. We want so badly to believe that it’ll be different with us. We try so hard to ignore the red flags (or if you’re me, you just pretend that even though you recognize the red flags, you can handle whatever is coming next). We tell ourselves that it’s okay. That we’re fine. But the lies we tell ourselves to justify our actions are usually just that – lies. And what a tangled web we weave ourselves when we start lying to ourselves, to our friends and families. Suddenly, we’re just as bad as Party Guy who lies his way into girls’ beds.

When will we realize that we’re worth so much more than that? I include myself in this because for some reason this is a lesson I keep re-learning in different ways throughout my young-adult years. When are we going to recognize that boy who is trouble and say no to it? When will we learn to walk away, to not reward that behavior? We know it’s stupid and we can feel it hurting us. We tell our friends “this is going to end so badly” but we just hope it doesn’t. We think we’re crazy when we suspect something is up (we usually aren’t wrong – that’s what intuition is, ladies). We ignore our friends’ advice when we should be seeing that they’re speaking truth out of love.

I’m saying this out of love. I want so badly for us to recognize what we’re worth. You are worth more than a boy who ghosts you after the first date. You are worth so much more than a breakup over text after years of dating. You are worth more than a boy who tells you he likes you but sleeps with your friends. You are worth more than that. I am worth more than that.

I hope that in another two hundred years, this tale is just a myth and not something that people live out every day. Or I hope that at least we are strong enough to learn from our mistakes and to realize that there is good in the world, even if we can’t always see it.

I’m still holding out hope for it.

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