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Episode #17: I’m Too Sassy for The New York Times Modern Love Column

In March of this year [2021], I submitted a Modern Love Essay to The New York Times. And just last week I heard from Dan Jones, [the] Modern Love editor. He wrote: 

“Dear Dee Dee, 

Thank you for sending your writing to Modern Love. Although I don’t find your essay right for our needs, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to consider it. I regret that the volume of submissions we receive makes it impractical for me to offer editorial feedback. 

Best wishes, 

Daniel Jones, Modern Love Editor”

Very nice, I thought. Direct. Kind. Practical. Face-saving. “I don’t find your essay right for our needs,” he wrote. That could mean many things and it might NOT mean many things, too. My essay might not be a story that would *sell*. It might not appeal to the average – or the target – Modern Love essay reader. It might not be well-written or told enough from the heart. My Modern Love essay – my story – might be considered arrogant. I might be arrogant and who wants to read a story – a Modern Love message – about an arrogant WOMAN? I mean the title of the essay is “Happily Self-Partnered” after all?? Well, listeners, I’m going to read it to you. Here we go: 

[Modern Love essay submission below] 

“Happily Self-Partnered”, by Dee Dee Mendez 

Waiting for my hair color to process, I sat under the dryer and flipped through magazines at the hair salon. I read a quote that spoke to me. I snapped a pic of Emma Watson’s photo and what she said to British Vogue on loving the single life: “It took me a long time, but I’m very happy [being single]. I call it being self-partnered.” I posted the pic on Facebook that evening: “Omg – this is SO ME!!!! Very happy being self-partnered! And no mess….” That was December 11, 2019. 

Nearly a year later on November 19, 2020, I changed my Relationship Status on Facebook to “In a Relationship”. When I went to tag myself as the person I’m in the relationship with, my own Facebook profile was not an option I could choose. I looked for a way to complain to Facebook and to request that they allow me to select myself and couldn’t find a way to. “Figures,” I thought, remembering The Social Network movie. Facebook was created on a college campus so that men could find out if a woman was single or in a relationship. If she was available or not. “What about those of us who are self-partnered? I’m not ‘single’ as in ‘available and interested in changing my relationship status’, Zuckerberg!” 

I have spent most of my adult life self-partnered. What I know about being self-partnered is that I am happy being self-partnered and I’m complete by myself. I am in control of my environment and my time. As someone who is self-partnered, I don’t have any interest in changing my relationship status. I don’t believe that women are only valuable or content as attachments to another person. In other words, my life is full. 

Even though I am happily self-partnered now, I have betrayed myself and my truest nature over my 55 years on this earth: I have been married and engaged twice. I experienced deep unhappiness and confinement in those relationships. The opposite of confinement is freedom, which is the feeling I get from being self-partnered. 

Why did I betray myself? 

I guess I was in those relationships to fit in or to prove my lovability. Those men were a hot mess and so was I for wasting my time. In a nutshell, here’s what happened with each relationship.

· My marriage. I was more academically, professionally and financially successful than he was. I wasn’t always. We started living together at 19 years old. We had the same level playing field and opportunities for us both. He was emasculated. He was disrespectful and spoke poorly of me. “This is my wife, Dee Dee. She drives me crazy”, he said introducing me to his colleagues. I was miserable and wanted him to change, to become ambitious and to ‘act like a husband’. I did not want to get a divorce. He asked for a divorce. I was humiliated and embarrassed. It took me about 3 months of counseling to realize that I didn’t even like him anyway. My therapist finally said, “You know, Dee Dee, I have not heard you say ONE nice thing about him.” Oh. I didn’t like or respect him and he felt it. 

I spent a lot of time alone. I could make a Saturday out of trying a new restaurant for lunch, walking all the way from the Upper West Side to Soho. I got a puppy and then: 

· Fiancé #1. In my late-thirties, I became engaged to another unworthy man. Like my ex, he was less successful than I was. The only difference was that he thought I made him look good. It’s the weirdest thing, like a backwards compliment. “You’re so great, look at ME!” I was miserable and complained to my therapist. This guy had zero energy. Zero. While I would be in spin class at 6:30am, this guy was in bed waiting for the coffee to brew. Before going out to dinner, he needed to rest on the couch while more coffee was brewing. Every single time before going to DINNER. This guy got winded walking a few blocks with a half case of wine. He needed to sit on brownstone stoops to rest along the way. He rested during errands. He got upset when I asked him to put his dirty dishes in the dishwasher. If he could hit the sink with the dishes, why not make it all the way to the dishwasher? Anyway, I was exhausted. After a very long year, I kicked him out. By the way, he was relieved. He knew I didn’t much like or respect him either. 

