What Will You Put Up With? Boundaries, Self-Esteem and Dating

When I look back at my bad old days, there’re a number of things that stand out as emblematic of who I was – the fear of letting go of a bad relationship because I didn’t think I could do any better, being unable to relax and enjoy my time with one woman because I couldn’t stop looking for the shoe to drop… all fairly bad. But there is one very specific night that, to my mind, was one of the most representative of how bad things were.

I had gotten permission from my girlfriend at the time (warning sign #1) to go play in a Mage campaign with my friends. This was significant because my ex hated RPGs – she thought they were the stupidest things ever and couldn’t imagine anyone she dated wanting to play them. She also didn’t care for them because it meant I was spending time with my friends and not with her (warning sign #2) – but this time she relented and allowed me to go spend a couple hours gaming1.

I had been there for less than an hour before she showed up to quite literally drag me away (warning sign #3). I forget what the excuse was, but it was some “togetherness” emergency – I had to go shopping with her for some trivial thing or other.

And I let her pull me away from my friends.

Yup. Kinda like that. Only not as sexy and with a lot more crying on my part.

Yup. Kinda like that. Only not as sexy and with a lot more crying on my part.

In fact, that phrase – “I let her” – defined the majority of our relationship.  After the honeymoon period, where I was just astounded that I was having sex, our relationship became a matter of constant fighting, jealousy, guilt trips and having to justify myself on an almost daily basis. Almost every fight we ever had would escalate from disagreeing over what to rent at Blockbuster to threats of breaking up with me… and so I would give in.

I allowed her walk all over me  because I was willing to put up with this. I had few boundaries to speak of and even less self-esteem… and I was willing to consider this treatment a fair price for being in a relationship.

The Value of Boundaries

Stop me if any of this sounds familiar to you:

  • You can’t spend time with your friends without your significant other because he or she gets jealous if you have a life outside of your relationship.
  • Your boyfriend or girlfriend is constantly pushing you to do things you aren’t comfortable with. If you resist, they get angry or passive-aggressive, badgering you until you give in.
  • Arguments with your partner never stay on topic; any disagreement immediately turns into a litany of the ways you’ve wronged them and often only end because of threats to break up with you or to go sleep with someone else.
  • The woman you met is willing to make plans but continually flakes at the last minute.
  • The guy you met brushes off your concerns as “unimportant” or tells you that you’re being silly or irrational.
  • Your relationship is in a constant state of drama – either things are amazing or there’s a new source of conflict.
  • You’re passing on opportunities that you would otherwise take because you don’t want to disappoint or upset a friend, family member, or romantic partner.
  • You have a friend, a family member, or a partner who is an emotional vampire; you can’t talk with them without feeling bad about yourself and having your energy sucked away.
  • Your girlfriend or boyfriend requires constant reassurance and assistance from you. Not a day goes by that they don’t have a new crisis in which you need to intervene.

Odds are good that many of you had moments like this in your lives. God knows have. In fact, many people who are socially inexperienced  – geeks and nerds especially – will have encountered all of these and more over the course of their relationships… often without making a fuss. Many will assume that these are just par for the course when it comes to relationships – platonic, romantic, or familial.

These situations are often a sign of having poor boundaries – the result of a mix of low self esteem and an unwillingness to take a stand for yourself. Many people will cheerfully take advantage of those with weak boundaries; they look for people who are willing to put the well-being of others above and beyond their own in an effort to please others and make them like them.

Of course, this is emotionally shredding and deeply damaging to the person who is letting this happen. At best, you have a codependent relationship – one partner needing constant control and validation while giving up any personal responsibility and the other trying to shoulder the entire burden of both parties as well as take blame for any faults as an exchange for having the relationship.

At worst… well, you’re prey for users, manipulative assholes and emotional abusers.

It’s important to note: this isn’t exclusively a male or female problem. Both men and women are equally capable of having weak boundaries and low self-esteem… and both are capable of reaping the rewards that come with rebuilding both.

White Knights and The Shirking of Responsibility

Part of the reason I stuck in the relationship I mentioned was a simple matter of low confidence; I had more than convinced myself that I was lucky to have this relationship at all. When you believe that you have few options and that the relationship you do have is constantly on the razor’s edge of falling apart – with the implied idea that it’ll be your fault if it does – you will often find yourself knuckling under rather than drawing a line and saying “No. No further.”

The lack of belief in yourself feeds into an insidious self-perpetuating cycle. It’s hard to stand up for yourself when you believe that you have very little of value to offer in the first place – something that is reinforced by the way that people walk over you and take advantage of you. After all, if you were better, cooler, or more desirable, you’d be able to stand up for yourself.

"I'm sorry, did I say you could grow a spine?"

“I’m sorry, did I say you could grow a spine?”

When you don’t feel as though you have anything to offer and you’re desperate for someone to complete you, you will tend to shift your boundaries and sacrifice your values for someone else in the hopes that this will prompt them to like you. In fact, this need to be loved is often the cause of White Knight syndrome; by “saving” someone else, they will surely love you. A White Knight trades on “fixing” problems for others in exchange for love because they believe they have nothing else that others might find attractive. They rely on obligation and allow themselves to be used – as well as live in fear of conflict or disagreement – because they don’t feel that they can rely on their own value.

The other frequent cause for poor boundaries is an unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s own actions. Taking a stand – saying that you will not tolerate or put up with certain attitudes or behavior – means being willing to accept the responsibility of making that choice and thus shouldering the consequences. This can be intimidating, especially when you’re not the most secure person to begin with. A major reason why I put up with being treated so badly in my relationships was because I was conflict averse; I didn’t have a strong foundation to work from and dreaded any fight for fear of causing more drama which would inevitably be my fault and lead to further fights down the line. As a result, I became the sort of person who was very good at finding excuses for why things had gone wrong – it wasn’t my fault, it was out of my hands. Similarly, I would constantly make excuses and rationalize my girlfriend’s shitty behavior to others – it’s not her fault, it’s because of X, Y and Z. 

Why would I do this? Because I didn’t want to acknowledge my part: I was choosing to continue a relationship with someone who made me miserable. I wouldn’t take responsibility for what was ultimately my screw up and fix it – either through trying to work things out with my girlfriend or by dumping her and walking away – and so I instead tried to shirk the blame and refused to acknowledge that anything was wrong.

Bullies, Game-Players, Drama Queens, and Weaponized Guilt

This is going to be a tricky section because what I’m about to say is going to sound an awful lot like victim-blaming, which is not my intent. Stick with me here.

People who have poor boundaries and low self-esteem are typically easy prey for abusers. One of the most common signs of a predatory, abusive personality is the testing of boundaries: trying to push someone further and further out of their comfort zone, using a cycle of rewards and punishments in order to manipulate someone into being willing to knuckle under. I’ve received many letters from women who had boyfriends who consistently tried to push the envelope of what they were comfortable with – demanding nude pictures, trying to bully them into sex they didn’t want to have (especially girls who were not ready to have sex yet) or into sexual practices they didn’t like. One good friend of mine had a husband who would continually badger her into being willing to participate in threesomes with various female friends. Every time she would refuse he would “punish” her, either berating her for her lack of consideration for his needs, belittling her appearance and attitudes, or just becoming increasingly passive-aggressive. He was consistently testing her boundaries, trying to find some way to get her to sacrifice her values in an attempt to please him; her own needs, desires, and comforts were of little import.

People like this thrive on those who don’t have the confidence and the self-worth to stand their ground and push back.

Mind you, this isn’t the only way that people will take advantage of poor boundaries. Anyone who remembers high-school will likely recall that one toxic friend who would steam-roll over others in order to get his or her way; anyone who resisted was subject to inordinate amounts of social pressure – trying to utilize the social contract to push others into doing what he or she wanted. The friend who would get pissed at you for disagreeing with them in public. The passive-aggressive friend who would make commitments and conveniently “forget” them when it suited her. The two-faced smilers who would be pleasant to people’s faces but had no problem cutting them down when their back was turned.

How many times have you had someone – a friend, a lover, even family – pull a guilt-trip on you? “Oh, you’re the only one who could do this for me, everybody else just ignores me. You’re the only person who cares about me.” or the ever classic “If you really cared, you’d do this simple thing for me.” They are trying to use guilt as a lever, the better to force you to take on responsibilities that aren’t yours. How many people have said “How can you not do X when I’ve done Y, Z, and Z1 for you?” – even when you didn’t want them to do these things? They are trading on reciprocity, making you feel obligated to them because they’ve done something for you.

These are people trying to trade on your poor boundaries.

So too are the friends and lovers who will try to drag you into their drama – who have a never-ending list of complaints and grievences that they expect you to take responsibility for. The ones who throw childish tantrums and yell at you if you don’t immediately accede to their wishes. The ones who try to hold you hostage to their whims with threats – threats of cheating on you, threats of breaking up with you, even threats of self-harm… all to keep you in line.

It’s up to you to stop them.

"Takes more than drama to be a queen, honey."

“Takes more than drama to be a queen, honey.”

Please don’t get me wrong: I don’t bring this all up in order to blame the victim for the bad actions of others. I bring this up because sometimes people simply don’t recognize the problem in the first place, or understand that they have the power to make it stop, if they only would reach out and take it. It can be difficult to read the words when the book is too close to your face; sometimes you need a little distance and perspective to realize what the issue is.

Taking A Stand

When I get emails from guys who want to know about how to handle women who consistently make plans and then flake, or from women about guys who try to leverage their self-esteem against them, I always have the same question: “Why are you letting them do this to you?”

When you’re dealing with game-players and other toxic individuals, it takes two to play… and it only takes one to bring things to a halt. It can be intimidating as hell – and many toxic people are very good at pressuring others to give in – but you have the power to say “No.” To refuse to put up with that behavior. To draw the line and say that you will not take responsibility for other people’s problems and won’t accept having them thrust upon you. It can be difficult to say “no” that first time, to tell somebody “Hey, you’re my friend but I’m not willing to let you try to guilt me into doing something you know I don’t want to do.”

"Damn straight!"

“Damn straight!”

It can be even harder when it’s someone you care about – after all, the point of relationships is being willing to put the needs or wants of someone else first, no?

