I began thinking a lot about my past relationships, the women I’ve dated, and the way I’ve handled things.
For this step, we’re focusing on forgiving ourselves for something in our pasts that we regret. Everyone has moments we wish we had handled differently, and of course, there are also the people we may have hurt along the way, including ourselves. I spent a while thinking about what I’d do for this step, and I kept coming back to my long-standing issues with women.
Since creating and releasing 40 Days of Dating, a lot of things have enabled me to think about this issue more: the effects of the actual experiment, my relationship and friendship with Jessica, the residual effects of the project after it went viral, my subsequent public persona. Obviously, my love life was well-documented in that experiment, but 40 Days of Dating was only a small sliver of my life. A lot has happened in the last two and a half years. Many readers saw me as a character in their own lives—the guy who can’t settle down, the “player”—and to their credit, that was the role I often portrayed. But as with any other online persona, I knew I was more three-dimensional than I was coming across, and I wanted to get down to the truth: Am I really someone who can’t settle down? Do I really just want to have a good time and mess around? Or, deep down, am I actually hoping to find a great girl and have a meaningful, lasting relationship? Two and a half years later, I know now that it’s the latter: I’m looking for something more than fun.
A year and a half ago, I had my heart broken by a girl I was dating, and I was really beating myself up over this. As a self-proclaimed commitment-phobe, I took this a bit harder than I expected. I felt like a failure. I felt like karma was biting me in the ass. It had been years since I felt this strongly towards someone; mentally, emotionally, and physically, I was really, really into her. And I thought she was into me. I’m no rookie, but when things came to an end, I felt like I’d been played for a fool. I had been so confident that we had this amazing connection, but apparently it was all in my head. The way she looked at me, the way she held my hand, the way she kissed me uninhibited in front of everyone at the restaurant—this girl made me a believer. And then, suddenly, she was disinterested, aloof, and unavailable. I couldn’t believe it! This is what I'd done a million times over to women over the past five or six years. And when she started to pull away, she said all of the usual stuff; she used the same lines I’ve used in the past. You know how the story goes:
Obviously, if she really liked me, then all these excuses, true or false, would have been thrown out the window. We all know that. Everyone knows that. I especially know that.
Soon after she broke things off, I began thinking a lot about my past relationships, the women I’ve dated, and the way I’ve handled things (or didn’t handle things). I filled myself with doubt, and going over past conversations with her in my mind I wondered, When was the moment that it all went wrong? I keep running through the same questions over and over: Was it revenge? Was it a lesson? Was it the Universe, or karma, or just the way things go? Should I take it as a bigger lesson, or just jump back on the bike? Is this all my fault? Am I a lost cause? This girl left me heartbroken, but that heartbreak enabled me to see what an asshole I’d been to certain women in the past. And I still felt incredibly guilty about many of the things that I'd done.
A week after she ended it, I was scrolling through old pictures on Facebook and Instagram, re-reading emails and texts with different women I’ve dated over the past year. I had the ultimate face palm of shame. How could I break up with that girl over email? Why did I pull away from that girl so carelessly? Why did I lie and tell that one girl I was sick with the flu? That girl was so nice, why did I blame everything on her? I felt like the human embodiment of that Kanye song where he sings, "Let's have a toast for the douchebags, Let's have a toast for the assholes, Let's have a toast for the jerkoffs that'll never take work off."
Down the line though, I realized that looking for something more serious also left me pretty vulnerable, and with vulnerability comes the risk of failure. While it feels beautiful and freeing to make myself available it’s also really difficult to put myself out there with some fake-ass optimism about how it might suddenly work out with someone this time. However, I knew it was something I had to do.
There are a lot of ways you can look at heartbreak, and there are also a lot of ways you can try and get over it: Get drunk, sleep with someone new, eat, have a pity party, talk it through with friends, see a therapist, eat again, etc. So with this step in mind, I decided I'd start writing. I wanted to write because it felt therapeutic. I wanted to write as a way to get to some kind of truth with myself. I wanted to write because saying sorry isn't enough. I wanted to be as honest as possible, I wanted to come clean, I wanted to expose myself as much as I could. So, I broke these memories down into vignettes, and started a little Instagram series called #memoriesofagirlineverknew last year. You can date someone for years, and afterwards feel like you never actually never knew them. On the contrary, you can know someone for a week and connect to them more than someone you’ve known for years. It’s all ephemeral. If I’m still learning about myself, how can I really know someone else? So many of our romantic experiences and failures are universal, and I hope that by sharing mine, others might relate.
Each piece is a reflection on a romantic failure or memorable experience of mine: from my first crush, to one-night stands, to internet stalking, to all the ‘firsts’ that happen throughout the beginning and ending of a relationship, to a girl who seemed so perfect I didn’t want to meet her for fear of ruining it. Check out a selection of my writings below, along with some new ones for those who already follow the series (and enjoy the animations we made up top).
We'd love for you to participate in this 12-step journey with us. Step four is about forgiving yourself for something in the past that you're ashamed of. Psychologists say that until we forgive ourselves for our past regrets, we can't truly focus on kindness for others. Comment below or tag #12kindsofkindness on social media and let us know your stories. We'd love to hear them!
Feel free to use the artwork / quotes above to share your story on social, you can download them all on the 12 Kinds of Kindness Tumblr.