Dating Diaries
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Dating Diaries

Hindsight Helps (When Patience Isn’t a Virtue — Part 3)

Some Examples to Learn From

Photo by Uday Mittal on Unsplash

Embedded Links to Part 1 and Part 2 at the bottom of this post.

It’s my hope that others can learn from my experiences, to see warning signs earlier, and to stop earlier than I did. May you be strong in your boundaries, strong in your power. I’m learning. This is part of my process.

I was in a recent relationship where we had multiple conflicts about boundaries: many of which involved him imposing expectations on me that I didn’t agree to (and sometimes he didn’t communicate,) and him disregarding my “no.” There were numerous instances and issues where I felt I had to repeat and argue for my “no” or my “stop” because they weren’t being respected. I’m learning that I repeated myself far more than necessary. If I were to do it again, I’d disengage much sooner. I’d stop and leave much sooner.

“You should have…You should have…That’s not good enough.”

In one conversation, he brought up non-monogamy, a topic that had been on my profile when we met, and we’d discussed multiple times. He wanted me to explain it in more specifics, so he could fully understand it. When he was expressing his frustration and asking for more details, he kept repeating the same phrases: “you should have…” and “that’s not good enough.”

I responded calmly and reasonably for multiple rounds. I tried to reason with him, and to point out that he was expecting something of me I hadn’t agreed to and he hadn’t communicated. I tried to understand where he was coming from, to explain, to justify, to defend myself… but after more than a dozen “you should have” and multiple “that’s not good enough” I started feeling overloaded, shamed and worn down. I shut down.

I voiced that I was shutting down, explained what was happening, and answered questions about what was going on in my immediate experience. Then his issue became about my “trauma response” which he referred to often and regularly as a major concern about me.

Talking about it later, I’d expressed that his repetition was too much, and that the phrases of “you should have” and “that’s not good enough” convey a lot of shame. After I went into more detail, he replied, “I can see how you might interpret that, even though most other people wouldn’t see it that way.”

He addressed the conflict issue itself, “You didn’t do anything wrong.” Then followed up by telling me that all I’d needed to say to end the conversation was 4 statements which he recited. I had said 3 of them word-for-word as to what he said he’d needed to hear. The fourth (the statement that I hadn’t said) was “I probably won’t even (do what I’d expressly stated from the beginning was important to me.)”

He continued, “I’m just communicating and sharing my opinion. I never raised my voice and I didn’t use bad language. There’s nothing wrong with what I said or did. You should understand where I’m coming from. Other people understand me. Now I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around you.”

There were multiple red flags I felt in my body, some I voiced to a trusted friend, but I was too close to fully recognize just yet.

On the positive side, there were some instances where I’d say “I think we’re going in circles on this. Can we pause?” And we would pause or stop. And we could come back to it later. So I thought at that time that we could have positive communication, that if we were having a conversation and we started spinning or getting stuck, we could at least pause, regroup, and come back to it when we were both feeling more open to hearing each other. I had hope…

“For your own good…I need you to do this for me.”

In the longer-standing issue, it started with him trying to change my diet, sleep, exercise and fitness. He made direct and indirect comments, judgemental looks that were noticed by others, and repeated reminders towards his expectations and what he wanted me to do and change with my diet, meals, exercise and bedtime.

At first it was for my “own good.” Then he told me I needed to do it so I could join him to do his hobbies and activities. Then it was his “need” for me to be at his defined fitness level, so we could do his hobbies together. (A hobby I said I’d like to try, in certain conditions, but I hadn’t committed to doing beyond that.)

We had multiple conversations about this, where I asked for acceptance that we could each do what worked for us. “You do what works for you. I support that. I’m going to do what works for me.”

I tried to reason, explain, and justify why his requests didn’t work for me. Then I set a firm boundary for his comments to stop. They didn’t. That’s when his comments and “suggestions” became his “need” for me to change.

He didn’t accept what I was saying.

He didn’t accept my “no.”

I tried to end our relationship after about a month of him continuing to impose his expectations on me, and him refusing to accept my “no.” I said that his needs and my boundaries were incompatible. But by that time, I was emotionally exhausted and my strength was broken down. I agreed to a truce of putting our conflict on hold so we could reconnect and come back together. It was during this truce that communication seemed to be more effective and my “no” was finally accepted. Although notable: it took an opinion from his doctor, and me sharing my ten year health and fitness history for him to accept my “no.”

social media post from Nedra Tawwab

A few weeks later, we had a bigger conversation because it had become a consent and boundary issue for me and my body was reacting.

