Early Signs and “Red Flags”

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It’s amazing how easy it is to see the signs of an unhealthy relationship when you are looking back on it.  I’ve spent countless hours asking myself why I didn’t leave one of the hundreds of times I felt threatened or worthless.  I wish I knew why I let myself be treated that way over and over again, just accepting it as “normal” in our relationship.  I can’t even say that it was for an overwhelming sense of love for John.  Don’t get me wrong … at some point I did feel love for him.  But over the years that quickly turned to silent resentment, hate and fear.  And yet I still stayed.  I felt an obligation to stay.  It’s something I can’t fully explain because I don’t fully understand it myself.  Maybe by the time I really understood that his behavior was not going to change we were already so intertwined that I didn’t see a way out.  I’m not sure.  But I wish I had listened to those early warning signs before I felt obligated to stay with him.

John and I began dating in the days of instant messenger.  In a previous post I mentioned that I basically picked him up at a bar and that is how we met.  We went on physical dates after that of course….but he did his “courting” of me on instant messenger.  He was a different person when he was writing to me.  He was romantic and sweet and kind.  That is the person I loved.  In person he was awkward and quiet and a little quirky, but those were all things that didn’t bother me because I thought I was seeing the real him when he was typing to me.

As we started to get to know each other he shared with me that I was his first girlfriend, the first person he kissed, the first person he held hands with…  At the age of 23 he had the relationship experience of a 15 year old.  When I asked him why he had waited so long he blamed it on the fact that he didn’t go out much when he was younger because he was ashamed of his acne.  This felt like something that I could believe so I didn’t think twice about it.  Looking back now I think it is likely that he has a similar social disorder to our son (who has high functioning autism).

John didn’t have a lot of friends.  He had two very close friends and a few acquaintances here and there … but that was about it.  John lived in New York and I lived in Connecticut but went to college in NY, so when school vacations came along we were a state apart and would communicate over the computer.  More sweet words … more kindness …. more feelings of intimacy developed within me.  The problem was, there was computer John, and real life John.

When I graduated and moved back to start my career, John stayed in New York to finish college.  We did a lot of talking over the phone.  Almost every phone conversation ended with him screaming at me and me crying.  It started to feel like John loved to argue.  As if he was getting off from it somehow.  He would start arguments over everything.  The worse my day was, the bigger the argument he would start.  One day, about 6 months into our relationship I asked John why he loved me.  He wasn’t able to answer… so instead he started screaming at me over the phone that I shouldn’t ask him a question like that.  I should just know he loves me and leave it at that.  Many of our conversations had a similar tone.

At the time I kept a journal that I wrote in every night.  I recently went back through that old journal and the pages are littered with words like “abusive”, “argumentative”, “unkind” “not normal”.  The red flags were there.  I just didn’t listen to them.  As I’m learning more about myself I am realizing that this is an underlying theme for my past relationships as well.  My personal goal moving forward is to recognize those red flags and remove toxic people from my life before strong attachments are made.

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