Part 3 of the safe, sane and consensual relationships series.
Now we get to the topic that sparked this series of posts. How to recognize if an Interesting Person is Just Not a Good Idea Guy/Girl/Q. Specifically the subtle warning signs that many people miss or mistake for harmless play.
Danger Flare 1: Taking without asking.
Grabbing someone else’s drink or cell phone, or taking food off your plate, might seem like innocent play, but it shows poor boundaries and a lack of respect for the other person’s stuff. If the person doesn’t receive negative feedback early on for this behavior, it can easily escalate to a situation where “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine.” Even if effectively curtailed, this may be a bad sign.
Danger Flare 2: Ignoring a “No” in a social setting.
They are doing something you don’t like, and you say “no” or “stop that!” It could be a small thing—tickling, splashing in the pool, snapping a bra, or patting on the rump. If the person who is being told to stop doesn’t stop, or makes fun of you for asserting yourself, he is showing a complete lack of respect for your boundaries and your autonomy. And if they doesn’t respect a “no” in public, what do you think might happen in a more private setting?
Danger Flare 3: Lingering stares and elaborate compliments.
When someone you do not know well watches you intently and sings praises to your beauty, grace, or intelligence, be careful. While it is probable that you are worth watching and have those attributes, expressions like this out of context indicate that you are being hunted. This is not an issue if you are both interested and flirting, but someone who professes to just be looking for friendship should not be doing this. It may also signal poor pacing and entitlement issues.
Danger Flare 4: Mean to the waiter, nice to you.
Watch how they treat people who they perceive as lower status than them: taxi and bus drivers, waiters, flight attendants, etc. Some people will be nice and charming to people (like you) whom they are trying to impress, but mean to people whom perceive as “unimportant.” How will this person treat you when you are no longer the shiny new prize? How will they treat you when they are no longer trying impress you or to catch you, and take you for granted? How do you feel about being with somebody who separates people into those who are worthy of kindness and courtesy, and those who are not?
Danger Flare 5: Grabs or kisses without permission.
It seems like all of the movie and TV scripts have a moment where the male character leans in to kiss the female character, magically knowing that the moment is right. Inevitably, it is, and she kisses him back, passionately. Real life is more complicated (See: Life is Not a Movie). In real life, people can’t read minds. That is why we ask for permission. “May I touch you” or “May I kiss you” can be an incredibly sexy question if the answer is yes, because it shows that you are not only attracted to the other person but also respect them. If the answer is no, moving on gracefully and respectfully has the same effect of showing respect. Conversely, somebody who kisses, grabs, or touches without permission doesn’t know how (or doesn’t care to) show respect and make sure that you are on the same page before escalating. The concern here is not just that it’s disrespectful and uncomfortable, but that if they won’t ask before touching or kissing, they won’t ask your permission to do other things, either. You want somebody who looks for an enthusiastic “yes,” not somebody whose default position is to treat other peoples’ bodies as their property.
Danger Flare 6: Breaking the spirit of their current relationships.
If someone watches you, makes deep and meaningful eye contact, or kisses you as part of a game while in a relationship with another, this is a really bad sign. Even if it’s not “technically cheating,” that person is dishonoring their commitment to their partner. (The fact that their partner is present and makes a show of being okay with it, doesn’t necessarily mean anything good). If you become their partner, you can expect that they will dishonor their commitment to you.
Danger Flare 7: Cheats, is violent, or bad-mouths their exes.
Anything that the person is doing to others in their life, they could and likely will do to you. Don’t buy common excuses: “she knew I had a temper, and she provoked me.” “I had to hit that person because…” or “I can’t control my automatic reaction [to be violent] when X happens.” None of that is normal or acceptable. If the person speaks badly about their exes, what will they say about you if you break up? If they are cheating on their current partner, they will likely cheat on you. It is common for people to justify their bad behavior by saying that there was something special about that one situation that either made them do it or made it okay or made it different from how things will be with you. This line of argument has a name—exceptionalism—and it should be treated with extreme skepticism unless there is some proof (apart from the person’s word) that the situation actually was special or different. If you believe that there is, get a second opinion from somebody whom you respect.
Danger Flare 8: Coerces: You should try it, you’ll like it.
You explain that you don’t like to do X, or aren’t feeling it right now, or have some hesitation. “Try it, you’ll like it” is the response. Or “it’s for your pleasure, what’s the problem?” X could be a sex act, a food, an activity, or anything else. Any way you slice it, the response is dismissive and disrespectful—the person is trying to steamroll their will over your feelings, rather than respecting you. An appropriate response would be to acknowledge your response and ask what you would like to do, or suggest a different activity. This kind of coercive behavior can move very quickly into a situation (discussed below) where you find yourself saying “yes” to things that you want to say “no” to, and don’t understand how or why that happened.
Danger Flare 9: Blames their actions or feelings on your behavior.
“I had to kiss you, I was overcome by my love/passion/attraction for you!” It’s the same statement, exactly, as “I had to beat you because you did something that upset me and I was overcome by anger. You know I have a bad temper.” Neither is acceptable behavior. Both rely on the claim that the person is legitimately unable to control themselves in the presence of strong emotions. Think about that. Having uncontrollable impulses to hurt other people is one legal definition of insanity. Whether or not it’s true that the person actually can’t control himself, somebody who makes this claim doesn’t take responsibility for his own actions, and isn’t mature enough to be in a relationship with anyone.
Danger Flare 10: You tend to say yes to things you would normally say no to.
This is a major warning sign. You didn’t want to do something, the inside of your head was screaming that this was a bad idea/not what you want/not right now, and the words that came out of your mouth were, “yeah, sure.” Or maybe you just went along with it and didn’t protest. Maybe you thought that saying no would cause a fight, or some other bad consequence—and you liked the thought of that even less than going along with whatever it was. This is a tool that abusive, controlling, dangerous people use to control their partners. This is a huge danger sign. Long term, the consequences of going along to get along are likely to be far worse than the consequences of standing up for yourself. A less brutish version involves a conversation where you planned to say no, but the idea was eloquently presented in a way that gave you no time to think, yet made it clear that whatever the other person wanted to do was totally reasonable, and it would be silly, immature, or unreasonable of you to say no. You went along, it felt wrong, and you couldn’t figure out why. You don’t normally have sex with people you’ve just met, for example, but there was something about the way he made eye contact… and now you are trying to figure out exactly what happened, and at what point (and why) you agreed to that. You wonder if it makes you a bad person that you enjoyed some of it, or whether that makes it all okay. This is a subtle form of coercive manipulation, and a significant danger flare.
Danger Flare 11: Blows off your friends or family.
The person is polite, but cold. Turns down opportunities to meet or spend time with the people who are important to you. Doesn’t engage when they’re around your people. Somebody who is invested in a long-term relationship with you will want your friends and family to like them, and to welcome them into their loved one’s life (yours). Somebody who isn’t interested in those relationships should be suspect, because they’re treating you like somebody who’s not going to be in their life for very long. There is a saying that “nobody washes a rented car.” Don’t date somebody who treats you like a rented car.
Danger Flare 12: Tries to only spend time with you alone.
If you keep ending up alone with a new person and never seeing your friends or meeting theirs, you have a couple of problems. First, why haven’t you met their friends? Have they done something to alienate their entire social network? Are they hiding something from you? More concretely, you will eventually become distant from your support network and your social network. Many people end up staying in bad situations much longer than they otherwise would, because they feel like they have nowhere to go or nobody to talk to, after having cut off contact with the people they used to know.
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