Sunday, January 14, 2007

I'm just not that into him.

Let me just say that my dating track record is a disaster. It's like my romantic life lives in a small coastal village regularly hit by tsunamis, occupied by pyromaniacs and bad drivers, with a poorly marked airstrip. I'm trying to hitch a ride to a city further inland with better technology and safety measures.

I, like many women, hold two unfortunate misconceptions about relationships:
1. Being in a relationship reflects highly on me, being single means there's something wrong with me.
2. If the other person in the relationship is treating me badly, I can fix the relationship by being a better girlfriend.

Of course, I would never think those apply to my friends. My friends are smart, funny, beautiful, and wonderful, and a boyfriend has nothing to do with it. If they are in a relationship with someone who treats them badly, makes them miserable, or disrespects them in any way, I am outraged and want them to break up immediately. I'm a wealth of information on bad relationships- books to read, warning signs, bad case scenarios, how to get a restraining order...

If only I could take my own advice.
In Why Does He Do That?, Lundy Bancroft has a list of warning signs for abusive relationships. (It starts on page 114.) It's one of my favorite parts of the book, since I need lots of help in trying to avoid those types of relationships. When I look back at all my icky relationships, you better believe I've gone over everything, trying to figure out the signs that I should have hit the road earlier rather than later. So, as a companion piece to Bancroft's list, here's my own list of early warning signs for bad relationships:

1. Possessiveness
A guy with "jealousy problems" will often try to appeal to your sympathy, usually with some heartbreaking story of how he was cheated on or used by a woman, and now he has "trust issues". He may constantly try to illicit declarations of loyalty from you, and seems to be genuinely suffering from his fears of abandonment and betrayal. Or he may just act insecure and hyper-sensitive, and try to convince you that he is so in love with you that he's terrified you'll hurt him and can't stand the thought of you leaving him. Don't buy it. There's a big difference between jealousy and possessiveness. Jealousy is an emotion that most of us can understand and sympathize with. Possessiveness is a belief that your partner belongs to you; that she exists to satisfy your needs.

The signs of possessiveness can be obvious, or more subtle- things such as: wanting to know where you are at all times (usually without thinking that you should know where he is at all times), accusing you of cheating on him or flirting with other men, not wanting you to have any male friends, trying to prevent you from going out without him, showing up unannounced at your work, home, or other places he knows you'll be at trying to "catch" you at something, making demands on your time or demanding sympathy and care whenever he wants it, wanting to make a big show of physical affection in public, or physical domination (like putting his hand around your neck, holding you in a way that feels restraining).

The affects of this kind of treatment can vary as well, from feeling that you're being disrespected and your needs are being ignored, to being afraid. If you break up with someone who is possessive, there's a chance he could stalk you. I spent 5 years with a guy who was constantly accusing me of cheating on him, in the future. He made my life hell- monitoring my activities, trying to prevent me from going out with friends, putting me down, because he "knew" I would cheat on him someday. I got wrapped up in trying to convince him that I wouldn't cheat on him or leave him, thinking he would stop with the out-of-control jealousy as soon as he realized I was loyal and trustworthy. His possessiveness only got worse the more control he got over my life. I finally broke up with him after I started grad school. He made it impossible for me to study at home because he wanted me to spend my evenings with him, and he was constantly enraged with me because of the time I spent at school. I had also started to realize that his threats, yelling, and manipulations were abuse, and it became totally clear that he was abusive after we broke up and it became physical. He stalked me for 3 years after we broke up, and it only stopped because I moved several times, changed my phone number, and blocked him from my email.

So, what were the signs that I glossed over in the beginning of our relationship? 1. I was waiting tables at the time, and one evening I noticed he was at the bar watching me. He gave me a glare that made me feel guilty, even though all I had done was talk to customers and my co-workers. 2. He gave me the silent treatment all the time and refused to tell me what I had done wrong, telling me that "I should know." I felt like I was always doing something wrong, and I didn't know what it was or how to avoid pissing him off. 3. He and his friend stole my Christmas bonus, a bottle of Knob Creek, and drank it all. They didn't leave me a drop. Apparently, he thought he owned my booze as well as me. They even mixed it with Diet Coke. Knob Creek with Diet Coke! That was sufficient grounds to dump him on the spot, and I wish I had!

