Am I in a safe relationship? Can I trust this person? Can I trust myself not to repeat the past?
These are just a few of the questions that have plagued me over the last few years while trying to find a place where I would feel comfortable “dating”. What is that anyway? Using the term “dating” for me felt like the equivalent of getting on dating sites. It just felt like an invitation for disaster. I have perused a few in the past. I could feel my stomach turn at my personal opinion that dating sites were a bunch of cyber bars good for a “hook up”. Ya, I’m good.
From that point on I adopted the mantra, “I don’t date.” Often times the response has been, “How do I date you if you don’t date?” To which I have often replied, “If you have to ask me that question, you probably won’t be able to keep up with me anyway.”
To many that may seem like a harsh anti-social response. But, for me, it weeds out the most likely incompatible from the jump. A man who would be suitable for me would see that as welcome challenge and come back with something to the effect of, “I was enjoying our conversation so much, I was wondering if we couldn’t pick it up at another time?” Ah, there we go. That is a start.
To say I am cautious after two failed marriages and a violent relationship would be an understatement. I am more inclined to engage with someone who shows some patience in the face of a perceived rejection. I am concerned by the man who gets indignantly offended by a denial of ritual which may or may not be a rejection of him personally. I know myself well enough to know, at this phase in healing, there are still fears and “PTSD moments” still lurking about. To have them come up unexpectedly with someone who doesn’t handle rejection well, or sees events as personal assaults, seems like a recipe for disaster.
I have so many friends, both male and female, talk about having trust issues. They have been “burned” before, so many times, their skin should be fire retardant. They dread going into relationships so much so that many of them condemn them before the first date is over. Dating is no longer an optimistic journey of discovering what they enjoy about this new connection. It becomes a fear based quest to discover why this new connection should be terminated, ASAP. They bring their past trauma into a new, potentially healthy relationship, and kill it before it has a chance to “come in peace”.
I am no different.
I have experienced an inordinate amount of cheating, lying, neglect, and abuse in my past relationships. Sometimes I missed the early warning signs out of ignorance other times out of being naive.
Recently, I had been in my first long term romantic relationship since I left my abuser. While my partner was patient and understanding as he could be about my healing process, it was a challenge at times. He had no frame of reference to draw from and would often feel accused of being looked at for committing the same crimes I had experienced in the past. Other times my insecurities would feed his insecurities and I would be a tearful mess for days. I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. Then, I would feel guilty for bringing my past into the present. Maybe I was accusing him of behaving in the same way my past partners had. Maybe I was just reading his insecurities incorrectly because I didn’t understand how my actions or insecurities were triggering his. It was all so confusing. But there is hope.
There is a ton of material to sift through regarding how to date after trauma or bad relationships. There seems to be this study or that study to point fingers at who is healthy and who is not. There is even more advice on what to do about it.
I have to say, I appreciate Tamara Bess’ non blaming or accusatory approach to dating after trauma (click to listen). She comes from an observational and common sense perspective that includes her professional wisdom. She explains that even in the healthiest relationships we all have a past that we bring into the present. Tamara provides a script to help engage in thoughtful conversation that diminishes blame and accusation in favor of healthy understanding. If you come across a partner who is willing to be patient and open to alternative communication the fear of being burned stays in the past…where it belongs.