This one goes out to all the men I've ever complained about.
If I've ever thrown you under the bus, focused on how I was right and you were wrong, or told only my side of the story to friends in order to garner support for how much of an asshole I thought you were, this one's for you.
I told my mother about the things you said when we were fighting and she told me I shouldn't put up with you. She told me you weren't good enough for me.
I told my friends about how you stopped treating me the way you did when we first met and they told me I deserved a man who treated me like a queen (never mind that I wasn't treating you like a king either). They told me you weren't a real man if you didn't do that.
And I believed them.
All the various ways each of our actions and reactions influenced one another were too complex for me to sort out. It was too confronting for me to face the fact that this happened with every guy I dated, and that perhaps it had something to do with me. It was so much simpler to just paint you as a bad guy and be done with it.
But now have something I need to say to you: You might have been an asshole to me but I see now that I was an asshole to you, too, and I didn't even know it.
How could I have missed such a glaringly obvious truth?
Well, at the time, I couldn't see that I was hurting you. I just thought I was standing up for myself and demanding better from you. I didn't see how unnecessary that all was. I didn't know that if I had been more caring, you would have too - that if I'd been more accepting, you would have too. We were caught in a cycle, reacting to each other, and neither one of us knew it.
My vision of you was colored by my own insecurities. You see, deep down I was so afraid I was messing up that all I could see was how you were messing up. I was haunted by a feeling that there was just something wrong with me so, of course, I was haunted by a feeling that there was something wrong with you. I needed you to be the bad one because, in my core, I was afraid we'd find out the bad one was actually me.
So much of my relationship with you was about validating myself. I needed you to treat me well to prove that I was worthy of a good man. I needed you to cherish me because I didn't cherish myself. I expected to realize my worth through how good you were to me, rather than through how good I was to you.
I never looked at it from your perspective. I didn't see all the things that I wasn't doing for you. All I could see was what you weren't doing for me, how you weren't showing up for me.
I'm sorry I didn't show up for you.
In my eyes, you looked like you had it all together so it never occurred to me that you needed anything from me. As crazy as it seems looking back now, I never stopped to think that when I complained about the ways you weren't measuring up to my expectations, it hurt you deeply. It never occurred to me that you needed my warmth, my love, my approval and my acceptance of you just as you were. It didn't cross my mind that you needed me to embrace you in your darkness, to stay solid when you were pushing me away out of fear, or to get curious rather than angry when you did something that hurt me.
I didn't realize that all the things I expected from you, you needed them from me, too. Now I understand why you pulled away and shut me out. You felt rejected and hurt, just like I did.
They say the opposite of love is indifference, not hate.
Maybe you were an asshole because you cared and because I hurt you. I can tell you, without a doubt, that was the reason I was an an asshole. It's why I pretended I didn't care anymore. It's why I had to eventually stop caring for real.
I thought I was the only one getting hurt. I thought you had all the power. In fact, all the hurtful things I've ever done, I did because I didn't realize just how powerful I was. I didn't think I could really hurt you, so I wielded my power carelessly. And of course you ended up getting hurt.
I wanted you to be a better man. Now I'm sorry I wasn't a better woman.
So this is my living amends:
I will treat men differently from now on.
There is a man I love deeply now, and when I am hurt, afraid, or angry, I promise to always try and understand his perspective so that I can treat him as an ally rather than an enemy.
When I'm tempted to be critical of him, I resolve to focus on treating his heart as I would have him treat mine.
I swear that I will always remember how sensitive he is and I will always remember just how much power I have to hurt him. I will wield my power responsibly, never underestimating my impact. I will remember that everything I do and say is of consequence, so I will do my best to always be kind.
I will never blame him for our troubles. I will remember that all relationship dynamics are co-created and that if I don't like how things are between us, I can always impact our dynamic by making changes on my end. I will not wait for him to change first. I will be the change I want to see in our relationship.
And lastly, whenever a woman complains to me about her man, I will do everything in my power to help her see what I couldn't see back then: That people will treat us exactly how we train them to. I won't corroborate her story that he's just an asshole. I'll remember that it's never quite so black and white.
Originally on elephant journal.