Unicorns and healthy relationships, part 2

relationships

Continued from my previous post

As it turned out, the cute math professor liked my crazy socialist rant. There are some guys that will do just about anything to get laid, but it seemed counter-intuitive that this guy would be willing to talk to me about liberal politics in order to do so. I texted my friend Kat and she warned me not to go back on what I had said about him not being sober for long enough. I had legitimate reasons for keeping things with this dude strictly as friendship; I’d ignored red flags in the past and it never turned out well. You can go back and read my posts about red flags here and here. My relationship with the alcoholic that wouldn’t/couldn’t stay sober has been well documented on this blog. Doing things I know I shouldn’t never ends well for me. So we kept talking with me vowing I wouldn’t actually ever meet him in person, but then an unexpected thing happened – I really started to like him. He was cool, and he was really insightful. Then he awkwardly flirted with me and I gave him my number so that we could text.

Getting healthier emotionally and psychologically is an odd thing. I had been single since December 2012, for all intents and purposes. Even though I had hooked up with an ex in early 2013, I had been single for a significant chunk of time. I had all these ideas about what I’d do differently if I was confronted with any of the things that I had ignored in the past. Red flags, deal breakers, lies, addictions, sharing a house and a bed with an ex…these were all things that I thought that I would handle differently if confronted with them again, but would I really? There was just no way to know until I was in a situation again where I had a choice to make a good decision vs a bad decision. I really didn’t think I had it in me to fall in love again. My trust was pretty shattered after the alcoholic. I still have grief around Patty’s death and losing her. I honestly didn’t think I would want to open myself up to potential hurt again, or that I could even if I wanted to. Still, this guy was something different. The way he thought, his commitment to his recovery, his blog, he honestly reminded me of me. Someone who had experienced things and done things they weren’t proud of and found a way to find the core of who they were and become someone different – someone closer to who they were inside, that they hadn’t been able to be before. The more we talked the more I realized that his labels or diagnoses were not the only thing to base my opinion of him on. So after a fair amount of flirting over about a week, when he asked me to a lunch date, I said yes. I didn’t know if it was a good idea, or what would happen, if anything, but when something inside you wants to say yes, you have to say yes. The alternative is staying safe in a bubble and I’ve never wanted safety at that cost.

That date was the beginning of what has become the healthiest relationship of my life. It’s odd and fascinating and entirely unexpected on every possible level. I’ve never met another person as intent on communicating what is in their head and heart as much as me, until I met Jon. There’s really no games at all because we both tell each other what we are feeling and thinking. There’s a level of safety in that honesty that I have never experienced in my life. We somehow accept each other exactly as we are, neither of us is trying to change the other into something else. I feel like there’s nothing I could tell him that would change the way he feels about me and that’s not something I am at all familiar with. Love in my life has always been very conditional, it’s depended on acting a certain way or not saying certain things, or being perfect. I had read that these healthy relationship things existed but I wasn’t really sure that it could be true, it was just much too far from my experience and reality to seem plausible. Yet any time I felt uncomfortable, I would tell him and we would talk about it. We can just talk, no one gets angry or defensive, we aren’t competing to see who will “win.” That’s not to say that everything we talk about is easy to talk about, or non-threatening, but so far we have had nothing but really respectful, open, honest communication. The beginning of a relationship is where you adopt the habits you will have throughout it, so it seems like we are doing the right things.

It is the beginning, we haven’t been dating an extremely long time, just a little over a month and we have only been officially in a relationship for about half that time. It’s too early to say that there aren’t deal breakers or red flags for one of us down the road. I can’t see the future but it’s hard to imagine a red flag that either of us could spot that wouldn’t lead to a conversation, and that’s a really cool thing. At the beginning of part one I said that when you meet the right person you just know, and I found that it’s true. Does that mean I think that Jon is THE ONE? No, because I don’t believe in concepts like that. It would be ludicrous to sit here and think or say that the person that I’m in love with, that I’ve been dating for a month is going to be someone I will be with forever. It’s just too early to tell. That’s not especially romantic to say, but so fucking what. I have said all sorts of starry-eyed romantic things that ended up being bullshit lies I told myself and I much prefer this to that. Is there a lot of potential here? Most definitely. We have a lot of weird things in common. We’re compatible in odd ways that seem to defy coincidence. We love being together but have no trouble being apart and in fact enjoy it although we do the cutesy “I miss you” stuff. All the things I’ve done wrong in the past, I’m not doing now and that’s weird and great and sometimes it’s scary because it’s so real. It’s different because I am different, and it’s different because he is different. I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and I’m excited about what the future holds. There’s no trepidation, no voice in the back of my head telling me that the things I’m actively ignoring are going to be what ends the relationship. There’s a lot of trust which is also really odd. In the end, I guess all you can do is do the work and hope to god that some of whatever you wanted/needed to learn has sunk in.