I did more of the same after this one. I wanted a change of scenery so, I moved downtown to Wall Street and took a new job. I did a lot of runs and walks along the Hudson and the East River. I spent a lot of time with old and new friends and very privately shared with probably my best friend at the time, that I thought I wanted a baby. I was 42. It was probably now or never. I could allow myself to be very vulnerable with this man. He and I would hang out over coffee or lots of wine. I felt ties to him, both of us with European roots. So, he agreed to be the donor. When I called my grandmother a few months later to give her the news that I was going to have a baby in the fall, she was thrilled and asked, “Well, how did you do it? With doctors or the old fashioned way?” “The old-fashioned way, Nanny.” I hadn’t wanted to involve any doctors. I didn’t want to open myself up to any possible negativity. This was something between me and the universe if I was meant to become a mom. 

Five years later, my daughter was just starting kindergarten. We had moved to the Washington, D.C. area and I started a new job. The previous 4 years had been a blur of working, parenting and hanging out with other families. My daughter loved playing with the kids, while I enjoyed wine with the other parents. We loved our parallel play dates. That was all the adult interaction I needed. I had absolutely no interest in dating. We continued to have a relationship with my daughter’s donor/father/my friend and she had finally stopped asking the two of us if we would ever get married. And then:

· Fiancé #2. In my late forties, I became engaged again. This time, to a man who I’d known for almost 30 years. He claimed he’d always been in love with me. It was one of those Facebook reunions and I gave in to the romantic notion that two people could find each other after so much time. He told me that when he was at my wedding and saw me walking down the aisle, he had wished I was walking down the aisle to him. This guy had been an executive with top companies, then transitioned to a career as a child therapist. I told myself that this was admirable. I didn’t have a clue how broken he was. This guy, oh my god. Where do I start? Red flags went up left and right from the start. He was 6 years older than I and had never been married or lived with anyone. Flag. He had sold his house, all of its contents and moved from the south to the northwest to live in a trailer on his brother’s property. Flag. When he moved in with us, he brought his 13-year-old dog and was shocked to find out when he took her to her first-ever grooming appointment (flag!!), that he needed to provide proof that she had had her shots (flag!!!). She had never been vaccinated. A grown man. FLAG. He was constantly breaking and spilling things, while making himself “useful”. A stack of dishes fell from the top of the refrigerator when he tried to store a 3-year supply of light bulbs in the cabinet above. Do you know what it sounds like when a stack of glass plates falls from that high up onto ceramic tiles? Then there was the full cup of coffee that dropped out of his hand and onto my white bedroom carpet when he burst in to tell me about how he had figured out how to use the Starbucks app. I didn’t care. I didn’t really even need the coffee. I knew from the look in his eyes that I wasn’t supposed to react. I wasn’t supposed to get mad or make him feel stupid for being so clumsy all the time. And for not really being helpful at all. Things were so much less messy and simpler on my own. I don’t need that many light bulbs. I don’t need coffee at home when I’m about to go to the office. Where I normally get my morning coffee. I was to let him try to prove his usefulness, make messes and clean things up on his own. Then praise the man child and show my gratitude, validating his worth. FLAG FLAG FLAG. 

I kicked him out two months later. Like the one before him, this one was relieved. He knew. The next morning I said to my daughter, “Baby, you know how Mommy and ‘Mr. R’ were going to get married?” “Yeah.” “Well, now we are not.” We were and have been fine ever since. 

I have not had a date in over five years. And we are still fine. I betrayed my true self and my most beautiful and happy life living what I value most: freedom and independence. And I didn’t begin to truly celebrate that until after I broke off this last relationship, just shy of my 50th birthday. 

