I used to be a “niceguy” and I’m not talking about that nerdy middle school phase of questionable hygiene where my inner, hopeless romantic thought cringe-worthy love notes to my crush would be the key to her MSN Messenger status professing me as her boyfriend. No, I’m talking I became a prime example of insecurity igniting the flame of becoming an emotional wreck of “niceguy” behavior.
My therapist would probably take this opportunity to remind me that many of my isolating behaviors in the final months prior to my divorce were reactionary rather than predatory. To be fair though, it is difficult to say with any sort of accuracy as to whether my insecurities played a larger role in leading to my ex-wife’s affairs or whether her affairs played the greater role in contributing to my insecurity.
I’ll just keep it balanced and say it was both.
The details of the deterioration of our marriage is a long, complicated story outside the scope of this post, but I think looking back there were aspects of our relationship that doomed us from the start. I think in some ways we found love early on in each other as a replacement for the insecurity we had in ourselves and we clung to this idea that as outcasts from our peers – whether we really were or not – that we would only ever have each other. I think to suggest that we didn’t genuinely love each other would be ridiculous and undermine our children’s existence in a loving home, I just think the main fiber holding us together for so long was just that we didn’t know a life outside of each other and were too insecure to even consider seeking it.
We had this identity built as a couple at a very young age that lacked individuality. People even joked that we were “the married couple” and it seemed so sweet at the time; however, our entire existence revolved around each other. I think that seems to be the case with a lot of high school relationships, but sometimes I wonder if our lack of self-love exposed us to the risk of needing each other so much that we never took the time to ask ourselves what life would look like without each other. That seems like a dire thought, but I think it was an important one that neither of us ever stopped to think about earlier in the relationship. We just took our relationship day by day, falling into comfort with each other that just naturally led to marriage.
I don’t regret that decision, but I do think as we grew older our personalities changed, the people we exposed ourselves to changed, our interests changed, and our confidence in ourselves changed in a way that would challenge the idea that there was an entire life of experiences outside of our relationship that we had never really encountered before because we kept ourselves in a relationship bubble that could only be burst by one of us gaining enough confidence to ask “Is this the life I wanted?”.
It just so happens my ex-wife probably didn’t ask herself that question until 14 years in our marriage when her confidence was skyrocketing and mine was struggling.
See, I had battled Psoriasis on my back, stomach, and legs for years and up until about a year ago, I had a fairly large diastema (front tooth gap) that provided unsightly flaws that played a major role in my self-esteem – or lack thereof. I think my ex-wife battled a false negative perception of her weight, a battle she carried with her even after she thinned out in high school and a battle that continued to raged fiercely in her head after she birthed our two little our girls.
So much of our relationship was rooted in gravitating toward the person who seemed to love us unconditionally rather than focusing on loving ourselves and finding a partner to supplement that with.
We were always filling each other’s cups and never really filling our own.
Granted, in a lot of ways that’s who we should fall in love with – the person who loves us unconditionally (I use that loosely because there have to be some healthy conditions) and shows us what there is to love about ourselves even when we struggle to. Except, at an unhealthy level, I hesitate to say “we settled on each other”, but I do think we went a lot of years without viewing ourselves at our best and we never really thought “I’d be okay without you”.
Twisted as that may seem, in a lot of ways, it is this idea that we couldn’t live without each other and that there weren’t other options for us that eventually time, children, memories, and financial intermingling created mere obligations and familiarity as the only thread between us alive. The reality was, we were always probably just one of us finding our inner confidence away to really questioning what we had with each other.
And 14 years later when my ex-wife asked herself that in the mirror, I think maybe she realized she didn’t want me as much as she had ways needed me, and I was still stuck on needing her.
Unfortunately, that realization took place once we already had so much life established. Now, I find myself gaining the same confidence she found prior to our divorce and I find myself wondering if we both just now met like the people we have become if we would have an amazing relationship not drenched in insecurity.
Instead, our relationship will serve as a lesson for the future.
The thing is, I was really proud of her when she lost all that weight, but coming from my position of insecurity it was probably hard for me to express that without feelings of jealousy to her newfound attention. Instead, I was battling a period of selfish depression that left my reclusive and needy. This only caused us to further spiral into a vicious cycle where my suffocating desire to be closer to her only pushed her further away. In loving herself and being confident in a way she had never experienced before, I think my lack of confidence was very unattractive to her amidst all the confident guys now vowing to give her attention.
The last person I thought would be rejecting me on Earth was rejecting me and simply put, I wasn’t handling it well and I wasn’t handling it well because my lack of confidence wasn’t up to par with hers. Some would argue that my isolating behaviors weren’t so much emotionally abusive as they were rooted in self-doubt from her affairs, but regardless of where those actions stemmed from I ultimately let them rule my behavior. Sure, I think marriage is worth fighting for and I’m glad I did, but hindsight being 20/20 I think I let my insecurities ultimately put the nail in my own emotional coffin.
Had I loved myself then like I do now, I probably would have reached a point much sooner where I would throw up my hands and say “I’m going to be okay without her”, “I’m going to find someone else” and “losing her isn’t the end of the world”. In doing so, those thoughts would have given me the confidence to give her space she so desperately needed, and maybe in that space, we would have found each other again.
Instead, I responded with “I can’t go on without you”, “I’ll never love anyone like you”, and “you took everything from me”. I didn’t just respond that way, I responded obsessively that way. That was problematic, but what was more problematic is that I let that mindset follow me out of divorce and into the dating scene. I let the rejection of my then-wife maintain a chip on my shoulder and became the poster child of “niceguy” behavior.
I was “falling in love” with girls I barely knew, letting unresolved trust issues get in the way of building relationships, mistaking persistence for confidence, and expressing myself in sorrowful, lengthy posts about how my only value to society was loving others. I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but I’ll admit it now and it was all a ploy sub-consciously pandering for attention – and it was pathetic. It wasn’t until I came across a sub-Reddit for “niceguys” that I actually become consciously aware of what I was becoming and why it wasn’t very attractive at all.
Over time, my therapy sessions became less about healing from the end of one relationship and more about preparing myself for the beginning of another relationship by not letting my anchors of insecurity hold me back from setting sail. Hopefully, this blog will serve as a stepping stone for men to view the toxicity of their own insecurities and work to improve ourselves so we can love others and build stronger relationships.
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