2. "Constructive" criticisms
I had a boyfriend who would accuse me of having the arguing skills of lawyer (i.e. I was argumentative), and taking advantage of his sensitive nature with my verbal aggressiveness when I would try to talk to him about how he was treating me. He was playing a little trick on me. We never talked about my concerns about our relationship because it quickly became an argument about my communication style. He always diverted the attention to what I was doing wrong. I stayed in the relationship for another couple months, thinking if I just approached him the right way, and was humble and dispassionate, we could have a mutually beneficial discussion about how to improve our relationship so that we'd both be happy and satisfied (re: I was neither happy nor satisfied, and he was acting like he hated me).

Needless to say, it was impossible to talk to him in a way he found acceptable. I broke up with him after spending a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde weekend with him where he alternated between wanting to make out with me in public and pushing me away when I tried to be affectionate with him. He admitted he was "punishing" me for getting upset with him the week before.

You wouldn't know it from some of the guys I've gone out with, but your boyfriend is not your boss, parent, or anyone who should be critiquing your performance and suggesting all the ways you should improve yourself. (Your boss and parents should probably keep the criticisms to a minimum as well.) It's not his job to tell you what's wrong with you, and it certainly doesn't make sense for him to refuse to listen to you or take you seriously unless you live up to his expectations of you. He's supposed to appreciate you for who you are, even like you. To quote Why Does He Do That?- "You can't be in a fair and healthy relationship if you can't raise grievances." (page 125) And you can't raise grievances if all he wants to talk about is what you're doing wrong.

My warning signs for the last one were: 1. I was telling him I was upset about something, and he said "Don't you have friends you could talk to about this?” 2. We were going to a wedding, and when I got there to pick him up (yes, I drove him), he got upset because I wasn't wearing a dress and he thought he looked better than I did. He kept ignoring me when I tried to talk to him. At the after-wedding party, he got drunk and tried to grab onto me on the dance floor. It gave me the creeps. Actually, that stuff took about six months to show up. I think the lesson with this one is that I should have gotten to know him better in the beginning. He was all Mr. Sensitive crazy-about-me, but it became clear later that he wasn't in love with me; he was in love with his fantasy of the perfect girlfriend. He tuned out the me who had problems with our relationship, wasn't a porn star, didn't go along with his fundamentalist atheist beliefs, and wasn't the perfect little girlfriend that all his friends would adore. He was pretty nasty when things didn't go the way it did in his fantasy.

3. You should be more agreeable.
Speaking of which, a guy who freaks out when you disagree with him is a big problem. This is an easy one to test. Just start talking about politics, or religion, or something like that, and you're sure to disagree about something. If he attacks you personally rather than your position, and doesn't see the value in anything you have to say that doesn't conform to his beliefs, time to move on! And if he punishes you for disagreeing with him by giving you the silent treatment, withholding affection, or intimidating you, that's not only a warning sign for a bad relationship, it's a warning sign for abuse.

4. Physical affection is my department.
If you're not "allowed" to initiate physical affection, that means he considers affection to be for his benefit, not yours. Not only does it suck to be with someone who makes you feel embarrassed or ashamed for wanting physical attention, but also it's a big sign that he doesn't regard you as an equal. And if a guy pressures you for sex, drive him immediately to the nearest junior high school and get him enrolled. For god's sake, don't sleep with him.

5. He Doth Protest Too Much
I had a boyfriend who was "friends" with his ex-girlfriend. He was always telling me that he was truly a "nice" guy (not like those guys his ex had been sleeping with since they broke up); he would never fuck a woman over; he would always be honest with her. He was a real catch; I should feel lucky to be with him because he was such a great guy. Blah, blah, blah, he would always make a point of telling me how trustworthy he was and how him and his ex were just friends whenever he would go meet her "for coffee". I'm sure all of you figured out what was going on much faster than I did- yes, he was sleeping with her. I found out through the grapevine. I was truly shocked, unlike everyone else.

If a guy self-identifies as "nice" or "sensitive", he's probably a raging asshole. At least that's been my experience. It's not always the case, but don't take his word for it at least.

Where do I begin with the guys who insist on complaining endlessly about their ex's? If he goes on and on about her on the first, second, or any date, it's doomed. He's not exactly focused on you if he can't stop talking about her. He could be bringing her up for more nefarious reasons, too. Like I said above, he could use an ex as an excuse to be jealous and controlling. Alternatively, he could just throw it in your face whenever you get in a fight- “I don’t need this! You're acting like my ex!" Or, as an excuse to not get serious with you, "I have intimacy issues because of my ex. I can't have that kind of relationship with you." You should never be compared to, or made to suffer for something an ex supposedly did. If he doesn't want a relationship with you, he's wasting your time.

This brings up the issue of why it's okay for me to bitch about my ex's. Well, I wouldn't talk about this stuff with someone I was dating. Moreover, I'm not dating right now, so there's no danger of me taking this out on anyone except you, gentle reader. Don't you feel special?