Another thing you hear a lot is “we accept the love that we think we deserve.” I know that I accepted a lot of things in the place of love because I didn’t think that I was worthy of real, sustaining, empowering, glorious love. I had to learn to love myself before I could accept love from anyone else. I’m not actually sure that I believe I deserve quite as much love as Jon has for me, but I’m accepting it anyway. It’s exactly the way that I always thought it could be, and that’s abso-fucking-lutely amazing.

relationship

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Unicorns, healthy relationships, and other things I did not know actually existed*

There’s an old adage that when you meet the “right” person, you just know. Me being me, I’ve always wanted to know, how do you know that you know? I’m a recovering “love” addict, a codependent, and I have an emotional sensitivity disorder among other things. I’ve thought everyone was the “right” one, even though I always had doubts and I knew things about them were deal breakers and vice versa. I figured that is just me though, I will always have doubts. As it turns out, some of those old adages are really pretty accurate. You know you know because you know. You know? 😉

I was also pretty vocal about the fact that I was never going to meet anyone locally that I wanted to date, nor was I going to meet anyone on Ok Cupid. I’ve been on OKC since it was a fun place to take quizzes to post the results on livejournal. I stayed on there for two reasons, ok maybe three: I have met a couple really amazing friends there; I think it’s important to put yourself out there, it can’t hurt right? and because the OKC app was a fun way to kill time in the middle of the night when I was restless and couldn’t sleep. I didn’t mind wasting time conversing for a minute with poly women in other states I knew I’d never be attracted to or politely rebuffing the random dudes who were nice enough to deserve a polite “no thanks.” I figured I’d meet someone whenever I moved to a larger, more queer city, and until then life is pretty damn good. I love my house, my neighborhood, a lot about my town, my friends, and grad school takes up a lot of time and energy. Not to mention all the time I’d been spending on personal growth – working out, getting to my goal weight (which is like 8 pounds away! I now have a new, lower goal weight), becoming a better person, learning how to meditate and studying Buddhism… I had a lot on my plate becoming the person I knew that I could be.

I guess that my theory that if I focused on being the kind of person that I want to be, the best version of myself imaginable, that I could attract someone I might actually want to be with too was pretty wise. It was just a theory and I figured that at worst I’d become a healthier person. Not too shabby a result! Then one day I got a message on OKC. I got a lot of messages on OKC, and they’d at least tripled since I changed my “looking for” to include men. Around the end of 2013, I finally let myself admit that the close (male) friend I’d had a crush on for years was someone I was interested in actually dating and decided to see what might happen if I made my feelings known. That did not turn out as I had hoped, but in hindsight, being someone that believes everything happens for a reason I’m fairly certain that the point of it all was to make me open to the idea of dating men again. Not that I would date just any man, but I wouldn’t date just any woman either. I’m fairly intimidating to people or so I’ve been told. I’m ridiculously liberal by any standards, especially Mississippi standards, and I am queer and will continue to be queer no matter who I’m dating. A queer feminist whose OKC profile says “heteronormative gender roles bore me” is not going to get many men that read her profile and send a message and it’s fairly easy to quickly determine who didn’t read the profile. So after receiving a pleasant message from one of the guys who actually read my profile and liked it, I checked out his profile. It said that he was in recovery and had been sober for 10 months. After I browsed his questions, I sent him a message back and nicely told him that he hadn’t been sober long enough for me to see him as any potential romantic interest but I was happy to get to know him strictly as a friend.

We chatted a bit back and forth and, as OKC conversations inevitably do, the conversation got boring and eventually one person (ok, me…) just didn’t respond to the last message. I didn’t think anything about it, the summer passed, and life went on as it had been. I decided that Buddhism interested me a lot and decided to start practicing, which if anything was just another nail in the “no one in Mississippi will ever want to date me even if I did want to date them which I probably don’t” coffin. Then about a week before the fall semester of school started, the cute math professor sent me another message on OKC. I was actually quite surprised because by that time all the really creepy mullet dudes stalking my profile had freaked me out to the point that while I was still open to the idea of dating a man, I had changed my profile back to lesbian just to not show up on as many creepy scary guys’ radars. Because unlike most of the lesbians on OKC that viewed my profile, these guys were local and it freaked me out that they might recognize me in Kroger and club me over the head, stuffing me in the trunk of their trans am, never to be heard from again. The math professor did not have a mullet and had seemed like a cool guy in general so I didn’t have any reason to not message him back and say that the fall semester hadn’t started yet for me but thanks for asking.

