|April 23, 2000
A recent email question highlights an
issue former victims often face: How to tell if the prospective partner is
controlling. This is a tough one. While some controllers show their colors
early, most do not.
|Is is always a sign of control when a
relationship starts off quickly? |
|Is it always a sign of control when
your new friend makes too-quick insinuations about your future together?
|Are little personal intrusions signs
of a controller? |
|How can you tell if your new relationship
is "wrong"? |
"I told a man I had been dating not to call me
anymore. I am wondering if maybe I was too hasty - but then again, maybe
not? I think this is part of my recovery so if you don’t mind giving me
a quick +/- take on the scenario, I’d really appreciate it!
James and I clicked almost instantly. He’s 39 (I’m
38) and has a great job, never been married, no kids - and very good
looking. We spent a lot of time together in a very short span.
For about 6 weeks, we saw each other 2 or 3+ times a week. So fast!
Whether we had a night on the town or just stayed in, we had a very
comfortable and enjoyable friendship developing. We shared stories of
our youth as well as our past failed relationships - some of them very
personal and emotional and private (things I could not ever have shared
with my x-husband)! Things seemed to be going fine, each
of us not pushing the other too much at all. We just couldn’t seem to
stay away from each other for very long, actually.
NOW: Let me list a few "red flags" that I
noticed, and didn’t exactly ignore - didn’t say anything out loud to James,
but just sort of kept mental notes on "things" that caught my
attention. Dr. Irene, please tell me if I’m extreme ok? OK. I don’t want to scare potential
boyfriends away, but I also do not in a million years – ever, ever -
want to get myself into another relationship like the marriage I am out
of. Good for you!
By the way, the fast, intense pace of your relationship is also a
|The first time James came
to my house to pick me up, I gave him a tour. I apologized for my messy
study, and James said -
"Oh, that’s something we’d have to fix if we ever live
together." To myself I thought that was a little bit forward, but
I didn’t say anything and didn’t really think about it anymore... Good reaction on your part. |
|As time passed, James made other comments. He told me many times,
"I like you a lot". "I am starting to CARE about
you." But he gave me the impression that it was a bad thing - caring about me - like it was bothering (or scaring)
him or something? OK. Good for paying attention
to your feelings. It would be OK to say
something like, “Do you feel badly that you are starting to care?” |
He jokingly / semi-seriously made references a few times that if
everything went well, he and I could get married and have kids.
"Oh well, when we’ve been married a few years...blablabla” with some sort of humorous
ending. That is how he would comment on our future. I joked backed with him, and honestly did not take it seriously,
but was this a red flag? Maybe, maybe not.
It’s difficult to generalize on these little incidents. While
many of the flags you raise are consistent with what a controlling person
might say early on, these comments are not the exclusive domain of the
|He also rearranged a bunch
of magnets I have on my refrigerator that are words into a sentence
that read, "I love to cherish you". Very
|James races cars as a hobby. He has broken his collar bone 7 times. Yikes! The last time, he re-broke it
himself, said he got "liquored up" and banged it against a
door frame. James does not seem like an alcoholic/abuser though; he
was very responsible about cutting himself off when drinking and
driving. But this seems kind of self-destructive to me(?) Me too. Just another red flag at this point.
|We had set a time I was to call him at home. I called a few minutes early and he
asked me to call back in 5 minutes because he was watching something
on TV. That by itself did not bother me. OK,
though a bit yukky since I would hope you are more important than
what’s on the tube. Also, he should have offered to call you when he
was done. Borderline disrespect.
|Another time I called, he was watching TV. I offered
to hang up and he could call me whenever; he said "no,"
and we had a conversation. But, I started feeling like I was an
imposition or something, like a bother to him. No imposition Ginny. Unless you are responding to
cues he’s giving off that you are not identifying. That he
interrupted his TV show for you is good. He put you ahead of the TV,
as he should. Are you are imposing your own stuff? |
|James often commented on
how very busy he is at work. So, I never called him at work. James
said he is not much of an "email person;" so, I didn’t use
that form of communication much either. Hmmmmm,
so I can’t use email, can’t call at work, and when I call him at
home he’s always watching something on TV. I have never been one to "chase" a man, so
this was OK with me. Good. If James wanted to
see me, it was up to him to make the move, though I did take him to
dinner once as a gesture for all he had been spending on me.