Our conversation was enlightening for me. It was spoken calmly, as is his norm; he rarely raises his voice, although sometimes speaks firmly or expresses frustration. In these types of conversations, he often speaks with confidence, superiority and all-knowing, often pointing out that most other people would understand him and agree with him, and that I’m an outlier for not understanding or agreeing with him.

About the lifestyle comments and why my “no” hadn’t been respected, I asked:

“Do you remember when I said that different things work for different people, and I asked us to each do what works for us?”

“Yes. But I’ve done my research. I know what’s best.”

“So my “no” wasn’t accepted?”

“No, it wasn’t. Because I know what’s best. I just want the best for you.”

.

“Do you remember when I said it wasn’t your place to make those decisions for me?”

“Yes, I thought you were telling me you weren’t willing to do something so small for me.”

“So you heard my “no” and it wasn’t accepted?”

“I thought you were refusing to put any effort into this relationship and what’s important to me, that you won’t even do something small for me.”

.

“Do you remember when I told you I can’t do what you’re asking, that I’m already doing what I’m able to do? That I’m already dropping things that are important to me?”

“Yes, but most people can operate more optimally than you are. I didn’t realize you were running at a deficiency.” (Ouch. That’s a lot of presumption and judgement in there!)

“So you heard my “no” and it wasn’t accepted?”

“Of course, because I thought you were self-defeating, that you just didn’t believe in yourself. I thought you were more capable than you’re telling me you are now.”

.

“Do you remember when I did the math for you on how many hours a day I work and commit to what’s important to me, and how many hours you were asking me to commit to each day?”

“I remember that. I thought you were making excuses.”

“So you heard my “no” and it wasn’t acceptable to you?”

“I thought you were making excuses, and besides, with what I’m telling you, you have one cheat day per week.”

“So you heard my “no” and it wasn’t acceptable to you?”

“Of course. I thought you were making excuses.”

.

“Do you remember when I set a boundary for you to stop making comments about my diet, sleep, and exercise, and I even used the phrase “I’m setting a boundary”?”

“Yes. I thought you were telling me not to have my opinion. You were trying to get me to change what I think.”

“So you heard my “no” and it wasn’t acceptable to you?”

“You were trying to make me change what I think.”

“I wasn’t trying to change what you think. I was asking you to stop voicing it to me because I’d been asking you for weeks to stop repeating it.”

“So you’re saying I can’t share my opinion around you?”

“I’m saying that when you repeat it so many times, and I’ve expressed that I don’t want to hear it anymore, please keep it to yourself. You can still have the opinion without voicing it.”

“See? You’re trying to get me to change my opinion and change my thoughts.”

“So you heard my “no” and it wasn’t acceptable to you?”

“That’s right. It wasn’t acceptable to me.”

“So you’re saying that my “no” wasn’t acceptable?”

“That’s right.”

.

“So if my “no” wasn’t acceptable, what would have been an acceptable answer?”

“I just wanted to look out for your best interests. I want you to be healthy.”

“If my “no” wasn’t acceptable, what answer would you have accepted?”

(this went on for a few rounds until he finally answered.)

“Well, you should have just done it, just done what I was saying.”

“So the only acceptable answer would have been for me to say “yes” to you?”

“Yeah. It’s that simple.”

.

“If my “no” isn’t acceptable, and if “yes” is the only answer, then I don’t really have a choice. Do I?”

“Of course you have a choice. And I have my opinion. I just want what’s best for you.”

“Repetition leads to pressure. I felt pressured. You kept making those comments even after I asked you to stop.”

“I refuse to accept that I’d ever pressured you. That’s ridiculous for you to even say! I never raised my voice or used bad language. I’m just voicing my opinion.”

.

“What I’m asking for is for you to respect my “no.” and for my “no” to be accepted as valid — because if my “no” isn’t accepted, and if “yes” is the only acceptable answer, then my “yes” isn’t really valid.”

“You can say “no” to me.”

“I did say “no” to you and it wasn’t accepted.”

