I have gone to extraordinary lengths to make people love me.
I loved my first real partner, the man I lived with in graduate school, because he was a delightful combination of strong and gentle. He’d experienced the harshness of the world and yet stayed kind. His smirking good looks didn’t hurt, either.
He had immigrated from Afghanistan to Scotland, where I lived at the time. His English was broken. He lived with friends who treated him like a little brother, and for whom he worked at a job he hated.
Like many women in their early twenties raised on Western media, I believed the goal was to get the man you fancied to love you. Always.
After all, I’d never seen a princess in a fairytale say, “I should really take my time. Find out if I actually like this guy who just climbed my hair. I mean, I barely even know him!” From books, film, and TV — even from my own family — I’d absorbed this lesson about women turning frogs into princes. It didn’t happen through a single kiss, mind you, but through enormous effort devoted to sorting your man out, whether he liked it or not.
It’s a sort of cultural joke, this idea that men “need help” and that it’s their partner’s job to provide it. That said, I’m not sure exactly who the punchline is for.
In my own little fairytale, my boyfriend moved in with me and secured a slightly better job. I found him a free English course and, gifted in language, he raced through it. I got him into school, where he earned an engineering certificate because he’s very smart and works very hard. He landed a much better job at the college he attended. Then, I found him a lawyer, downloaded all the paperwork, and we obtained his citizenship.
Don’t misunderstand me — he worked his ass off at every step of this process. All I did was point to each opportunity and facilitate things I was better at; things that were more straightforward for me, a native speaker and a Westerner. I also talked him into things, and through things. He could do English school. He deserved a better job. He was smart enough for college. Yes, he deserved an even…