Being the Bad Guy

Why breaking someone's heart can haunt you for years.

In Her Words

I Was the Bad Guy

Breaking someone’s heart can haunt you

-Jennifer Lubell

unhappy coupleSomewhere in this great country of ours is a man who thinks I’m the Antichrist.

I’d wager that his family still hates me too.

As someone who’s always had a reputation for being a Goody Two-Shoes, the girl with whom boyfriends’ parents fall in love, the girl whom men think they should marry, I sometimes can’t believe I did what I did.

But 10 years ago, I broke a man’s heart. Even though we’ve both moved on and married other people and the memories of our relationship have faded to sketchy flashbacks, the way I treated Alan* will probably haunt me for the rest of my life.

Men all too often are labeled as the cads in relationships. They lie to us, sleep with other women, make us cry and forget to call us. As someone who has weathered numerous relationships over the years, I’ve had my share of heartbreak. In my relationship with Alan, however, I was the one who acted like a heel.

We first met in the mid ’90s, and he actually dumped me first, to date another woman. Then, two years later, he came back and I gave him another chance. We fell in love, and he moved into my apartment. Alan cooked for me, took care of me when I was ill with mono, and left red roses for me on my balcony. We talked about marriage. Despite his many good points, there were things about Alan that gave me pause for concern: His inability to hold a job, dark mood swings and passive-aggressive ways of showing his anger.

In the end, those shortcomings became deal breakers, and he moved out.

Then I met Pete*, who was flamboyant, outgoing and nothing like quiet, introspective Alan. Even though I had a new boyfriend, I couldn’t forget about the old one. I continued to see Alan “as a friend” behind Pete’s back. I said things to lead Alan on … that I was going to break up with Pete so we could be together again. But somehow I never did it.

This went on for over a year. Even though I was only sleeping with Pete, emotionally I was involved with both men. I’d listen to Alan weep to me over the phone, begging me to give him another chance, and I’d feel tortured. For the first time in my organized life, I literally could not make up my mind.

Then one day, a wise friend said something that set me back on the right track. “I think the reason you can’t make a decision is because neither of these guys are right for you,” she said. “You’re not going to end up with either one of them.”

She was right. My relationship with Pete crashed and burned the first day of the new millennium. And Alan, so fed up with my behavior at that point, simply stopped talking to me.

Even though I’d betrayed both men, Pete weathered the breakup fairly well, and we’re still friends. Alan and I haven’t said a word to each other in about nine years.

Every time I look back on that crazy period in my life, my face turns red with shame. What it taught me is that you don’t have to rush into relationships. And if something doesn’t feel right, then something’s probably missing.

The experience, and the newfound wisdom that came with it, did have a silver lining: It led me to my husband.

*Names have been changed

Jennifer Lubell is a health-care reporter in Washington, D.C.

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