Strength vs. Control: Dating 101 PT 1

edge

In the bodybuilding world, if we’re being honest, the focus is actually on how strong you LOOK, not how strong you ARE.

This is why crossfit competitors and powerlifters and competitive athletes have my respect. Don’t get me wrong, TONS of work goes into bodybuilding competition prep, but the focus is on how you APPEAR, not how functional your fitness actually IS.

Let’s carry this analogy over into my personal experience in the dating world.

Growing up in a strict church culture, I wasn’t allowed to date anyone until I was 18, preferably later. I was in two fairly long, committed relationships between the ages of 18 and 23. I was single for about 6 months and then met my ex and was married for 3 years.

My abuse counselor has been pushing me to be open to casual dates for the sake of self-recovery and healing as I make my way through the difficult process of moving on from an deeply abusive experience. Trust me, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea.

What I’ve found is that for some reason, I have been conditioned to view a certain “type” of guy as “attractive”: the guys who give off that strong, aggressively “masculine” vibe; the military guys, construction workers, trainers, cops, coaches… usually guys in that line of work are instantly “attractive” to me by the way they carry themselves and the confidence which they portray.

The key word is “portray”.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I am in NO way identifying these job descriptions with abusive behavior or writing any of them off. I am simply speaking from personal experience. There are wonderful, loving men in every profession and equally terrible, abusive, controlling men of every job description. I also have a deep personal respect for the careers these men choose and particularly for the sacrifices made by military men and their families. “Rah!”

No matter what the job description of the guys I’m typically attracted to, I’ve come to find that MANY times this “overtly masculine” vibe is actually a harsh mask for deep insecurity and controlling behavior.

Here’s a stellar example:

I meet – let’s call him “John” – John at the gym. John is pushing some serious weight, he’s rugged, tall, “confident”, and clearly approaches me to ask if I’m using the tricep press for one reason.

I’m flattered. We flirt a little.

John gets my number.

I have a deep feeling of concern which I ignore over attraction.

Texting happens over the next week or so.

John disappears. Then reappears, more interested then ever.

I fail to text John back one evening while working a 6 hour shift on my feet (no phones allowed).

I return to my phone to a string of insecure, concerned text messages such as “Where are you?” “Are you okay?” “I hope I didn’t offend you” “I didn’t mean that to sound that way” “I know sometimes I come off too strong” “If you’re upset at me you should tell me, you’re being immature” “I guess I’ll talk to you later, this is ridiculous”.

In the span of a few hours of not talking, in a non-committed relationship with someone I barely know, this man has gone from happy and confident to angry, upset, self-abasing, worried, anxious, critical, and dismissive.

Whoa. BRAKES ON.

If you find yourself CONSTANTLY having to reassure someone you’re not even dating (let alone actually in a committed relationship with) that you’re honest, loving, non judgmental, faithful, and available in order to make them feel they have self-worth and that you’re “into them”:

BACK THE EFF OFF.

One of the things I’ve learned in abuse counseling has been the vicious path that

  • begins with insecurity
  • moves on into fear
  • then to control
  • then to anger
  • and then to abuse.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Lesson #1: Don’t date anyone who “needs” you to be constantly affirming in order to feel they have value.

Here’s another scenario for you (these actually happened):

“Ryan” comes to me as a client via FB. We hit it off via email and move to texting or phone calls.

Things are going swimmingly: we have a lot in common, easy dialogue, attraction. I’m considering saying yes to the offer of a coffee date.

After a few days of talking, Ryan starts pushing a very sexual vibe into our conversations.

Don’t get me wrong, I love sex. I miss it. I had a deep, personal, intimate relationship with my ex and a very steamy sex life (at first). Might be TMI, but I’m just saying.

I’m uncomfortable with the vibe. I’ve been used and hurt and I’ve come to understand that friendship and care are the basis for healthy relationships. You need passion and sexuality, but you can’t start there.

I’m very, very hesitant to give into this type of talk. Ryan pushes and uses all sorts of manipulating phrasing and sentences like “Guys need sex to feel love” (we’re already talking about love??), “You’ve just been hurt, you need to let go of it and move forward”, “If you never open yourself up to a passionate relationship with someone again, you’ll just be lonely forever”, “You know I’m not that guy, I’m really into you”, “I’m not asking for much, just tell me/show me ___”.

SCREEEEEEECH. BRAKES ON AGAIN.

There’s a REASON time has taught me to distrust this as a starting place for anything healthy and real and lasting.

Once again, it may come off as confident and flattering, but in truth it’s from a place of selfishness and control. It’s manipulative and it’s probably not new to them.

The right guy will understand several things about me, and these may apply to you as well (guy or girl):

  1. The right person will understand your hurt and be patient with it.
  2. The right person will value you as an individual enough to wait until you’re ready.
  3. The right person will be secure enough and ACTUALLY, truly strong enough to avoid rushing the relationship.
  4. The right person will let time develop intimacy and will not ask you to prove yourself.
  5. The right person will make you feel safe, vs questioning yourself every time they want something you aren’t ready for.

I describe my previous relationships and mistakes to people often as “instant coffee relationships”:

Very hot water. Add nasty fake coffee. Strong, heady, quick, hits you right away… and then the grinds start separating from the water, it goes all lukewarm because you only nuked it, and you’re left with a bitter aftertaste.

Lesson #2: The good stuff takes time.

So French Press that bitch if you want it to last.

Be very careful to cautiously analyze whether or not someone is legitimately strong in character, intentions, and integrity.

I’m learning to redefine “strong”, “masculine”, and “attractive”. I’m reconditioning myself to appreciate the humble, patient, loving, caring, quietly confident types. Those are the good ones.

You would think I would’ve picked up on that a long time ago, because my mother married one, and 30+ years later, they’re happy as can be.

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