Nice! But I was
starting to feel sort of isolated; I really couldn't call him. You were isolated, but, you can’t surmise that he is
controlling the communication yet – although he probably was –
because you are making assumptions. James commented that he is very
busy at work and is not an emailer. While you may be right on target,
don’t mind read.
Simply ask. For example, “I am not
comfortable calling you at work since I know how busy you are, and you
don’t like email, yet when I call your home, I feel I am
interrupting you. When I want to get in touch, how should
I contact you?” A
controller may say something like, “Oh, please, call me at home; you
are no interruption.” Yet, when you do call, he may do (or not do) something subtle
so you feel uncomfortable. |
|One night after James
stayed over, I noticed that he fixed my broken toilet paper holder. I thanked
him and he was pleased I noticed. But when he told me that he went through
my trash to find something to use as a tool, I
felt violated. I didn’t exactly like his going through my bathroom trash can *yuck!*
I didn’t say anything because I really was grateful for his
thoughtfulness and didn’t think he was trying to pry. Can’t blame you for feeling violated. Some women
would, others wouldn’t. Yet you handled it well. You were perfectly
reasonable and you responded very well. Nevertheless, this is another
little red flag. |
|Another time at his place, I used the bathroom. A few moments after I
went to the bathroom. He came out, gave me a kiss, and said,
"No, I’m not seeing anyone else, I bought those tampons just in
case someone ever needed them". I said "Huh?" I had no
idea what he was talking about! He told me there was a box of
tampons in the bathroom, and didn’t want me to think he was weird. I
said, "Oh, I didn’t snoop James!" They were right out
there on the counter, but I honestly hadn’t noticed them. If he didn’t want you to think anything, why
didn’t he put them away before you came? Maybe this isn’t
strange, but Dr. Irene, I have no tampons in
my house - none! I don’t even buy them for "just in case
guests" - but maybe James was just being thoughtful? Not thoughtful of you, I don’t think. Makes no
sense. This could be a subtle maneuver that would make a more insecure woman
frazzled. This one is kind of wacky to me. Me too. Maybe it’s a guy thing, they think we need tampons
around and he was just honestly trying to do a good thing. :) Maybe.
And maybe you were supposed to become just a wee bit suspicious, even
though he assured you there is no one else - words and acts don't
match!. Reading this
paragraph makes me laugh, it really was funny! It is funny!
not say, “Gee, I didn’t notice. But now that you bring it up,
are you very thoughtful, are you a womanizer, or, do you get your
period too?” You are
likely to feel less paranoid if you put your suspicions out there
instead of keeping them under wraps. Not that you would have gotten a
straight answer, but, at least it won't burden you.
|James does not believe in
God. This is a major difference between he and I. We only had one very
brief discussion on spirituality - actually it was basically a few
sentences. James said he believes when we are dead, we are dead, there
is no God. I replied simply that "there is no doubt in my
mind...." and we left it at that. Ugh. I don’t think I could be
with someone who is that far behind where I am, and where I need to
go. Spirituality (my relationship with God) keeps me going every day;
and I am mindful to try and surround myself with friends who I can be
comfortable sharing and expressing that part of life with. A boyfriend
that doesn’t believe in God probably isn’t the best match for me,
huh? No Ginny. Not a "red flag"
but not the best match for you.
The research suggests that the more similarities between two people,
the better, especially on such big issues.. |
After I got back from a
business trip, things cooled down. He had ankle surgery and
I offered to help him/drive him/run errands. He
said he was "covered," and I didn’t pursue it any further.
OK. I left a cheery, brief message on
his ans. machine the night before his surgery wishing him good luck,
| Three days after his surgery, I hadn’t heard from him, and
since we had been seeing/in contact with each so often, it seemed out of the ordinary not to have heard from James.
So, I called and left a message saying I hoped he was OK and that his
ankle was healing well. Good. He
called me back a few hours later and said he was sorry he hadn’t
called me sooner, was just busy, then drugged up from the surgery the
next day and then some friends came by and he hadn’t been able to
return my call. This bothers me – the
friends part. There was no time to give you a buzz? He is pulling
|My feelings were hurt, but I didn’t say anything. James
said something like, "When I get
healthy again, we’ll see where we are going." I didn’t know what
that meant, but it felt kind of like I was being politely dismissed. Yes, from a man who saw you several times a
week and made reference to your future children.
So, that is when I
decided I was not going to pursue maintaining a relationship with James. Good for you for paying attention to your feelings - and
realizing it was him, not you!
