The dating game always starts out innocently enough, doesn’t it?
A movie date here, a bouquet of flowers there. You’re excited; there has been a lot of flirting, laughter and belly butterflies since you met this person a little while ago. You think this could be the start of something serious.
The lies we tell ourselves when we meet someone new are extraordinary. It was Maya Angelou who said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
In my case, I experienced a type of abuse I never even knew existed.
As I learned, abuse is not always a clear-cut issue (e.g. someone either hits me or doesn’t; either someone puts me down or doesn’t; someone either attempts to control me in very visible ways or doesn’t).
I feel oddly — perhaps disturbingly — lucky and certainly thankful that I do not have any extreme tales of abuse to report.
But, abuse can also be extremely subtle. It is often insidious: You go from thinking you are falling in love to wondering why all of the “problems” in your new relationship seem to be your fault, and have no clear idea of how you got from point A to point B.
Perhaps you blame it on not having been in a relationship for a while; you decide you simply forgot how to be in a relationship. You assume — you convince yourself — you have become selfish because you have unrealistic wants and needs (like the need for unwavering, enduring respect and honesty).
For these reasons it is you, and you alone, who is responsible for the relationship’s problems — or so you tell yourself.
In my 20s straight through to my early 30s, I learned a great deal about relationships. And there are many, many subtle cues of abuse that I either missed or blatantly ignored.
In my profession, women surround me on a daily basis. I often think about what my life was like when I was their age. While I have parents who taught me how to notice the more explicit, obvious signs of an abusive relationship, I do sometimes wish I learned about the power of manipulation when I was younger.
When I write these types of articles, I imagine giving advice to my younger-self — the late teen and 20s version of me. And, it is to my younger-self that I wish to impart the following experience:
Basically, it’s never cool to enter a relationship only to be assigned a job you did not apply for, the job of allowing someone to live out his control issues — no matter how subtle — at your expense.
You, younger-self, would be wise to think about (and avoid) the following toxic guys:
1. The guy who makes you think he has many options.
He nonsensically reminds you of the hordes of women who are attracted to him to make you believe it is your job to please him and make him happy at all times, lest he finds someone new. He doesn’t want you; not only does he want a mirror, but he also wants a woman who is sure to chase her tail in circles trying to please him at all costs, no matter how high. Stay away.
2. The guy who wants to control your emotions.
If he says he’s going to call you at 7 pm on a Tuesday, but he does not do so until 10 pm the following day (or later), he is likely doing it on purpose. He wants you to be thinking about all of the possible reasons why he’s not contacting you when he said he would. He wants you kept on a short leash, and in his mind, this is one way to do it.
3. The guy who inconsistently keeps his word.
Though he doesn’t always come through, he goes far beyond the guy who is “just not that in to you.” But, he does so for the wrong reasons.
He’s into you because he needs to feel in control, and you are precisely the person who will fulfill that need if you do not run. Or maybe he is, quite simply, someone who does not feel as though keeping his word is something he needs to do. Whatever the case, it is not your job to figure it out. Run for the hills.
4. The guy who “seems” interested in the future.
The guy who appears really interested in marriage and children within the first month of knowing you is not interested in marriage and children. This is a telltale sign of grooming — the earlier he tells you what he thinks you want to hear, the easier it is for him to get you to put up with his garbage down the line.
I am not talking about the necessary discussions about marriage and children that couples should have at some point; you need to know that you and your significant other are on the same page about these huge issues. Rather, I am referring to those far-too-early discussions about marriage and children in which he addresses, specifically, marriage to you and children with you; despite what he (and you) may believe.
Those attempts at manipulation are not cute or endearing; they should be interpreted as the red flags that they are.
5. The guy who needs to control your physical space.
He’s the guy who barricades a door so you cannot leave a room during an argument until you have allowed him to talk circles around an issue he created. This is a guy who is used to being given opportunities to talk his way out of situations.
6. The guy who does not respect you, your boundaries or your physical space.
He’s the guy who does not leave your dorm/apartment/home when you’ve asked him to. The same goes for the guy who shows up to your home when you have explicitly asked him not to.
None of this is cute or endearing. It is offensive and an abuse of your boundaries.
7. The guy who has something to hide.
He’s the guy who is not honest about who his friends are. There is no other interpretation for this.
8. The guy with clear control issues.
He’s the guy who goes out of his way to say and do things that annoy you. He needs to know that he can manipulate you successfully, and this is one small way to test it.
9. The guy who’s deeply uncomfortable with his own life choices.
He’s the guy who says nasty and hurtful things about your major and or career in a way beyond innocent teasing.
10. The guy who is a master manipulator.
Have you ever apologized for your “role” in his behavior? This is master manipulation at its finest. Not only has he behaved poorly, but he has found a way to manipulate you into believing that his behavior is, was, and will continue to be your fault.
11. The guy who is dishonest.
When you ask him a question about his intentions, does he stutter? Does he talk around the question? It takes approximately zero seconds to communicate the truth.
It takes a little longer than that to come up with a passable lie or excuse. Interpret stuttering and dancing around questions for what they reveal: The very real probability that you are not getting the whole story.
12. The guy who is passive aggressive.
I came home from work one day to the electric turned off in my apartment. I had absolutely no idea what was wrong or why this happened.
When “he” showed up an hour later, he laughed and walked over to the circuit breaker to turn the lights back on. Because he was angry with me, he used the circuit-breaker to shut off the lights before he left, knowing intuitively that the circuit breaker wouldn’t be my first stop.
Might this be construed as funny? Perhaps to those who do not see it as the warning-sign it is.
Rather than maturely addressing whatever issue he was having, he decided to passive aggressively control my surroundings when he was not around, in my own home.
Demand better for yourself, even if doing so has to take the form of a permanent departure from the relationship.
Before you met this type of person, you were doing quite well. You were happy. Upon meeting someone, who exhibits the above manipulative tendencies, you soon see how quickly life goes from serene and enjoyable to dramatic and erratic.
If a relationship seems endlessly dramatic, interpret this as the warning sign that it is: This person uses drama to manipulate your emotional well-being, which is abusive.
Younger-self, it has been said that we teach people how to treat us. I am much older than you are now, and I continue to struggle to remember this.
This particular lesson is lifelong. I wish I was attuned to the ways by which a subtly manipulative relationship is also synonymous with an abusive relationship.
Do not make my mistakes, younger self. Your life — whether you are in college, recently graduated or watching your 20s come to a crashing end — is much more wisely spent working on your academic, professional and personal successes than it is falling victim to someone’s seductive effort to manipulate and abuse your world.
And, by the way, younger-self, it works both ways. If you are guilty of the above shades of manipulation, then you, too, have perpetrated abuse. Grow up; there is not anyone worth your while who deserves this behavior.