Years of being abused by someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder made it difficult to get back into dating, to trust people as a whole to maybe not be jerks. .
No contact with the Narcissist has been in place for almost two years. It’s been two and a half years since our breakup.
As is often the case, the Narcissist moved on and found a new significant other very quickly.
It took me a much longer time to have any interest in romance.
I went out on a couple of dates here and there. I dipped my toe in a few times. For the most part, I stayed on dry land.
My limited dating experience was illuminating, though. I proved to myself I am a far different person than who I once was.
The version of me who first got involved with the Narcissist is gone. I don’t over-accommodate anymore. I understand my wants versus my needs and I verbalize each of them appropriately. I set boundaries and I notice when they are ignored.
If I’m not feeling honored or respected, I say goodbye. I don’t suffer blame-shifting or other toxic personality tendencies.
They don’t apologize. They don’t see any reason to, because things are always someone else’s fault. In many instances, although they try to orchestrate relationships to serve their own ends, they try to gain sympathy and attention by claiming “victim” status.Brenner, Abigail. “8 Things the Most Toxic People in Your Life Have in Common.” Psychology Today, 29 Aug. 2016, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201608/8-things-the-most-toxic-people-in-your-life-have-in-common
Recently, it’s become obvious I’m gradually becoming comfortable with the idea of moving deeper into the water, away from dry land. My toes are wet and the water is rising around my ankles as I slowly, cautiously, wade into the deep.
I understand now that being in deep water should feel good. Ideally, one will rejoice in the feel of water against skin, the sensation of easy weightlessness.
The alternative is feeling like you’re drowning. Like you’re treading water and struggling for air. Like you’re so tired and worn out that you’d do or say anything just to be able to rest.
At the beginning of a relationship, things should feel good. If something feels off, it’s worth noticing.
This became particularly relevant recently, during the incident that prompted Part One of this post. (Wait, There Are People Who Aren’t Jerks?)
As a quick recap, Cookie’s communication habits were increasingly bothering me as our relationship started becoming more intimate.
Whatever it is that’s happening with Cookie, I’m concerned it might not be emotionally healthy. I’m thinking about him constantly, always hoping I’m about to hear from him, only rarely doing so. His response time to any communication might be 5 minutes, or it might be a day and a half. I never know what to expect.A Twist on Life,“Depression Returns”
I told Cookie that the unpredictability and sometimes infrequency of his communications were hurting me. He heard me and sympathized, and offered to try to do better.
He is succeeding in this effort. It’s been three weeks, and his improved habits have thus far been consistent. He texts when he says he’s going to, and if he’s busy, lets me know when to expect to hear from him again. If he does leave me waiting, which has happened once, his apology is heartfelt.
Cookie cares about me and doesn’t want to cause me anxiety or stress. He tells me this, he utters the appropriate words, and, more importantly, he performs actions that support his statements.
It’s a revelation. With someone who is kind, I can express when something is bothering me and they will want to change their behavior.
It’s also a revelation to realize that I will recognize it if their habits aren’t ones that will work for me, even if they are a lovely, kind, not at all toxic individual. If Cookie had been unable to change his ways, I would have ended things with him. I would have done so, despite how much I like him.
I respect that his communication tendencies were triggering for me. They were sending me into dark spaces in my brain. My old self would have suppressed it, tried to be okay, judged myself for not being able to put up with it. If he didn’t mean anything by it, that meant I had to accommodate it.
Now I feel differently. Regardless of intent, some behaviors, even ones that seem innocuous, are unacceptable to me, simply because of who I am and my personal history. My mental and emotional health are the most important things in the world to me. They matter more to me than any romantic potential I might see in a man.
I am happy to have had reason to see how Cookie responds to a situation like this one. I am also relieved to have witnessed such strength and resolve in myself.
My habits have changed. My confidence has changed. I understand I am worthy of being treated well, of receiving the love and consideration I provide others.
I noticed I had an opportunity to try the same thing with a behavior I’d noticed in goatee guy, albeit on a smaller, less important to me scale.
Goatee guy is someone who is easy to know. He’s comfortable and fun to be with. He’s a sweetheart. He makes me laugh and he’s amazingly easy on the eyes. I’m enjoying getting to know him, and love the time we spend together.
We message a little almost every day. We see each other frequently.
And yet, I noticed that I was usually the one prompting us to get together.
On the one hand, I know goatee guy likes me and wants to keep seeing me. On the other hand, if I didn’t set up our dates, how long would it be before we went out again? Weeks? A month? More?
I didn’t like not knowing. It didn’t make me feel like he cared much about me. I wasn’t feeling honored or respected.
Old me would have stopped initiating dates, sat back, and observed. I would have avoided confronting the situation and instead hoped goatee guy would somehow know I expected him to jump in and take on the task I’d left for him.
Odds are good my sudden change in behavior would have caused him to think I’d lost interest in him, rather than it occurring to him to change his own behavior at all.
New me understands this. New me handled it differently.
When we last hung out I asked why it was usually me who suggested we get together.
He asked if it had been bothering me, and I admitted it had a little. He apologized, said he hadn’t noticed, and admitted he is often pretty bad about initiating plans.
As was the case with Cookie, goatee guy heard me. He was sympathetic. He wasn’t defensive. He didn’t blame me for my feelings.
He offered, without me asking or pushing, to make more of an effort to initiate plans.
And then, he did. A few days later, he took the initiative to set up our next date.
He doesn’t want to cause me concern about whether he likes me. He told me this, he uttered the appropriate words, and, more importantly, he performed an action that supported his statements.
Apparently, more people are out there who aren’t jerks than I expected.