Answers from the Other Side
To say dating is tricky for survivors of domestic abuse (SODAs®) is beyond an understatement. Our lives, once full of ridicule, rage, harassment, control, fear, intimidation, and so much more, may have started over when we were able to leave our abusive homes, but anything and everything that touches those pieces of our lives has to be learned again and learned with a whole new perspective in order for us to attempt it from a new and better starting point.
It’s like losing one of your senses and having to replace it by relying on another. But what sense have we lost? Our ability to trust in love? In our own judgement to pick a partner? To not get trapped? What are we doubting about ourselves? It’s these questions and so many more that we ask ourselves as we begin to approach dating again. I don’t know that I had even reconciled any of this within myself when I started dating, I only knew to look out for the warning signs of domestic abuse and that I would walk away promptly if I saw any.
So that was a beginning for me. This was enough, I told myself, for me to trust me again and go stick my toe in the water. But what I have learned, after dating for a few years now, is that there is no way to predict how we will react to dating after abuse. On top of that large truth, there is more than the warning signs of domestic abuse to watch out for. We need to be aware that we are now primed to be victimized in ways that we don’t see coming based on the life that we just left. In an abusive relationship where we were once shamed, terrified, humiliated, and hurt, I find men who are kind, gentle, and protective to be absolutely intoxicating. And this can be dangerous too, for all the obvious reasons.
For those of us who have never felt protective love, safe love, love that is warm and compassionate and caring, just meeting a person who showers us with compliments, or who checks in with a “just saying hi” text, is a whole new world to us. And when we respond with exuberance, they begin to pick up on this. They are doing something good; we are reinforcing good behavior, they will do more. But what they may not know is that they are feeding a need so deep within us that we may quickly become reliant upon them to keep feeding us. Feeding us, after a while, may become exhausting. The more dangerous side: Feeding us, they may quickly learn, is a way to manipulate us.
For me it has been a struggle. Men can be so generous with time and attention in the beginning. A few months down the road? Well, maybe not so much. If the attention fades, I start looking for the Exit Door. I mean, it was that great attention that I so desperately needed that got me hooked in the first place, right? I was intoxicated by attention, and he just removed it? Well, now we have a problem. It’s a whole new challenge to deal with and overcome. What is a reasonable expectation? What is asking too much? Where do we strike a balance in the middle that we both can live with?
I’ve heard many say that we are no different from others, that everyone gets disappointed when this “honeymoon phase” comes to an end. This is the beginning of a new phase, a better one: stability. And stability is something that we are not used to. But when given a choice of warmth, and safety, and all of that amazing attention that we get in the beginning? I have to tell you that I get pretty disappointed when I hear that it’s “last call” and he’s about to close up the shop.
What’s the answer? I have to be honest, I’m not sure yet. Because I’m still working through this in my own life. But I think it starts with remembering that we are not like everyone else – because abuse changes who we are. And we have the right to want to feel things that we have either never felt before, or haven’t felt in a very long time. For me, I try and be honest with my partners and tell them what I need and why it is so important. And the first time someone really gets this and is willing to continue to give without expecting anything in return? Well then, I may be on my way. Between that time and now, I know now what I didn’t before, that we are vulnerable in more ways than one and we have to watch out for that. We worked hard to leave abuse, we certainly don’t want to accidentally find it again.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse or domestic violence or want further information PLEASE visit www.TheSoda-Pop.com or call THE NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE at: 1-800-799-7233 or visit http://www.thehotline.org for more information, help, and to make a plan for your safety.
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