Sometimes it is hard to know how much to tell someone you're dating. I have not figured this out, especially since I have all this stuff in my past. This blog is kind of a catch-22. If, in the future, a guy wants to date me, should I tell him about my blog? If he reads it and still wants to date me, I'll be worried he's one of those savior types, who regards me as a princess in need of rescuing, and not as an equal. Speaking of which...

6. Teacher Man
I had a high school teacher who had married (and divorced) a former student, and had a son who was older than me. He took an interest in me, and was always giving me advice. After I graduated, he called and wanted to make plans for us to talk about my future. I blew him off. I received a letter from him the next week. In the letter, he said that I was immature for not wanting a relationship with an older man. He said that I was "prejudiced" against older men because I was sexually abused (yes, he knew about that), and that my prejudice prevented me from being a real woman. He could do things for me, and I would not be successful in college without his help because I was unsophisticated and inexperienced.

Later, I found out that another student (who was 17) had moved in with him. Ick. Thankfully, he was forced out of his teaching job.

This man is a sexual predator. He is attracted to power differentials, and looks for someone he sees as weaker than him, someone he can dominate. I am extremely wary of anyone who lectures me, or wants to "teach" me something, "help me" with my issues, or "take care" of me. Anyone who thinks they know what's best for me better than I do doesn't see me as an equal. Daddy, stay away.

7. Poor me
A guy who tries to get sympathy because he’s been “victimized” by women, or acts like you are victimizing him because you won’t sleep with him or put up with his crap, is not to be trusted. Some guys will try to make out like powerful women, women they were powerless to resist, barreled into their life, took advantage of their naiveté and exemplary motives, used and abused them, and then bring up this story as an excuse for disrespecting you. I dated a guy who liked to whine a lot about his ex-wife who cheated on him. He was a jerk, and after months of hearing his hard-luck story he admitted that he had cheated on her first and repeatedly before she ever cheated on him.
The bottom line is that men and women get their hearts broken all the time, and we all have imperfect mothers and fathers, and that is hardly an excuse to mistreat someone you’re dating. The idea that women are aggressors, routinely ruining men's lives and trying to control them, is a gender stereotype used to put women down and deny us equal rights. Moreover, it is ridiculous, considering the astronomical percentages of women who are raped and abused, not to mention the disparity in political power. Men who play the victim are taking advantage of long-standing derogatory ideas about women as temptresses and harlots, who need to be shut up and put down to prevent us from getting too uppity and demanding fair treatment.

They also play on the expectation that women are responsible for relationships, so if a relationship doesn’t work out, it is the woman’s fault. If a man cheats, the woman did not satisfy him. If he was abusive, she was too much of a doormat. If he doesn’t contribute fairly to the household chores, it’s because she’s a nag. If he takes advantage of her financially, she was too trusting, stupid even. When she complains, she’s the one with issues. It is all too easy to hold a woman responsible for all the problems in a relationship.

Of course, I should put in a disclaimer that not all men are like this, I do not hate men, and if you are a man reading this I think you are super. I do believe that society discriminates against women- politically, in the workplace, in relationships, in the media, and in the courts. I think that society largely accepts rape, abuse, and sexual harassment directed at women and girls because it keeps women in their place. Many, many men have joined with women to fight this, though. Men who respect women and do not see us as inferior. Men with daughters, girlfriends, wives, sisters, mothers, and friends whom they care about and value. Men who realize that discrimination hurts everyone. Men who have written books that have convinced me that I deserve better. Men who have been nothing but supportive, understanding, and compassionate towards me and my struggles. It would be a huge mistake to regard men as “the enemy” when more often they are my allies and friends. I love my brother and my male friends way too much to think that way, and in reality, the world is full of amazing men and women trying to be good and decent, and make the world a better place.
Unfortunately, attitudes of discrimination are still rampant. The thing that disturbs me the most is when you try to talk about the challenges women still face and you get attacked as a man hater and a ball buster. I think the best way that someone like me can improve my standing in relationships is to learn to respect and stand up for myself. That does not mean, however, that I am to blame for the disrespectful ways I have been treated. It does not mean that men that take advantage of women who do not think highly of themselves are off the hook.

8. I make the plans
I dated a guy who never wanted to make definite plans with me. The operative phrase in that sentence is with me. He'd say he wanted to be spontaneous or surprise me, and then show up at my apartment with our time together planned out, doing what he wanted to do. The one time, in the year that we dated, that we did something I wanted to do, he whined so much I got a migraine. He also kept trying to take control of the situation. We were at a music festival, and he said, "Why don't you pick one band you want to see, and then we'll go do something else." When I got upset with him, he suggested we go to a restaurant he wanted to try out to "talk about it". He would even make plans, without allowing me any input, and expect me to pay half the cost. This was unbelievably aggravating.

