In the days of yesteryear I was sleeping with a gentleman sir who was possibly the most self-aware person I had ever met. He knew who he was and he made sure that everyone else knew that he knew who he was. He would comment on his own odd habits and mock his tendency to run his fingers through his hair whenever he was nervous or scared or awake. He could rattle off his favourite movie and favourite band and favourite work of art in one breath and then he could deconstruct his faves and reflect upon what each one meant in relation to his psyche. He could tell a hacky joke and then tell a hacky joke about his hacky joke (so meta). If this guy had to draw a self-portrait he would van Gogh the fuck out of that reflective masterpiece.

He knew his strengths as well as any job interviewee does and he knew his weaknesses like the back of his guitar. He was aware that he was awful at communication. That responding to a text message was a success story. He would pre-emptively apologize for treating me badly or for being annoyingly vague or for letting me down once again or for cancelling last minute after I had already showered and shaved and arrived at his house. He would proudly proclaim that he was conscious of his shitty behaviour. His catchphrase was, “Ah, I knew you would be mad.” He understood that he was trouble. He didn’t want to be though, and he sighed about this internal conflict often.

Yet, he never changed. He continued to treat me terribly without remorse. His non-responses to text messages remained unfettered. “Unreliable” was his legal middle name. Cancellation was his perennial hobby. He would pretend that he was striving to better himself in hopes of bettering his relationships, but his attempts typically lasted a week before he reverted back to pre-emptive apologies for his shitty behaviour.

What fascinated me was that, in his mind, the fact that he was cognizant of his utter selfishness made it okay. It was a kind of consolation prize for his losing suitors that he felt bad about being bad. He knew what was up and we couldn’t demand more of him or express anger or weep in response because our expectations were “too high.” His board game of choice was Trouble, after all.

His lack of affirmative empathy resulted in me ending our affair. I couldn’t endure his narcissistic attitude. I was genuinely perplexed and frustrated by his casual acceptance of his insolence. There is this pervasive idea that if a person knows they are an asshole that somehow makes it all right. As if they have been cursed with the mark of the asshole and they see that mark daily and by showing it to the world they receive immunity. They cannot be punished because they cannot escape their destiny. They were born an asshole and forever an asshole they will be. Fated assholes have no control over their thoughts or words or movements. They are mindless drones commanded by previous struggle and family history and ingrained habits and broken hearts and aptitudes for laziness and pure self-involvement. They are incapable of aspiring to not be a piece of shit. They are doomed to ghost and condescend and distance and yell and not go down on you until the end of time.

Except in the kingdom of non-sarcastic reality, knowing you are hurting someone does not release you from the responsibility of the hurt you inflict and it definitely doesn’t eliminate that person’s hurt. Being an asshole is a choice you make each day. Don’t agree with me? Well, firstly, you’re likely an asshole. Secondly, here’s some proof: there are tons of people who AREN’T assholes. Me, for example. I’m not an asshole. My best friends are also not assholes. My first and third boyfriends were not birthed in the holy land of the ass. The barista who made my Americano today is non-asshole number four. My sister? She’s the precise definition of the opposite of a hole in the ass. That girl who bumped into me on the street this morning and loudly exclaimed, “Oh god! I’m so sorry! Are you okay?” = FOR SURE NOT A FUCKING ASSHOLE.

What I’m saying is, you can opt out of it. You can choose to reply to that text message. You can choose to not cancel repeatedly. You can choose to treat a person with respect. You can choose change. Routine is not a maximum-security prison. You can break free of it if you genuinely put in effort; however, if you continue to believe that assholeness is a part of who you are, well then, you’ll always be a tyrant. You’ll always be a soft boy. You’ll always have a craving to play the game Trouble (which you shouldn’t ‘cause that game sucks). You’ll always be the perpetrator of another person’s hurt. Being self-aware is the first step in the direction of change, but it’s not the entire process. The buck does not stop at admitting your faults and failures and fuck ups. There are a bunch of bridges to cross immediately after you have that revelation.

And this doesn’t only apply to romantic relationships, but to all relationships: platonic, familial, and professional. When I was a server, I had a terrible manager who once sat me down to explain why he reacted to everything I did in such a cruel, inconsiderate, making-me-cry-in-the-bathroom manner (which included him calling me a “bitch” because I asked for New Year’s Eve off). He unapologetically said, “Look. This is just who I am. I’m a jerk. You gotta deal with it.” I sat there staring at him in silence, confused by this apparent explanation. He was inherently a “jerk,” thus he was allowed to chastise me in public for not meeting his impossible standards? How can I win here? Where was the logic in that argument? It wasn’t even an argument. He expected me to be cool about it because he treated everybody like this; “this” was him simply “being himself.”

If self-awareness IS the first step in the direction of change then that means you’ve already taken a big step and there’s nothing preventing you from taking another one. I don’t care how many times you apologize for ignoring my existence or forgetting that we had plans or nonchalantly calling me a bitch. Apologies are useless unless they’re paired with action.

Instead of continually wallowing in your own self-pity about being a disastrous, detrimental douche, do something to better yourself in hopes of bettering your relationships. Asshole complacency is just another way of saying, “I don’t mind making people sad on the regular.” You should mind. You should care. You should change. There is no excuse for being an asshole when you have the choice not to be.