I met a funny, cute guy while out dancing. He was interesting and fun to talk to, so when he asked me out I happily accepted.
As with the (very few) men I’d dated up to that point, I kept a mental list of qualities at hand by which I evaluated him. The problem was it was a list of bad qualities, or red flags—selfishness, moodiness, and impatience—that I didn’t want in a guy. These were the qualities of the man who had emotionally abused me in the past, and I didn’t want to end up with someone like him.
This funny, cute guy and I dated for a few months and we really hit it off. There was even a moment that I wondered if I was actually falling in love. But I kept telling myself not to get too carried away, the red flags could start appearing at any moment and I had to be careful.
Sure enough, I began to notice too many behaviors or traits that seemed similar to the bad qualities on my list: He seemed to be a little on the quiet side, which made me fear he was moody and might have a temper. He seemed to be very set in his ways with little flexibility to change, which spoke to me of the selfishness I wanted to avoid.
Before long, I began to see bad qualities in him at every turn, so I decided he was totally wrong for me and I broke it off. Little did I know—I’d just broken up with the man who would become my husband!
It frightens me a little to think I almost let my past emotional abuse rob me of my husband. I see now how blinded I was by emotional abuse and the fear that I would end up with someone like my abuser. So much so that I failed to notice the many good qualities of this cute, funny guy, and I’d let him go before I’d even really given him a chance.
Beginning the process of healing from my past abuse was something I needed to do if I wanted a relationship to work out. I needed to sort out the pain and learn how to manage it healthily; I needed to learn how to stand on my own emotionally and not to need a man in order to be happy. I had to learn how to love myself so that I could then allow someone to love me.
Honestly, there were some major things I needed to figure out. What did I want in a man? What did I need? Getting more dating experience was helpful. I met a lot of guys, but I only had one other relationship that was long enough (nine months!) to really understand the answers to these questions.
Dating this other guy helped show me that not everything about what I wanted in a man was as clear-cut as I thought. This man did not appear to have any of the qualities of my abuser, nothing that appeared on my list of red flags. He was kind and thoughtful and he gave me gifts. No man ever gave me gifts. It made me feel special.
Yet our relationship wasn’t working. Rather than making me feel more secure, I started to feel more insecure. Underneath these gifts, and underneath his kindness, there was something that made me feel like I wasn’t enough for him. When he gave me clothes, I thought to myself: Does he not like how I dress? When we did things he enjoyed like downhill skiing, I thought to myself: Does he only really like me when I do the things he likes to do?
Though things didn’t appear that way on the surface, it was exactly the way my abuser made me feel. I had to learn how to be honest with myself and admit that these things didn’t make me feel good (and that I really didn’t like to downhill ski). I began to understand that just because a man may appear to have the opposite qualities of my abuser, it didn’t mean he was someone I wanted to be with.
With this new understanding, I was able to see the good when it came around. Or, in my case, came around again. The funny, cute guy I’d met at that swing dance those years ago suddenly reappeared in my life. And wouldn’t you know it, he said he thought it was a mistake that we’d broken up.
We tried again. This time I knew what I was looking for, and I had more confidence in myself as a person. And best of all, I saw who he really was, and that he was so very different from the man who had abused me in the past. Yes, he was a little quiet at times, but I was open enough this time to notice how lively and confident he was when he was around his friends, and how much they admired him. I saw that he was very even tempered and incredibly patient; and finally I saw that he wasn’t selfish or set in his ways, but that we worked well as a team to build a life together.
It was important for me to know what I wanted and didn’t want in a man, and to understand how to spot these qualities. Thanks to my second chance, I’ve learned that people are not always what they first appear to be and to give them a chance.
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