“That’s because you didn’t tell me your story.”

“So I had to tell you my ten year history, after a month of asking you to stop making those comments?”

“Yes, it’s that easy. You just had to tell me why.”

“I did tell you why. You remember I said I can’t do what you were asking.”

“Yes, I thought you were making excuses.”

“I shouldn’t have to find the perfect puzzle piece in order for you to accept my “no.””

“It’s easy. It’s not much to ask.”

“I’m not psychic, and I need to be with someone who will accept my “no” and respect my boundaries. I don’t feel safe when my boundaries aren’t respected.”

“Of course you’re safe. I’d never hurt you. Why would you even think otherwise?!?”

.

He continued, “We talked about this so many times, and I stopped making those comments. Why do you keep bringing it up?”

“We did talk about it many times and my “no” and my “stop” weren’t respected. It wasn’t resolved for me. You didn’t stop until I told you my ten year history.”

“And when I heard that, I stopped. What’s the big deal? Why do you keep bringing this up?”

“Now it’s about more than the comments and the diet, sleep, and exercise. Now for me it’s about consent. It’s about my “yes” and my “no.” And that’s a big deal.”

We talked more how I felt pressured by the repetition of his requests. He refused to accept that I could have felt pressured or forced in any way. He said he’d never raised his voice, and he hadn’t used bad words; therefore, he’d never pressured me. He was offended that I would even insinuate such a thing.

I said that his repetition of phrases like “you need to” and “I need you to” convey imposed expectations, and “you should have” conveys expectations and shame. Repetition does apply pressure and wear down a person. And I’d asked him multiple times to stop those comments.

He rephrased that I was asking him to stop “badgering” me and to stop “harping on” issues. I agreed with those, and restated that I needed to feel safe enough that my “no” would be respected. I needed to trust that I wouldn’t have to fight for my “no” to be valid or accepted.

He made it a point to reiterate that I should have dropped the issue long ago, that it was resolved because he’d stopped making the comments by now, and the fact that I was making a big deal out of nothing was concerning — it was a red flag for him, and made him question our relationship.

I remember thinking I wish he had the cognitive empathy to understand that different people have different experiences; I wish he’d had the expansive thinking to accept that different opinions and perspectives can be simultaneously valid and okay. And I remember thinking I’m not okay with how things were going. I was getting ready to leave — to choose myself over the relationship.

Photo from Facebook

I was fighting against his imposed expectations and fighting for my own freedom and autonomy. And those weren’t his to take away. My freedom and autonomy are mine.

Some of my friends say that I give too many chances, that I’m too generous, too loyal. I agree; I have been. I’d tried to reason with him, to hear him out. I’d tried to clear up miscommunications, to communicate better or differently, or… something… so that he could understand me and respect my boundaries.

But my continuing the conversations when my boundaries weren’t being respected meant that my “no” continued to be disregarded for longer.

Our conversation confirmed that I had communicated clearly. He had heard me. He had heard my “no” and my “stop” and he chose to disregard it and keep pressing, and keep pressing, and keep pressing…

One of my friends reflected that it was like a war of attrition, an attempt to wear me down until I did what he wanted me to.

In telling what happened to friends, in journalling about it, in writing about it, in reading articles about manipulation and abuse…I see so many red flags. If you read or know about manipulation, emotional and psychological abuse, or narcissistic behaviours, you’ve probably recognized many as you were reading my post.

So many red flags.

Our overall relationship included subtle manipulation, negging, minimizing and invalidation, baiting, shame, and control, paired with inconsistency and compliments. There were enough good times and the right words to keep me hoping, wishing. He got in my head. I became emotionally exhausted, and started to doubt myself, blame myself, and question everything.

Even now, I’m evaluating, trying to wrap my head around things, and moving forward with one foot stuck in the past. Psychological abuse and cognitive dissonance can do that. I’m getting help.

It’s easier to see the warning signs and red flags when not in the moment.

May I see them sooner if they show up in the future.
May I recognize sooner when someone is committed to misunderstanding me, to ignoring what I have to say.
May I walk away sooner.

I’m getting stronger.
I’m learning.
I’m improving.
I’m making progress.

It’s not always about what I said or how I communicated. It’s not always about how I could have communicated better or more clearly.
Sometimes it’s about me disengaging, walking away.

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