I love assh*les. Why, you may ask, do I love them? They’re ruthless. They’re unintimidated. They DGAF about what comes out of their mouths because they really believe in what they’re saying, and there’s merit in that. Gotta love a confident guy.
But confidence is a tricky thing. Confidence might be the only common factor between the kind of guy who challenges you and the kind of guy who’s just a straight-up assh*le.
I am a pro at mistaking the assh*le for the challenger (I know, I know, that isn't a good thing to be a pro at). We fight, and I’m fawning over the ~fireworks~. Except the fireworks are really just masked as drama, which is really just cloaked as anxiety.
Prime example right here: My ex would incessantly pinch my arm fat and tell me that if I just "stopped drinking so much," I would be able to turn that fat into muscle. Hearing him say this over and over again led me to believe that he was the perfect guy for me: He has my best interests at heart, even when I don't have them for myself, I'd think. He challenges me, and I love a challenge. Not to mention, he had me convinced my wine-drinking habit was out of hand and something worth ditching (it wasn't either of those things).
I didn't realize until I was halfway into an eating disorder that I wasn't with someone who challenged me. I was with someone who obliterated me. He wasn’t pushing me to become my best self. He was harshly criticizing things that he had no right to harshly critique, and my insecurities about those things eventually turned into a full-blown body struggle.
I'm not going to lie to you; I'm still struggling with figuring out the differences between the assh*le and the challenger. Perfecting that skill is something that takes time, patience, and dating a lot of men.
So let’s examine the differences between a challenger and an assh*le so you don’t make the same mistakes I did (and, uh, am still kind of making). Because the challenger shouldn't be chewing you up and spitting you out. He should be respecting you, be willing to learn from you just as much as you're willing to learn from him, and he definitely should never make you feel dumb (or fat).
A challenger encourages you to live up to your potential; an assh*le just wants you to change.
Probably one of the biggest misconceptions I had about my past relationship was that my ex was trying to get me to be my best self. I believed that when he told me to exercise more, I'd become the strongest Sheena -- both physically and mentally -- I was capable of becoming.
Except his instruction was to the detriment of my health, and the more I pushed myself, the more I realized even the most fit Sheena wasn't going to be good enough for him. I was changing everything about myself, and it was fruitless, because the new me wasn't attracting anyone. Not even him.
Most of all, though, I wasn't happy with myself, and that's what counts the most.
By the way, you are not the problem. The problem is almost always the assh*le.
The challenger will encourage you to try things that aren't so out far out of the realm of your capabilities, making them both realistic and safe. The moment you feel yourself going against your morals is the moment you should realize you're with an assh*le.
A challenger criticizes your opinions; an assh*le criticizes your character.
A guy who wants to challenge you will argue with your perspective on things not because he wants to come off as better as you, but because he wants you to learn. He cares enough about you to teach you things. He'll argue with your political views in an attempt to help you understand why middle-class families feel unheard, not because he thinks his views are better than yours.
Make no mistake: He isn't doing this because he's insecure. He's doing it because he knows you're capable of taking the heat.
But if his attacks are more along the lines of, you’re not good enough and you’ll never be good enough, there’s more there. Assh*les criticize you because they aren't pleased with themselves. There’s a fine line between playful bickering and destructive fighting.
Oh, and please remember this: There is nothing about yourself you should ever feel compelled to change. Unless you're a serial killer.
A challenger makes you feel accomplished; an assh*le makes you feel belittled.
The challenger will give you insight into how you should live your life and will want to see you through it, while the assh*le will impose a certain way of life on you -- and then make you feel bad about yourself for not following through with his way.
The challenger will know when to stop being argumentative; the assh*le won’t stop until he’s completely driven you away. And trust me, that's OK, because the assh*le doesn't deserve to be with anyone but himself.
Basically, if you are spending the entirety of your relationship feeling like sh*t about yourself, you're with an assh*le.