Here’s the deal: it’s one thing if you’re willingly making a sacrifice for someone because you care about them and you want to make them happy. It’s another entirely when you’re being made to feel obligated to do it or when you’re only acting in a particular manner because you’re afraid of the consequences. Would you be willing to try something a little out of your comfort zone with your lover because you want to make them happy?  That’s good. That’s a part of of being an active partner2 in a relationship. It’s another matter entirely if you’re only willing to do something you don’t want to do because you feel that to not do so would materially affect your relationship. Do you feel that you’re constantly giving in to unreasonable demands for the sake of your relationship with someone? That’s a sign that you may have an issue with poor boundaries. I had a girlfriend who insisted on talking to me on the phone for hours at a time every day, no matter what. If I didn’t clear out my schedule for her, she would make my life miserable until I begged her forgiveness. She had trust issues, she would tell me, so it was on me to reassure her every day that things were just fine. And I would give in because I didn’t want to deal with the drama if I said “No.”

I had poor boundaries and I suffered for them.

How It Should Have Gone

Let’s go back to that example I gave you at the beginning – when my girlfriend came and dragged me away from my friends. Here is how that scene would have played out if I had stronger boundaries, if I wasn’t willing to put up with her behavior and didn’t fear getting dumped worse than anything else.

“Let’s go. I need you to help me out with some shopping.”
“No.”
“… what do you mean ‘no?'”
“I mean ‘No.’ I told you days ago that I was planning on spending the day with my friends. I haven’t seen the guys in months and I’m not going to cut things short just because you’ve suddenly decided that you’ve got other plans for me.”
“We are not having this conversation here.”
“That’s right, we’re not. I’m going to be playing in my friend’s campaign. You can either join in or take off, but I’ll be staying.”
“I don’t think you realize what you’re saying. If you stay here, I might just have to go find someone else. Someone who isn’t going to neglect his girlfriend for some game.”
“You go ahead and do that. I’m not going to date someone who thinks my hobbies are stupid and resents my spending time with my friends.”

Assuming that I didn’t get dumped on the spot, I would be in for a fight later that evening when I got home… and I would be willing to handle it like a grown-ass man. I would have accepted the possible consequences – a fight, breaking up with my girlfriend, or both – because the alternative would be continuing to allow her to browbeat me into submission and keep me away from my friends. And I would not be willing to put up with that behavior from her. The threat of being dumped loses its sting when you’re willing to say that you’ll take it… happily even.

At the time, I didn’t believe I could do better or that anyone else would ever be interested in me. Years later, I can see just how wrong I was… and how much that attitude became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nobody would be interested in me because who wants some emotional weakling that they could walk all over? Anyone worth dating – whether they’re male or female – is going to appreciate someone who can stand up for himself or herself.

Making that first step – being willing to take a stand and accept the consequences of doing so – is difficult. But the act of establishing boundaries will actually serve to bolster your self-esteem and confidence. It will feel liberating to realize that you not only have a choice, but that you can and will decide what you are and are not responsible for. Just as poor boundaries can be self-reinforcing, so too can having strong ones. By drawing that line in the sand and saying that you will not be pushed past it, you’re eliminating neediness from your life; you’re saying that you’re not so desperate for affection that you’re willing to allow others to treat you like a doormat just so that they’ll like you.

And that is incredibly attractive.

 

  1. If you’ve ever played a White Wolf campaign you are shaking your head in disbelief; this is barely sufficient to get through the prologue of an adventure, never mind a major gaming session []
  2. please note that word: partner. This means you are at an equal level, not dominant and subservient []

Comments

  1. OldBrownSquirrel says:

    I got out of my emotionally abusive marriage. I'm not convinced I'll ever date again, but at least I have a modicum of self-respect now. It pretty much had to get to the point where I was willing to accept the risk of being alone for the rest of my life before I was willing to take the leap.

    • Good for you! It's better to be alone than in an abusive relationship! But don't write off dating. Take your time. You'll know when you're ready to date again. And if you don't, then that's fine, too. As long as you're happy, that's what matters! *hugs*

    • Robjection says:

      I think that's the key thing in all of this. Being comfortable with potentially being single for the remainder of your life seems to suddenly take out at least half the weapons in the abuser's arsenal (so to speak).

    • Gentleman Horndog says:

      Good on you. That must have been one of the harder things you've ever done.

  2. Damn, Doc, I wish you would have written this a couple months ago, because I would have ended my last relationship a lot sooner. Here was the deal: I was dating a girl for about a year and I thought things were only going to escalate into marriage. Hell, I was in LOVE with her, I would do anything for her. But, I also didn't realize that she was overstepping my boundaries because she NEEDED me to text or call her every single day to let her know that I was thinking about her. We NEEDED to go out every single day, since we couldn't spend time in her place or mine because her mother disapproved of the fact that I was not Jewish. So I NEEDED to pay for every single date while I barely had any money from my temp job that I have while I wrap up school. I NEEDED to comfort her every single time her and her mother would have an argument, which was about every other day. Also, I NEEDED to take her on vacation so we can have alone time. I didn't realize it at that time, but she was genuinely pressuring me into getting cruise tickets. Originally she wanted a whole week, but I talked her down to a weekend because of school and work (a victory in my eyes, even though I still had to pay $525).

    • (cont.) I finally woke up and realized she was pushing my boundaries two months ago. I had told her my best friend was having a birthday party and I wanted her to come for a whole week. On the day of the party, I had texted and called four times to let her know when to arrive at my house so we could travel together. At 6 PM, when I was already an hour late to the party waiting for her, she calls me to let me know she's sick (even though she could have called anytime during the day) and that she felt I was being "distant" because I didn't call her the day before. I told her I had to go to my friend's party, but she insisted that I come and visit her nonetheless (bear in my mind, she lives in a different city and it would take me an hour to get to her place). I replied that we would hang out another day since she it was too late for her to come over; and I would not be up for traveling an hour around midnight, only to hang out with her for an hour because her mother would not let me stay over.

  3. (cont.) She didn't take the news lightly. She was upset that I wanted to go to my friend's party instead of being with her because she NEEDED me since she was so sick (read: had a headache all day). She ignored my calls the next day, until late at night when we had a LONG discussion. She started bringing up previous times that "I wasn't there for her", innocuous events that I choose to go to damn school or work instead of comforting her while she felt sick or sad. Then she claimed I "insulted" her because I ASKED (not demanded, not said, I just asked) to go somewhere cheap for a night we hung out because I didn't have a lot of money in my bank account. This set me off, especially after I just paid for a $525 cruise ticket for the two of us that we were going to go on in the following week.

    • (cont.) After the discussion, I realized just how much of a toll the relationship was taking on me. She closed the discussion by threatening to leave the relationship if I EVER was not there for her again when she NEEDED me. At first I thought that was a reasonable request, but I realized later that it was a damn ultimatum for something that I had no idea what to do. I would have to cater to every single whim for fear that she would leave me. Once that fact dawned on me, I had taken all the hell that I could stand.

      A week later, I ended the relationship. I didn't care about the cruise any more. I didn't care that I would lose money on it. I just wanted out. That was two months ago. And I can happily say that I am all the better for it and I don't regret my decision. I have gone "nuclear" on her as you recommend, Doc. I've blocked her number and e-mail, unfriended on her Facebook, deleted all texts, etc.

      • PS: Two days after the breakup, she texted to request her half of the cruise ticket. She did not pay for it at all, so I told her she could have it for $250 (half of the price I paid, fair right?). She replied that she wouldn't pay for anything, so I replied, "then you're shit outta luck"

      • Go on the cruise yourself. Maybe you'll find another lady who isn't awful.

        • Gentleman Horndog says:

          If the cruise hasn't happened yet and you still have those tickets, this sounds like a hell of an idea.

          Bring a male friend, and be the single guys on board the ship. Or just go ahead and let people think you're gay. Zany adventures will surely ensue. :-)

  4. Thanks for this, Doc! You always freely share such personal stories for the benefit of us, your humble readers. I notice, appreciate, and thank you for this. Not quite two years ago, as I split with the Wasband, it became clear to me that I was living out this same pattern of being a spineless doormat with all of my friends as well. It was a really hard realization to come to, for all of the reasons you listed above. It was so hard to look at myself, who external people would call confident to the point of cocky, and realize my self-esteem was so low that I was allowing, nay, inviting this type of treatment from people. Years of dealing with psychic vampires had left me drained. It did take a lot of courage to stand up and boot them all from my life, bit it was amazing- within weeks of clearing out all this toxicity from my life, the world became this bright and lovely place again. I have made true friends now, and face the world from a different perspective. I know your post will helps others to make this change in themselves, too. Again, thank you for showing the courage to be so vulnerable in public. A very touching post.

  5. It is very, very important to get away from people who bully you, who pound on your self-esteem or who cross your boundaries. It's important to stand up for yourself, be able to communicate your feelings (in a respectful way) and learn how to have stronger boundaries. All of this is vital to growing as a person.

    But it's also important to note that it will hurt like hell, and *does* have the potential of sticking you in a dark social place for a potentially long period of time.

    I've had to distance myself, or completely break off contact, from different groups of friends/individual friends over the last year, because of the issues discussed in this article. Every time, it has sucked. It sucks not only because I had to shred from my life people I did genuinely care about for my own mental health, but because these endings were usually met with drama and reputation-destroying antics. I've been called a drama queen, a pain in the ass, a b*tch, had every flaw of mine placed under a microscope and vilified. An ex that I only dated for a short period of time several years ago *still* loathes me, despite being married to the "woman of his dreams."

    Standing up for yourself and setting firm boundaries sometimes means having to exit from other people's lives. It doesn't always lead to reconciliations and the other party realizing what a jerk they've been to you. Sometimes you have to end a friendship for your own good. And even when you know it's the right thing to do, it still hurts. It's still lonely, and heart-breaking, and painful.

    Doing the right thing does not always mean you get a reward. Ending a toxic relationship doesn't always mean you immediately find the perfect relationship right after. Sometimes you really do end up alone, while your ex has the perfect fairy tale ending. Sometimes you do spend Friday nights by yourself in your apartment, because you've had to extract an entire social group and haven't had time/resources/energy to build up a new one.

    But you still have to do it. I am alone a lot more now than I was… a LOT more…. and sometimes I get lonely and depressed. But not having friends who constantly put me down and make me feel awful about myself has meant I can finally start working on feeling better, can finally start working on those parts of myself *I* don't like without feeling as if I'm drowning.

