Avoiding Dating Disasters

dating (1)After escaping my abusive marriage, it was quite some time before I could begin to see men with any measure of objectivity, for during the craziness that came with divorcing my abuser, I arrived at the convenient conclusion that all men were scum.  My new mantra was clear and simple, and it felt good to finally embrace what felt like truth.

Having two sons, though, I knew they need not be destined for such a fate, and after more than two years of intense counseling, there finally came a moment when the high stone wall of disillusionment began to weaken, giving way to the remotest possibility of genuine relationship, when a flicker of hope began to warm my wounded, distrusting heart.

But reentering the dating world is not an easy thing after coming out of a relationship based on the lowest common denominators.  I was admittedly terrified at the possibility of making another life-altering mistake that would affect not only me but my children.  I didn’t ever want to play the fool once again or spend even one more night crying myself to sleep.

I presumed, as many of us 40-ish folks do, that all the good ones are taken.  I also realized that the odds were slim that any God-fearing man in his right mind would spend more than ten minutes in the presence of a shell-shocked, forty-something woman with four equally emotionally damaged children.

Looking back, it certainly does seem miraculous that I survived the Christian dating minefield (which is an appropriate description) and eventually met the love of my life and married him a little over nine years ago.  Based on my second-time-around experience, I would like to offer abuse survivors contemplating re-entering the dating world some basic suggestions.  They have been cobbled together from my understanding of our enabling tendencies bolstered by the lessons I learned through the dating process.

There is no scientific basis for what I share, and this commentary is intended almost exclusively for women, as I believe that a woman’s profoundly unique inclinations to operate as nurturers and helpmates also tend to make us prime abuser-bait. So as you consider re-entering this realm, these are a few things I would urge you to remember.

  • Remember:  You need time to heal.  You may never heal completely, but you need to be sufficiently healthy and emotionally strong enough to recognize unsafe or unhealthy men and walk away from them without blinking.  There is no specific timeline for testing those waters; however, if you are dangerously fragile and are torn between jumping in or waiting a while longer, please wait.  Time for healing and a balanced measure of wholeness are important pursuits and should not be rushed. Furthermore, loneliness is a poor motivation and could leave you vulnerable.  You need to be okay by yourself before you can be okay with someone else.  
  • Remember the needs of your children. Make sure your home base is well-covered and that your children feel secure and are able to handle any additional time you are away from them.  Consider whether they are okay with the idea of you dating.  Keep their needs first in this process even if that means waiting.

With children in mind, I personally recommend meeting new people at a neutral, public location rather than your home, at least until you feel like the relationship may have some long-term potential, so that men are not going in and out of your children’s lives.  You don’t want them to get the impression that relationships are inherently temporary, nor do you want them to grow too attached to someone who may or may not remain in their lives.

  • Remember: You have already been through hell. If you don’t want to walk that road again, avoid the kind of man who will be more than happy to take you there.  Even if you know what kind of relationship you want, you may be attracted to something else, something familiar – and unsafe.  This is not a call to paranoia, but rather to caution, a reminder to be willing to see legitimate issues, as we – as recovering abuse victims – have been trained to rationalize away those waving red and yellow flags.
  • Remember: Be patient.  This is not a race, and you are not looking for any man’s attention, you are waiting for the right man’s attention.  Whether you choose to wait for an acquaintance to ask you out to lunch or you decide to join a dating website, try not to panic, push or rush things, and listen, listen, listen to your instincts.  Don’t feel any obligation to “make it work.”  If that is your attitude, you are likely headed down a very familiar and unhealthy path.
  • Remember:  You want a protector not a project.  Any man with whom you decide to spend some time should be emotionally and spiritually balanced and healthy.  He should be a gentleman, not a show-boater, someone who sees you and hears what you have to say. He should be someone who would clearly look out for your needs rather than merely seeking to meet his own.
  • Remember: Set your standards high and hold to them.  Just because a guy notices you does not necessarily make him worthy of your attention.  You are under no obligation whatsoever to “give a guy a chance.”  If there is something in his manner or attitude that makes you uncomfortable, don’t waste your time or his.  You’re better off saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

If you hear a familiar voice whispering, “Maybe this is as good as it gets,” then know you are being tempted to settle for far less than you want, need and deserve.

One guy with whom I had met for coffee called one afternoon to invite me to go swing dancing with him that evening.  I told him I didn’t particularly enjoy swing dancing and would rather not.  He curtly responded, “A confident woman is comfortable in any situation.”  I told him that was nice, but that I still wasn’t going swing dancing with him.  His attempt to shame me into going out with him told me everything I needed to know.  End of story.

