After a Man Used Me, I Became a Better Person

Elle Silver

When I was a much younger woman, I led on a lot of men. I’m not proud of this, but all I can say is that I had no idea how cruel I was being.

I loved the attention that men so often lavished on me. They treated me like a queen just for being me. I was beautiful and naïve—oblivious. I told myself that men just liked giving me things, doing stuff for me.

They benefited from taking me out to all those expensive dinners. They received my company in exchange. Pampering me made them happy too, right?

What a twit I was! I didn’t realize the extent of my jerkiness. These men were crazy about me, but I saw them as buddies. Well, buddies who spoiled me.

But like many things in life, the only way to learn that I was committing wrongs was to be treated the same way by a man.

Once I experienced what it was like to be led on myself, I never strung along another man again.

I led on a man named Parker.

Want to hear just how bad I was at leading on men? Take the case of Parker. We met at a party when I was twenty-seven. He was thirty—a sweet software designer.

At this party, we hit it off — well, in a friendly way. From the get-go, I just wasn't into Parker romantically.

He was too shy and geeky for me. I was a shy geek too, but maybe that’s the reason I wanted a more confident and aggressive man.

Okay, so I had a thing for jerks in my twenties. Like I said, I was still learning about life. It’s not like I didn’t like Parker at all. I loved talking to him.

Sure, I did most of the jabbering, but he seemed to adore listening to me. He agreed with all my opinions and when he did speak it was to tell me how fascinating I was. Wow, it felt great to hang out with Parker!

We started seeing each other, but in my mind, it was just as friends. I believed Parker was on the same page. He was totally cool about just being pals.

I thought that was why he kept calling me, because we were best buds, out having fun on the town. Sure, Parker would always pay. I let him take me out to expensive restaurants because he had much more money than I did.

In my mind, he just wanted to share his wealth. Besides, he never once tried to kiss me. He seemed content with the simple hugs I gave him when we went our separate ways after a meal. How was I supposed to know he saw me as his girlfriend?

Yup, I was pretty surprised when after about six weeks of “hanging out,” he told me he wanted to introduce me to his mother.

As his girlfriend.

Huh? I wasn’t his girlfriend! I assured him we were just platonic.

Wow, did he get hurt and angry when I said that.

I thought he was overreacting, especially when he told me he never wanted to speak to me again. I was sad to lose a good friend. I’d thoroughly enjoyed our meals together.

For a long time, I even thought he’d made a mistake by throwing away a great friendship over a little tiff about our relationship status. I just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why Parker so miffed. As far as I was concerned, we could have remained buddies forever.

I wouldn’t learn just how badly I’d treated Parker until a man did the exact same thing to me.

Karma is a bitch.

After playing with men’s hearts for years, I finally met the man who would toy with mine. We matched on Tinder and met for coffee. I fell in lust.

I have a weak spot for guys like Luke. He wore leather jackets and had long, messy hair. He drove an old Cadillac that he worked on himself with his own two beautiful hands.

My heart fluttered. Infatuation blinded me. That was my problem: I couldn’t see that Luke didn’t like me the same way as I liked him. All I knew was that I wanted to see him again. Now!

Our first coffee date had only just ended when I texted him, inviting him to my place for lunch the following day. Nope, I didn’t wait for him to contact me. I was too eager to meet up again.

He said sure, so the next morning, I woke up early and spent hours preparing our lunch. Luke showed up late and spent most of our meal on his phone, texting someone else.

He kept going outside to smoke cigarettes. Almost immediately after he’d eaten, he said he had to leave. I had expected we’d spend the rest of the day together. He didn’t kiss me when he left, or even hug me.

Still, I told myself he was just being respectful. Eros is a powerful thing. I was completely taken by Luke. I couldn’t see straight. I couldn’t tell that he didn’t feel the same way about me.

I didn’t hear from him again until later in the week. He texted to say his old Cadillac had broken down. I immediately offered to let him borrow my car. I even drove my car to him then took an Uber home.

I waited patiently until he brought my car back later that night. I invited him in but he said he was busy. Again he didn’t make a move to kiss me.

Our relationship went on like this for weeks. We kept chatting, usually because I’d initiate contact. I’d wait to hear back from him but he wouldn’t call. Just when I thought I’d lost him, Luke would slip into my DMs to say hi. Typically he did this when he needed something.

One time it was because his band was playing. He asked if I could come to see the show. He had a bunch of tickets that he needed to sell. Could I buy one?

I bought five to make him happy. The night of the concert, I sat alone, waiting for him to come over to say hello. He never did. At the end of the evening, I saw him talking with another woman. I was about to go up and introduce myself. Who would I say I was? Luke’s girlfriend? That’s when I saw him kiss her.

My jaw dropped open. How could I have been so stupid? I should have known. Now I realized why he’d never once tried to make a move. He was dating someone else all along!

Still, I felt used. The humiliation was unbearable. He’d strung me along! He’d made me believe he liked me, hadn’t he?

But then over the coming weeks, I came to my senses. I started to realize how I’d done the same thing to dozens of guys in my past. I’d led those men on, fully aware they wanted to be more than just friends with me. I let them buy me things when I was out dating other people.

I’d used them.

Worse, just like I’d kept mum with Luke, these men had never spoken up and made their desires known. That's when I realized maybe it wasn’t all Luke’s fault he’d used me. I had let him do so. I’d never told him not to.

It dawned on me: if we’re the only ones who can make our desires known, then we have control over how a relationship turns out. We can take charge and be honest about our feelings. If we get rejected, it’s better than being led on.

Had I spoken up to Luke about my true sentiments, I wouldn’t have gotten so hurt. Yes, it would have hurt to hear the truth from Luke, but having my heart dragged through the mud for weeks hurt more.

Parker should have done the same thing with me. Who knows? Had he spoken up, I might have decided to see him in a more romantic light.

Let’s face it — coming out and asking for what you want is sexy. Confidence is attractive. So if you’re unsure where you stand with a person — be bold. Speak up.

I learned my lesson.

Once I started thinking about relationships in this light, I felt better. The problem is, once we develop feelings for someone, we’re often in a vulnerable position.

That’s why it’s so important to do our best to think logically. Didn’t I always know Luke wasn’t all that into me? He’d never made me believe he was. Well, except when he kept getting in contact.

Okay, so he had strung me along. That’s why I told myself if it feels like a man isn’t all that into me, he probably isn’t. See: logical brain. If it feels like I want more than he wants to give me, he’s just not that into me, cut the string.

Parker should have done that with me, but he didn’t. That’s why as a woman, I now watch how I treat men. If it feels like a man likes me way more than I like him and I’m still seeing him just for something to do — then I’m being a jerk. I’m leading him on.

Don’t do that. It’s not cool. But sometimes we can’t learn a lesson until the same thing happens to us. In my case, I had to be led on by a guy in order to feel compassion for all the men I’d led on in my past. I had to experience this pain myself to realize I had to stop doing this.

And guess what? I haven’t led on another man since. Even better—I haven’t let myself be strung along by a single other man either.

And I never will again.

Photo by Atikh Bana.

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I'm a relationships expert with a focus on post-divorce dating and family. Everything I've learned about love, I've learned the hard way. You can learn from my mistakes.

Los Angeles, CA

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