Love bombing. Gaslighting. Stonewalling. I experienced all of these red flags on a first date.
And three months later, I married him. And three months after that…we divorced.
Now, perhaps you’re thinking - ahhh, young, naive, hopeless romantic - she fell for it. Or, maybe she isn’t very educated?
But here’s the truth: I have an undergraduate degree and a Masters. When I met this guy, I was 32 and had been in a respected career for over a decade. I was a confident, successful, independent woman.
But I was also desperate to meet ‘Mr. Right’ so I could start a family. My biological clock was ticking loudly and so, blinkers on and filter off, I ignored all of the red flags that this guy waved loudly - intentionally, in my face, on our first date.
Let me tell you how it happened so that it doesn’t happen to you, too.
As an online dating pioneer and by the time this happened, I felt like I had a pretty good system in place. But my system didn’t deter men like this: it invited them.
My system was to not meet someone until we’d chatted online, chatted on the phone, at least a fortnight had passed and we’d checked each other out on socials. This was my downfall.
I thought we were getting to know each other before wasting time, meeting face to face. But he was using the time - and my unfiltered sharing - to take notes.
He chose the pub where we met - The Clover - at 6:30pm. But at 6pm, he called and asked where I was. He was at The Fig & Clover - a different pub. There was no written evidence of who’d got the pub and time wrong, but I knew it was him. And yet - what did I do? I went to where he was and even conceded that it was probably my fault. First red flag: gaslighting.
Watch: The signs you are experiencing coercive control. Post continues after video.
This same scenario played out over and over again for the next three months: we’d plan something, he’d change the plans, then tell me it was me who’d got it wrong… And initially, I would apologise and accept the blame. He had me thinking I was a disorganised person (I wasn’t); that I was a nervous person (I wasn’t) and that I didn’t really like socialising (I do).
In short, he was seeing if I could be manipulated and controlled. The sad truth is this: yes, I could be… and I was. I have to own that because if I don’t, then all the blame is on him. I’m a helpless victim who couldn’t save herself. And that just isn’t true. I was aware that this was happening but my desperation to be a mum led me to make excuses, ignore things that shouldn’t be ignored and allow the public narrative (“He’s so charming! Wow, he’s amazing!”) to overshadow my intuition that something wasn’t right.
But onto the next red flag of that first date:
When I arrived, he’d bought me a gift that was incredibly thoughtful. He said he’d seen it, randomly, that day - and it was a ‘sign’. It was also the second red flag: love bombing. And this continued right up until the day of the wedding when everything fell apart. When the gift-giving and adoration completely stopped.
Because we got married on my birthday. The date was his choice…And he didn’t give me a birthday present. Now, perhaps you’re thinking - well, yeah, surely the marriage was a gift, right? Sure, sure. But… I’d also made it very clear to him that gift-giving was my love language. He knew. That’s why one of his love-bombing strategies was gift-giving. How did he know this? Well…
“For fun” - before we’d even met in real life - he encouraged me to complete a number of questionnaires about love languages and personality types. I thought: wow, he is so interested in pleasing me! What a catch! But actually, he was just using these as opportunities to learn how he could put me on a pedestal… as high as possible so that the crash down to earth would be crushing. And it was. But we’re not there yet.
There’s still a third red flag to go:
Within moments of me arriving, and even before I’d sat down, he spilled his drink on me. Now, clumsiness isn’t a red flag. But what happened next was that he called ME clumsy. “Oh you’re so clumsy,” he laughed, “Here let me help you clean this up. Oh my, it’s all over me too. Oh you are a silly girl, aren’t you.” This is where the name-calling started, and it was abruptly followed with some awkward stonewalling. He just sort of shut off, silently, and stared off into space like he was anxious about MY clumsiness…
So you know what I did? I apologised. Ding, ding, ding. And bought him a replacement drink. Red flag number 3.
This behaviour continued for the three months leading up to the wedding. He broke everything: glasses, my wedding dress, my car…Little tests to see just how far he could go. And as it turned out… I was just so desperate to be a mum, so desperate to fulfil the fairy-tale, that I allowed myself to apologise for things I didn’t do; to be swept away by his apologies and let him do it all over again.
I’d like to tell you that these were the only red flags that night. But they weren’t. He also accidentally called me his ex-girlfriend’s name, told me she was a “psycho”, and said we’d make great babies.
So, why did I ignore these glaringly obvious (in retrospect) red flags?
I was 32. I had dated men, lived with them, been engaged…and none of them had worked out. After each breakup, I set the bar higher. I learned from my mistakes but I also constructed a mythical creature in my mind: a man without any faults, who would instantly adore me like no other had before, and meet every expectation I had...
And so, for three months, this charismatic unicorn dazzled me in every way I had hoped for. Of course, it wasn’t all roses. It was a minefield, a roller coaster… And yet, he had researched me well. He knew I enjoyed drama and excitement and that I’d tolerated this sort of thing before.
Ending it was the best decision I ever made. And it eventually led to me becoming a solo mum by choice to the most amazing little man, my son.
I have regrets about my blinkers and desperation…but not about the outcome. So, what’s the takeaway? Anyone can meet a psychologically abusive person. They come in all shapes and sizes. But there’s one way to identify them: the red flags. So do you research, before someone starts researching you.
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