9. Mixed messages
The thing is, all these warning signs sound really obvious, especially when I'm picking out the bad parts of my past relationships. Of course, I'm not stupid, and the reason I got into and stayed in relationships despite the warning signs is that I thought the guy really did care about me and appreciate me because of other things he said or did. You know that not everything will be perfect in a relationship, and I think women are socialized to almost expect bad behavior from men, to be very forgiving and flexible, and to try, really hard, to fix the relationship no matter what. It can be really hard to walk away from someone who says they love you, you love them, and you're happy with them some of the time, even if you realize that the relationship is fundamentally not working for you, not satisfying your needs, and not fixable.

I was really in love with Mr. Plan-y. When I finally hit my limit and took a stand on the issue of him not giving my wishes equal, or any, weight in the planning process, he broke up with me. Then he called me all the time, wanted to spend time with me, follow me around while I did errands, take me out and pay (something he wouldn't do when we were going out). He even asked me to do things he thought I would enjoy! When I asked why he was acting like my boyfriend after he broke up with me, he cried and said that he still loved me. He wrote me a letter that talked about how beautiful, smart, talented, and generally amazing I was. He said that breaking up with me was the hardest thing he'd ever done, he would regret it because he was walking away from “the best girl he’d ever known.” That was a year and a half ago. Just last December at my company's holiday party, I found out one of my co-workers had met him and when he found out she worked at my company, he went on and on about how wonderful I am. Yet, he has never tried to get back together with me, and just in the three months after we broke up, he dated four other women.

Why the mixed messages? It was so hard for me to get over this guy, even though when we were going out I was irritated with him much of the time. A friend just happened to give me He's Just Not That Into You the same day I got the letter. If you've heard of this book, you probably know it's a very mainstream self-help book, written by two people connected to Sex in the City- Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. The basic message to this book is that a guy who's really into you won't send you mixed messages. He'll be clear about wanting to be with you, and he'll let you know that he values you.

I have read and re-read this book countless times in the last year and a half. It is so hard to let go of the idea that a guy will treat me the way I want if I just figure out how to act and how to “fix” ailing relationships. Whenever I'm tempted to try to analyze a guy’s confusing behavior, or when I'm unhappy with someone and trying to figure out what to do, I re-read the book. It's really very simple- if you're not happy with someone, move on. Live your life. Don't spend all your time obsessing about guys and why they do the things they do. In a way, that seems to contradict Why Does He Do That?, but actually, they have very similar messages. Don't listen to excuses, and don't create excuses for why someone is treating you badly. Listen to your instincts, and if you feel uncomfortable with someone's behavior, take it seriously. Don't waste your time with someone who belittles your feelings and doesn’t respect you. If you feel bad about yourself in a relationship, if you are unhappy, stop focusing on the other person and focus on what you can do to make your life better. Don’t wait around for someone to change. You deserve better.


Madeleine said...

I was just randomly clicking through blogs and found yours. I don't believe in fate but your latest post really hit home:
It can be really hard to walk away from someone who says they love you, you love them, and you're happy with them some of the time, even if you realize that the relationship is fundamentally not working for you, not satisfying your needs, and not fixable.

yup, yup and yup. I am in the process of breaking up with my husband who fits many of the behaviors you described. Right now we live apart.

We don't hate each other, we've just decided that it's over and it's time to move on.

Sadly for me I'm unemployed and the hard fact is that I might have to move in with him again just for health insurance and somewhere to live. That's ok with him. He knows times are hard for me.

But after 10 years together with this guy (who tends to be controlling and self-centered) I have to be very very careful about falling into old patterns. Most importantly, I have to get out on my own as fast as I can.

Anyway -- you made up a great list about some of the bad behaviors out there. Thanks for helping me see my own life a little more clearly.

Good luck. I think you're on the right road to finding what you need from life.

Anonymous said...

Kristina, this is the BEST BLOG EVER!!! You should submit it to a journal or magazine!!

I totally agree with everything you said. It all rings true. You did a great job of explaining your insight into the sometimes subtle realities of a relationship. A lot of people don't see these things in their own relationships, even when it is painfully obvious from the outsider's perspective.