[End of Modern Love Essay Submission] 

Okay, wow. I haven’t read the essay in a while. I DO sound arrogant. I AM arrogant? At least I was arrogant when I was with these men? I don’t know – honestly, I don’t know how to answer that. This essay is the truth about how I FELT and what I remember about those relationships. I didn’t always LET those feelings be known – even to myself – at the time. I just tried to *power through* the uncomfortable or annoying moments. I put on a smile for my ex-husband’s colleagues and tried to laugh off his “she drives me crazy” comment. When my fiance after that was doing his coffee thing – in the morning or before dinner – I just did my thing and went around him, at least for the first couple of months. When I realized the pattern and had to stop with him on those errands so could rest, I became impatient. I don’t remember if I said anything though. I KNEW it was over with him though when my former boss and friend, Caryn, came over with her husband and a friend of hers I’d never met. They were all in NYC for a visit and carved out time to meet us for brunch. They came to our apartment for mimosas first and that’s when I could see the complete MIS-MATCH of this man and me: in Caryn’s eyes, in her husband’s eyes. These people who had known me for almost a decade told me with their eyes that we didn’t belong together. Caryn would tell me later, “Oh my God. What was with the gum?The nicotine gum. He just kept CHEWING, he would have been better off just SMOKING cigarettes.” I remembered how awkward and animated he had been. I have no idea what any of us talked about, he was just a mess. We were scheduled to leave the next week for a destination wedding in Ireland and I know I had to kick him out before that. He couldn’t be normal for a goddamned BRUNCH – how could he be normal for my friend’s wedding and all the pre- and post-wedding festivities in another COUNTRY?? By the way – Caryn had also told me that her friend who had joined us for mimosas and brunch that day – her friend who I had never previously met – said, “What’s up with that fiance? Why is your friend Dee Dee with HIM??” Crazy how even a stranger could see I was not a match with this man. Does this still make me arrogant?? I really want to know. And then fiance #2. Jesus. SO MANY FLAGS. And I had given him so much credit because of his previous corporate success. And his *admirable* transition to being a child therapist. I would later speak with the therapist that he and I had seen together – I know, I know, this *relationship* barely lasted 3 months and there was already therapy! – another flag! – and I’m pretty sure she broke an unwritten therapist code when she said, “You know, Dee Dee. People often become therapists because they’re working through their own stuff. But BEFORE they actually become a therapist, they have to work through it. He seems to be stuck as a 10-year-old boy, still working through stuff to feel appreciated.” “Holy shit”, I said. “Do you think he’s a good child therapist then?”, I worried. And she said, “Yes, probably because he can relate to them, he knows what to say to connect with them.” THANK GOD. So, I was good to get out of this relationship with the 10-year-old man-child. Does that give me a free pass to be or sound arrogant in the writing of this essay? I still don’t know. I really don’t. I DO know that with none of these men could I go on, could I ignore who they were, how they behaved, how they made me feel. I heard on a recent Modern Love essay reading on the podcast, that a woman who had buried two husbands and was now on her third marriage, that she likes being married, because she feels cared for. Her new husband gets her coffee in the morning. AW. Coffee makes you feel CARED for? OKay, I get it. Coffee makes YOU feel cared for. Maybe I’ve never had the right person bring me coffee in the morning. I DO think it’s sweet that her husband WANTS to bring her the coffee to show her he cares for her. I’ve been disappointed so many times in relationships, that’s it’s hard for me to imagine giving it a shot ever again. And that’s the thing about being self-partnered – I take care of myself. And I do it consistently and well and with love. And I show my daughter that a woman can be independent and free and very capable without a partner. I wonder how my life might be different if I hadn’t grown up with the *knight in shining armor* fairy tale and that getting married to a man was the way to have a family. I could have bypassed a WHOLE LOTTA disappointments for sure and I hope through my example, my daughter can avoid disappointment. Maybe she’ll choose partners more carefully than I did. I’m excited for the next generations to have so many more possibilities for love, in a straight relationship, in the LGBTQ+ community – anything is possible and they can experiment and change how they identify along the way. You know where I realize I wish I had started? With SELF-love. If you love and care for yourself you don’t need to look outside of yourself for it. And if you DO find someone to love you as much as you love yourself, well, who wouldn’t want that? I’m STILL not sure if I’d want that, because I think about all the other stuff that comes with it: another WHOLE BODY, all the stuff THAT body likes to EAT and DRINK and WEAR, and WHERE that body likes to go on VACATION and how that body SLEEPS – does it snore, does it sweat, does it talk while it sleeps? That body had EMOTIONS and EXPECTATIONS and does it keep as physically fit as I keep MY body? Does THAT body CARE about keeping a home – OUR home – neat and clean and everything in its place AT ALL times?? Okay wait – maybe that could be some new territory to stay open to – not having OUR home with that other body. I would continue to have a home for my body and my daughter, and that OTHER body has its own home. Maybe. Would writing an essay about loving someone and NOT living with them be LESS SASSY than being happily self-partnered and, therefore, be *right* for the *needs* of The New York Times Modern Love column?

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