Wouldn’t it be nice if we only had to experience being ill-treated by one man, and we learned from it never to make certain mistakes again?
For most of us, the reality is slightly different. We learn that a certain kind of man treated us badly, in a certain kind of way, and we resolve never to make that mistake again.
Sadly, we don’t think that we could be vulnerable to different, but equally calamitous, mistakes. That is precisely why we repeat them.
Last week I was talking with a dear friend, someone I've known for 13+ years. When I first knew her, she was in a relationship with a self-important womanizer, who thought the world revolved around him. He took it as his due that someone as nice as my friend should put her life on hold to service him. And he treated her like the proverbial doormat.
Eventually, she broke free. In time she found another partner who, unlike his predecessor, talked about his feelings, fell head over heels in love from the get go, and whisked her off on a transatlantic flight, to his castle in a foreign land.
And there the fairy tale took a sharp nose dive.
Not that it had been perfect from Day 1. Anything but. There had been red flags from the very first encounter with Prince Nauseatingly Charming. But she had not paid sufficient attention to them.
Why had she overlooked those red flags – which she had registered?
Because she was focused on a different kind of bad: the kind of bad she already knew. The kind of bad she had already experienced.
When I first met my friend, we were both training in an alternative therapy. On most alternative therapy trainings – in the UK, at least – most of the students are women. But, on this one, there was a man in his twenties who affected cynicism and world-weariness. (Underneath that façade, he was a very sweet, and vulnerable, guy.) Guy (not his real name) had a favourite saying that he used to describe life’s little – or not so little – reverses. Shrugging his shoulders, he would say:
“Same old sh*t, different wrapper!”
How many of us have focused on the wrapper, rather than on what it holds?
Judging by the number of abused women I have spoken to, who have settled, next time around, for a different kind of bad, far too many of us have done just that.
When I look back on my own relationship choices, my first semi-serious relationship was with someone I instinctively sensed had the capacity to grow into an accomplished abuser, given the right opportunity. I danced away before that opportunity presented itself.
I spent the next couple of years going on a load of dates, without becoming remotely serious about anyone.
In that time, I didn’t learn much about myself, relationships, or how to choose a good partner. You see, I didn’t even know that there were things that I needed to learn in order to safeguard myself.
And so, the inevitable happened. Someone came along brandishing a few fine red flags, but he wooed me quickly… And I focused my wariness on the wrapper – which was quite different: different profession, different nationality, different way of presenting, but…
As you’ve doubtless guessed:
Same old… flavour:
Abusive man. And this time, instead of dancing away, I danced right into his clutches, where I learned a great deal of what I now know about the way abusive men behave.
So, how do you ensure that you don’t fall for the same old sh*t, different wrapper, ever again?
You learn how to recognise an abusive man, and you react appropriately, before he propels your life, at top speed, up a blind alley. You can do this on your own, if you are still prepared to learn the hard way; or else you could get the targeted help you need to protect you from future nasty surprises.
If you're still struggling to decide whether or not your partner – or ex-partner – was abusive, these words from “How Not To Marry The Wrong Guy” may help. If someone were to ask you what you love about your partner, could you answer like this:
“My... [partner] is honest, genuine, considerate, selfless, humble, and a great partner. These qualities benefit our marriage tremendously. In creating a good nurturing relationship, these qualities are essential. I value the person he is, and I try to be the best I can be in return.”
“How Not To Marry The Wrong Guy”, by Anne Milford and Jennifer Gauvain, is an invaluable guide to how to spot and avoid the wrong guy; and recognize the right one. This is the book that every abused woman, including me, wishes they had had as a much thumbed reference work, before they let themselves be railroaded up that blind alley.