All good boyfriends are the same.
All bad boyfriends are bad in their own way.
That's why we need to understand them, even in retrospect.
To understand the bad boyfriend is to give him, paradoxically, less power.
The bad boyfriend usually assumes a prominent position in our lives precisely because he's captured our imagination. We feel like he's got squatter's rights in our heart. It's like he's a tenant in an apartment we're trying to clear out to set up a new household, and he's the one who won't leave.
Somehow, he's remained the bad boyfriend because we haven't been able to fold him, like a minor ingredient, into our lives.
He's like too much nutmeg or too much pepper. In excess, he wrecks the whole dish.
If only we could have left the very memory or idea of him, everything would have been perfect.
If only we could have become bored by him, fed up with him, immune to him, then he could have been filed among the happily ordinary boyfriends of the distant past.
Instead, you remember everywhere you went with him, every meal you had and how most arguments ended, and you can map out every vacation you took by remembering how many hotel pillows you cried into.
Why doesn't one bad boyfriend inoculate you against others? Why isn't having a bad boyfriend like having the chicken pox? Realizing that the man you love doesn't love you back is -- in one respect -- actually very much like getting the chicken pox: face the trauma when you're young, and you get through it without long-term damage because you contract a mild case.
Having an unresolved Bad Boyfriend issue is like carrying around credit card debt. He's one of those store credit cards you only got to get the discount, which can still show up and wreck your rating.
Even the memory of him remains tantalizingly out of reach. He's the man who you're always afraid to see on the street, the one that you're afraid that you're going to run into when your hair looks lousy, your nails aren't done, and you have a temporary cap on a front tooth.
The good boyfriend was happy with whatever you gave him. The bad boyfriend always wanted everything he could get.
That's what you wanted from him, too: Everything you could get. With a good boyfriend it was always easy to get fed up. He would always be giving and giving but there would still never be enough of what you really needed. And if you have to ask your beloved repeatedly for what you want, half your heart stops wanting it. It's like cheating yourself at cards, playing hide-and-seek alone or buying a dress two sizes too big so you can feel small inside of it.
The good boyfriends would be understanding. The bad boyfriend would be knowing.
The good boyfriend provided a nest or a ladder. With a bad boyfriend, you were always walking on a rope bridge. The bad boyfriend was hanging onto your hand as you hung over the abyss, and you weren't sure if he was going to let go.
Good boyfriends were about closure. Bad boyfriends were about pulling down fences.
With a good boyfriend, you merge. With a bad boyfriend, you yield.
And only when you've found your own road, your own pathway, and know you're heading in the right direction can you get over that bad boyfriend. Trust me on this one: it's worth it.
Happy Valentine's Day!
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Originally published in Psychology Today