For 25 years, I was married to a physically and verbally abusive man. I was going to file for divorce, but became seriously ill, and took him back as I had no one else to care for me. When I recovered when he got terminal cancer and reacted with anger directed at me. I ended up caring for him until he died. Yet, even in the last week of his life, he threatened to kill me. I feel the only way I could ever get out of that scary marriage was through his death, tragic as it was.
About a year after he died I went on several dates, 3 with men I knew and 2 with men I met online. One guy was completely rude to me. If I’d known better, I would have gotten up and left. The other four directly propositioned me for sex on the first (and last) date, two of them grabbed me and kissed me, one squeezed my butt. I was shocked. I stopped dating after that.
It’s been three years and I know there must be decent, respectful men out there. But given my scary marriage, and the bad behavior of the first few dates I tried, how do I feel safe with a man again?
Karen S – New York, NY
I’m so sorry you’ve had such a rough go of relationships, and I’m glad you are out of the nightmare of your 25-year marriage. My God, that sounds scary!
I have some not-so-great news for you. I don’t recommend you date. Seriously.
There are a gazillion great guys out there, but who you are attracting right now are the ones who stomp all over your boundaries, wishes, and needs. When you’re not in a place to take a stand for your own safety and desires, you’re not in good working order for dating or partnership. You need some one-on-one work around your own personal power, and until you do that arduous work, you’re likely to see this flavor of guy pop up again and again and again.
It’s kinda like the universe saying to you, “Hey Karen, I want you to learn a lesson. And until you do, I’m going to keep serving you up assholes.” As I’m sure you’ve seen this firsthand, the universe usually dishes up bigger and bigger portions of whoop-ass until we finally course-correct and learn the lesson it wants us to learn.
Now, I’m not placing the blame on you. It’s not your fault that these men are total jerks—that’s on them. But there are things you can do for yourself that will help you avoid entanglements with the Jerk Army in the future. I don’t want you to swipe right until you are confident in your “no.” You need to be able to leave a date right smack in the middle of it if need be. Yep, and you don’t even need anyone’s permission to do it! You can say, “So this isn’t working for me. I’m going to give you back your Saturday now, thanks and have a lovely day!” as you grab that coffee to go. You need to be able to stop that kiss, that hand, that grab, or that off-putting offer dead in its tracks.
One man I know says, “People should be able to ask for anything they want. And if the person they’re asking says no, then that person should never ask again.” I think this is fair, but on a first date, it can still be off-putting. That’s why your “no” is such an important skill to cultivate.
So, my new friend, it’s time to get to work. Do it with a therapist, a coach, with me, with a friend, whoever. But make sure you’ve roleplayed standing your ground enough that you’ve got this. And when you do start dating again when you feel you’re ready, try baby steps first. Go for coffee instead of dinner until you have had real-life practice saying “no” to anything that turns you off or sets your alarm bells ringing.
Once you’ve got this down, the universe will say, “Cool. You got it. I’ll stop sending that terrible guy your way over and over again. I’ll go teach some other lucky person this lesson” and before you know it, the good ones will start popping up where the baddies once were.