    It's a cliche but it is true…. it's better to be alone and working towards happiness, than with people and drowning in misery.

    • Great points. Setting boundaries and standing up for yourself isn't easy, especially if people are used to you not doing so. But so worth it in the long run.

      • Very worth it! I just wish there was a way to say that without conveying the idea that strong boundaries and standing up for yourself means you'll be swimming in friendship and dating offers. The instinct that I "couldn't do any better" was *right* in my case, in that nobody else will date me…. but that didn't mean I should stay. Even if you do end up without a relationship and with a limited number of friends, it's STILL better than letting yourself be a human punching bag.

        • Robjection says:

          If you went from being a human punching bag to simply being relationshipless and having few friends … doesn't that mean you did do any better? Compared to the human punching bag scenario, that is.

          • Depends on what you're looking for. I'm pretty sure my ex-friends and ex-boyfriends crow very loudly over the fact that I now have much fewer friends, and that they've walked down the aisle to happiness while I am still alone and single. Yes, it's better for my mental health, but that doesn't mean it's "better" if looked at from other directions (I received no rewards of Better Friends and A Relationship from it, for example.)

          • Gentleman Horndog says:

            Jesus. If your loneliness brings them schadenfreude, you made the right call in deciding they would best enrich your life by not being a part of it.

            If this were, easy, you'd have done it a long time ago. The better friends and better relationships will come. Future You will look back on Current You with pride and gratitude.

          • No, no no. We need to get away from the idea that better relationships will come. There is NO guarantee for that. We need to encourage people to walk away from bad situations, even if that might mean a life alone, without a lot of friends or relationships. We are not always rewarded for doing the right/smart thing. Heck, my strong boundaries mostly likely mean I will have even LESS options for friendships/dating, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't do it.

          • Maybe a good way of looking at it is, instead of a bunch of bad relationships and no good ones, now at least you have a better relationship *with yourself*. I think just about anyone who stands up to people who've been exploiting them and enforces their boundaries is guaranteed that much.

          • This is true. Although, I do think that enforcing good boundaries increases the chance of being able to find *good* relationships, even if those are harder to come by (and of course, not conveniently provided as a reward for making smart choices).

            But I totally agree that it's an important mindset to be able to walk away from bad relationships even if it means being alone, and a powerful one. You sound seriously badass.

          • Gentleman Horndog says:

            I apologize for the misstep. You're quite right, relationships are not guaranteed. I'll amend my statement to say I think should future relationships come, there's a good chance they'll be much healthier than what you've left behind.

          • Paul Rivers says:

            "No, no no. We need to get away from the idea that better relationships will come."

            +1

          • Robjection says:

            I would imagine that being in good mental health is worth more than having a lot of friends and a romantic relationship, but that's not to say that having both isn't even better. It's sort of like each friendship is worth 10 points, a romantic relationship is worth 1000 points and good mental health is worth 1 million points*.

            After reading your response to Gentleman Horndog, I am reminded of something Dumbledore said in I think the fourth Harry Potter book, about having to make the choice between what is easy and what is right. I believe that doing the right thing will always carry some kind of reward, but that reward won't always take the form you'd really like it to. So yes, sometimes doing the right thing and walking away from the bad situation won't result in the better friends and relationships coming. The reward for walking away from the bad situation is that you are no longer in the bad situation. Anything else is really just a bonus.

            * Yeah I pulled those numbers out of my ass, I've assumed things like "all friendships are equal" which aren't necessarily true, and I most definitely don't endorse reducing everything to a single simple metric, but hopefully you get the idea.

          • Haha, well, 6 months onwards, the reward seems to be that my cat has a lot more home-made sweaters. I'm still glad I did it, but it rubs me the wrong way when people immediately finish the sentence by saying you'll get awesome friendships/relationships out of it.

          • Robjection says:

            Come to think of it, I'm not really sure there's any situation in which you can actually say that you were "rewarded" for something with an awesome friendship/relationship, since a prerequisite of getting an awesome friendship/relationship is that the other party wants to have one of those with you and you can't really make that happen. It just seems to lean a little too much towards the trademark Nice Guy way of thinking where doing nice things X, Y and Z should produce a reward in the form of a relationship or sex or whatever. At most, you could be rewarded with an increased chance of getting an awesome friendship/relationship (and depending on other factors, that might not even happen either).

            So yeah, it sort of rubs me the wrong way too, partly for the reasons you've already mentioned and I've talked about here, and partly for my own personal reasons.

          • As a human owned by three cats, I have to say I'm impressed–both that you can make a sweater and that you can get your cat into one.

          • No kidding. I'm having a good day if I can get my cat into a cat carrier.

          • Personally, Marty, I'm glad you did it. I mean I don't know you but looking out for yourself should be your first priority.

        • Man, you just got out of a relationship like that, but this is just the start. You don't have many friends because you're used to friendship meaning you acting like a human punching bag. You're on the road to healing, but it will be more than 6 months until your social life is satisfactory.

          • That very well may be, but what Marty is saying is really important and I think that her point deserves to be heard without comforting talk about being able to do better or find better relationships. Many people in situations like this will find happier relationships. Some may not. Some might find other kinds of relationships, but not ones that fill quite the same needs as the old ones. Ultimately, none of this is the point.

            You shouldn't end these relationships because you can find better ones. You should end them because they're unhealthy and they make you unhappy. Attaching any other promises just makes it harder to leave and harder to maintain boundaries when you're feeling lonely and things aren't working out as well as you'd hoped.

    • This is amazing advice. All the plus ones. Sorry you're going through this, and hope you find new and better friends soon!

    • YES! I say to others now- I would MUCH rather feel lonely when actually alone then feeling lonely when laying right beside someone. THAT will suck your soul.

    • This is so, so true. The fairy tale ending where someone quickly finds a cool, new group of friends and a better person to date and maybe even has their bullies come to apologize and provide closure doesn't usually happen. There might be a long period of being single. It's entirely possible that you'll wind up losing, or at least losing touch with, some mutual friends who you thought would be on your side.

      It's not so much the shiny new social life that's the reason to leave these terrible relationships and friendships. It's that nice feeling of peace you get when you can finally be yourself without someone constantly nagging you or punishing you or being angry with you for unexplained reasons.

      • Yes!! Hugs for you, you say it much better! :-)

        • I think you do a really good job getting this insight across. I think we might have had a couple of similar experiences in the past, because when you post about this, it really reminds me of some decisions I've had to make. I think we ended up coming to pretty similar conclusions.

    • Yeah, I have accepted FB friend requests from a few former bullies and a cheating ex. And have stayed FB friends with a few toxic people. They do post a lot of fairy tale ending pictures and life events, don't they? But, really, I wouldn't want any of their lives and consciously chose not to go down similar paths or their paths with them. I learned that I needed a much quirkier, differently adventurous and intellectual life than the status quo.

      I developed quirky interesting/creative things to do during my in-between truecaring local friends and/or boyfriends times. Now, a good rule is if I'm regularly having a better, more comfortable time doing these things than with a particular person or group, it's better for my emotional health to be alone than with people for the sake of being with people. Yeah, there are lonely weeks/months.

      I've moved a lot for work and school and it's sometimes luck of the draw what kind of people I first fall in with. And groups also change over time. At one place the group of people I started with were amazing kindred spirits, but they slowly got different jobs, took time off for children, etc. And a toxic person who stayed (and did not like me) began to have a lot of sway with who was hired and in the middle of a lot of socializing. Wash, rinse, repeat at next place. But now I only "lose" a dozen or so days out of a few months instead of a year or more realizing that I am uncomfortable in the toxicity and am an adult and don't have to like everyone and can make choices to not be around people!

  6. Great post and so true!

    The one caveat I'd make to the "Take a Stand" bit–there are circumstances when this can be dangerous. If you think there's any chance of the other person (romantic partner, friend, or family member) getting physically violent if you stand up to them in person, it's better not to take that risk. Definitely work out a way that you can get away from them ASAP, but playing along until you can safely do that isn't weak, it's just smart.

    • It's also important to decide whether standing up for yourself is worth it. I had a group of friends that, whenever I tried to stand up for myself, would beat me down and berate me even harder, making me feel even worse. I finally decided it just wasn't even worth it to try, and quietly disappeared.

      I'd say a good rule of thumb is stand up for yourself when you think it will make a difference and think the friendship can be salvaged. If not, it might just be worth it to pull a Slow Fade.

    • I want to expand on what Mel said.

      "Taking a Stand" doesn't mean having a confrontation. Taking a stand can be completely internal.
      A person can decide to take a stand for themselves by sneaking out in the middle of the night without warning and going to a battered women's shelter. And making that choice is still courageous and standing up for yourself. And I'd say, if you think your life is in danger if you stand up for yourself through confrontation, then taking a stand for yourself by jetting out without confrontation is honoring your physical as well as emotional safety. And one of the best ways to respect yourself is to make sure you don't get killed.

      Do what you need to do to be safe and free and healthy. Sometimes that looks like a confrontation and explicit expression of boundaries. Sometimes that looks like sneaking out when the abusive person is at work. Both ways are honorable, courageous, and taking a stand for yourself.

      • Thanks! I was brought up to just simply take so much crap from people, that I felt like a complete b**** when I no longer was willing to be around anything on the continuum from toxicity to abuse! And I found out there were a lot of apologists who were happy to make me into the one with the issue who I then also had to set boundaries with. Yep, I have issues. Issues with people who treat others like crap!

  7. So this article made me think that I might be a bit of a boundary pusher. I have been with a couple of guys that didn't like spending the night after sex, and it bothered me, still kinda does if I am actually dating the guy. I'm not a big cuddler or anything, I just always feel like a whore (in the literal sense of the word) when 20 minutes after we have sex, my bf jumps up, starts getting dressed and heads home. So yea, I used to pout and get annoyed and push these exes to stay the night.

    I guess my question is, how do you handle it if your needs in a relationship don't mesh with the other person's boundaries?

