Plans and Promises are Never a Reason to Stay
Lessons from failed relationships can be invaluable. They can create the cornerstones and building blocks for the next relationship that you allow yourself to become involved in.
The life lessons that I have learned from my previous relationship have helped me to grow, feel empowered, and have changed the structure of what I see as a “healthy relationship”.
Transparent Dangling Carrots
The term “Dangling Carrots” comes from a history of training horses. the trainer would lead the horse around by dangling a carrot in front of it, in order to get it to cooperate. Once the horse accomplished the mission, it would receive the carrot.
Transparent dangling carrots are plans and promises that cannot be seen, but are given as “gifts” to appease someone, or persuade them to be compliant and obedient.
The partner I chose to live with had a habit of saying cruel things to me, treating me with disrespect during various occasions, and being unfaithful. I made excuses for him, often, when others pointed out his flaws and how he mistreated me. I refused to believe that I had fallen into a toxic relationship, because he always “tried” to make up for his “mistakes”.
I would try and tell him when I felt hurt, and he would defend himself. Typically our conversations would begin with my saying, “I feel hurt because_____”. And he would retaliate with a response like, “I cannot be blamed for how you feel! I did not _______ to hurt you. I just say it how I see it.” That would be the end of it, and I would secretly plan my escape.
These could be anything from vacations, dinner theater tickets, concert tickets, or promises of something he would do for me in the near future. They never included his intention or vow to be kinder, or to learn to treat me with respect, or even to “try” and be less rude to me around our friends.
His typical response to making amends was to try and find something that we could BOTH do that was relaxing, fun, or entertaining, to take my mind off what he was guilty of. And, typically, it worked.
He was the master at the carrot dangling. He knew that if there was a vacation planned a few months away, or concert tickets that I craved in the distant future, I would stay. I would change my focus, feel gratitude for his gifts, and re-think my relationship. Sadly enough, I fell into the trap he intended, more often than not.
Even if we had disagreements or full-blown arguments, I would sit in the quiet and seethe. I would tell myself, “As soon as we are back from vacation, I am out of here”. I had the fear of missing out on his plans for us, and it became like an invisible noose and handcuffs.
He even used marriage as a dangling carrot. During an argument he would burst into feigned tears, and say things like, “I was planning on marrying you!” or “I was going to propose to you.” I will admit, this ploy affected me ONCE and I fell victim to appeasing him, in hopes that his proposal would come to fruition.
It didn’t. There was never a ring, there was never a plan to ask me to be his wife, and after 9 years, he never made me feel as though I was worthy of being a wife to him. It was just the way he was. I endured it as long as I could, stupidly hoping he would change for the better.
Don’t Stay for the Door Prizes
I am appealing to all of the women, and men, in some cases, to avoid the dangling carrot types.
You are worth so much more than a few “door prizes’ that you win for tolerating abuse or damage to your self-esteem. It is nice to have pretty things and do fun adventures, yes. But, not if it is at the expense of your happiness, self-worth and dignity.
The lesson I have taken away from the past 9 years is that there are no materials, gizmos, gadgets, plans, adventures, trips, or other “gifts” that can repair the damage of broken self-esteem. It may be true that without your “significant other” to buy these items, you may never have the opportunity to experience them.
That doesn’t matter.
The damage that has been caused by the endless dangling carrots far outweighs any fond memories I have of our time together. I never honestly enjoyed the vacations we took because they were on his terms and given to me as “hush gifts”. Concerts and dinner theaters were never enjoyable with him because his negativity ate the joy away. His gifts were his weapons and unless he participated in them, he wouldn’t spend money on them, due to his narcissistic nature.
Some partners will use items like jewelry or other gifts that are meant solely to make you happy, and not include their own joy. I have heard from a few women friends who fell prey to these types of rewards. One of my friends was given a car after her man cheated on her. Of course, he repeated the behavior a few months later and reminded her that she drives a new car, and that should give him some leeway in sleeping with other women.
Another friend of mine was given items like a camper, a boat, and an ATV, because her partner knew that she loved doing weekend outdoor adventures. He also monitored all of her spending, kept track of her whereabouts by phone, and called her cruel names in front of her friends and family. She made excuses for him, as she enjoyed the lifestyle he provided.
