I was already having some type of night, though I guess I should say morning, since I'd spent the first five hours past midnight snorting stuff to stay awake.
Which is why I needed the text that came through as I was walk-of-shaming down the subway steps like my still-sprinting heart needed another hit.
“The past week I've realized since it's been crazy at work the last month that I couldn't even process how fucked up you handled the whole situation. Honestly feel like I deserved way more than a text. …. It just makes me feel the whole time you were using me and that's not cool at all. …. Thought you were way better than that. I guess this is an irrelevant text but just had to get it off my chest.”
Three hours of sleep. Wind whipping. Just trying to get back home. Now, I have to deal with this, from a woman I'd stopped seeing two months prior. We hadn't spoken since, so the whole thing came as a surprise.
Guilty people don't like when accusations are thrown around. We're wrong often enough to know when we aren't, and often enough to know how little it matters. You fuck up a certain number of times and everyone just assumes you've fucked up again because, hey, look at your resume.
But she's wrong here, not me. She's not wrong for being hurt, or for being disappointed in the fact that we didn't work out. She's wrong in her use of the word "use."
We went on dates. We went to restaurants and concerts. She met my friends, and I met hers. We drank and danced and walked around and sat on benches. She made dinner a few times. I bought it more times. We watched Netflix and had sex.
After a while, we ran out of things to talk about. I got sick of faking it.
What did I use her for? A handful of meals and half a dozen naked nights? I don't understand how this is “using” and not "trying" or "dating," or why it's framed as villainous.
I didn't go into the thing wanting to end it. I knew it eventually would, but that's only because everything does.
Let's get it straight. I did not “use” her because I lost interest and we fizzled. The word is hurtful, inaccurate and it brands me an inarguable villain.
I did not “use” you because I lost interest and we fizzled.
Worst of all, it's just erroneous. What exactly did I get out of it that she didn't? Was she not there too?
But this is how the phrase is so often used, to all of our detriment. The accused get branded as bandits, and the accusers just end up speaking in malapropisms.
When someone fucks you to get ahead at work, to get closer to your friend or back at their boyfriend, or because they don't have a home, then you've been used. Everything else is the price of doing dating business.
I can't imagine an alternative universe in which I could be convinced every woman who didn't like me "used me." What a fairy tale. What else would I believe in? That's Trump's real hair?
Maybe this seems minimal and nitpicky. But words are the things that bound us and break us apart. This is why we need to talk about language, the precision of it and the importance of such precision.
Language may be the mechanism we most take for granted because of the way we think it comes so easily and the way we squander so much of it every day.
This is no truer anywhere than the dating sphere, which is what we're here to analyze and dissect. And the fact is, there may be no wider divide in that sphere than there is in the way men and women interpret common words and phrases.
How the same sequencing can mean two totally different things to two different people. How this can turn things toxic.
There may be no wider divide in dating than there is in the way men and women interpret common words.
If there is one point I've tried to drive home since starting this column, it's that one moment often makes or breaks these situations we spend so much time obsessing over. Often, one word makes or breaks those moments.
So why not use words correctly? Why not use them for what they mean and not what they mean to you? Why not be thoughtful in your analysis and accusations, instead of just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks?
What follows below is a mini list created in this spirit. Call it the Treezitionary, or don't. Call it whatever you want. What it attempts to do is translate certain words or phrases from their colloquially incorrect use back to what they actually mean.
It's literally what we should do with the word "literally," if that makes it any easier.
1. “Fucked me over”
Girl 1: "He hasn't texted you in how long?"
Girl 2: "I know, he's totally fucking me over."
What it means: To be betrayed, blindsided, scammed, fleeced, faked out or tattle-tailed on.
What it doesn't mean: To be disappointed or dumped.
As in: “You're amazing.” “He's amazing.” "She's amazing.” “It was amazing.” "Sooo fucking amazing!”
What it means: To cause great surprise or sudden wonder; to astonish greatly.
What it doesn't mean: Literally everything you use it for. Like Chipotle.
3. "Deserved better" (Or any of the phrases derived from this, like: "He doesn't deserve you." "You deserve more." "They didn't even deserve to be in your life.")
What it means: To be worthy of, qualified for, or have a claim to reward, punishment, or recompense.
What it doesn't mean: He's wrong for not liking me.
This one always gets me. To remedy depleted self-worth, we prescribe a bloated sense of entitlement. Of course he didn't deserve you. You're amazing.
Maybe, after a breakup, we should instead be asking: "How can I be better?" or "How can I find someone better suited for me?" This goes for men and women both.
4. And, finally... "To use"
What it means: To take unfair advantage of; to exploit; to use people to gain one's own ends.
What it doesn't mean: We had sex, and now we don't.
I wrote all of this on the train during my walk of shame. When the doors opened, I was done. All I needed to use in that moment was a nap.