    • I think the key is clear communication and respecting the other person's boundaries once you've discussed them. You say, "Hey, I feel uncomfortable/sad/whatever emotion describes it best when you leave so quickly after we have sex. I'd love for you to stay the night." And then the guy either agrees or explains why he can't/doesn't want to. And then you respond directly to his response (if it's a no) with a more detailed explanation of why it matters to you and/or an offer of a compromise (maybe you agree to cuddling and watching a movie together after, before he leaves, for example). And if you can't find a compromise that leaves you happy, then you accept that you're not compatible and break up.

      Where it gets problematic is if you aren't clear about what you want and expect the other person to know why you're bothered, if you "punish" them for not doing what you'd like by acting cold or withdrawing or what have you, or if you try to wear down their stated boundaries through badgering or threats. Or if you talk/act like they're being a bad person or not caring enough simply for having different boundaries and preferences.

    • Gentleman Horndog says:

      Date people with enough self-esteem to push back when you violate their boundaries.

      It's out-of-scope for this article, but there's a flip side to all of this Doc didn't go into: having poor self-esteem and being unwilling to maintain your own boundaries makes you a fairly crappy person to date, even if your partner is not the sort to exploit your vulnerability for their own ends. (I've found that generally, if somebody says she's not worthy of dating me, I should take her at her word.) If you can't trust somebody to stick up for themselves, then negotiating needs becomes a real chore. How do you know they're agreeing because they're genuinely willing to compromise and not "selflessly" martyring themselves for the sake of the relationship? You wind up having to negotiate for both sides. And you're not going to do it well.

      In your case, tell your guy ahead of time that you need a bit of aftercare, and that a fuck-n-run is going to leave you in an unhappy place, even if it otherwise makes the most sense given your schedules. If he pushes back, try and find a compromise that you can both accept — 20 minutes makes you feel like a whore, but how about an hour or two? Accept that a compromise might not be possible, and it may just be that you can't have sex unless he spends the night.

      If the guy makes a "compromise" that turns out to have badly violated his boundaries, if he's acting all hurt and put-upon that he had to cancel plans that mattered to him to stay with you, apologize … and explain that you only date vertebrates. And that he needs to spine-up and sometimes tell you "No," or get out.

      • "having poor self-esteem and being unwilling to maintain your own boundaries makes you a fairly crappy person to date, even if your partner is not the sort to exploit your vulnerability for their own ends."

        This, so much. I think this deserves a separate thread, it's such an important point. I am not a naturally pushy person, but if I want something I'm not afraid to speak up about it. My first boyfriend was so insecure that he was generally afraid to say anything if I suggested something he wasn't that into, even if I pressed him to say what he wanted. I'd imagine he thought he was being a "good" boyfriend by "letting" me do what I wanted, but what really was happening was he was putting all the responsibility for the direction of the relationship and how happy we were on my shoulders, because he was too scared that if he took any of that responsibility, he'd screw up and have to feel guilty about that. It was exhausting both trying to make sure I didn't accidentally cross his boundaries or drag him into something he didn't want to do (which he'd be unhappy about later even if he didn't express any objections at the time), and dealing with that fallout. I felt like a bad person, like a bully, even though I wasn't doing anything wrong, because his inability to speak up for himself in even the most basic ways cast me in that role. (And not just with him, but with everyone he talked to. Because he was scared of admitting he'd done anything wrong and having people judge him for that, so whenever he talked to family or friends about any issue in our relationship, he always made it sound as if I was being unreasonable and he as just doing his best to placate me.)

        You want to be around people who bring out your best self, not your worst.

        • Gentleman Horndog says:

          You were the villain when you finally got fed-up enough to dump his ass, weren't you.

          I mean, he did EVERYTHING for you! He did everything you wanted! Why won't you just tell him what you want him to do? Just tell him and he'll do it! Why are you being so meeeeeeeeean?

          Yeah. It's a form of laziness and cowardice, a way of abdicating responsibility for your own happiness. Some people just aren't worth the bother until/unless they grow out of it.

          • Paul Rivers says:

            I've only very, very rarely seen a relationship that met these one-sided dramatic extremes.

            I've seen a lot more relationships where the girl has just as much of a role in perpetuating this situation as the guy does. She immediately attack or critizes him for making any sort of mistake. I'm reminded of a girl I knew who complained that her boyfriend was to much of a pushover (or something) – immediately after describing a story where they had slept together for the first time, then the next day they were shopping and he asked her in a as-nice-as-possible way if she thought they were going to sleep together again, and she got ticked off at him for asking and insististed it was "offensive" that he asked – and like 3 years later still had strong feelings about it and seemed angry that he "refused to apologize" (standing refusing to "apologize" from something that didn't actually need an apology was actually probably one of the smarter things he did).

            I saw a *lot* of the "both parties are equally responsible" dynamic in relationships. I'm sure that guys do exist who are just being pushovers – but far, for more often (from my point of view at least) it was a 2 party dynamic, like described in the article above, where he wouldn't stand up for himself – but that was because the girl would consistently take it as personal offense if he did so. I mean that's not a healthy relationship – but I when I hear descriptions like "laziness and cowardice" I usually roll my eyes as the most typical situation seemed to her involve whining that he didn't actually want to constantly fight with his girlfriend, whereas she saw fighting with each other as a normal part of the relationship – or even sometimes some sort of big turnon for her.

            I believe that guys exist that are just trying waaaaaay to hard to avoid conflict. I've met…1. But hey, maybe that's just a result of the kind of friends I make. But I saw a *lot* fewer of those guys than guys who's girlfriends were the other 50%-80% of the cycle.

          • Paul, I'm pretty sure you didn't mean it this way, but I want to point out that this comment could very easily come across as you saying that you don't believe my personal story and think I'm probably lying and was actually an equal contributor to the problem. The "one-sided dramatic extreme" you complain about Gentleman Horndog mentioning was in reference to the example I gave of my situation. Neither he nor I said that only guys do this (in fact, both he and I used the word "people" when we made more general statements outside my personal situation) or that it's common for people to be that cowardly in relationships. So why are you arguing as if we did both of those things? Do you not agree that the situation I described shows a guy who was being lazy and cowardly? Because that's what GH was referring to, not every guy ever who's had trouble standing up to his girlfriend at any time.

            GH's original point was that *even if* you're not in a relationship with someone who exploits your unwillingness to set boundaries, being that way is still problematic in an otherwise healthy relationship (and I agreed and provided an example of how I'd seen that to be true). The women you're talking clearly *were* exploiting the fact that they could push around their boyfriends, so it's not relevant and in fact was addressed in detail in the original article. It's not as if that side of the story is being ignored.

          • Paul Rivers says:

            "Paul, I'm pretty sure you didn't mean it this way, but I want to point out that this comment could very easily come across as you saying that you don't believe my personal story and think I'm probably lying and was actually an equal contributor to the problem."

            First, I definitely had not meant to say that I don't believe your personal story. And I definitely **didn't** wasn't at all saying you're "lying" – that's a whole different line I was definitely not saying at all.

            My comment was directed at what Gentleman Johnny wrote – and I was saying that in my experience, I find it unusual for a string of words like "laziness, cowardice, abdicating responsibility" directed towards only 1 person to be typically accurate. It's definitely *possible* – just not typical / average. Just like – as you pointed out – the story in the article shows.

            The only thing that was directed towards your story was like "I believe that guys exist that are just trying waaaaaay to hard to avoid conflict."

            I definitely was *not* saying you were lying or being dishonest in any way. But I was saying that in my experience, I don't find a story where there was just one side involved in it "typical". It doesn't really matter – either they need to fix the interaction, or break up. I just don't find it to be the "average" story.

          • Robjection says:

            Just saying, you got the wrong Gentleman there. Horndog is the one you were responding to. Don't worry, I have to double-check and even triple-check sometimes.

          • Paul Rivers says:

            Aaaah…you're right, wrong name…sorry to the other guy…

          • I'm glad to hear that, and like I said, I didn't think you meant it that way, but it could very easily come off that way and I thought you'd want to be aware of that.

            I'm still not sure what your argument is, because GH never said that that combination of factors was typical or average. The exact quote: "It's a form of laziness and cowardice, a way of abdicating responsibility for your own happiness." Where "it" is the behavior of my ex-boyfriend. Nowhere in his comment does he suggest he's saying this behavior is typical, average, common, etc.

            And I'll point out that he's simply agreeing with what I said in my description of the situation–*I* said that my ex had been avoiding responsibility and acting cowardly.

          • Paul Rivers says:

            I started off with "I've only very, very rarely seen a relationship that met these one-sided dramatic extremes."

            If you feel that my comment was going on a bit of a tangent related but not directly related to the previous comments – you're probably right. But that's all that I was saying, that these extremes exist but I don't find them "average". That doesn't disagree with your story though.

            I feel like commenting on that stuff because a lot of times it seems like people (not usually you, but other people) take that into a direction of "this is how it always happens", and I just felt like pointing out that it being one sided is not what "on average" what I see happening.

            However, from your comment below, this definitely sounds like one of those "non average" situations, like I said in my comment below.

          • Okay. I just don't see why you were worried about people saying "this is how it always happens" when the whole article is about how it usually happens (people taking advantage of people with lax boundaries), and no one in this thread indicated the extreme behavior that was called lazy and cowardly was average. And the fact that you apparently needed to read my second comment about the situation before you believed that the behavior was lazy and cowardly or whatever suggests that you *did* question whether the situation really was that extreme when you read my first comment.

            I don't object to you going on a tangent. I object to you interrupting a discussion about what was already acknowledged to be an exception and seeming to object to GH's characterization of my ex, which was simply echoing *my* characterization of my ex. Either you doubted my characterization, or you're making very unfounded assumptions in thinking that a commentary on one relationship = people saying "this is typical and average", and either interpretation shows a lack of confidence that the people doing the discussing know what they're talking about, which is insulting. I'd suggest you wait until you actually see someone at least vaguely indicating that they think something is typical or average before jumping in to tell them in detail how not typical or average it is.

            I'm sorry if I seem to be harping on this, but it feels pretty crappy to share something that was very personal and emotional for me and then have someone jump in to make sure the other side isn't being misrepresented, even if you didn't intend for it to come off that way. If either GH or I had talked as if we thought this was typical behavior, I'd understand and even think you were justified, but we didn't, and that's why it comes across badly.