I would also like to add, that, I feel that when you're in the right relationship, you REALLY KNOW. It is totally cliche. Don't you always hear that from people?
"How do I know if I'm in the right relationship?"
"You just KNOW."
Well, I have been in several relationships that have been good, even very good, even GREAT. But I was still never really SURE. Something was holding me back, even if it was a little doubt in the back of my mind that I didn't really want to listen to.

But when I started my current relationship, it was evident within days & weeks, that it was RIGHT. Right in a way I had never been sure about before.

Now whether this relationship actually "lasts forever" -- who knows. But I know now, what really is the BEST kind of relationship. And it all ties into the ideas in your blog.
He won't mind that you're out with your friends. He won't ask you to check in with him all the time -- he enjoys you having your freedom. When you have fun, it makes him happy -- regardless of whether he was with you. He listens to you and understands your concerns, even if he doesn't agree with them. When you're sad/frustrated/jealous/upset, his main goal is to help you feel better, not to win the argument.

I could go on... but basically I think that your instincts are pretty darn good at pointing you in the right direction.
"Breaking up is hard to do"! But there's no point in holding onto something or someone that just isn't quite right.

p.s. There is definitely NOTHING wrong with you being single. I mean, you're cute, hot, fun, smart (not just book-smart). Lots of things to offer to somebody else in a relationship. Live it up!!! When you get used to it (after a breakup), being single is really fun. You can do whatever you want, stay at home and read, go out with your friends and flirt with whoever you fancy. Your bedroom & apartment is ALL YOURS and you don't have to share your space with anybody. You can make career decisions without consulting someone else. Plus, it's sometimes easier to meet new people and friends when you're single. Have fun!

Tealrat said...

THANK YOU!!! I am so glad you both liked it. I wanted to write something that other women (and maybe men) could relate to, and "confess" some of the struggles I've had with relationships without it sounding like I was just bitchin'.

It was a little challenging to write about the difficulties I have had without feeling embarrassed that I was in these relationships! It is so easy to take responsibility for someone else's behavior towards me instead of realizing that is his deal, not mine.

I totally agree that the freedom and self-determination that can come from singlehood is very rewarding, especially when you consider the time and agony you can end up putting into a bad relationship without getting anything in return. I know that when I put my time and effort into improving my own life it pays off.

My appreciation for my friends just grows and grows as I go through this process of "finding" myself. Talking to friends is so validating, and it keeps me from feeling bitter because I know no matter what happens in my love life, my friends will always be a source of affection, mutual appreciation, support, and understanding.

Plus, I can laugh about this stuff with other people, and even the darkest, freakiest situations (a friend from high school called me this morning about that teacher) can be funny, even at the same time that it is sad and scary and so, so wrong.

I am thrilled that this post rang true for other women. I love that I can write about these things, and put them out there and people appreciate what I have to say. Thank you so much for reading and responding!


Tealrat said...

Mariya, isn't it interesting that even in the most liberal, enlightened environments, the women are still supposed to take care of the men's needs and ignore their own, while the men sleep with strippers.

Do you remember when the teachers who were pals with Tom Robbins were going to ask him to speak at school about writing? Michael talked them out of it because he thought he would just try to sleep with the high school girls. I guess he didn’t want the competition.

Let's talk again soon :)

Madeleine, good luck with navigating your life after the husband, and with finding a job and place to live that you love. I admire you for leaving after 10 years. It sounds like you are doing what is right for you. You have my support! Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it :)

Marianne, hooray that you are happy in your relationship! I am so glad things are working out for you. And congratulations on finishing your degree and moving. It sounds like you are doing really well. You give me hope :) I still have faith that I will find a relationship that works for me.

I am starting a poetry writing class next week! I am so excited. I am looking forward to hanging around writer-types again. Hopefully it will not be rife with pretension. I karaoked a Green Day song the other day and thought of you :)


Anonymous said...

Interesting read.

Suggestion - blogging about emotionally abusive friendships.

I think many people would benefit from insights into the nature of those as well.

Those can be just as painful to let go of as ones dealing with a "significant other".

It's hard to go into a relationship wanting desperately to turn a blind eye to every warning sign. People only change on their own. No sense in analyzing the guy to death (I have done that). It is what it is. We are better off.

An excellent resource/website on emotional abuse has been created by Steve Hein, author of EQ for Everybody (1996). The website url is

I have referenced it many times and it highlighted many of the situations I have dealt with in relationships not only with guys, but with my parents as well.

Emotional abuse is the worst.


Steph in Austin said...

Ms. LRG - Your blog is amazing, as are you! Thanks for putting it all out there; for those of us who feel like we have noone who "gets it," you're a lifesaver. Kudos, and all the best! Please keep on keepin' on!