I shaved my legs to the knees before our date. He touched my thighs and asked whether I had shaved at all.
I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he started spending more time with his ex. Then he left me for her.
I spent an hour trying to convince him that saying “That’s so gay” was harmful and not okay. He told me people don't enjoy hanging out with me because they have to watch what they say.
Three different guys. Three different times in my life.
I trusted them to honour and respect my body, our commitment and my values—aka the most basic values of decent and informed people. They let me down.
I wasn't angry. Frustrated? Yes. Hurt? Absolutely.
But my anger couldn't break through the crust of repeated forgiveness, the residue of my lowering expectations, the cycle of hurt-heal-hurt-heal. Anger's exhausting. Adaptation is easier.
My brain adapted to awful treatment. Not that I put up with it, but it became less of a surprise as my mind began to anticipate it so it could prepare and protect me.
And I didn't realize how much I'd come to expect straight-cis-male douchery until I met James.*
After years of cycling between bad internet dates and self-imposed dry spells, I came across James’s profile on Bumble. His eyes were kind. He didn't balk at the inclusion of the words ‘intersectional feminism’ on my profile.
We talked. Then we met. Then we both deleted Bumble and started dating. Now he’s my boyfriend.
This romance has been full of pleasant surprises: the best of course is the revelation that he deserves my trust. It’s been a slow, granular revelation made up of moments that keep coming.
He asked me to explain intersectional feminism and really listened to my answer.
He ran his hands over my generous stomach and unshaven thighs and didn't bat an eye.
He caught himself making an offensive joke and asked me of his own accord whether it was inappropriate.
I initiated a conversation about consent and boundaries in the bedroom. He thanked me for communicating with him.
I got up the courage to tell him that his words had hurt my feelings. He clarified what he meant, asked questions to better understand where I was coming from and listened. Then he apologized and asked if there was anything else on my mind.
I still catch myself treading lightly. I act with the habit-formed assumption that I'm asking for too much, that I’m taking up too much of his time, that discussing my emotional needs runs the risk that he’ll see me as ‘needy’.
His reassurance and kindness chip away at my old mental habits. With every word, he builds a new standard of romantic behaviour.
I’ve known for a long time that I deserve to be treated well but I didn’t know it was possible. A lifetime surrounded by wistful hand-wringing, heavy sighs and the refrain, “Men are just less mature” lowered my expectations.
But old excuses for bad behaviour no longer hold. And I'm so glad this change is taking place.
I don't want to be surprised when my boyfriend puts my needs first. I don't want to be that impressed when he’s sensitive and kind and a good listener. Those things should be given.
Trust feels wonderful but I can't wait until expecting the good becomes instinct. I can't wait for my standards to adjust so that anything less than being cherished and respected and adored is unthinkable. I want this dance of kindness and gratitude to become habit. I want to let go and allow myself to trust.
James gave me a single pink rose on Valentine’s Day. I loved it.
But the best gifts I’ve gotten from him are who he is and how he treats me. Those radical acts of decency and equitable treatment have helped me begin to own my self-worth.
And I can see the same thing happening with him. When I’m patient and understanding, when I’m supportive and kind, when I give him the benefit of the doubt or express my appreciation, I see the same surprise in his eyes and I know I’m not the only one learning how to trust again.
*Editor's note: We subsequently changed the boyfriend's name to protect his identity.
Article last updated at 4:16 PM on June 12, 2017
Katie Bell loves board games, hugs, and talking about intersectional feminism. She wrote and performed a one-woman show about depression called "You Are (Not) Dead" for Toronto Fringe in 2016, and is trying to get her other creative writing projects from the back burner to the...front burner? Most days you can find her writing for entrepreneurs who love what they do but hate writing. Words are important.