Somehow we started talking politics, I can’t even remember how, and since I didn’t care if I scared him off, I told him what I actually thought. All unvarnished, anti-capitalist, liberal, extremist views that I have came through in my rant and I figured that would be the last I’d hear from him. His profile didn’t indicate that he was a racist or misogynist, or gun nut or anything, but I really do know everyone in jxn as liberal as me. Or so I thought…

To be continued

unicorn

* The unicorn reference is a private joke. Unicorns do not actually exist. Sorry 😦

I was sexually assaulted by an ex

This is the piece that preceded the “Why I Stayed” post. I shared it in a note on facebook but then I lost the nerve to post it publicly.

It’s taken me a long time to be able to type these words:

I was sexually assaulted.

It took me a long time to be able to call it what it was, even before I could say it aloud.

I’m the biggest feminist, supporter of women, of survivors, but when it came to myself I kept coming back to “I should’ve known better.” As though the world should not be presumed to be a safe place, as though those we have once cared about should never be trusted again once they’ve betrayed it.

I was sexually assaulted by an ex, and I should’ve known better.

Because dating someone means they have access to my body without my consent for the rest of my life? No, that’s silly, but that’s what I thought. She was my ex,that means it wasn’t sexual assault. I believe in marital rape – the idea that just by marrying someone, one does not grant them unlimited access to sex whenever they desire it – but I thought it was somehow less a violation because I had consented sometime in the past.

She– oh that’s another thing. Could it really be sexual assault if we are both women?

There are probably many people who say a woman can’t sexually assault another woman.But does an entire gender or sex, 50% of the population have unfettered access to me because we happen to both be female? No, that can’t be right. 50% of the population don’t have the right to touch me if I say no, but yet I couldn’t name it for the longest time.

I went over to her house of my own volition. So I must somehow be culpable. I had alcohol to drink. Because going to someone’s house and having alcohol means in itself that I consent to sexual activity. No, that’s not right. My brain knows these things don’t add up. That if someone else was saying them to me, I would be saying “No, you can go to someone’s house and that doesn’t mean you consent to sex just by showing up there.” I couldn’t say it to myself for a very longtime. None of these things, none of these things mean that no doesn’t mean NO.

I do know that.

The person I am now would not date her. I do know that, too. It’s everything that led up to that night that makes me feel culpable in what happened. I was instantly attracted to her when we met. She was good looking, physically, and she was smart, really smart. She was funny, a feminist, more butch than me, she was everything I was looking for in a partner. I should’ve been frightened when she showed me the bookcase she shattered one night when she was angry. She said she had left it there on the floor so I knew what I was getting into. I thought she was tortured and I could get her to see how amazing she was, because I could see it. Instead everything good had a scary flipside. The night we danced to “Brown eyed girl” over and over in her dining room, restarting it every time it ended; the night I locked myself in her bathroom contemplating whether or not I could crawl through the window to escape her rage.

You would think that would have been the end, but it wasn’t. My fear always evaporated in the daylight, when her smile was warm and my heart told me that I had misunderstood, overreacted, that it wouldn’t happen again. That the anger that erupted over me getting takeout from the wrong place was an isolated thing; that it wouldn’t happen again. Maybe I didn’t know that I deserved anything better than that. I hadn’t always been a good person, I had treated people badly, maybe I only deserved the laughter and fun and sex with the anger and fear attached. Maybe some of us don’t get one without the other.

You would think that all of that would have kept me from going over there that night, six months later. It should have. That’s probably why I felt responsible for so long, but the thing about abusive relationships is that we brainwash ourselves into believing that every act of violence, every outburst, every out of control situation is an isolated incident, a fluke.

