One of my most damaging relationships was also my most healthy. Psychologically I think we both left more messed up than we started, but as far as growth and love goes I believe we both learned a lot about ourselves. It ended terribly but I wouldn’t change a thing. However, when it happened I felt like a complete failure. I was deep into codependence and we left things without the slightest hint of closure. I didn’t realize the extent of my dependence until we broke up and I moved back home.
My family didn’t recognize me.
Well, physically, sure, but the rest of me was foreign. I didn’t have so much as an opinion or original thought, I was a shell of my true myself.
I’m now five years removed from the terrible break-up. I am high on life, focused on what I’m interested in, and surrounded by incredibly supportive family and friends. Along with therapy and finding my own spirituality, I thought I’d be an iron curtain to anyone who might want to change any part of me that shouldn’t be changed.
Oh how wrong I was…
I met this guy in my apartment a few weeks ago. He was attractive, charming, seemingly intelligent, so we made plans to hangout. After you read what’s below, you’ll see why we sputtered just as quickly as we sparked. It was disappointing, but it did demonstrate how easily the process of losing sight of one’s self can start even from the very beginning if one is not paying attention.
Here we go.
Observation #1: His apartment is sparse. Very few personal affects, very little of anything. It looks more like one of the places they decorate to show rather than one that someone lives in. He mentions that he doesn’t like to stay in any one place too long and will probably move again in May. He also leases his cars every 1-2 years.
First Impression: Ok so he’s got commitment issues, what guy doesn’t? He’s 37, I’m thinking now is about the time he’ll start to realize that commitment isn’t so scary. And he’s really nice to look at so I’ll just keep doing that…
Impression Upon Reflection: DEEP into commitment issues. You know what they say: the older you get, the more like yourself you become. The voice in my head is saying
Run. Run away very, very quickly. No looking back allowed.
Observation #2: When I mentioned how sad it was that Tim Burton and Helena Bonham broke up he got excited. He said they never married but had children together. They didn’t live together but had houses on the same street. “It’s like dating forever! Isn’t that cool?!”
First Impression: Ok so he wants the best of both worlds. I’m sure he’ll come to the realization that marriage promises a much deeper connection than trying to maintain the benefits of the not-quite-fully-attached life.
Impression Upon Reflection: He has absolutely no idea what a healthy, happy relationship looks like. He’s got these irrational fears based on the lives and relationship experiences of others. What you create in your mind will manifest in your life.
Observation #3: This conversation happens during our second encounter –
Dude: Have you thought about me since we last saw each other?
Me: Yes *smiling like the fool I am*
Dude: How many serious relationships have you had?
Dude: I’ve had three. Although I’m scared to get into another one because I’m afraid I’ll hurt her.
Me: Did you do something bad to a past girlfriend?
Dude: No… they just didn’t work out.
Me: Well that’s nothing to feel guilty about. Sometimes things don’t work out.
Him: Yeah… *eyes full of valid guilt*
First Impression: He’s such a sweetheart! Break-ups are hard and he can’t stand to see someone he cares for hurt.
Impression Upon Reflection: He’s a serial monogamist. And this isn’t just guess work, he volunteers the information. Probably as a scare tactic but I don’t know the definition and let it go. I Google what it means after he leaves and find this definition: One who jumps from one serious relationship to another. They may last a few months to years, however the serial monogamist is always holding back and if the other partner in the romance pushes at all, the serial monogamist will end the relationship swiftly and often without emotion.
Are you feeling the burn yet? Too bad, KEEP UP THE PACE, DON’T SLOW DOWN!
Observation #4: He comes over for about 15 minutes before he heads out to dinner with a friend. This is our third and final planned encounter. I’m trying to make normal, polite conversation: how was your day, who are you going to dinner with, etc. Besides the answers to my questions, just about everything from his end is dripping in sexual innuendo, if not just out right sexual. Ie, are you going to get off thinking about me tonight, and if so, can I watch? Not a direct quote but very close. He’s also very handsy, so handsy I playfully but forcefully push him off me. Twice. Triggers follow…
First Impression: Wow, I guess he finds me really attractive. I mean, that’s nice, but I’d rather him find my personality just as stimulating. Next time I’m not going to allow him to touch me.
Impression Upon Reflection: I was triggered. THAT’S NOT GOOD. After he left, I felt very sad very quickly, like I wanted to cry but I didn’t know about what, and I was shaking. I’ll be the first to admit that I need to be attracted to my significant other but that’s only one of the many aspects I look for in a man. If that’s the sole focus, we’re not compatible…
Observation #5: I left the gym and saw him with a woman. It looked like they were on their way back to his place with takeout. We crossed paths and I could’ve stopped and at least made eye contact, you know, so he’d know I knew. But I walked like I didn’t see them, I thought we might actually run into each other in a brief bit. He made sure that didn’t happen. He directed her to a different elevator, not the one that’s most efficient to getting to his apartment.
First and only Impression: Fuck him. We’re not an item. So even if he was dating her or they just met or whatever, he should’ve been able to take the same elevator as I did. The fact that he didn’t means he’s shady.
Most overlooked observation: He’s an actor. I should’ve known!!
The moral of the story? You’ll never emerge from a bad relationship and magically be equipped with all the tools required to weed out the bad apples. I think for me, a fun, healthy, happy relationship is something I crave more than anything. So much that I tend to lose sight of the red flags waving in my face. I spent all this time focusing on myself to get back to me, and then the second someone seemingly promising comes into view, I forget nearly all of it and start making excuses for a stranger. I no longer get down on myself like I did before (Cause I’m only humaaaaaaaaan! Thank you Christina Perri). If anything it’s a reminder from the universe telling me I need to maintain that selfish streak and not let an attractive facade cloud the real mess smiling back at me.
It’s kind of like how I feel about [NAME OF NEWS STATION YOU ABHOR]. When they present information how they want it to be perceived, it makes me want to scream, “THAT’S COMPLETELY TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT! YOU’RE NOT LETTING PEOPLE SEE THE WHOLE STORY!” It seems I do that to myself. I spin their story how I want it to be and then secretly hope I’m right and they’re a much better person, they just don’t see what I do yet.
(I literally couldn’t type that without laughing at myself)
It’s in times like these that I think of Professor Moody (for those poor few of you who aren’t Harry Potter fans, he was a retired Auror, maimed from years of defense against dark wizards, who was completely bat-shit and paranoid). His motto was: Constant vigilance! I think that’s what I’ll need to remind myself of when encountering my next crush.
And really good running shoes in case any red flags pop up.