During my 9 year term with my ex-partner, I never saw all of his cruel actions or his continual control over my life and my decisions, unless I stopped and actually assessed our relationship. It was easy to slide by, day after day, feeling stress of unhappiness after work and worrying about his moods in the mornings. It was easy to slough off if you could see the light at the end of the tunnel. “Well, at least we have vacation in a few weeks”, would get me through the moments of disappointment and edginess.
There were also times when he would present me with a gift, such as a necklace for Valentine’s Day (totally out of character) or a “just because” dinner date. Those were nice until the moment came where he would say, “Hey. I bought you that ____ the other day. Don’t tell me I’m not nice to you.” Or the best one, “You always find the negative in what I do, you never appreciate when I buy you things”. (It was NEVER about the things). Also, the “negative” was that you were trying to hook up with another woman. So, there’s that.
Since I have been away from him, I have noticed that this behavior is not uncommon. I had no idea. I kept most of my life with my ex pretty private, as I knew deep down I was in a dangerously toxic environment and didn’t want to hear it from others. I have heard stories from MULTIPLE women who live in long term relationships, just working their way through from one dangling transparent carrot to the next. A couple of them appear happy in doing so, but most of them are miserable, even though they have vacations booked in the near future.
I have been in a few relationships in my 50 years, but have never experienced one of these types before. I honestly believe that I put up with emotional and verbal stress from him, so that I could enjoy adventures with him. When I consider that, it makes me realize that I was not in my right mind. In fact, I was completely jaded by a mixture of love and resentment, without even realizing it. Every trip he planned, I hoped would be “the one”. I prayed that he would allow me to venture off and explore or that he would accompany me. Instead I watched him laze around, smoking cigars in the shade, while I read a book and smoked cigarettes to spite him. I found myself missing work and writing, when I should have been embracing a new adventure and time with him.
Maybe it’s Your Jam
I am sure there are couples out there who are okay with the perpetual gifts and promises. Maybe it is what they need in order to be fulfilled.
There are also couples who are much more forgiving of one another and cherish the gifts that make up for mistakes. If that’s your thing, and you are truly happy, I commend you. As long as you are happy and can accept gifts as what they are intended for, and approve of them, who am I to judge? or, if you are able to appreciate carrots as weapons, and enjoy the fruits of someone else’s mistake, so be it. I am elated for you.
All I know is that the final straw in my relationship was my DREAM trip to Greece. I received a piece of paper for Christmas that had a photo of a Greek Island and an itinerary attached, and at first, I was over the moon and completely shocked by the gesture. Once again, I had stifled the previous vacation gifts and tried to be as positive as I could about this one. On paper, it appeared the trip was for me, as I was turning 50 and it was Christmas.
The trip was booked in May, 5 months after Christmas and I wanted to be excited. Not surprisingly, the gift was hung over my head as something other than a carrot within the first few weeks. It became a weapon of choice.
I heard all about how much it cost and that he had gone “out of his way’ to make sure that this trip would make me happy. (He sat on the phone with a travel agent for a half-hour to exchange credit card information). During a few arguments, I was informed that he “thought’ that his efforts would be appreciated. They were, until they were used against me.
It wasn’t long before he made a very serious mistake, which created an angry fuse in me to explode. He took over the plans for my birthday celebration in March, not allowing me to have my own daughter stay in our home. Over the course of a few days, his hurtful, accusatory nature spiraled, leaving me to feel defeated, unworthy and depressed.
That’s when I left him. I moved out and began my own new adventure.
As predicted, he took the trip to Greece, accompanied by someone he had met on an online dating app two days prior to their departure. I had asked him if I could take the trip alone, or with my daughter, which he scoffed at. His final dangling carrot that was held over my head for months became re-gifted to a stranger.
Fortunately for her, she learned quickly how he operates and dumped him, following their vacation. She took the carrot, made the best of it, and walked away. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that, but I am not her.
It’s an easy trap to fall into. Every adventure or exciting new plan in the near or distant future gives you drive to tolerate abuse or damage to your self-esteem. I allowed myself to be entrapped for 9 years until I finally realized it just wasn’t worth it anymore.
I am not judgmental, nor do I see this lesson of multiple years as being superior or even teachable. Nonetheless, it was a lesson learned, and I will ensure that I maintain my new values and principals moving forward, in any kind of relationship I engage in.
Carrots should be grown and harvested together, and the crop should be yielded and enjoyed as a couple. Dangling them over one another’s head as a fortunate “reward” and ensuing weapon is beyond unhealthy.