          • Paul Rivers says:

            "And the fact that you apparently needed to read my second comment about the situation before you believed that the behavior was lazy and cowardly or whatever suggests that you *did* question whether the situation really was that extreme when you read my first comment."

            There's a difference between "I don't believe it was that extreme" and "There isn't enough info there for me to tell if it was that extreme or not". I was in the second camp.

            "I don't object to you going on a tangent. I object to you interrupting a discussion about what was already acknowledged to be an exception and seeming to object to GH's characterization of my ex, which was simply echoing *my* characterization of my ex."

            I was perhaps going on a tanget, yes, but I wasn't trying to "interupt" it.

            "I'd suggest you wait until you actually see someone at least vaguely indicating that they think something is typical or average before jumping in to tell them in detail how not typical or average it is."

            I can see where you're coming from, but it's more the norm than the exception that people post only semi-related tangents in response to other posts. A great deal of my posts have responses barely even related to my actual post on them – I can see an argument for not doing that, but it's kind of a "when in rome, does as the romans do" thing – I'm certainly not trying to "attack" your post – but I feel like the convention is posting tangents, and I did not post directly in response to your post.

            "I'm sorry if I seem to be harping on this, but it feels pretty crappy to share something that was very personal and emotional for me and then have someone jump in to make sure the other side isn't being misrepresented, even if you didn't intend for it to come off that way."

            Well…I'm torn. If this was a 1-on-1 conversation, or a conversation in a small group, I would agree with you.

            But that is…sort of the expectation on a public internet forum…

            Honestly, I'm not really sure where to go with it. It's right on the edge for me – I'm a little torn between your point, and the usual convention for comment threads. Like I said, I wasn't trying to dispute your story at all.

          • Paul, I'm just saying that it's generally considered not cool, in real life and internet forums, to look at someone sharing an unpleasant personal experience and express something along the lines of "I'm not convinced it was really as bad as you say. Here are a whole bunch of reasons why it's more likely that you were equally to blame." Now I know you didn't say me specifically, but given that it was my specific situation alone that provoked your comment, neither GH nor I had generalized those assumptions as being typical, and you've admitted here that you didn't feel you could completely trust my judgment until you read my second comment (which was the sense I got from this discussion, that bothered me), it amounts to nearly the same thing.

            If there was something in particular in my story that you questioned, you could certainly question that. If I or GH had claimed this was typical behavior for men, or that it isn't usually the result of the other partner taking advantage, you could certainly challenge that too. But that is not what happened.

            And again, I'm *not* complaining about you going on a tangent. I agree that people do that all the time here. I'm pointing out that the *content* of your tangent was troubling, and somewhat insulting to the people you were talking to. If you can't see how I would feel that way, despite my attempts to explain, then I don't know what else I can say about it, so I'll stop here.

          • Paul Rivers says:

            "Paul, I'm just saying that it's generally considered not cool, in real life and internet forums, to look at someone sharing an unpleasant personal experience and express something along the lines of "I'm not convinced it was really as bad as you say. Here are a whole bunch of reasons why it's more likely that you were equally to blame."

            I specifically avoided saying anything in my post that at all pointed directly at your post. In fact – I was actually curious about more details, but didn't want to ask details because I specifically didn't want to give the impression of questioning your story.

            But I don't think it's possible to have a meaningful discussion when we get into the "what you're saying could maybe, possibly imply something, so you can't mention it" –

            What if the situation were completely reversed? What if a guy posted a story about how a girl became obsessed with him but he didn't like her back so for years she would tells lies about him to other people when he wasn't around. Would you feel like someone, a couple comments down, saying that that does happen, but they feel like it's not the "typical" situation – without ever claiming what the guy said was untrue – was being offensive and insinuating that his story didn't happen?

            What if he posted a followup comment saying that also – that girl he mentioned filed false police reports, the lies she told were about him having mental health issues and being a predator, and that she also set his car on fire – don't you think that it would make sense that someone who responded would have a different reaction *at that point* that didn't in any way mean that the first story was "invalid"?

            When people get into how saying something next to something else could possibly imply something, and that because it's implication could possibly be taken as personal and offensive, and that means you shouldn't say it – what that also means is that we cannot also have a meaningful discussion any more. The power in the discussion goes not to having a discussion on the topic, but to who can cast their topic as the most offensive for anyone to disagree with.

            It's not that I don't understand how it could be taken the way you describe it – it's that I don't see a way to have a balanced and meaningful discussion when implications are taken in an offensive manner. I've gotten plenty of responses to my own posts of my own stories that were pointedly disagreeing with my posts – sometimes I've taken offensve and I still think I was right to do so, other times I have taken offense and later realized that the other story they posted really did happen and while it did not invalidate my story, in the interest of any overall discussion it was important to point out that other similar but different things commonly happened as well. I comment and read in the interest of clarifying thoughts or getting more information – had those people been more worried about someone being offended by implication, they never would have posted.

          • Gentleman Horndog says:

            Paul, posts like this are very seriously why I mistook you for a troll in another thread. (Sorry about that, by the way.) Why can't you simply apologize to Mel for stepping on her toes and move on?

          • I don't think Paul stepped on Mel's toes. Not in a rational, reasonable world, that is. I think Mel is unintentionally acting out the very same bad boundary behaviors that the author of this article was originally writing about. I do not mean any offense to Mel, by the way.

          • I'm sorry, but what? How is it "bad boundary behaviors" to say, "the way you're talking about this comes off badly", to attempt to explain that when the person appears not to understand, and then to withdraw from the conversation when it appears to be going nowhere? I kept to my boundaries (not letting people misconstrue my experiences or statements without clarification, not continuing discussions that become unproductive) just fine, and I don't see how I infringed on any possible boundary of Paul's in doing so. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, remained calm in my explanations, stuck to stating the facts as I saw them, no personal attacks, and only mentioned my feelings as a way to explain why I thought the subject was important.

            And by the way, suggesting that I was not being rational or reasonable and then claiming you don't mean any offense to me is kind of ridiculous. In fact, that is on the article's list of boundary-pushing behaviors: "brushes off your concerns as “unimportant” or tells you that you’re being silly or irrational."

          • I understood what you meant Paul. I was able to understand both Mel's perspective and your own, although I did become confused after reading through the ensuing debate over whether or not you had or had not done this or that in an appropriate manner suitable to Mel's sense of decorum.

          • Gentleman Horndog says:

            Worth saying: thank you for sharing the story, Mel. This stuff can be hard to deal with, which is why I hide behind a pseudonym and have a tendency towards the glib. Nobody can hurt us like the people we've loved.

          • And just to add, I don't think this is about one side and another. I'm certainly not suggesting that some people deserve not to have relationships because they have trouble standing up for themselves. The whole point was that being that way makes even relationships with a partner who doesn't want to exploit you difficult, so just one more reason why it's good to learn to stand up for yourself and set boundaries.

          • toddsmitts says:

            I'm kind of curious, Mel, if you ever pushed him to make a decision on something or explain why his passivity was bothering you.

          • Yep. Many times. We were together for four years, so it was a continuing issue. I mean, I wasn't perfect, and when we first got together I'd never had a guy be interested in me at all, let alone had a relationship, so I made mistakes too. But as I realized how little he stood up for himself, I made it clear every time it turned out he wasn't comfortable with something that I wanted him to speak up beforehand with those things, even gave him examples of what he could say, and whenever we decided things as a couple, I would go out of my way to ask, "What do you think? Are you sure? It's totally okay with me to do X or Y instead" or not express my opinion at all and try to make him pick without input. When he did make decisions for his own interests or tell me he wanted something, I tried to be extra supportive to encourage that. I cared a lot about him and *wanted* him to be able to stand up for himself.

            You have to realize that it wasn't just me, it was every area of his life. He used to show up hours late for dates because his parents had asked him to do something (not urgent) and he didn't have the courage to tell them he already had plans and would do it later. He'd go along with just about anything a friend or even acquaintance asked of him rather than express disagreement. Basically whoever was in the nearest vicinity to him at any given time dictated what he'd be doing.

          • toddsmitts says:

            Interesting. I have to admit, some of that sounds a bit like me when I think about it. I can remember being late for a get-together with some people because I couldn't bring myself to excuse myself from a class. I remember a co-worker asking me to cover her shift at work on my day off and me being in a bad mood the whole time because of it.

            I wonder if your ex had overly domineering parents or had few friends growing up. (Neither was really the case with me, but it's a possibility I was just considering).

            I've also noticed that a lot of TV and movies seem to be something of a cautionary tale against ever expressing a dissenting opinion against a wife or girlfriend. (I can cite one or two sitcoms that are especially guilty of this). I can't help but wonder if this has affected me or others.

          • He had very domineering parents (to the point that I would call them psychologically abusive) and I think that had a lot to do with it. He was probably also clinically depressed for most if not all of the time I knew him, and not getting treated for it. Between those two factors, his self esteem was virtually non-existent. Hard to speak up for yourself if you don't believe your opinions and wants have any worth. :(

            I don't know about the media thing… People form most of their unconscious ideas about how the world works when they're quite young, and most kids and teen programming I've seen tends to reward characters for standing up for themselves when someone's pressuring them into something they don't want. I could see a guy getting the idea from a few sources that it might be bad to stand up specifically to a girlfriend, but not him internalizing that so much that he'd keep doing that even after encouragement from her to do so and no negative consequences when he tried it. Or internalizing it so much he applied it to everyone around him.

            Anyway, I think everyone has times when they want something and don't speak up because they're nervous or feel they'll create bad feelings by doing so. I certainly have! What matters is whether it's an occasional thing or a regular pattern.

          • Gentleman Johnny says:

            I'll agree to the point that these things are usually not one sided. Emotional doormats tend to end up with emotional vampires. Each one is wired to look for the other. In my experience (which is not a universal truth or anything), you hear about it more when the woman is the dominant partner because that's more or less acceptable to society. You don't hear about it when the guy is because it more often crosses the line into outright abuse. The guy gets pulled out of his Mage game, the girl gets beat with an extension cord.

          • Paul Rivers says:

            Yeah, that's basically what I was saying. :-)

          • Gentleman Horndog says:

            "Emotional doormats tend to end up with emotional vampires. Each one is wired to look for the other."

            + The Internet. This is a nasty, messy truth that can be really difficult to confront without heading directly to Blaming The Victim.