If he wanted to see me, he had to show me
rather than tell me. Right. You had
offered, you had called. He was the one who had pushed you away. I
was getting (to my brain anyway) mixed messages. They were mixed messages! Stop doubting that brain!
Does he want me
or not? Both. Yuck! I do not want to clutter
my head with those types of thoughts, and if having a relationship with James
means I am going to have those kind of thoughts, then I figured I had pull
away too. Yuck is right. It’s not as
though you made assumptions here. You asked him if you could be there for
him; you called him. You did your part. The rest is his.
A few weeks went by, and I got
an email from James. It was brief, “How are you doing, what’s
new....” We exchanged a few chatty words. About a week
later, he emailed: "Helping a friend with a race this
weekend but next week I would like to get together with you.
Interested?" I replied with “Yes, let me know when and where when
you know more.’
| That was Wednesday. The following Monday I got another
email from him. "Hi Sugar, hope you had a good weekend, just
wondering what’s going on in your world?" In my reply, I asked him
if he still had plans to see me that week. He replied with "Yes, I
would like to...." So I again said, “Give me a call when you know
what we are doing.” His last reply was, "OK, let me see how the day
shakes out and I’ll let you know." Well, the rest of the week went
by with no communication from Mr. James. By Saturday afternoon, I was
angry. YEAH! This was a dis! If people
call and cancel, then I accept that - but to be "blown off" -
which is how I felt - was very disrespectful.
Agreed! Plus, you had given him every benefit of the doubt. Had you played
your script "right" (actually, wrong!), you would be so
tantalized by this young Adonis, you would be chasing him down - and
putting up with his rules and his antics.|
I left a message on his ans. machine late Saturday afternoon
that I was calling to see what happened; I hoped there was no family crisis or anything, but that if he
had just decided to cancel our plans and didn’t tell me, then please
don’t contact me anymore. I kept a conversational tone of voice,
didn’t yell or use bad language since that is not who I am. :) Sounds good to me. But I did mean what I
said - I think! I hope!
| James called me
back a couple of hours later and I wasn’t home - his message said he was
sorry about 5 times - that he had been pulled in a million directions by his
job and he was sorry he wasted my time, and that he would respect my
request not to call me anymore. He provokes, you get
annoyed, he apologizes - and you end up feeling bad - and wondering if
you did the right thing! Sound familiar? |
I sat on my feelings for 3 days - and decided to call James
and try to explain that I didn’t hate him or anything. It just didn’t
feel "closed" leaving things the way they were. It wasn't closed for him. He was just starting his push
and pull game. So, I left one more message on James’s ans.
machine and said that I felt disrespected, but know that he did not intend
to disrespect me on purpose, and that I was confused because his actions
and his words did not seem to match. They
didn’t. If he wanted to talk to me then please call me, but if he
was OK leaving things "as is," then I was ok with that too. I
said I wished him well and that was about it. I felt a lot better after
leaving that message. I haven’t heard from him since, and although I
miss him in some ways, I think I wasn’t supposed to get too involved
with James - I’m not ready, even if he is "right" for me."
This man is not right for himself!
How unfortunate: a young, successful, good-looking man with everything
going for him - seemingly, that is. Everything was wonderful early on,
until he started to care. Then the push away started. Good for you for
not pursuing an unavailable partner, no matter how sparkling his
surface. I don’t think you over-reacted; you gave him the benefit of
the doubt several times. Perhaps one time too many. He could have
easily taken you up on your last call - and wasted more of your
time - and emotional resources. I think you saved yourself lots of
headaches by dumping him.
record, this man strikes me as a withholding type as opposed to an
aggressive type controller. He specializes in sins of omission.
controlling person might respond in a similar way out of baggage or fear,
but not to the same extent, and is likely to be more responsive to your
In answer to the opening
questions, watch for "red flags" early on in a relationship.
But, be careful not to generalize too quickly. Wait until feelings begin
to develop. Do you feel disrespected? Insecure? Confused? Uncomfortable?
away, pulled in, pushed away? These are not good signs.
Ginny did some things very
She paid attention to
"red flags" and to her feelings.
She did not discount
her feelings or make excuses for him.
She did not act
She did not
She did not lapse
She waited to see
what would develop
She let herself feel
angry (a signal that something is wrong).
She stated her
feelings and asked for his feedback.
She decided that she did
not want a relationship that made her feel badly - and stuck to
her decision, despite her tendency to give the benefit of the doubt
- once the evidence was in.
I just want to read the