We all egged on his roughhousing, and cheered when he’d shout, “I do what I want”—a common refrain. Then we went tubing.
I had a crush on him for months. He was the biggest, loudest, and drunkest of our friends, but he was also well-educated and funny, with an appreciation of fine cuisine and sharp suits. The apparent contradictions put him on my radar the minute we met—my first boyfriend, in college, had also been big, loud, and smart. A whole year post-graduation, I was confident I had a type. When this new guy appeared in my world—he was drunk by noon at a weekend meeting of bike activists and introduced himself to me in flawless French—I was done for.
We saw each other frequently at rides, bar crawls, and parties organized on the fixed-gear bike forum where we both wasted time at work. A few months and two inebriated makeout sessions after we first met, he took me on our first official date. We were inseparable within weeks.
He was sweet and charming when we were alone. We walked his dog and he’d tell me how happy it made him, us taking care of her together. We’d gear up to play bike polo, and he’d tap my helmet and call me his little warrior. He cooked me buttery French dinners and took me out to expensive restaurants. Riding home from parties at night, he’d often detour miles out of our way to pause at some beautiful park, just so the view would be perfect when he told me he loved me.
He was uncouth, but it was an ebullient, almost admirable rowdiness. He made friends easily, and was constantly throwing parties. The door to his house was always open, and he kept the kitchen stocked with beer, Jäger, and chocolate cake. He was the guy standing on a ladder in the backyard, pouring beer onto his best buddy’s head. We all egged on his roughhousing, and we cheered when he’d shout, "I do what I want"—a common refrain.
After I dumped him, I found myself with a laundry list of reasons why I left. “He listened to Rush,” is my go-to excuse if I’m feeling flip. But, “he threw my bike once, when he was angry, and he didn’t throw it at me but he didn’t not throw it at me either” suffices for more serious conversations. I had started making new friends who gently pointed out that my boyfriend’s actions could be alienating, and I began to realize that I agreed with them. We fought constantly. I hated his non-bike friends. The drinking was a problem, and with it the fact that he routinely partied until dawn, leaving me sleeping alone in his bed even though I had my own apartment. Despite our wildly different schedules, he insisted on always sleeping in the same bed—because he couldn’t bring the dog to my building, I’d all but moved in with him. I have reason to believe he cheated on those long nights out, though I only went to the trouble of confirming it once.
Any of those reasons should have been sufficient grounds for a breakup, and we came close to splitting a few times before I left for good. But I held out hope that he could transform his destructive behaviors back to just plain bad ones.
Then we went tubing.
It was late summer, very hot, and we were in the river with his best friend, his sister, and a cooler of beer. It was nice. Everything felt infused with a shimmering, lazy sense of contentment that I’d found rare in the waning months of our relationship.
About an hour in, we found ourselves washed into a sort of rock-enclosed pool—still in the river, but out of the current. We sat on the rocks and drank beer for a while, not talking much, enjoying being out in the sun. When it got too hot, we got back in the pool and prepared to rejoin the flow. That’s when he made his announcement.
“I have to poop.”
“Go out in the woods—we’ll wait for you here,” his sister said.
“No. I’m just going to do it here. I really have to go.”
This launched a shouting match that lasted at least 10 minutes. His sister yelled, his best friend reasoned, and I begged. We pointed out that in the time he’d spent arguing with us, he could easily have made it to the woods and back. We asked him why he couldn’t have gone while we were still on the rocks. We reminded him that the pool he was in wasn’t part of the current, so the poop would just hang out in there, probably floating, waiting for an unsuspecting person in an inner tube to touch it. We were grossed out, and very, very pissed.
He just looked at us, grinning. He floated to a corner of the rock enclosure. Our shouting intensified until it registered. It was too late. He continued smiling at us the whole time.
I realized in that river that my boyfriend was a brute, but the bad behavior alone was never the problem—it was his cavalier disregard for how it affected everyone around him, his smile through our distress, that I could not accept. His friend and sister kept shouting at him from inside the rock pool. I swam back into the current, put a healthy distance between myself and the tainted water, and began to paddle back to shore.