Even when we stopped seeing each other socially, our paths still crossed. We had both attended a conference out of town, and I was still processing some of the things that had happened there when we spoke. I don’t know if she texted me or I texted her, it’s long enough ago that I simply cannot recall how we began talking that night. After a while, she asked if I would like to come over to talk in person, and so I went over to her house. I didn’t think that it was anything more than that. I had a girlfriend, a girlfriend that she knew, who I was in a committed monogamous relationship with. I actually thought that maybe we could salvage some sort of friendship, it was naïve looking back, but I still didn’t see the big picture clearly. I went to her house, and she made me a cocktail the way that she always did. We sat on her front stoop and we talked about the conference, until she said, “Where’s your girlfriend tonight?”

“At work.” I said.

“Does she know that you’re here?” She asked me.

“She trusts me.” I told her. And then she leaned in to kiss me. I pushed her away,with both hands. I said, “No. I didn’t come here for that.”

I dropped my hands and I turned away, I guess that I thought that would be enough.

Again,she said “Where is your girlfriend?” and then she kissed me.

I pushed her away and said “Stop it!” and she picked up the empty beer bottle at her feet and smashed it against the steps.

I don’t know if she wanted to intimidate me or just show me she was angry, but six months had given me the strength to stand up and walk away. I wasn’t scared of her anymore, she didn’t have any power over me. I got in my car and I drove away.

I told my girlfriend what had happened, and she was understanding. She believed that I hadn’t been asking for any of it. I told a couple people about it after it happened, people that I thought might be able to help. I wasn’t concerned for myself so much as I wanted to make sure that it didn’t happen to someone else.I had gotten strong, somewhere between the shattered bookcase and the broken beer bottle, but I wondered who would be on the stoop next and I didn’t want her to have to be strong. I wanted her to be safe.

As it turns out, no one knows what to do about this kind of thing. Not feminists, not people who are supposed to be doing something about all the shit that happens to women. No one knows what to do when a woman sexually assaults a woman who happens to have consensually dated her at some point. So I got tired and I got quiet. I got sick of always being the person who is making the fuss and causing the problem. I pushed it all into a tiny place inside me that stopped aching after a while, as long as I didn’t push on it. Eventually someone else got loud and spoke out about the woman who had done this to me,but I was still too wounded and felt too alone to care about whatever she had done to anybody else. No one really wanted to listen when it was me and I just didn’t have the strength to be anyone else’s advocate. Years went by and we all went on and you know the sickest part? She got away with it. What she did tome, what she did to the women after me and what I’m sure she will keep on doing because no one knows what the fuck to do about an adult female who preys on other adult females. No one really seems to know what to do with anyone that preys on other people, but doesn’t do it in a way that’s overt enough to make us feelgood about labeling them.

If you’ve gotten this far, you already read through my reasoning. Dating someone doesn’t give them unlimited rights to my body for the rest of my life. A woman doesn’t have the right to violate me because we happen to be the same gender or sex. Going to someone’s house and having a cocktail isn’t consenting to sex, or even to a kiss. I know these things and this is what I would say to my sister or my best friend or my daughter if I ever had one, this is what I would say to her if she experienced that. I still blame myself a little. My heart knows that it is rape culture though. I don’t remember what I was wearing that night, but it’s not relevant. Nothing we do or say gives ANYone the right to do something to us against our will, there is no implied consent. I lost a lot of my faith and my idealism during that time, but what I never lost is my voice. I will not be ashamed anymore. I did nothing wrong.

I define myself

Why I stayed

When I was about fourteen years old, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. It was my first “love” relationship, one that would set the stage for what I believed a love relationship should be. He controlled me as completely as he could. He implied to me that I was fat, I was 5’4 and 120 pounds. He would stand me up when we had plans, and be with other girls. We would break up, he would apologize, we would get back together, and it would all start again. It was during that time that I started purging. I didn’t binge, but when I ate something “bad” I would throw it up. I still have a very vivid memory of kneeling on the floor of the Wendy’s, my fingers down my throat, feeling out of control. Purging never made me feel in control and I hadn’t found restricting yet. My relationship with that boy ended the night I swallowed 100 pills like I was chugging a glass of water. A pregnancy test and a tube shoved down my nose as I fought the ER staff, I woke up the next morning in a hospital gown with an IV in my arm and a fresh start to my teenage life.

This is not that story, however. This is the story of what happened decades after I vowed that I would never allow myself to be abused again. This is the beginning of the story that ended in my sexual assault. I didn’t post that blog publicly, but I am going to post it now.