          • Gentleman Johnny says:

            I had an ex who had come out of a long term abusive relationship. Its sometimes difficult to describe to people who haven't had the experience but she had "victim signals". Her behavior and body language actually sent cues when she expected to be hit. Obviously this wasn't a conscious thing but the reactions were deeply ingrained. Not the kind that make you realize how terrible it was, either. The kind that make you just as unconsciously try to play the other part. It was scary for me that she was so good at it that I'd start to respond unconsciously, like the way your car comes off the brake when the light changes. Obviously, I never actually touched her and if I had it still would have been my fault.

          • Gentleman Horndog says:

            Gawd, I get it. And how do you call somebody out on that without them hearing "It's your fault you were abused"? Is it even possible, or do you just have to hope they fix it on their own?

            Or how about the grim realization that somebody you love is actively (probably subconsciously, but still actively) seeking out partners who treat them like shit? Or the realization that at some point you've crossed the line from supporting them to enabling them — that despite your own best intentions, you are now almost certainly part of the problem? Or that even with hindsight, that line is still too damn blurry to definitively state where you crossed it?

            People are messy and complicated. This stuff is hard. Wish it wasn't.

          • Gentleman Johnny says:

            Obviously its much easier to either be domineering and use someone like that for whatever you want (see why alpha dominance annoys me, guys?) or to have no boundaries of your own because you're trying to handle the person with kid gloves. My answer was just getting her used to a different set of expectations. Treat someone like an adult and an equal and they'll work to live up to it. Is that the soultion? Beats the hell out of me.

          • Paul Rivers says:

            "The kind that make you just as unconsciously try to play the other part. It was scary for me that she was so good at it that I'd start to respond unconsciously, like the way your car comes off the brake when the light changes."

            Yeah, I had that happen to me *once* – and it was one of the weirdest and most bizarre things I've ever experienced. Before that I didn't even *believe* that it was possible for someone to make you want to hit them, but…that was definitely in my top 20 creepiest experiences of my life. I didn't hit her (I have no shortage of self control), and in fact that was the "omg this whole dating thing has gone completely off the rails" moment when I realized that being the "good guy" was not trying to comfort her, but stop engaging at all (on any of the "things are wrong and bad and I need comfort" kind of stuff at least).

            That was actually what solved the problem – we had already broken up, but she finally let it go when I just refused to be more than a friendly aquintence to her. She actually seemed rather relieved after about a week.

            But still – most bizarre thing ever, and extremely difficult to discuss.

          • Gentleman Johnny says:

            most bizarre thing ever, and extremely difficult to discuss.

            This. I must have gone over the wording of the initial post three or four times to make sure I was getting exactly the message I wanted to come across. Honestly, I think this is the first time I've ever discussed it in the 10 years or so since it happened.

          • Gentleman Horndog says:

            Thanks for sharing it, man.

          • I think you did a good job of conveying a very difficult thing. Thanks for this.

          • There was a bit of a delayed reaction–technically we split up through mutual agreement (we had a discussion about how neither of us seemed to be really happy with the relationship anymore and decided to pull back from it and just be friends), and at first he seemed okay about it, but after about a month, when I started dating again, he suddenly decided he couldn't be happy with anyone but me and he must be the most horrible person ever to have let our relationship go so he might as well kill himself. If we had still been dating that would have been my cue to reassure him that he was actually wonderful and I loved him and wasn't going anywhere. But we weren't, and I knew I didn't want to be again, so I just took the threat seriously, let his parents know that he should be watched and probably see a professional since he was making suicidal statements, and we stopped seeing each other even as friends.

            He wasn't an angry person–he would never blame me to my face, just beat himself up so much if anything went wrong that I had to comfort him even if I had originally been upset and needed him to comfort me. But I'd imagine he blamed me to everyone else who asked. It should have been a warning sign when very early in the relationship, I got off the phone with him after finding out he'd lied to me about something really huge that anyone would be creeped out by and telling him I needed time to process that, and he went around telling everyone who asked why he looked so sad that his girlfriend had said she might break up with him because she didn't know if she could trust him (completely leaving out any mention of *why* I might feel I couldn't trust him).

            I hope he did grow out of it eventually… He sent me a brief message on Facebook several years later to say he'd realized how badly he'd acted in the relationship and to apologize, but I'm not sure whether he'd actually grown since then or it was just a guilty moment and he wanted to feel better. He wasn't a bad person, but he was so weak-willed with everyone around him that most of the time he wasn't even acting on his own behalf.

          • Paul Rivers says:

            Omg!

            Ok, well, with THAT description then I agree 99% with Gentlemen Horndog's description of that particular situation. That's absolutely rediculous (on his part). Wtf.

            In my opinion, you definitely made the right call there in what you did. There was nowhere good for that to go, and I think you followed the best course of action possible for that situation.

          • Gentleman Horndog says:

            Seconded, Mel, though I'm sure you don't need us affirming you made the right call dropping that guy. :-)

            Paul, while I wouldn't call these kinds of relationships common (thank Christ), I have very definitely seen it before. (Hell, I've demonstrated some of these behaviors — see my post in Gentleman Johnny's thread below — though thankfully not to this degree. I had other raging dysfunctions to sort out.) It rarely ends well. Every relationship requires you strike the right balance between accommodating your partner and sticking up for your own needs.

          • Paul Rivers says:

            Yup, that's exactly what I mean!

        • THIS, a million times this. And not just in romantic relationships either. I have a friend who had really low self esteem and was a big people pleaser. I had to be careful discussing what I liked around him ("Hey, I love this cute stuffed animal/expansion on Settlers of Catan/puffy jacket") because he would run off and then buy it for me. A nice gesture? Absolutely. Awkward and not what I asked him to do? That too. He would offer to go way the fuck out of his way to give people rides– like an hour or more, and then get worried when we turned him down (because holy shit, he's not our chauffer). And then his friends would feel bad whatever we did, like we were taking advantage of him by accepting, and like we were rejecting him if we didn't.

          The other thing was, not everyone in our circle of friends had the same scruples. Some of them would happily take whatever he offered, some of them would ask for more. And when, eventually, he got more and more unhappy trying to make everyone happy at the expense of his own time, money, and feelings, there would be an explosion and people would say things they didn't mean and it was just unhappiness all around.

          • Paul Rivers says:

            Those people *really* annoy the heck out of me if you say something to them – especially if you say it more than once – and they keep doing it anyways.

            I mean I think they're very, very rare (because it's fairly obviously a bad way to go), but very, very infrequently I run into one and it's like "Look, I can understand you doing this to start off with. You're being nice, trying to be considerate, trying to get people to look you – well all do that stuff. But once people start saying stuff that it's not a good idea – what's wrong with you that you keep doing it anyways?".

          • eselle28 says:

            People aren't always in a place where they're ready to listen to advice or where they can imagine doing anything about their problems. Dealing with codependent people can be very frustrating, but at some point if they're not asking for help, you need to accept that they're not interested in hearing feedback and just keep the subject to something that's not so stressful to hear about.

          • Tea Fish says:

            I don't know if it's actually all that rare of a trait– many people, particularly women, are socialized to be nice and do whatever they can for other people to make them happy. And many people, men and women, have low self esteem. Combine the two and you have someone who can't find it in themselves to say no to anything, who is actively afraid that by saying no and asserting their own needs, they will drive away the people who are closest to them.

            And a lot of them keep doing it because… sometimes it's true. Sometimes these people end up being surrounding by "friends" who want them for what they can offer, and not for who they are. Once the stream of favors and shiny gifts run dry, so does their "friendship". And sometimes they keep doing it for the same reason that people scoff at "Just become more confident!" dating advice. Building self esteem is hard work. Standing up for yourself is hard work, especially if you're doing it for the first time. In some ways, it's easier to just keep buying gifts and saying yes yes yes (and then roll around in martyrdom and self pity afterward, whyyyyy doesn't anyone reciprocate when you do so much for them) than it is to take responsibility for your needs and desires and making sure that they are met.

          • For some people, the martyrdom and self-pity are their own reward. People love feeling good and virtuous, and if one is raised to believe that self-denial and virtue are synonymous… shit gets ugly, fast.

      • assuming this is actually dating and not a ons, people should talk about sex BEFORE they do it. It seems so few people talk about these points before doing it but afterwards have issues about it. Talking about sex before doing it doesn't ruin sex unless you get into heavy stuff while you are making out leading to sex.

        • Robjection says:

          I would think talking about sex before doing it would apply to a ONS just as much. Then again I don't really know how a ONS works so I could be wrong.

        • Paul Rivers says:

          While I think this SHOULD be the case, as a guy the vast majority of times I've tried to do it it's had bad results because of the girl. She seems to take any talking about it as either critisism, no matter how well worded, or as a reminder that she "shouldn't" be having sex, etc.

          And in my experience, things are even worse on this front than they were 10 years ago – 10 years ago, women seemed to feel like they *wanted* to be able to talk about sex, but they had difficulty. Now there seems to be even more of an attitude that they *shouldn't* be talking about it.

          • Gentleman Johnny says:

            Thank abstinence only sex education. :)

          • Gentleman Horndog says:

            I've found a well-timed "So, how do you like to be fucked?" seems to not derail things.

            I'm of the opinion that if you have needs that aren't obvious, it's your responsibility to get them out there before the sex happens. If my partner waits until we're done before letting me know that if I don't spend the night she'll feel like shit, I'm going to be a bit grumpy with my new lover for putting me in that situation. (Not TOO grumpy, mind, because hey, new lover. But still a bit grumpy.)

  8. The concept of establishing boundaries is pretty much applicable to every aspect of life, from "Hey coworker, stop giving me your work to do, I'm not even qualified," to "Roommate, please wash your dishes, and then continue washing then within three days of getting them dirty." A lot of boundary pushing isn't malicious, some of it isn't even intentional, but it is INCREDIBLY important for you to take a firm stand anyway, unless you want to be…. forever picking up your coworker's slack, doing your roommate's dishes, ditching your friends for your girlfriend's whims, putting up with verbal abuse from your aunt, etc.

