I am sitting in stopped traffic, headed home from the airport following a whirlwind work trip that left me defeated. Knee bouncing impatiently up and down, I replay the toxic trip, for my toxic employer as I sit at stopped train tracks. Finally, the gates open and I inch my way up to the stop light. To get around traffic, I turn left, promptly ignoring the “no left turn sign” posted a few feet in front of me. Almost immediately I hear the siren of a police car and see the red flashing lights in my rear view mirror. Oops. It wasn’t until I open my glovebox to a spilling out pile of papers, old yahoo map directions and expired registration tags that I realize that while I am an insured, registered driver, I have nothing in this pile of chaos to prove it. As the officer returns to his car to run my plates and license, I stare numbly at the open glove box and realize what a mess things were. Maybe it was the ridiculousness of the clutter of papers now spread all over the passenger seat. Whatever it was, the officer had mercy and gave me a warning and a stern, “Just get your paperwork in order.” I left the glove box hanging open the rest of my drive home as a reminder that I could no longer ignore the truth – something had to change.
This moment was my wake up call, one that would eventually lead to me quitting when I finally had enough of that toxic job. The happy ending is that within a week I had contract work that eventually led to the job I have now – with a profitable company with a healthy culture. Wake up calls, whether in health, career, or relationships, all have one thing in common – they are an opportunity for us to do something different. Here I offer 3 things I’ve learned about all wake up calls.
1. Our gut is never wrong.
Too often, my intuition has been screaming at me while I’ve turned a blind eye to something I didn’t want to deal with. In my toxic job situation, I told myself for a long time that I was lucky to have a job during the economic crash and that I should just suck it up and take whatever got dished out. My gut was screaming at me so much that it literally made itself sick in order to get me to pay attention. Dating wake up calls are not all that different. I remember one relationship where we were having an ordinary conversation and the way she was speaking to me was condescending and rude and entirely inappropriate. In that moment I saw myself from above, looking in on the situation and thought, “This isn’t love. It’s time to face the fact that this person isn’t right for you.”
2. Wake up calls come in threes.
In my experience, it usually takes 3 pretty severe things before I finally take off my rose colored glasses. Sort of like 3 strikes and you’re out. In dating, maybe the first is a miscommunication that is stark – or her way of coping with it afterwards is cruel or shut down. Then maybe something rather benign happens but when you look back on it think “Wait a minute, that wasn’t right”. In my toxic job, there were many benign things that happened over time. In relationships, the benign stuff often looks like one off situations that are odd. She throws you under the bus with a friend, she puts pressure on you to make nice with her ex, she doesn’t show up for you in an important moment, like a trip to the ER. These one off situations seem like one time poor choices. Because we’re reasonable and accept that no one is perfect, we may minimize their impact. By the third wake up call, though, you have established the most important indicator of who someone is – a pattern of behavior over time.
3. We’re conditioned to make the best of things.
As women one of our greatest strengths can also get in the way of seeing things for what they really are – a tendency to give grace, to see the positive, and to move forward when difficult things happen. For me, this tendency is so ingrained in me that I literally have to check in with myself every so often just as a reality check, particularly in dating. I like to use what I call an “is this love?” checklist. Love shouldn’t cause us to lose things. Love doesn’t manipulate or control. Love is built on pillars like trust, respect, shared values, and intimacy. When a red flag comes up for me these days, I check in with myself to see if it’s a wake up call (number one, two or three) or if it’s just a normal part of relationships.
The wake up call may not come at an ideal time and may be rather unpleasant, but when it comes, it’s best to deal with it rather than to run away. The thing about wake up calls is that they are like ants in southern California – they always come back. To learn more about healthy dating, join me in Portland, OR on October 29 for a healthy dating workshop.
Kim Baker, author of Girls’ Guide to Healthy Dating: Between the Breakup and the Next U-Haul, is a dating columnist and writer whose writing examines healthier dating through the lens of mindfulness and self-care. Find her at www.girlsguidetohealthydating.com or join her email list by texting gg2dating to 22828, message and date rates may apply.