When I met her, I was instantly attracted. Everything about her was everything I thought that I was looking for – she was attractive, passionate about what she did, incredibly smart, and determined to change the world. I learned way too quickly she was also a heavy drinker, emotionally tortured, incredibly insecure and filled with an anger that was as directionless as it was intense. One of the first times that I visited her house, she pointed out a pile of wood in the hallway. She said it had been a bookcase, she had shattered it when she was angry, and she had purposely left it there so that I would “know what I was getting into.” I’ve asked myself hundreds of times why I didn’t leave that night and never look back. She took my staying as a tacit agreement that she could do whatever she wanted – and she did. I’ve decided that I thought she was exaggerating. I thought she had darkness inside her that she needed to get out, but I didn’t think it would ever be directed at me. I decided, as I have done way too many times in my life, that my love was all she needed to heal her. I decided that I could be the one to save her.

Why did I stay when it started to get worse, when I became afraid of her? Because my work, my future work, was tied up in her and our relationship. We had no boundaries between the work that we did and our personal relationship(s) and rejecting her seemed to mean giving up the work that I was doing which was very important to me at the time. Also, no one from the outside had any idea what was going on inside that house. She was really great at pretending to be this amazing person and very few people got to see the person she was when she didn’t have an audience. For some relationships, the highs are so high that they cancel out the lows in our minds. Sure, I locked myself in her bathroom once and contemplated going out the window, but I let the night we danced to brown eyed girl, over and over, restarting the song every time it ended cancel that out.

As afraid as I was of her, she never hit me. There was one night where she basically imprisoned me in her house and wouldn’t let me leave. I tried to get out the front door and she smashed my fingers in it as she closed it. I yanked it open, oblivious to the pain, and she picked up a glass from the coffee table and held it up like she was going to smash it into my face. That moment will be forever branded on my mind. That was the moment that I felt most helpless. That was the moment that I knew that I somehow was back in an abusive relationship after vowing never to allow myself to be treated that way again. That moment lasted hours it seemed, I can still close my eyes and feel the doorjam under my hand; I can still see her face contorted into rage so completely that she didn’t even look like the person that I loved. I will never know why in the split second that glass started to come down toward my face that she decided to throw it over my shoulder onto the front porch. Maybe there was a part of her that didn’t want to be that person either. That was the night I texted my best friend and asked her to call me and pretend that her infant son who had been ill was back in the hospital. For some reason I knew that I’d be able to leave, and she let me. I drove two blocks to a gas station parking lot and broke down. I called my friend and I sobbed “I’m out. I got out.”

But I didn’t get out. In the end it was essentially she who ended it. She decided to make out with one of my best friends, in my home, on my birthday, while I was passed out in the other room. The ultimate fuck-you. After that, there was no way it could continue, even I wouldn’t have let it but it didn’t matter because she had replaced me. I wish that I could say that I stood up to her, but that didn’t happen until much much later. Standing up to her was the one of the scariest things that I have ever done, and the night I confronted her after she assaulted me, I saw her for what she really is – small, scared, sad, and broken. She’s not so good at pretending that she can fool herself the way she fools most everyone else. She will never be good enough or smart enough or live up to her potential and she takes that out on the people who care about her instead of doing whatever work she needs to do to not hate herself. The hatred for herself bleeds over into hatred for anyone that can love her when she can’t love herself. Ultimately that is very very sad. In the end, I think that Why I stayed was that at that time, I still didn’t believe that I could have the good without the bad. I was punishing myself for all the mistakes that I had made, and I didn’t think that I could have love without pain & abuse. I thought that it was a trade-off, at least for me.

I’m incredibly grateful that I no longer believe that. It’s taken a lot of work but I have separated love from fear and pain and sadness. I know that I deserve a love that quenches my thirst for passion without putting me in danger. I know the difference between anger and passion now too. Most importantly, I learned to love myself. I really believe that I deserve a love that nurtures me, not one that destroys me. Love is not pain.

Women have to either get married, or learn something

I started to ramble about this over on facebook, but as I went on I realized it was more of a blog post than a facebook ramble. I’ve been enjoying the articles on Elephant Journal quite a bit. This morning I read Learning from Good, Bad & Ugly Relationships by Andrea Charpentier. I identify quite a lot with most of what she says. I think and blog so much about relationships, it’s fun to find similar perspectives. Carrie Bradshaw (yes, she’s a fictional character, I know) said: “People say ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ These people are usually women. And these women are usually sorting through a break-up. It seems that men can get out of a relationship without even a ‘Goodbye,’ But, apparently, women have to either get married or learn something.”

