The Art of Missing the Warning Signs
“Loving a person doesn’t make them who you desire; it makes you vulnerable to their reality.”― Abby Fabiaschi
Trigger warning: Physical violation and assault discussed
I was sitting there trembling, breathing deeply, my sense of self gone. This followed an emotionally exhausting conversation, that should have been one of hope and optimism, but had become about about blame, cruelty and emasculation. Kate knew I had been hurt before, that I’d been afraid of this part of me and was trying to get through it. All I needed was her to do was work with me a bit, to have a little patience and compassion. She didn’t care and had made it all about her and her past experiences — her claimed openness just being a lack of tact. Her legs where over mine and she was nuzzling into my neck with her body pressing into mine, getting the comfort and attention she wanted as I was dying inside. I didn’t want it, but I couldn’t find the words, I felt broken, alone, empty and horrified, my last bit of resolve melting away. I wasn’t even there in that moment, but falling within myself in pain and self loathing. She continued to feed off my body, smelling me, taking what little manhood I had left.
She had physically violated me. I didn’t realize until later when my therapist explained it to me. In that moment, Kate had broken me down to nothing and destroyed me utterly. I drove home and wept uncontrollably, alone, until my morning alarm sounded.
This happened less than a year ago and I still feel it’s effects. The damage had been done. It wasn’t affection, it was assault. I lost friends over this, reaching out to them for emotional support, and getting rejection and disbelief. I stopped writing because of it.
When meeting someone new, there are so many things to take in about them. Their personality, their mannerisms, their demeanor — each shows a part of who they are. The practice of dating usually extends beyond just figuring out who they are as a person, and finding if they are compatible with you as a potential partner, for whatever kind of relationship you are seeking. You have to watch out for the warning signs, and sometimes the red flags can’t be seen by you until it’s too late.
I used to think I was getting fairly proficient at spotting the frogs from the princesses, even though the world of online dating resembles a swamp to a large extent. So many people place their insecurities on others, and that doesn’t always come out at convenient times. I’ve had so many dates, and very short term relationships, and I’ve grown rather weary of the experience. I had originally planned to offer advice in this article, started before the precipitating story. I can only share from my experiences, and the red flags that I’ve missed.
Ava was a beautiful woman with a quirky crooked smile. Our chemistry was almost instant and within a half hour of our meeting we were already kissing. She’d mentioned she had issues with depression in the past, but I was taken in by her charm and wit, and glossed over that in my thinking. She was polyamorous, and looking for a primary partner as was I. Everything about her felt right and I enjoyed her company.
Our second date was a wonderful dinner, trying foods I’d always wanted to sample. We shared a bottle of wine, oysters and a number of other delicious dishes. We kissed tenderly, in her home at the conclusion of our evening, implying that our next meeting would be much more intimate.
Our third date, a planned concert, was changed by her at the last moment to a gathering of her friends at her home. I figured if she was already introducing me to her friends, this had to be a good thing? When I arrived, I realized I was quite overdressed for the occasion, and she wasn’t dressed at all for anything social. She hadn’t showered, was wearing rather unkempt clothing you’d wear only when alone at home. She was warm, but there was a definite distance in her affection.
I met and talked with her friends, who all knew about me, and shared the bottle of my favorite Sauvignon Blanc I’d brought, which seemed not right for the pizza that she’d ordered. After a bit of awkward socializing, I realized what this gathering was really for. She’d needed her friends to clear out her garage and loft of the stuff her 25 year old recent ex boyfriend, 20 years her junior, had left. Luckily it was a chilly day, so I had a black t-shirt on beneath my nice button-down shirt that I removed, and I joined in with the only other guy present, clearing out the contents of her garage into a dumpster. Ava refused to come down and stayed upstairs with her other friends. After about an hour of trying not to get filthy, I came upstairs and she directed me to the loft to clear it out, alone. The whole evening was seriously disturbing, and it felt like I was cleaning the room of a high school student. I tried to be supportive, despite my growing bemusement.
Slightly sweaty, and deeply bewildered, I came down, washed my hands and bid farewell to her friends, all assuming they would see me again. When finally alone with Ava, I turned to her and she said “I don’t know what you were expecting here, but I’m tired. Can you leave?” I wasn’t expecting anything at that point, but that last metaphorical slap to the face was one to many for me.
The next day she texted me, thanking me for coming over and how big of a thing it was to meet her friends like that. Apparently this ex whose junk I’d cleaned out had damaged her car the previous day and she had gone into a depression over it. She apologized for being so awkward, but told me that she has days like that from time to time. I told her I needed some time to think about it, but I really didn’t think we should see each other. She was dejected, but I was done. It was a 90 minute drive to her home to see her, and Ava’s mood swings were too much to deal with.
There have been so many red flags that I’ve spotted with various women quickly, however:
A vegan woman, knowing I wasn’t vegan, who blurted out “men who eat a lot of dairy don’t taste good…. sorry, is that inappropriate?” I told her it wasn’t. It was.
A psychiatrist who expected me to be exclusive from the point we started talking to one another, and who announced this to me after our second date. She texted me off and on for a few weeks to see if I was done seeing other women and ready for “us.”
An artist who was an hour late for our date, a mere mile from her home, who had raged at another friend of hers with the same first name, because a 9:30 am text had woken her. Somehow her getting angry with her friend was my fault.
There was also the teacher who was instructing me on what frequency I was to text her, and how I was to talk to her. When I canceled a date for something in regards to my son, she argued, “well, have you told you son of your obligations to me?” I hadn’t.
These were just women I met. I am far from perfect, and I know I bring up red flags for others too. Everyone does. For every perfect person you see out there, there’s assuredly someone sick of their crap. However, some people are much better at hiding them. Some red flags creep up on you over time. Some take years to see. Still others destroy you in soul-wrenching ways, when they manifest at times when you’re weakest.
This article was, and still is, catharsis for me, a way to share what I’ve experienced. I just hope someone can spot a pattern in their lives with other people. I felt, and still feel, I’ve lost a part of me, and my ability to be open and vulnerable has been compromised. The idea of touch and affection has been damaged for me, and I still don’t feel still as much like the man I did before.
I’m fairly lucky. Some people don’t survive the red flags they encounter. I’m not here to compare my physical violation with ones others have experienced, but I did experience it, and now it’s a part of me — one I wish I could erase. I needed to learn to build trust again and to find my safety and comfort again.
Please be safe out there, and never assume consent is granted.