    In addition, the habit of boundary pushing can be incredibly unhealthy for the victim AND the perpetrator. Think of a spoiled child who has always been able to tantrum or whine their way into getting whatever they want. Their parents might be making them happy now, but what happens when they grow up, go to school, enter the real world with real people who won't take their shit? Think of the last time you saw an adult throw a tantrum in public and how super embarrassing it was. You (general you) aren't responsible for their actions, but by "sparing their feelings" now, there's only going to be heartbreak and massive drama for everyone in the future.

  9. I will not put up with a person who either demands that I stop seeing the friends I had before the relationship or demands that I give up my hobbies because of whatever. A potential gilfriend also has to get along with the family if the relationship is going to be long term. This is standard. Another thing that I won't accept is a relationship without physical love. The only girlfriend I had wanted a relationship conducted on a wholly emotionally level. I kind of wanted to have sex. When it became clear that this was never going to happen, she wouldn't even talk about it, I ended the relationship.

  10. Gentleman Johnny says:

    One big addendum to this is once you've put your foot down, once you've said "no", stick with it! People who don't care about your boundaries aren't likely to take it well and will play even dirtier after the first refusal. If you back down, you've made negative progress in establishing your boundaries because you've now taught them that even when you absolutely refuse, you can still be worn down.

    • Gentleman Horndog says:

      Word. I recently had a relationship I really cared about implode in part because I wouldn't set firm boundaries. I was too eager to compromise and not be the bad guy when I needed to suck it up and give a firm, unambiguous "No."

      The pisser is I don't think she was intentionally taking advantage of me. She just had a very clear idea of what she wanted our relationship to be, and couldn't accept that her fantasy relied on me being a completely different person. So when she tried to steer me towards her version of who she wanted me to be, I'd look for compromise to keep the peace, and in so doing kept her hopes of changing me alive.

      I don't know if setting those boundaries and manning them like a max-sec compound would have saved the relationship or caused it to disintegrate a year or two earlier. But by doing it the way I did, by never forcing her to confront the vast gulf between her fantasy and reality, I'm pretty sure I doomed it.

    • Yes, this is something that you can't be wishy-washy and indecisive on. You either have to make a clean break and leave the relationship or waver back and forth in a bad situation.

      • Gentleman Horndog says:

        You don't necessarily need to leave the relationship entirely (though that may be the case). Sometimes you just have to say "No" and mean it — really, truly, seriously, no-fucking-around MEAN IT — down to your bones.

        And accept if that ends the relationship, it ends the relationship.

    • Gentleman Johnny says:

      Addendum: saying you're a man of your word is also worth less than zero. If you stick to both your promises and your refusals, you won't need to tell people that you do. They'll know.

    • Very true! There's a concept related to this in behavioral psychology called an extinction burst–basically, when you decide to stop rewarding a behavior that previously has been giving someone something they want (putting that behavior "on extinction"), you can almost always expect heightened attempts to get that thing before they finally stop. And if you let yourself reward the behavior again at any point before they stop, then you have to go through the process all over again from the beginning, except this time they'll fight even longer because it worked before.

      If you don't think you can follow through on something you say, it's better not to say it at all and wait until you can (or say something else where you can).

  11. Its probably not a good idea to be in a relationship with somebody who treats you like an object or somebody whom you are in a constant contest of wills with. Its also a really poor idea to be in a relationship with somebody who doesn't have a life outside of you or lives vicariously through you because you'll end up getting drained or worse corrupted into a person who treats another as an object.

  12. Thereal McCoy says:

    It's not just people who have poor boundaries who get manipulated. Some manipulators are very good at finding that place in the tent where the camel's nose fits (in fact, that's how industrial and state espionage start). Once the nose is in, rest follows, and seemingly overnight, someone who has always been very firm finds themselves in a controlling or abusive or just plain lousy relationship (or finds themselves selling secrets to the Chinese). It's not just intentional manipulators who do this, either. Perhaps I am being too charitable, but I believe that many people don't realize that their behavior is pushing boundaries, possibly b/c they don't get the idea of boundaries in the first place.
    It can be very difficult to balance making reasonable compromises and allowing your boundaries to be violated. Sometimes you really do have to turn down an invitation from your friends to spend time with your SO. If you find that you are continually giving in to your partner's requests and frequently going against your core values, then you have crossed that line from compromising into being manipulated. I've been on both ends of that, having dated both a manipulator and a doormat. Neither was a particularly fulfilling relationship.

    • I think this is actually what makes it hard for people to identify seriously not okay boundary-pushing and manipulation – the lines aren't always that clear.

      Very few people – even well-intentioned people who generally respect boundaries and have healthy relationships – deal with conflict in the 100% best, most mature way.Almost everyone has little moments of passive-aggressive sulking about something they're unhappy about, or moments when they really need something of you that's a lot to ask, or ways when they push back harder than is comfortable on a boundary they didn't realize a hard one for you.

      Sometimes you have to go with your gut on if something's okay or not. Which can be difficult if you've spent a long time in unhealthy relationships.

    • This is absolutely true! I was in a very unpleasant, very long relationship in which I gave up boundary after boundary, some seeming like reasonable compromises until they became the norm, but I think what is most disturbing is that my ex was not actively, maliciously trying to manipulate me (usually), and in fact, didn't realize what he was doing most of the time. He would actually tell me occassionally that I needed to stand up for myself (usually with regard to my relationships with other people), but would brow beat me for *daring* to disagree with him. If I ran into him today and told him that it hurt they way he manipulated me and made me feel powerless, he would be completely dumbfounded.

      I think this may be because for him it was so easy and natural to assert himself and his needs and his boundaries (so aggressively that he is the dominant personality in every friendship he has) that he couldn't understand how he was steam rolling over mine. The only way to fix my situation was to leave and build up my self esteem as an individual before getting back into dating (and then making sure to stay away from people with whom I'm likely to fall into the same pattern).

  13. I've seen this happen second hand, I have/had a friend who started dating a girl and at first he'd still come out with us, then he'd always bring her along which was no problem. She was a nice girl, but our group of friends soon realised that she didn't have many friends because it was always us being invited to events like her brithday and new years. Eventually he was constantly making plans then breaking them, to the point where my group of friends and I would list off his stable of excuses as jokes to say we were showing up to a party or bar or what have you.

    About a year ago now I ran into him and we went and grabbed a drink, he made a big deal about how we never hang out and I basically said "Well I kept inviting you out, you never made it, so I stopped asking." It happened to be the thursday before my birthday and he asked if I was doing my normal tradition of just going to my local pub and I said yes and he said he was definately going to show up. He did not. He's still dating the girl, none of us are angry with the guy but every now and then someone just asks if any of us have seen him lately. The answer's always no.

  14. This article would have helped me so much in my last relationship. The way I was treated still disturbs me and I still can't believe it took me so long to recognize his behaviour as emotionally abusive. I made it easy by having very low self-esteem… something I'm still working on today. Here's to hoping it can help others.

  15. This whole comment thread is full of so much awesome.

    Uh, not the bad relationships people were in. Those are awful. I meant all the smart and insightful comments people are leaving.

    • Gentleman Horndog says:

      This article seems to be dragging everybody's crappiest relationship memories to the surface. It's like a group therapy session in here, in a good way. I feel like there's a lot of empathy going on.

  16. Kilted Animator says:

    Great read as always. :)

  17. Andrew Farrell says:

    I'll note that it is possible for two people to do this to each other if they both are bad at boundaries, feel like they wouldn't be able to find someone else, and aren't really satisfied with the relationship.

  18. Andrew – I chose not to be in a relationship at all when I could've. It meant being alone for a while, yeah, but who I found in the end was worth the wait. New, good relationships tend to not be foreseeable when an old, bad one is allowed to continue to exist. And being alone is often better than the suboptimal relationship to begin with.

  19. Jeansandatshirt says:

    Holy. Shit.This was me with my ex.

    When we first started going out, he was really generous and super-complimentary and I almost felt that I didn't deserve the attention (shy, nerdy, low self-esteem, not much relationship experience). At the same time, he was pushing for the relationship to get serious very quickly and, even though I was in school full time, for me to see him as much as possible and text/call him throughout the day. For example, sometimes I'd forget my cell at home or I'd be tired and have an accidental nap (working and going to school sometimes does that) and then discover a series of angry messages on my voicemail accusing me of not caring about him or the relationship. He convinced me to come stay reading week at his place a month after we started dating and gave me a promise ring for my birthday less than 3 months after we started dating, proposing after less than a year. I was not comfortable with this at all, but I felt lucky to have a boyfriend and instead blamed myself, since I thought this is what a normal girl is supposed to want. Despite the fact that I'd go on trips out of town with him to visit his friends and tried my best to be friendly with them despite being naturally shy, I could count the number of times he met my friends on one hand. He got to pick what we did, where we went, what we watched, the music we listened to and who we hung out with.

    I spent 4 years mostly trying to take an interest in his interests and make him happy. In return, he insulted my hobbies, interests, friends and my taste in everything and when I needed him, he was never there for me. I was in the hospital after having a significant pulmonary embolism and he didn't visit me until after I was out. I was so sick I couldn't even live on my own for a month after (my apartment is on the 4th floor. Couldn't handle the stairs) and he didn't even bring me so much as a card when he visited me at my mom's before going without me on a trip we'd planned before I got sick. A month later, we went to a football game and he was so mad about his team losing he practically ran up the stairs and out of the stadium, despite the fact that I still had trouble just speaking without running out of breath and was left trailing behind. He'd get mad at me if I didn't talk to his friends enough when I wasn't with him, but I'd invite him to hang out with my friends and he'd refuse.

    Over the year after I had the embolism, I realized that I had to do what I loved and hang out with the people I cared about because life is too short to be unhappy. I listened to my music, watched my shows, played my games and hung out with my friends again. I was happier than I'd been in a long time and I even started wondering why I put up with this garbage. Whenever he tried to convince me metal/RPGs/writing/drawing/reading was stopping me from having a life and friends so I should stop liking those, I had plans and friends independent of him that I could disprove those claims with now. According to what a mutual acquaintance told me after, it was making him feel really insecure now that he wasn't in control. He dumped me rather than deal with a girlfriend who had a life outside of just him. I didn't even really miss him, I just felt dumb for not dumping him years ago myself before he'd manage to nearly squish my confidence and independence.

    • Chickenstrips says:

      If you don’t mind me asking this but since you were with that guy for 4 years, how hard was it for you to let go? Was the attachment of being together so long holding you back?