I think that learning something from each “failed” relationship is not just a woman thing, it’s a human thing. It’s important because from each relationship we can learn something about ourselves: what we want out of life, or more importantly what we DON’T want from/in a relationship; where the boundaries are and where they need to be, for those are often very different; etc. It’s also important because no one wants to waste time. If we can come out of a relationship having learned something, we can reassure ourselves that it was time well-spent. In the aftermath of a romantic implosion, simple need-meeting like companionship, sex, or even just something to do with our time don’t feel meaningful enough to justify the pain. Heartbreak seems less devastating if we can tell ourselves that we’ve learned something that will keep us safer the next time we open up. Because the vast majority of us will want to open up to a romantic partner again, no matter how long it takes for us to heal and build up the courage again.

I think it’s ultimately an exercise in control. If we figure out exactly what we missed about the relationship that did not last – red flags, trust issues, attraction to those that need “fixing”, or any number of things that in hindsight show us that the relationship was doomed from the start, then we can make sure that we don’t overlook those things in the future. At the very least, it can make us feel that we will not make those same mistakes again. I have spent countless hours analyzing my last two relationships, trying to figure out what motivated me to get into two long distance relationships after I said I would never do long distance again. Pondering why on earth I decided to date an active alcoholic and realizing that I actually find it easier to open up to people I know it cannot last with because it’s not scary when I know the ending. Learning about how when we do not let go of people and the past we will seek out closure even against our own best interest – because the last two relationships were for me really to prove to myself that neither of my two great loves from the past were who I was “supposed to be with.” I call it “wish-fulfillment,” a phrase I picked up from one of my therapists over the years. Getting exactly what I always thought I wanted, even when it was more about my feelings and wants and needs than it was about the person, allowed me to in a very limited way live in the fantasy that had always accompanied “the one that got away.” As it turns out, and it should be of no surprise to anyone, fantasy and reality are polar opposites.

I like to think that what I’m left with, at this juncture, is the very first emotional clean slate I have ever had. There is no one from my past that I think was “the one” because I no longer believe in the concept of soulmates as lifetime lovers, but believe they are meant to teach us the things we need to know. I don’t have a nagging suspicion that maybe I should be with either one of them. Both unfinished relationships were allowed to run their course, and because of that I believe that for the first time in my life I am able to give myself 100% to another person, physically, emotionally, spiritually, not a single bit of my heart is residing anyplace except inside of me. It’s a ridiculously frightening feeling, to no longer have that “out”, to no longer be able to say “well it didn’t work with this person because really I’m supposed to be with F.” I just hope that I’ve also learned what I need to know to make a smarter decision about whom I choose to open up to in the future, because I’m afraid there’s still a part of me that wants to follow my feelings and ignore my mind – which has never turned out well for me before.

funny text from the internet not mine

More on red flags

Yesterday, I blogged about red flags and why we ignore them. I had seen an article over on the Huffington Post that I wanted to read and perhaps link to if it was relevant. As often happens, I lost track of it, so I searched on their website to try to find it. 207,000 hits on HuffPo searching “red flags divorce”. Wow! A lot has been written on red flags, apparently. I guess ignoring them or not seeing them is truly universal behavior.

Although it was not the article I had been searching for, I read Susie & Otto Colllins’ “Red Flags In A Relationship: 10 Behaviors To Watch Out For” which touches on some much more dangerous red flags than the ones I mentioned in my post. “Calling you fat”, “yelling when drunk”, and “putting you down.” These are obviously red flags that you are in a relationship that is potentially emotionally abusive and could become physically abusive as well.

There’s also a user-submitted comment slideshow of “red flags I should not have ignored” that vary quite a bit, everything from “He told me to STFU and get out of a cab in NYC, he didn’t follow me, we were tourists.” to “when I felt lonely when I was with him.” But here’s an interesting one in that slideshow, “her taking too long to do her makeup.” It doesn’t clarify if that was a red flag that she was having an affair, but let’s assume that she’s not having an affair – would that be a red flag to you? Would perhaps a disregard to your time and need for punctuality be a problem? It’s funny how some of these things can be really personal but red flags nonetheless.