  • Remember:  Go Slow.  If a guy you barely know invites you to dinner, arrives at the door with a dozen long-stemmed roses and a box of chocolates and takes you an uptown French restaurant on a first date, he may well be expecting more than a good-night kiss at the end of the evening.  He may be assuming that, after a nice evening, you owe him.  So make it clear from the get-go that you can’t be bought, and you want to take it slow.  After all you have done to reclaim your life and your value, don’t be foolish enough to give it away.

It’s a good idea to meet for coffee, take a walk, go miniature golfing, hit a movie and generally keep it casual while you’re getting to know someone.  Spend time in a variety of situations to see how he responds to them – and to you.  One guy I dated was attentive when we were out together, but when we showed up to a party with his friends, he suddenly treated me like I was invisible, as though he was ashamed of me.  That was the real him.

With those basics in play, I’d like to offer some “dos” and “don’ts” worth considering. In no particular order, I recommend that you avoid dating a guy who…

  • Is married (even if he says he is getting a divorce);
  • Needs rescuing;
  • Makes you uncomfortable;
  • Makes you feel unimportant;
  • Is inconsistent (hot one day and cold the next);
  • Is boastful;
  • Is heavy on flattery;
  • Can’t keep his hands off you;
  • Doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer;
  • Can’t seem to hold down a job;
  • Can’t manage his finances;
  • Plays an enabling role in his family;
  • Has jerky friends – or no friends;
  • Has an impossible dream;
  • Has an impossible ego;
  • Has a hot temper;
  • Has an addiction;
  • Has a foul mouth;
  • Verbally “bashes” his former wife or girlfriends;
  • Is eyeballing other women when he’s with you;
  • Is disrespectful or flirtatious toward hostesses, servers and cashiers;
  • Is chronically late;
  • Is obsessed with you;
  • Doesn’t give you eye contact, listen well or acknowledge you during conversation;
  • Blames someone or something for everything that has ever gone wrong in his life;
  • Doesn’t treat you with respect;
  • Makes you cry.

And, of course:  Don’t date a guy who reveals any abusive tendencies.  If for any reason he becomes demeaning, harsh, accusatory, possessive or manipulative, walk away and don’t look back.

On the other hand, men with a solid history, good friends and a gentlemanly, positive attitude are a safer bet.  Don’t be afraid to spend some time with the guy who…

  • Sees time spent together as an investment in the relationship rather than a necessary evil;
  • Is a good listener;
  • Is a protector of you and others under his charge;
  • Doesn’t need to be the center of attention;
  • Doesn’t freak out about the cost of things or flaunt his wealth;
  • Is respectful to you and everyone else he encounters;
  • Understands the differences between men and women in a good way;
  • Arrives on time to meet you or pick you up or calls to let you know if he’ll be a little late;
  • Enjoys spending time with his family and friends – and yours;
  • Has healthy hobbies, interests and outlets;
  • Is not addicted – to alcohol, drugs, pornography, television or even technology;
  • Can manage his money, his work, and his household;
  • Looks you in the eye and responds sincerely during conversation;
  • Can confess his life stresses without whining about them or blaming everyone else for them;
  • Trusts you;
  • Is confident without being cocky;
  • Returns your phone call in a timely manner;
  • Is conscious of your comfort level in unfamiliar situations;
  • Doesn’t pressure you when he takes you home;
  • Pays your way (or not, if that is more appropriate for the situation);
  • Can maturely and responsibly handle inconveniences or crises;
  • Is interested in you as a person and not just your body; and
  • (As a believer), has a genuine, personal relationship with God, not just a church.
  • Remember: Protect your heart.  Just because a man pursues you does not mean you should let him catch you.  If your heart is screaming ‘no,’ listen.  And if your heart is encouraging you to say ‘yes,’ but something in your head is whispering ‘no’ (or vice versa), remember that you were misled once before.  Take a step back, try to be more objective and seek counsel from those who know him and/or you.  Or just give the relationship more time.  Don’t ignore or attempt to minimize any red or yellow flags. Don’t believe for one minute that you can help, fix or change him.  Just  walk away.
  • Remember: Be open to feedback.  If your friends and/or family are telling you that there is something wrong, listen.  The odds are good the people who love you see something to which your eyes may have been blinded.  If you find yourself defending him to others, there is almost certainly a problem that you are working too hard to overlook.  On the other hand, if people see someone genuine and emotionally healthy, then let it ride.
  • Remember: You don’t want or need a man. You want to share your life with one man – the right man, a man who will see you and prize you and love you for the rest of your life.  Pray for him.  Wait for him.  And if you don’t meet him, maybe it’s because the time isn’t right, or you are just fine all by yourself.  Being on your own is far better than feeling perpetually stressed, unhappy or emotionally neglected, living with someone who doesn’t truly love, enjoy and appreciate you.  And you might want to avoid kissing any frogs until you are pretty dang certain that there is a prince in there. 
  • Remember:  You don’t want to just be with someone you love; you want to be with someone with whom you are in love – someone who is also in love with you. I believe there is a profound difference.  I am not talking about obsession, which is unbalanced and unhealthy and controlling, but a love where there is connection, commonality and chemistry.  Wait for someone you know you want in your life for the rest of your life.

