I told him I was looking for a pen, but the truth is I was snooping.
I used to be a real snoop. I was so curious as to what everyone around me was privately thinking. The only thing standing between me and anyone’s diary was a heaping pile of guilt, which I’m ashamed to admit didn’t always stop me. Eventually I learned, very definitively, that nothing good comes of it, ever, and I began to see it for the dubious breakdown of the golden rule that it is. Back in 2009, though, I only understood such a decency intellectually. I had yet to learn it the hard way.
One afternoon, I was hanging out in the bedroom of my first serious boyfriend while he was in class. We were about a year deep. We were technically happy (everyone dreams of being technically happy), but he’d broken up with me in a dramatic fashion about six months prior, and once we got back together, I had lingering doubts as to whether we were solid. This, of course, is how looking for a pen in his desk animorphed me into a raccoon sniffing around a dumpster. AND BOY, DID I SCORE SOME TRASH.
It was a small piece of paper. I can’t recall why it caught my eye. I picked it up with almost-psychic confidence. As I unfolded it, I knew immediately that I’d hit the shitty jackpot. I sat down on his bed, without so much as a blink or a breath, and read:
I was bowled over. I felt like I’d just peered into my own soul and finally understood myself.
Just kidding. WTF w/ TWO SYNONYMS FOR CUTE WASTING A QUARTER OF MY PRO SLOTS? I am also funny, fucker!
While my name was nowhere to be found, I never doubted the list was about me. The cons are all absolutely true, even still. And for the record, he meant literal board games, not like ~waiting to to text back.~ Trust me. This is a kid who was passionate about beer bongs.
I put the piece of paper back and returned to my homework, shaken. When he got back later that day, I knew that’d I’d cave and tell him. It was just too absurd to keep to myself. Oddly enough, my concern was not for the totally batshit contents of the list. I was just curious as to why the hell it existed. Was he thinking about ending things?
We sat down and I confessed I’d “stumbled” across the note while searching for a pen — an all-but-blatant lie — and was perplexed by it. My memory of the conversation is a little blurry (it was a decade ago!), but I know he told me the list was from a while back, when he was having doubts about us. He assured me it didn’t mean anything and I probably assured him I was game to change my personality. I was mostly interested in making the whole confrontation an enjoyable experience for him. I was just a good girlfriend, you know? We dropped it pretty quickly and didn’t break up for another six months. That it didn’t become a running joke was, in my opinion, singular evidence of our demise.
Him: Want to play Cranium?
Me: Did you forget? I DON’T LIKE GAMES!
The best part of breaking up and moving on is taking mental note of the red flags you missed. Of all the warning signs I’ve breezed past, the pro/con list is my absolute favorite. I really love it and wish I had it framed in my living room. In hindsight, the list’s existence doesn’t shock me (I had my own versions in the form of nauseatingly long Word documents), but the contents of it are so telling. They truly tickle me. That my best qualities in his eyes — cute, fun, nice, hot — were nowhere close to the ones I valued in myself and would prefer to be loved for — my mind, personality, literally anything else — should have been a smack upside the head for me. That mismatch was exactly why we didn’t work. Our values were off-the-charts different.
What was your biggest missed deal breaker? A red flag retro-identified is still a red flag.
Illustrations by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.