Sandy Weiner’s article “Dating After Divorce? How to Spot Red Flags points to some less obvious but still problematic thoughts and behaviors that can be big red flags. (This article is applicable for anyone, not just those who have been through a divorce.) Here’s a great one that you might not pick up on in the moment: “He says too much too soon. Dave’s first personal email to me was over 2,000 words long (yes, I checked). He shared his life story… from birth. I’m not kidding. TMI… he argued that it was important for me to know his history in order to “get” him. I disagree — telling too much too soon is a great way to freak someone out. It usually signals insecurity. Less is more. Healthy relationships build slowly and steadily.” What do you think? I’m torn on this one, obviously with the other things she mentions about Dave there was a problem there, but what if this stood alone without the other red flags?

It’s interesting how what anyone could see as a problem, such as abandoning someone in a strange city alone at night could be a deal breaker or a big red flag but what if things just aren’t right? Different senses of humor for example, is that a red flag that could indicate a compatibility problem? What about people with fear of commitment, could they see things as red flags as an excuse to abandon a relationship becoming more serious? Absolutely. The question really is, how do we know in the moment what is a red flag? Can we know for certain without waiting for the clarity of hindsight?

In my opinion, it is knowing not only the universal red flags, and as I stated in my previous post having the strength to walk away when the big red flags start waving, but also knowing what is a deal breaker for you personally. Think about it if you haven’t. Write it down if that helps. Start with things that your ex did that made you upset/angry/annoyed/hurt you, along with the red flags you identified after the relationship’s demise. Get to know what you’re willing to compromise on and what you can’t. Let me be clear here, I am not saying learn how to tolerate intolerable behavior such as the cab incident – if someone is emotionally or psychologically abusive that should be a big sign for “run away fast and now” not a simple red flag. I’m talking about the things that are your personal pet peeves or issues. For example, a red flag for me is a political incompatibility. I am a flaming liberal loud-mouth and notoriously so. My ex-husband and I got into heated arguments over abortion that I took personally. I absolutely cannot date someone who is not pro-choice; I’m simply not capable of getting over that particular incompatibility. For others, political views mean very little and they have zero problem being in a serious relationship with someone whose views are radically different.

There’s also a respect component to red flags. A lot of my exes have been “neat freaks”, to an extreme degree. One ex wouldn’t let me vacuum the carpet because I did not perfectly match up the lines that were made in the carpet the way she did (they had to be parallel, you see.) That was a red flag, because I do like things clean and orderly but I’m not a “neat freak” – I can kick off my shoes in the middle of the floor and leave them there for two days and be fine with it. By not allowing me to clean because I didn’t do it “right” it was setting a tone for the rest of our relationship. I respected her enough to attempt to keep our home in the manner in which she needed but she was not able to appreciate that effort unless it was done perfectly to her very specific guidelines. The adverse is also true, had I been unwilling to be more neat and orderly than my norm, simply because chaos made her uncomfortable, that would have/should have been a red flag to her. A normal amount of change and compromise is natural in a relationship. Someone who is unwilling to make a simple change or is inflexible is someone that it is going to be difficult to have a relationship with.

I didn’t expect to give red flags so much thought when I first blogged about them! Obviously there’s a lot more to them than it seems on the surface. Red flags and how we deal with them may very well be the first sign that we are in the wrong (or right!) relationship.

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Relationship red flags: why we ignore them and how to stop

At the end of a relationship, we often reflect and try to understand what went wrong in the hopes of not making the same mistakes again. I have heard people say time and time again, “I ignored the red flags.” In hindsight, actions, statements, and situations can take on meaning that we did not pick up on at the time. However, once we have become more experienced in relationships, we begin to ignore potential problems, the red flags, because the possible payoff of a relationship that lasts can be too great to pass up. Then, when the relationship is over we ask ourselves “why didn’t I pay more attention to that?” That part at least is simple. The vast majority of us want love, companionship, affection, regular sex, all of which we hope to find in a lasting relationship. It can be as simple as wanting to ease loneliness that may have lasted for far too long. We long for acceptance, to be “known” by another person. Relationships fill a great many needs in us.

However, if you find (as I so often have) that time and time again relationships that have ended seem clearly doomed from the start in hindsight, you may be meeting needs that you are not actually aware of.

