Dear Auntie Alfawhore,
It finally happened! I met someone. My last relationship was a veritable nightmare…full of lying, cheating, and emotional abuse. For a long time, I had convinced myself I was better off alone. After all, if I had fallen in love with my ex, then obviously I was a poor judge of character and couldn’t trust myself, let alone anyone else.
But this new person seems actually trustworthy, kind, and affectionate. Despite my being on high alert and vigilant for every potential red flag, there hasn’t been anything truly worrisome. And the minor blips along the way have been relatively easy to talk about together.
I think there might be something good here. And seeing as we’re just beginning, they want to spend a lot of time together. But I’m still wary. I fell hard the last time around and really lost myself in my last relationship.
How do I fall safely this time? How do I make sure I don’t make the same mistakes?
Fearful of falling
I’m sorry to hear about your last relationship. I’m glad that you took the time to reflect on what went wrong. I hope you also found a professional to speak to – recovering from any heartbreak, let alone stemming from an abusive situation – can truly be made easier with the help of the right mental health professional.
It’s good that you recognize that you may have a pattern of losing yourself a bit in relationships. But there is one major thing you can do, to ensure that you retain your sense of self throughout this exciting time, as well as sniff out probable abusers – and that is maintaining healthy boundaries.
Yes, my dear, I have found in my many years of dating and advice-giving, expressing and maintaining a boundary is one of the easiest ways to expose someone who can’t respect yours. And it’s not always easy to do. Often we find ourselves wanting to bend or ignore a boundary to avoid a conflict or potential abandonment. But what might keep the peace (or their presence) in the moment, will often come back to bite you in the ass. These first few months, you are both teaching each other how to care for each other, demonstrating expectations, and setting ground rules. What we allow will continue.
Here are a couple tips for keeping your boundaries intact while you float in your little cloud of infatuation:
- Be honest. This is not the time to soften the truth or be wishy-washy. It’s up to you to communicate your needs and feelings as transparently as possible. If this kind of conversation makes you panicky, it might be a good idea to write down how you feel beforehand.
- Be respectful. This person is also getting to know you. They may not realize yet when they’re stepping on your metaphorical toes, and they don’t yet know what might trigger you. Try to begin tough conversations as calmly as possible, and focus on communicating your needs and feelings in a diplomatic way.
- Listen. Relationships are a two-way street. They may have boundaries of their own. Maybe you’ll have to compromise on certain things. But when your partner knows they are heard, they’re more likely to be more receptive to what you’re trying to say.
- Keep the space. Do not cancel all your plans with friends. Do not shirk work. Do not throw away the underpinnings of your life. If this new person is interested in you, then they’re interested in you wholly, with everything that comes with you. Not only will this help you maintain your sense of self, it also helps keep things steamy. The great Ester Perel wrote beautifully about the need to maintain distance even while growing love attempts to shrink it. After all, desire is based on wanting, not having.
I’m proud of you, Fearful (or not) – falling in love is an act of courage. And even if this relationship doesn’t work out, you can sleep soundly knowing you never betrayed yourself in the pursuit of love. Because that’s not where it’s at, baby.