Part 1 of the safe, sane and consensual relationships series.
This series focusses on figuring out how to recognize if an interesting person is sending out Social Danger Flares, specifically: why someone might look like they are awesome, but are not a good idea for being in a relationship with. We will talk about social behaviors that are harder to intuitively identify and may indicate the potential for controlling or otherwise unsafe relationships.
Why is this important to you?
Some people seem to have a constant stream of bad-news lovers who abuse and control them, or just make them quietly unhappy for no easily-identifiable reason. We want you not to be one of those people. This post is about learning to recognize the subtle early warning signs that a person who looks good now, will turn out to be a problem later. When you have a mixed or bad feeling about somebody, but can’t figure out why, this post will give you a list of things to look for and the language to talk about it. This is useful both for your own relationships, and for others who might need better information to avoid bad situations. Reading this will help you break out of the matrix and see the real behind the exciting façade.
A tool for helping yourself and others make informed decisions:
I find myself at a loss for resources when I want to explain to someone why a person they are interested in is sending huge warning flags for potential control and abuse or severe ego-crushing disrespect. To them, it looks like that person seems to be doing pretty normal social stuff: grabbing without permission, ignoring “No” on minor topics, and otherwise being mildly full of themselves. While everybody gets to choose what sort of playmate they want, I see many teens and adults end up on a confused emotional roller-coaster due to lack of experience in analyzing what is going on. The lack of common language to discuss these issues means that people have a hard time identifying and getting support for what is bothering them. The goal is to prevent crises, not just put out fires.
While I value relationships and sexuality, I am suggesting educating yourself, taking your time, using your brain, using your safety net and protection, because getting hurt over and over again really messes up your ability to be happy and effective long term. The more you can avoid it, the better. I wake up from nightmares 2-6 times a week, depending on how I am doing otherwise, because I used to think that I could handle anything and could always walk away tomorrow. My life is kind of awesome now, and the lasting echoes is something I could have done without. If it is avoidable for you, avoid it. Everyone gets to make bad choices and there is no avoiding getting hurt, but informed decisions are a whole lot better than “oops.”
Who is at risk of hooking up with people who are likely to be disrespectful or cruel.
Some people will not have issues staying away from bad situations and some will. This is not because there is anything wrong with people who have this issue, but because they never learned to distinguish between people who are bad news (but look good), and those who will treat them well. Some may have grown up without good role modeling of what healthy relationships look like. This is not because they are stupid, but because this is not explicitly taught, and the implicit curriculum is confused and often messed up. Many normal behaviors that you see at school, socially, and on TV, are broken. Too few people are modeling healthy social interactions for any age, orientation, or gender.
Unhealthy relationships can be a potential problem for people who:
- Come from an abusive environment, which can include school, bullying, and being yelled at by relatives. Also those who have been taught to think of themselves as crazy, worthless, or bad; often as a result of previous emotional abuse or being in situations that are a bad fit.
- Have social differences that result in not being liked or trouble-making friends. This includes but is not limited to the Autism Spectrum, Asperger, Sensory Processing Differences, and Overexcitabilities (especially sensual and emotional).
- Stand out as smart, a geek, not sporty, a tomboy, LGBTQIA, etc… there are many smart people who are not knowledgeable enough to avoid common pitfalls and get caught when they shift from getting no social approval, to getting approval from the wrong person. They can also get caught because they are very competent in other areas and do not expect to be wrong, or they need better information than what they can figure out on their own.
- Have intellectual disabilities, who are at risk of missing non-explicit social cues.
- Have learning differences, impulse control, and executive function issues like ADD/ADHD, or hitting puberty or “simply” being attracted to someone.
- Do not have a lot of experience with healthy relationships. Since there is no good intentional curriculum for this anywhere. Also, if someone is attached to not making mistakes, and “doing it right”, it makes them vulnerable, both to being pressured, and to not reaching out for help when they start to need it, because they are embarrassed of having anyone know they are not “perfect.”
- Did not go through good Sex Ed. If you have no idea what is safe and what isn’t, it is hard to make a smart decision.
For many people, especially young women, Low Self Esteem is a major problem. They want to be liked and validated, like most people do. This is still a gaping, painful hole in their emotions, which is easily exploitable by smooth talking, or just woefully under-educated (possibly even well-intentioned), opportunistic people. Most of us know the severe examples of what relationships should not look like; while we might be able to recognize complete jerks, this doesn’t protect people from Mr. Nice Guy or Just Not a Good Idea Guy/Girl/Q. How to recognize Just Not a Good Idea Guy/Girl/Q and what to do about it will be the focus of the next 4 posts.
Please help create a consent culture by sharing, commenting, and talking about this with others.