He’s just so nice to me, I sputtered as I sobbed into my pillow after another romantic endeavor had come to a screeching halt. This time felt extra painful, though. The person in question was also my dear friend, one who treated me with tender kindness and patience I had not experienced with men I had been involved with before him. He gave me space to be open with my feelings, never judging me for whatever tumbled out of my mouth. He laughed with me, not at me. He treated me with respect.
In short, he was just fucking nice.
Eventually, I felt love for him, and I knew he loved me, too, but not in the way I needed. And when finally he oh-so-gently told me he didn’t have the same feelings I had for him, it was excruciating not only because I had fallen hard for him but in the back of my mind, I truly believed that his kindness was a luxury I would be lucky to experience again.
While I was young and naive at the time to believe such a sad thing, life experience had shown me this to be true. I truly thought I had no hope for better. In my mind, the bare minimum would be all I’d ever have a chance of receiving. This is all I thought I deserved, and asking for more would be asking for way too much.
This mindset was as stubborn as it was insidious. Until recently, I’d go into dates assuming they’d turn into ghosts. And when they often did, I refused to let myself feel sad. Rather, I reminded myself that this behavior was to be expected, and I better get used to it. This is modern dating after all. Decency is a bonus here, not a standard, and I would probably be ghosted, breadcrumbed, or led astray until I found someone real. But in my mind, they’d probably haunt me in the end, too. Pain and love were one-in-the-same for me.
About two years ago, a good friend said “being nice” was a baseline and it changed my entire approach to dating and love (and all relationships, really). It completely altered the way I feel about myself. What I tolerate and accept from others now looks very different at 29 than it did at 24, or even at 28.
The truth is this: I deserve kindness. In fact, I will settle for nothing less than someone who is. I will let love in and show indifference and disrespect the door. I refuse to settle and be another man’s almost. I am not a drive-by.
I am the damn destination.
When I used to look back to my first real heartbreak all those years ago, to that tender man with the kind eyes, I eventually started telling my friends I wish he had been “an asshole” and “not nice” because it would have been easier to let him go that way. I no longer feel this way, though. I know better.
Instead, I feel grateful that my heart once made space for him in that way. I think this also is proof that deep down, even all those years ago, I knew kindness is not only what I need but deserve. I fell for him for other reasons than his good heart. Nice was a baseline, he just showed me how important it was.
His inability to feel the same way back wasn’t some damning evidence against me that I didn’t deserve kindness and mutual respect. In the end, we were just mismatched love. That’s all.
And now, as I finally feel the fire of self-respect and self-love being lit aflame within me, I will remind myself of this before, during, and after every date I go on. I will check in with myself when dating someone seriously and ensure they are treating me with loving compassion. If not, I know what I need to do.
At 29, at long last, I feel I’m growing into my own bones, handling the wildfire emotion that usually rages on within me with care and tenderness others have not shown me. After all, those who value self-love the most are usually the ones that understand how perilous life can be in its absence. For people like us, finding beauty and joy within our veins is a victory like nothing else.
In this new-found love affair with myself, I vow to never settle for the bare minimum again. Any man I end up with will be nice to me or he will be nothing to me at all. Full stop. Non-negotiable. No arguments.
It took me quite a while to reach this place. The trek to this mindset was long and hard but I made it and I’m so glad I did. If you’re currently struggling to believe you’re worthy of care, I hope you understand that you are one day soon.
Your partner should be nice to you. You’re worth the love, you’re strong enough to say goodbye when it’s necessary, and you will find power in letting go of those who never deserved you.
It’s just a matter of time.