      • Jeansandatshirt says:

        Yeah, being together so long was one of the major reasons I couldn't break it off with him. That and I still had this feeling that I was "lucky" to be with him at all. He was actually the one who dumped me, but I had been thinking a lot about breaking up. I tried to talk to him about the problems we'd been having/him being mean, hoping he'd change (yes, I know, they never change), but he decided a week later he'd rather break up than shape up.

        Once I got over the initial "holy shit I just got dumped" it was actually pretty easy to move on. I felt bad about this for a while, but I didn't really miss him that much. The only stuff I really felt bad about was staying in that relationship for so long.

        • You did good breaking things off. Speaking from experience, sometimes we intentionally blind ourselves to the behavior of the ones we claim to love. I myself was with someone for ten years, eventually marrying them. About six months in, they admitted to me they’d been lying and cheating for almost the entire time. Worse still, they wanted to keep the marriage and the boyfriend on the side. After nearly three weeks, a couple counseling sessions, and a good hard look at the past ten years, I ended it. I was a safety net to her, and anything she needed was more important than my needs or wants. She was a selfish little girl who wanted things her way and got mad when they didn’t. I’m finding my feet again, and I’m enjoying life after the fact. I’ve been free for three weeks now, and all I feel now is pity for her. My life only gets better from here, and so does yours.

  20. dorthyinwonder says:

    I wish your blog was around a decade or so ago. Between this article and a few of your others, it pretty much describes my relationships. I didn’t realize what was happening in one until it was too late, though I really wasn’t invested in that one. Another that came on the heel of a bad breakup started from a friendship had all but two issues in the last ticked off. The funny thing about that one is the few things I did stick to in that relationship were things that supposedly disrespected him and his boundaries in the relationship, which was a major role in why we broke up for good. Since that relationship, I’ve been more firm in my relationships, but it’s quite shocking how many guys I’ve talked to since that relationship who either don’t respect my boundaries (I was told I was being ridiculous because I was sticking to my guns on an issue I previously have in to. Also, in the previously mentioned relationship (that fit the list), I tried to explain my sense of buyers remorse at one point (in my mind, I was pressuring myself, and I explicitly stated that, putting the blame wholly on me) and he came back furious because he claimed I was accusing him of raping me.

    But here’s my big question, and its entirety possible that it’s been answered and I just haven’t found it yet, how is one to distinguish the difference between someone unwittingly testing boundaries, someone intending to obliterate boundaries and take a advantage, and a PUA? Because it all seems to resolve around the weakness of one’s boundaries and esteem. Maybe not all, but quite a bit.

  21. This is my first time visit at here and i am in fact impressed
    to read all at alone place.

  22. evenbiggerspoon says:

    I was in an emotionally abusive relationship when I was a teenager – he was 7 years older, I was 16 – and it basically 'made' me (more) codependent. I've finished with that now – it only took me 12 years…

    I realised a few months ago that when I assert myself I just feel better. Being assertive has got to be the best thing I ever learned.

    What you're saying about the abuse, though (what she was doing to you IS abuse), it doesn't always start off with someone who is 'weak'. When I was 16 and met this guy (he was kind of 'chasing' me, if you will, and he was a bit of a status symbol so being 16 I thought I'd 'go out with him for a couple of months'), I was pretty assertive. I was vulnerable (severe eating disorders and family completely fallen apart, so I was basically alone), but I was assertive. The first time he got angry because an ex boyfriend was on the photographs stuck on my wall, I told him straight that I would not take them down because they were my photographs. I put up with him until my friend told me he was flirting with her over text and saw my way out, then told him I didn't want to see him anymore. He barged his way into the house and sat down. I asked him to leave and he wouldn't. There were no adults around. I had no idea what to do. Eventually, when I had to leave for school, he went, but then he kerb crawled me when I was walking the dog and started to stalk me. For some reason (let's just say…because I was 16 and vulnerable…) I didn't see this as abuse, and more saw it as 'sad desperation'. It was getting on my nerves so I thought it would be 'less hassle' to get in the car and let him go out with me for a while.

    There went the next 2.5 years of my life. Every time I made a 'mistake' after that (refused to throw out my diaries or my possessions in case they reminded me of an ex…) he would dump me and tell me his reasons (because I was a whore, because I was weird (bulimia), because no one liked me…) and I would cry (believing him). A while later, he would come back and 'forgive me', so long as I 'did better'. This kind of manipulation completely broke down my boundaries and I completely lost myself. He told me to stop taking my medication for my bulimia. I did it. The bulimia got worse, my self esteem got worse. At one point, my mother just decided to leave me for her boyfriend (seriously…) so he moved into my man's flat with me. Then he was there 24/7. I wasn't allowed to speak to my friends, I had to 'report back' after school to tell him everything that had happened and who I had spoken to or I would punished. I lost all of my friends.

    The reason I didn't leave was because there was no one else there. My family were gone (I was banned from my Dad's house for having bulimia…yeah, I know, he thought I was punishing him…), my mam had left me for her boyfriend, my brother had left for uni, and my friends wanted nothing to do with me anymore. Without him I would have no one, so I stayed. For 2.5 years.

    And it ruined 12 years of my life in which I never quite got the confidence back until now.

    Admittedly, I would have had problems either way. You don't just catch bulimia (my parents' behaviour might give you some clues here), but his actions made it so much worse.

    At the end of the day, all I can do is learn. I can be who I was before I met him (and I'm so close to being that person now, so close, just a little more confidence and I'm there…), and I totally agree with you that is boundaries and self esteem. Not just with partners, but with friends and family. If your family criticise your every move, cut them out. You don't need them. If your friends rely on you for emotional support but are gone when you need them, cut them out. If your friends rely on you for emotional support and you can't help, tell them you can't help. Self-preservation. It's what happy people do.

  23. I'm so sorry for what you're dealing with. You're completely doing the right thing, but yeah, there are some people who would accuse you of starting drama. Those people are full of shit.

    I can't guarantee this will be the case with you, but I did something somewhat similar (he didn't use social media, so my boundary line was about ever mentioning him to me or inviting us to the same events), and most of the people who chose not to break ties with him were not the ones who I would have really missed. There was one person whose choice really surprised and hurt me, but knowing she decided that way has made me do a lot of thinking about what our friendship was really about, and I've decided that it was probably for the best.

  24. Question: Do think people like being told what they have to do?
    Taking care of yourself is fine. Making demands of others because they should understand the situation and create a special zone for you is not. You can frame it as "Real Friends" all you want, but if a person is being real, they will choose you before you had to demand it. Food for thought. Hope everyone gives you want you want. Hope they remember to take care of themselves while they are taking care of you.

  25. Gentleman Horndog says:

    Ugh. Sorry you have to go through this. FWIW, I suspect your friends are struggling with the notion that the label "Abuser" applies to somebody they know and like. Meaning that you're doing the right thing by putting your foot down and saying "No, really, this happened, and if you don't believe it we can't be friends."

  26. This is one of the aspect that makes staying out of the abusive situation extra difficult; you have to change everything! And also, abusers do have their delightful and charming selves they present to the majority of their friends, which makes it hard for the friends to believe you. What Gentleman Horndog says about the difference between flawed but decent and abusive rings true. Plus, I've learned just how many people need to live in denial that people can have both positive and destructive traits and refuse to label what they do witness and is clearly abuse with the "abuse" label.

  27. Gentleman Horndog says:

    It all depends on the circumstances. In "normal" breakup situations where you have two flawed but fundamentally decent people feeling hurt and confused, then yeah, drawing lines in the sand and demanding people choose sides is kinda childish. However, please note the circumstances Kitty actually described:

    "I was in an abusive (physically, verbally and emotionally) relationship"

    She needs the motherfucker out of her life. For good. It sounds like she had friends who were trying to treat this as a "normal" breakup situation. She needed to let them know that by playing it that way, they were telling her that either they don't believe her when she says she was abused, or don't think it was as bad as she's saying. She needed to let them know that if her ex was still in their lives, keeping them in her life would make her feel emotionally and physically unsafe. She's not asking them to "take care of" her; she's identifying boundaries, and making their importance clear. These are Very Good Things.

    She wasn't telling them what to do; she was telling them what she needed if they wanted to remain her friends. Yes, this can sometimes be a fine line to draw, and yes, people can sometimes use that as a tool for passive-aggressive manipulation. Nothing Kitty said in her post makes it sound like this was one of those times.

  28. Gentleman Johnny says:

    Also important: she knew that some of her friends might not choose her and was willing to accept that as the price of moving on.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] about here in this fantastic post about platonic love. You can also read a bit more about this from the man’s perspective and how having poor boundaries and low self esteem can lead to problems … (read everything by Dr. Nerdlove, he is made of [...]

  2. [...] “The lack of belief in yourself feeds into an insidious self-perpetuating cycle. It’s hard to stand up for yourself when you believe that you have very little of value to offer in the first place – something that is reinforced by the way that people walk over you and take advantage of you. After all, if you were better, cooler, or more desirable, you’d be able to stand up for yourself.” What Will You Put Up With? Boundaries, Self-Esteem and Dating – Paging Dr. NerdLove [...]

  3. […] What Will You Put Up With? Boundaries, Self-Esteem and Dating … […]

  4. […] a second chance or should be forgiven for being awkward: it’s reframing a woman’s right to enforce her boundaries into a discussion about why the man shouldn’t be inconvenienced. He deserves a chance […]

  5. […] a second chance or should be forgiven for being awkward: it’s reframing a woman’s right to enforce her boundaries into a discussion about why the man shouldn’t be inconvenienced. He deserves a chance […]

  6. […] What Will You Put Up With? Boundaries, Self-Esteem and Dating […]

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    What Will You Put Up With? Boundaries, Self-Esteem and Dating

  8. […] a second chance or should be forgiven for being awkward: it’s reframing a woman’s right to enforce her boundaries into a discussion about why the man shouldn’t be […]

  9. […] and intimacy met and you’re content being single, then just tell your friends that. Enforce your boundaries a little. Say, "I appreciate that you’re concerned about me, but I’m fine. I’m happy […]

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  11. […] best defense against toxic friends having influence in your life is to establish and maintain strong boundaries. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to enforce your boundaries with people you consider your […]