It happened one leisurely Sunday. My girlfriend at the time and I had spent the day at the spa, a peace offering for an ongoing argument. We were joking around and then, just like that. She punched me in the arm. And in that moment it was if all of the years of dating, all my mistakes, all my lovers’ mistakes, all the pain of every fight, every breakup, every unhealthy relationship, with every woman I ever cared about came straight up against the realization that I had enough. In one punch I made a promise to myself: No more unhealthy relationships. Everything became silent and still for one blissful second. And then I knew. There had to be a better way.
Over the weeks that followed, while starting the moving on process, one thought replayed in my mind: what did I miss? I couldn’t help but wonder how I dated Ex for so long and completely missed the aggression red flag. Another thought prickled at the back of my mind: or had I?
Red flags are the bits of awareness we get that tell us something is wrong in the relationship. Over the months that followed the punch, as I moved out, moved on, and attempted to put humpty together again, one thought kept replaying over and over in my mind: in order to ever trust my own judgment again, I had to accept that not only had red flags appeared long before the punch, but I had to get to the bottom of why I ignored them for so long.
Somewhere in between seeing people for who they are and completely ignoring reality, I wonder: when it comes to dating, what is the antidote for wearing rose colored glasses? Why do we look away from who people really are when red flags are blaring in our face?
Here are 2 big reasons why we ignore red flags in relationships.
We don’t see what’s right in front of us.
Fortunately, I kept a journal so I had access to details of my relationship that I would have otherwise forgotten about. And the truth? The aggression was there very early on. Not as extreme, so maybe she stormed off and didn’t speak to me for days a couple of times in the first months rather than hitting. But aggressive. And more importantly, compatibility-wise, for me, I need to be with someone who uses words to communicate. Aggression, punishing behaviors, and emotional shut down are all just extreme communication fails in my book. So why did I ignore them? Like many of us, when it comes to intimate relationships, I tended to see people for who I wanted them to be. One way we do that is to dismiss their actual behavior, make excuses, or believe the words people say over what they do. When I finally got real with myself about why I refused to acknowledge Ex for who she was, it came down to one thing – the trade off for the illusion of a stable relationship outweighed my desire to see the real person.
What I took away is that if I really want to see people and situations for who and what they are, I have to fully commit to experiencing people as they show themselves to be – in character, in action, over time. And to have the courage to walk away when we aren’t compatible.
We move too fast.According to the ol’ U-Haul joke – we often connect and attach very quickly, sometimes going from strangers to girlfriends in a week, followed by moving in together week 2 (or the second date, as the joke has it). Some human biology experts point to our gender and explain that as women, it is in our DNA to attach. Some point to the Oxytocin that is released during sex that behaves in the body like an addictive drug to keep you hooked. Some may point to societal pressures to be “settled down” by a certain age, to avoid being perceived as a spinster or some other offensive, sexist stereotype. Those factors may all be true, but as a woman who ascribes to the belief that what I focus on comes into my life the most, there is one key reason why I personally have moved too fast in relationships time and time again: I like being in relationships and I like the feeling of letting go and not following rules. So things like no sex until the third date or no moving in together until you’ve dated a year just brought up a rebelliousness in me. And like any good rebel, I did just the opposite, had sex on the first date, moved in very quickly, sometimes without ever talking about what it would be like. Ha! I sure showed them. The problem with fast is that it creates a false sense of urgency that is exciting but not based on reality and in the end is not sustainable. This fast pace only opens us up to ignoring red flags that come up. After all, we’re practically married by the time something comes up that we can no longer ignore.
For me to really break the cycle of moving too fast, I had to first want to slow down. Not just say the words, but to actually mean them. Basically, I had to want the long-term pay off of being with the right person more than the short-term payoff of cozying up in a relationship. In literal terms, what this meant for me was making a promise to myself to hold off on physical intimacy until monogamy. And to be willing to walk away when I notice red flags. To know it’s not personal – there’s nothing wrong with her and there’ s nothing wrong with me, we just aren’t compatible. In my experience, incompatibility leads to a toxic thing in the relationship, like sickness. And I’m done with unhealthy relationships.
What I learned from the punch was not that I loved the wrong women, it was that I didn’t pay attention to red flags and plowed right into commitment without really checking in on compatibility. The good news – this experience eventually became the best thing that happened to me because I realized I wasn’t the victim. I played a part in every relationship that was unhealthy in my life. When it comes to dating, mainly, I wanted to be in a relationship more than I wanted to be in the right relationship and I jumped head first into them, moving bullet train fast. And I carry forward all I learned about red flags and my tendency to ignore them in all relationships in my life today. This awareness can only help me in identifying compatibility in dating, in friends, in colleagues, in family members, in life.
Want more dating musings? Visit my blog: www.sdwritergirl.com. Next month, I share my personal dating experiment with dating differently. See what happens!
Kim is an educator, freelance writer, and blogger whose writing explores dating as lesbians in the digital age. Drawing on 20 years of dating, she is writing a dating book that redefines dating through the lens of mindfulness and connection. Follow Kim on Twitter: @sdwriter girl, or visit her website: www.sdwritergirl.com