Brianna Parkins: I was dumped for an exotic dancer. Here’s what it taught me about love

It might hurt to discover you’re a placeholder in a relationship, but who wants to waste years of their life not getting the partner they deserve?

I enjoy the privilege and the responsibilities that come with being an elder in nightclubs. Like the mandatory spare cardigan tied around my waist to offer a shivering girl in the smoking area, “so you don’t catch your death”. Or my involuntary compulsion to sidle up to someone crying in the gutter in their good, going-out outfit before gently asking “Everything okay, hun?”

Often the tears relate to the unfortunate but common habit of liking a person who doesn’t like you back. So, like any registered therapist would do in this situation, I tell them my tragic story of being dumped to help them feel better.

Unlike other parables, this tale didn’t start off in the Bible, but rather in the equally spiritual place of a regional nightclub in a steel mill and mining town.

It served cheap drinks on Wednesdays for university students and only in plastic cups instead of glass, for safety reasons. A boy offered to buy me a drink, and I said yes because I am financially responsible. I found out he was not a student but a semi-employed photographer/bartender, had multiple ex-fiancees despite being in his 20s, and spent a lot of his money making his car exhaust sound louder. At that life stage, I treated red flags as a bull would a matador cape and ran straight to them.


He got my number and we started going on dates. It was all very romantic – he gave me lifts to the train station, and he paid most of the bill at the third-cheapest Chinese restaurant in town. After a while, he started having emergencies – the kind that meant dates had to be cancelled at the last minute. Then he refused to answer texts at all for large blocks of time. He stopped organising to meet me next to the cigarette machines; instead, he “might” see me out. That was okay, he was just busy. I read horoscopes, and they said we were compatible but that growth would take time.

I don’t know why he brought her to the one nightclub in town we met up in at the same time, every Wednesday. But when I saw them kissing passionately to a badly mixed medley of Avicii songs, I knew why he was acting so distant. He had dumped me and had a new girlfriend – he just hadn’t told me.

I put down my VCR (vodka, Coke and raspberry) and went home to cry. I couldn’t compete with her expensive long blonde hair extensions and pin-up looks. My hair was cut short by a Turkish barber for a tenner and I was routinely mistaken for a boy at boxing when I wore headgear.

She worked as an exotic dancer who got paid for being the living, breathing embodiment of a male fantasy. None of my friends bothered to pretend, as is tradition, that my ex’s new gf wasn’t pretty. There was no “I don’t know what he even sees in her” line trotted out, because everyone knew and they could see it for themselves two nights a week when she did lingerie waitressing down the pub.

She was gorgeous with an amazing body, featuring gravity-defying parts, she had a lovely personality and was a successful businesswoman. Not the kind of person you want to supersede you.

To make matters worse, it’s common in Australia to celebrate the milestone of maturity that is turning 21 by hiring a professional to get their bits out to music for the birthday person. This is often financed by doing a quick whip-around by the party guests and ignoring how weird it is to have grandad pitch in for a crowdfunded public lapdance. This meant that for months on end I had to see my replacement naked and be asked to pay for the privilege.

When we obsess over all the ways we could be inadequate and how to get a suitor to like us, we forget to ask ourselves if we actually like them

While it was enough to direct me towards a life in the convent, the episode taught me some important lessons about love:

1. It hurts to find out that the person you like saw you as a placeholder. But it would hurt more to waste years of your life not getting the love you deserve and convincing yourself this is as good as it gets.

2. Pretending you don’t have needs or boundaries or minimum standards won’t make someone like you more or treat you better. They may still go off with another girl.

3. Stop thinking you weren’t “good enough”. You were probably too good for him. When we obsess over all the ways we could be inadequate and how to get a suitor to like us, we forget to ask ourselves if we actually like them. Ask yourself if you could spend a lifetime cringing not just at your partner’s awful tattoo but their insistence on taking their top off in public to explain the “deep” meaning behind it to strangers. Particularly when the meaning could be explained in one word: “drugs”.

4. What breaks your heart now will make you laugh in the future. Or maybe it will make the other guests at the dinner party laugh, or the stranger you found crying in the gutter over a boy, the one you decided to cheer up with your story about getting dumped for an exotic dancer. I promise, in most cases, this will be funny one day.