I am so glad I did.  I married my best friend, my confidante, my soul mate and the love of my life.  I wish nothing less for you.

Now it’s your turn.  Please feel free to offer some of your own insights and suggestions.

Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved

8 thoughts on “Avoiding Dating Disasters”

  1. Thank you for caring , Cindy. So much of this advice is what many of us victims needed to heed much earlier in life.

  2. Yes, thank you for this advice. I can’t even imagine considering another relationship and I am in my sixties so perhaps this won’t be necessary. I admire you for having done so. And from what I have read of your husband’s writings, he seems like the genuine, real deal.

    Just a processing musing, here:
    I am still at the point where I trust no man. After pouring my heart and soul in a relationship for decades to have been discarded with cruelties such as him spewing “you were never the love of my life, I know what that’s like” and highly insulting put-downs of me and our children (who are in reality quite wonderful young women) in a final, verbally aggressive rage fueled with alcohol …I think I just might be getting too old for all that (my nervous system and blood pressure doesn’t need another go-around either). Too old for even the possibility of all that.

    My ex was correct when, after he forced me out of the marriage, he said, “I can understand if you no longer trust me.”

    Ya think? Him, or any other man, at the moment.

    More than anything still, after nearly three years of freedom, I value peace. And, although I am intellectually and spiritually aware of the equality of men and women in God’s eyes, I am in a generation that is still sadly influenced by the old stereotypes: man leads, woman follows. And that goes deep, as does all early enculturation. I would have to get over that.

    The iconic “picture” of this is well described by Ginger Rogers’ famous line: “I did everything Fred did only backwards and in high heels.” It was tough even though they danced together so well–especially tough on her.

    I may well go into the kingdom “halt and lame” in this regard. I no longer want to have to continually second-guess my every thought and action to make sure it somehow “fits” my “role”…or stops the criticisms…Christian men do not realize this is a hefty, extra burden most Christian women carry despite the freedom we have in Christ Jesus.

    And it is not just as easy as reading the correct interpretation of God’ Word about it (that indicates He does not mandate a spiritual hierarchal system in the home and there are numerous example of women, in both Old and New Testaments, who “led” men) and then everything will be okay. There are likely, for many women, layers of healing needed to bring that truth down from head to heart. And then, in a trusted and trustworthy relationship. And who knows what that could be? And then what additional heartache one might have to experience after getting to know someone and eventually finding out he/she is the same type of mean person, and then having to start another recovery process?

    Christian husbands might be well meaning and protective, etc., of their wives, but the first person a husband should be protecting his wife from is himself, and there are no guarantees.

    I am no longer willing to live with that kind of responsibility and tension. And it’s not that I don’t have the occasional interested “other”. People tell me I look much younger and I am fit, so I keep a ring on the left-hand finger.

    I think I may speak for many women of my generation, in particular, who have left (or are still in) a relationship in which one must walk on eggshells. To varying degrees, we battle guilt, self-blame, introspection and get little help from the institutional church. Your research and writing is very helpful with that, however, along with several other good ministries. And much of it does process out after doing the hard recovery work.

    Likewise, with the amount of energy I put into my work and creative projects, I don’t know that I have enough leftover energy for even thinking about attempting to make another relationship work. And there you have it: my biggest concern–I still think I’d be in the same exact situation. Never knowing…always wondering…always doubting and second-guessing..not even being able to enjoy the good times…

    Blech, at the moment. I want to take a nap just thinking about it :).

    Additionally, I am too accustomed to “gray rocking” a spouse in order to try to offset another criticism or gaslighting session to be able to be very open and sharing anyway. It’s a survival mechanism that seems a lot like the silent treatment, and that would not be good for the other person. You can also get wonderful counseling, which my ex and I did about midway through, but there are no guarantees with that, either.

    However, all that said about me, your article is a breath of fresh air for those who may feel called to try this again. And the fact that you have a successful second marriage is very hopeful.

    Today, I am concentrating on “hopefuls.”

    The nice thing about being on my own is that I am much closer to the Lord, and that now, every single relationship in my life makes sense (even relationships with the occasional recalcitrant student ;)). I enjoy a wonderful support group and fellowship with other Christians an my family is very kind and supportive

    And I can breeeeaaaaathe in peeeeaaaace.

    I guess you might say if I EVER think about another relationship at my age and with my background it would require a certifiable hand-written note from God saying to give it a try. 😉 And then I would seriously need to battle defensiveness.

    Thanks for reading my musing.

