“The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.” –Maya Angelou
It would be a mild statement to say I’ve been burned in relationships. The fact that one of my girlfriends suggested the other evening that she ought to head up a committee for screening my dates is testament to this fact. Over the course of my two decades of adulthood, I’ve dated, lived with, or been married to men suffering from chronic depression, borderline personality disorder, compulsive lying tendencies, and codependency.
Someone once asked me, “Do you attract crazy men, or do they become crazy after being with you?” Actually, it was one of the men I dated who asked me. (He later turned out to be codependent and a liar.)
I was not offended. It is a question I have often asked myself.
You would think a writer trained in English literature, historical research, and psychological maneuvering would be better at choosing partners. I know how to tell if a subject I’m interviewing is lying. I know how to discern from body language and eye contact if someone is nervous, afraid, or stressed. So why is it I have missed critical red flags in my relationships with men?
Well, I haven’t exactly missed them. Let’s just say I’ve offered one too many second chances. Like who gives a guy who gets up and leaves after he’s “satisfied,” even when you’re not, a chance at another meeting? Who gets in a relationship with the same man twice expecting things to be different on round two? And who lets a man who has proved himself a coward back into her life on a promise of brave commitment?
Um, yeah, me. Guilty as charged. Crazy shit doesn’t just happen in the movies. My life is proof.
And yes, I’ve read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Maybe I need to read it again.
I believe it was Oprah Winfrey who said you will have to keep repeating the same life lesson over and over again until you learn it. I hope I’m ready to learn it this time—learn that the day a man (or anyone for that matter) shows me who he is to believe him and run like hell while I still can if I’m not immediately impressed by the showing.
I can still hear myself saying to the man I believed to be the love of my life, “You are a selfish coward” well into a doomed relationship I had resolved to end. A few months after the ending, I had taken him back on a promise of courage even though I had apparently already decided courage was not in his skill set.
Can someone please bring the cast iron skillet into the room and hit me over the head with it?
Yes, I’m into self-abuse these days. But the reality is I’m real, for better or worse, and forgiveness is part of who I am. I don’t like to expend a lot of energy holding grudges, particularly not against people I love. If you want me to really, really loathe you, it’s going to take some work…. And yes, there have been a couple of people who have accomplished it, but I wouldn’t recommend joining their club. (I do exercise the power of the pen, you know, combined with ample access to the public forum. I’m just sayin’.)
In the meantime, I’m trying not to scare off potential romantic interests by seeing red flags where there are none. A guy said to me recently, “I noticed you’re a little sensitive” after I asked him for the seventh time or so if he was okay when I perceived a distant attitude as a sign of disinterest instead of what it really was—seasickness and a concentrated attempt not to vomit in a rocking boat.
There is definitely a delicate balance to walk between listening to your gut and following your heart. Hearts are prone to flutters of fancy even when your large intestine is telling you that butterfly looks more like a moth ready to dive into a flame.
Sometimes the answer to whether or not this or that guy is “the one” is as simple as listening to what he says on those first few dates and not glossing over obvious signs of trouble just because you think he’s the handsomest thing you’ve seen since Antonio Banderos in an Iberostar commercial.
Realize if he lies about his age on date one, he’s probably going to lie about far worse things later. Don’t forgive him. Bail before you’re sucked in.
But if he’s sheepishly honest about how anxious he is dating a woman who writes a blog about relationships yet he’s still sitting there across the table smiling with faith that he’s decent enough not to end up the subject of some brutal poking fun later, he might just be courageous enough to warrant date number two and then some.