Perhaps this speech sounds familiar. Perhaps you can picture the scene: you’re on a date, it’s going well, when suddenly, inexplicably, your date launches into a tirade about the parade of insane, abusive heartbreakers who came before you.
Perhaps you’ve even given such a speech. But we’ll get back to that.
You may have had any number of reactions at the time. Boredom, annoyance, suspicion, sympathy, righteous anger at all the injustices suffered by your hapless, otherwise affable date at the hands of these treacherous exes. But here’s what you should have been doing during that speech: taking notes.
Everyone has repetitive relationship patterns. You can learn everything you need to know about a potential lover by examining those patterns, and if they’re kind/foolish enough to compile and enumerate the list for you, I highly recommend you pay close attention.
Now, I don’t mean to say that you should automatically write off anyone who’s been through the wringer, romantically speaking. That would narrow down your list of potential partners to just about nil. But relationship dynamics are a two-way street, so whenever you notice that someone seems to have been through the same wringer multiple times, remember that the common element in each of those relationships is the person relaying these stories to you. So there is a very high percentage chance that if you enter into a relationship with said person that you will, at some point, find yourself on the pointy end of the same accusations being leveled against all those exes.
You may even find yourself behaving like those exes. It’s much easier than you might think to get sucked into someone else’s dramatization.
For example, I pride myself on being one of the least jealous/possessive people you could ever hope to date. I thrive on compersion, revel in sharing, and hold open communication and mutual trust as sacred foundational elements of any intimate relationship. So when an ex of mine relayed stories of girlfriends past who had hacked into his email, demanded to know why the passenger’s seat of his car had been readjusted since the last time she sat in it, given him ultimatums of the “stop seeing other women or else” variety, etc., I shook my head at those misguided, insecure ladies and looked forward to wowing him with my awesome poly powers.
- Imagine my surprise when, months later, I found myself straining to see his phone screen from over his shoulder, demanding lists of names, sending messages through mutual friends to women I suspected were unaware metamours of mine, and even making ultimatums of my own.
This was a role I never expected to be cast in, but in looking back, it was clearly one I had signed up for. He had, after all, described it to me in advance.
And even if you manage to go against type and break the pattern, you may find that your partner is uncomfortable, suspicious, or bored out of their gourd without that familiar dysfunction at play. For example, if a girl goes out with you specifically because her last three boyfriends were volatile, violent, rageaholic womanizers, and you are a laid-back, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly feminist, don’t be surprised if she ultimately up and leaves you for someone… edgier.
Pay particular attention to the language someone uses to describe their exes. Someone who is willing to cast more than one ex as a “crazy bitch” or an “abusive asshole” is certainly not above filing you in that same category. That isn’t to say that there aren’t folks out there who absolutely deserve those monikers. And that definitely isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with a person who somehow ends up with one of those folks. Abusers and psychopaths can be extraordinarily clever, charming, and manipulative. But when a person lumps multiple exes into these same extreme categories, take it with a grain of salt. There are, after all, two sides to every story.
Meanwhile, there is something far more important than recognizing the relationship patterns of potential partners: recognizing your own.
How do you talk about *your* exes? When you look across the spectrum of relationships past, what patterns and common themes emerge?
- Maybe your last four partners cheated on you. Or maybe you cheated on them. Or both.
- Maybe both of your ex-spouses were impossible-to-please control freaks. Or spineless yes-men who let you walk all over them.
- Maybe you keep falling for drama queens who are fond of messy emotional scenes in public. Or emotionally unavailable engineers who are allergic to the “l-word.” Or emotional vampires. Or saps.
Whatever it is, take a long, hard look at it. Because unless/until you recognize and own it as YOUR pattern, and decide to take control of it, you will keep pulling in and playing out that same drama over and over. Guaranteed.
So the next time you find yourself swapping war stories with a date about your awful exes, ask yourself: am I willing to be cast in a similar light? And more to the point, am I able to keep myself from casting this person in a similar light if things go south?
Because the common denominator in all of your stories? Yep: it’s you.