    1. Of course, you can muse all you want! You have a lot of valid insights to share here.

      Not all of us who have been through abuse will want to try marriage again. I get that completely, nor do I believe it is something we should automatically consider. To each his own…

      I agree that the fear of even entering into a relationship can be paralyzing. Even after I remarried, I had to re-learn how to trust myself. I had overlooked so much bad in our home before and didn’t want to do that again. So, if Doug corrected the kids about the smallest thing, they would cower as had been their natural response to their dad, and I wondered if Doug was being too harsh and whether I needed to intercede. We had a lot of conversations with the kids over how situations were handled, and usually I found that I was over-reacting to everything out of fear of not defending them when maybe I should have. For the kids and me, it was a long time before our lives finally came back to center, where we could accept that even the most basic forms of conflict are a natural occurrence in every home and they are not a problem when handled in a healthy way.

      I must say, though, that I wonder whether I would have been able to marry again if I hadn’t met Doug. He is simply one of a kind. God truly blessed me.

      Thanks for musing.

      Cindy

  3. So much wisdom in one article! We should call you “The Carpenter” because you hit every nail on the head 🙂 I especially like the caution you give that BEFORE even contemplating the dating game, to get counseling, to get healing, to get to the place where you are comfortable being you and being alone with yourself. Too often I have seen women (and some men as well) go from bad to bad to bad. That is a huge red flag that it is something IN you that needs healing, (that must have others approval, that pleaser/fixer mentality that often comes from not seeing yourself as God sees you). You stressed in your own experience that you had taken time and gotten help with the healing process. Then we know WHAT to look for. The red flags are heeded. Healthy relationships are an option at that point. This particular article focuses on having escaped from and divorced an abuser, but I would like to add that these “healthy flags to look for” also would apply to those rare occasions when your abuser has gotten the necessary help, and has actually MADE the consistent changes that would warrant another look. This may never happen and I am not advocating waiting around forever until he gets the message. But if there are some important redeeming qualities, if there DOES seem to be sincerity coupled with real action on his part, it may be worth giving it some time (away from the abuser, mind you!) You will need Cindy’s wisdom on what to look for in that situation as well. When you know what to look for, you know what to look for. Thank you again, Cindy, for helping us navigate these waters!

    1. Hello, Debby. I completely agree with what you shared with regard to seeing these same kinds of attributes in those who claim to have changed. Good point.

      I also know several who have jumped back into relationships too soon with disastrous results.

      My daughter’s dating mantra is “Never date a guy who makes you cry.” I could add “…or makes you feel confused, fearful, stupid or inadequate.” Just don’t waste your time.

      Cindy

  4. Great article Cindy. I like what you said about the importance of being happy and good on your own before we bring any one else in the picture. No one “completes anyone”as the phrase goes. Only Jesus!! I find it so hopeful and encouraging that you have met a man that truly treats you well! I must admit, that makes me envious because I can’t imagine being with a man that is a best friend and lover all at the same time.
    Wow! Friendship and respect, mutuality and safety, love and passion all from the same man, what a thing to pray for.

    Thanks Cindy:)

    frienship and respect,

  5. Hi Cindy,
    Glad to be back here after some years. How does one navigate online dating with a stalking ex? Left a dangerous abusive marriage 7 years ago, (no contact). Started on line dating but afraid to put up my photos. As expected no progress! Am I being unnecessarily afraid and sabotaging my efforts to find love? I’ve a great profile and pictures. Ex- is on another continent, can’t reach me (hopefully). What else can I do? Grateful for your time! Blessings,
    Ai

    1. Hello, Ai.

      I’m glad you took the time to write and can wholly understand your hesitancy.

      On the whole, I think online dating can be a good place to start. This is based on my own experience, so take it with a grain of salt.

      For one thing, I think that profiles usually use a profile name rather than your real name, which is a good start. Furthermore, I think that most dating sites allow you to see the pictures and profiles of those who are looking at your profile so that is a good way to protect yourself. And you can block those whom you would rather not have looking at your profile, those who seem creepy, aggressive, weird or just not your type, so you have some control there. Generally, I would say that at some point you will have to take a risk and post a picture of yourself. Any legitimate security issues should be reported to the site administrators. I would encourage you to take your time, carefully screen profiles and messages, identify red and serious yellow flags and eliminate those guys as possibles immediately – and block them.

      The truth is that there is probably no 100 percent means of ensuring that your abuser cannot find you if he is that determined. But he will have to either know what service you are using, create a fake profile or use a friend’s or whatever. Not knowing the extent of his stalking, you may need to take some extra precautions, specifically if you eventually consider meeting someone somewhere. And, of course, don’t give any guy your home address or even a phone number until you have met him face-to-face in a public location and spent some time in his presence and feel truly safe. If he doesn’t understand your need for privacy, then you shouldn’t waste your time on such a guy anyway.

      Hope this helps a little. Feel free to write again as you have need.

      I wish you well.

      Cindy

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