I have an ex who I had briefly met a couple times prior to our first true interaction. She came home one afternoon to find me crying on her front steps. I had been dating her roommate and that relationship had ended with drama that blindsided me; I had retreated out to the front steps so that the people involved in the demise of that relationship did not see me cry. It was January, and I did not have a coat on. I will never know what was going through her head at the moment she approached me, took off her coat, placed it around my shoulders and sat next to me on the steps. I was virtually a stranger to her, but she wanted to comfort me. By choosing to date me, not long after that day on the steps, she was ignoring a great many red flags – that I had been involved with the woman she shared a house with; that I was getting out of a relationship that had ended in a way that clearly traumatized me; that my prior relationship had ended only minutes before our first interaction beyond a friendly “hello”; any one of these is a big enough red flag to not pursue an emotional entanglement at that time – but this ex has a need that she has only recently acknowledged. She has “white knight syndrome” she loves “rescuing” a damsel in distress. She’s attracted to women in crisis, who need help in some way. Unfortunately, women in crisis who need help in some way are not usually going to be people that you can forge a lasting partnership with, at least not at that moment in their lives.

However, this need more than any other need prompted her attraction to a woman, which made relationships difficult and short. What we say we want, and what we actually want can be totally different and it may not even be clear to us, if we have not taken the opportunity to truly examine why we may not be getting what we want out of relationships.

When I started dating the alcoholic, I would’ve told you that what I was looking for was a stable, long-term relationship with a person who lived fairly close to me (less than one hour by car), who had a job and a pretty good idea of who they were, what they wanted out of life and how they were getting there. Instead, I started dating an active alcoholic who did not have a checking account, who had no car or license because it was was suspended for DUI, who was lying to her probation officer about attending AA meetings and thought getting away with this was indicative of her charm and intellectual superiority to others. She was a lapsed college student who bounced from apartment to apartment barely holding down a job as a server and lived over 1,000 miles away from me, 16 hours by car – pretty much the antithesis of everything I said that I wanted. There were needs that the relationship met for me that I was not aware of, one being that I too am often attracted to people in crisis, wanting to somehow heal them with my love.

How we stop ignoring red flags is a little bit more complicated than simply beginning to uncover needs that we are unaware of. That is an important piece of it, but part of it also comes from accepting life alone. It becomes very difficult to end a relationship that is unhealthy for us if we are not ok with being alone. Even people who are strong and independent, who do not feel they need a relationship to “complete” them succumb to loneliness. Often, dating someone that we know it cannot last with who might make us unhappy is preferable to the loneliness that comes from being single. It is perfectly natural to not want to be lonely, we are made to need other human beings. Being in a bad relationship, even for perfectly valid reasons like not wanting to be lonely, being afraid of being alone while completely normal (check out this Huffpo article “Divorce study shows couples are unhappy but too scared to split) is not healthy and will keep you from meeting someone who you could actually have a happy relationship with. You deserve more, we all do.

So how do you know what a red flag is? Some are universal, but most are as personal as why we are attracted to someone in the first place. Some universal red flags are:

  • Long history of relationship-hopping/serial monogamy. I.e. going from one serious relationship to the next with little to no time in between. (This is every lesbian you’ve ever met, still doesn’t make it healthy!)
  • When he/she talks about exes it is never positive; often blames break-up on them, says all problems were the other person’s.
  • Long history of job-hopping and he/she is over the age of 25. Yes, we live in a difficult economy with underemployment, but if this person quits a lot of jobs, usually because of an unfair boss that hates them or is out to get them, that is not a good sign.
  • Lives with parent(s). This may or may not be one these days, since so many people are losing jobs and having to move in with family or roommates but pay attention to the reasons why they’re back at home. Is it the economy or is it them?
  • Makes it abundantly clear he/she hates “drama”. You know who hates drama and wants nothing to do with it? People with a lot of drama in their lives. People who aren’t constantly surrounded by chaos, turmoil and emotional disturbance don’t have to tell you they dislike it. My Ok Cupid profile doesn’t let people know I’m not a heroin addict, I don’t need to let them know that because it’s assumed I’m not. Beware those who make sure you know they hate and will not tolerate drama, because they are always involved in drama.

I could go on and on. One of mine is the answer to the question “Do you think that you are fundamentally bad or evil?” Sounds like a weird question to ask a person doesn’t it? I learned the hard way that when someone answers that question with “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or “yes” that bodes very very badly for the relationship. I learned to ask it after a volatile relationship where the person once told me they felt that way, and in all the three instances that someone has been unsure as to whether they are fundamentally bad or evil it has been a very unhealthy relationship for me. The bottom line is this, we might not always see the read flags, but when we do it’s up to us to take a step back and assess. Does that mean end the relationship? After red flag one, maybe not; after red flag 18, maybe so. Red flags eventually become issues, no matter how much we desperately want to, and try to, ignore them.

What are some of the red flags you have ignored in relationships? Comment below to share, if you’d like to discuss.

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