I recently told Science Guy that up until I met him I had terrible taste in men. For some reason, he wasn’t sure this was a compliment but it definitely is. Anyone who knew me in real life during, oh, the first seven of the last ten years can certainly attest to this. Even my dad, who had never given more than a perfunctory smile to any of the few boys I’d brought home prior to Science Guy and with whom I’d never discussed relationships, greeted my now-husband for the first time with jokes, eager discussions of his lab work, and questions about the economy galore. (He subjects treats everyone to the latter, but the jokes were a dead giveaway to me that something was very different that time.)

More of my friends than I might have expected married their high school or college sweethearts and were thus spared the hit parade of bad first dates and sad/inevitable/liberating breakups that I went through before I was ready for a functional relationship. As a matter of fact, I was Science Guy’s first serious girlfriend, which is amazing/mildly unfair because he was a damn sight better at relationships than I was when we met. In some ways I’m a bit jealous of them for dodging the frogs before finding their match, but in other ways I’m grateful for all of those small and medium dating disasters (fortunately none were truly catastrophic) that taught me a lot about myself, helped me appreciate Science Guy and our relationship infinitely more, and, to be fair, weren’t all that unpleasant at the time. (Which is not to say that some of them really could and should have been avoided, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Recently I was going through a box of cards and letters dating back to 2010, and I found a printed email from my long-distance boyfriend I’d dated during my first year of teaching. It was a list of things he liked about me (long distance dating is weird, okay?), and as I read it, I was strangely moved by these words of truth written a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away by someone who is now effectively a stranger because the whole friends-with-exes thing 100% guarantee does not work for me. It had taken me awhile to finally let go of any ill will toward him about a year after Science Guy and I started dating, but as I read this list I realized that I had also chosen to forget that there had ever been any kindness and affection between us, which isn’t really fair to him or myself. I can’t even remember the specific reason we broke up, except that at the time we were both under considerable emotional strain, had unresolved spiritual wounds related to dating, and found ourselves tumbling toward codependence, plus as I said above, long distance dating is weird and difficult. But I find myself wishing now that I could say thank you for those words of truth he spoke to me, as they are some of the kindest things anyone has ever said to or about me.

All of this led me to think about what I would say or ask to those former flames today if I had the chance. (There is some kind of short story idea hiding here, but if you’ve seen my Instagram post, you’ll know I have a terrible hangup about writing fiction.) So in honor of Valentine’s Days past celebrated alone or with the wrong people (but…mostly alone), here’s a list of things I’d say and questions I’d ask to people I’ve dated or crushed on in the last 10 years. (In no particular order and with identifying details changed to prevent me from having to change my identity/leave the country from embarrassment.)

  • SURELY you knew I had a crush on you, right???!?!?!
  • I really wish we could be friends because you were always intelligent, interesting, and very good to me. But are you less angry now?
  • SURELY you knew I had a crush on you, right???????
  • Do you still have the scarf I knitted for you freshman year? I still have the photo I bought years later to support you on a mission trip and I still enjoy looking at it.
  • SURELY you knew I had a crush on you, right!!!?!?!?! (This…seems to be a pattern…sigh.)
  • I’m…really sorry about the snarky email I meant to Forward to my best friend and instead hit Reply…to you. Yeah, oops. REALLY SORRY. But I hear you’re married and have a baby, yay, good for you, I’m gonna leave now.
  • You were totally flirting with me/sniffing me out for missionary dating that first quarter of grad school. Where’d you go?? (Your babies are cute, btw.)
  • Never mind, I’ll find someone (nothing) like you.
  • I apparently didn’t know anything about you except what I wanted to believe. What were your intentions toward me and why did they/your behavior change so suddenly? (There’s another question I really want to ask but I’m omitting it for the sake of keeping this blog family-friendly.)
  • Soooooooo…did you ever catch up with that girl in France that you cried about to me during one of our dates?????
  • Um…did the FedEx driver ever spot the pot plants growing on your deck?/Do you still worship rocks or whatever?
  • Oh shoot, was I supposed to know you had a crush on me?! Oops…sorry…for accidentally going on a date with you…

Boy, am I glad to be done with dating. If anything terrible happens and I find myself single again, I’m just not even going to try because clearly I have no idea what I’m doing.