Monday, May 24, 2010

Drawing a line in the sand

Boundaries are such a necessary and beautiful thing. They are good for a person and good for a relationship. However, it has taken me a while to fine tune my skills when it comes to clearly delineating my own boundaries in certain situations. Growing older is a blessing because with each hard lesson learned another batch of tools is earned.

Recently, I met someone who I at first thought I had the potential for a great relationship with. I felt a sense of connection with him. However, I was able to step back and recognize that I really didn’t know the man at all. I was able to pay attention to some of the early warning signs-the way he kissed me for example. The first kiss was nice, but every other one thereafter was wrought with aggression and utter lack of awareness. I felt as though he were trying to eat my face. When standing up, he would push me so far off balance that I felt in a perpetual state of almost falling. At one point, I finally figured out that I could put one foot directly behind the other and this would balance me against his torrential shoving.

Perhaps as I grow more in my abilities, I will be able to assert this boundary much sooner. As it was, I told him after about the third time that he was pushing me over. It didn’t do any good at stopping him from continuing the behavior, however. This was yet another red flag. After I communicate that something is not working for me, the response should not be to carry on as before.

The last part about his kisses that I found most disturbing was, on a couple of occasions, when he took his hand to the back of my head and pushed it with all his might, as if trying to unscrew the lid of a tight peanut butter jar. I had to actually break the suction and pry his hand off of my head. I believe a more normal response would be to at least apologize if you find that a person has had to physically remove you from them. He, however, just tried to then push me over onto the floor. I again had to push him off of me so that I could stand up. I asked him why he would want to push me into the coffee table and he said he was being playful. I thought maybe I could kick him hard in the shins and “be playful” right back.

It was more than just the physical lack of boundaries on his part that I found so disturbing. There are certain tell-tale signs when you come across a narcissist. Some of the traits are an emotional lack of boundaries, a sense that whatever he is thinking and feeling is exactly what you must be thinking and feeling (because, again, there is no sense of you as a separate person from him). So, when I told him that I wasn’t having fun, he said, “but I’m having a fantastic time!” as if the two realities could not possibly coexist. The lack of ability to read another person is another sign as is a flat affect and lack of empathy for you.

At the same time, a narcissist can be very manipulative. This man, for example, reacted to me telling him that I thought we should go our separate ways by saying, “I know you said you didn’t want to hurt me, but you did!” Then, when I explained to him that his comment left me feeling like I was being put on a guilt trip, he said, “you’re assuming too much!” The truth is, I was not assuming anything, I was simply telling him about my experience and he was simply denying my truth in the hopes that he could twist it into what he wanted it to be.

When I gave him this bad news, he would not take “no” for an answer (another narcissist quality). He wanted to talk about it more in person. I would rather take a sharp needle to my eye and can’t understand why he would want the rejection to continue for himself. I’m pretty sure he hoped to change my mind, to bargain for getting things to go his way. Again, the truth of my own experience is completely lost on him. A narcissist sees himself as a victim always, never the person responsible. Sometimes he will tell you what you want to hear, pretend that he is complying with whatever it is you are requesting of him, but it is only to manipulate you into giving him what he wants.

Another aspect of the narcissist: he will do favors for you, give you things, create situations where you are in his debt. Again, this is only to afford him more leverage over you at some later time. There are lots of other things about narcissists that one would do well to study. Much can be discovered from Beverly Engel’s book, “They Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome”.

I say all this truly not to be mean-spirited to this poor soul. I wish him well on his journey and hope that he will somehow find his way. I admit that I know very little about him and could be completely wrong about who he is. But, I know that the unhealthy dynamic was there between us.

I’ve been here before. The difference is that this time I stopped it before it got very far out of hand. I’m so proud of myself for being able to take control and protect myself just as I had hoped I would be able to.

Part of what allowed me to do this was first recognizing that I can too easily create a victim role for myself. It’s a part I have felt comfortable playing for far too long. I attribute some of this waking up to a very dear friend of mine-actually the friend I’ve held onto for the longest in my life. She pointed this out to me and I was smart enough to listen. I started telling myself that I am not a victim but am instead the creator of my own experience. I started to see this truth play itself out in many small ways. Eventually, I have arrived at this day where I can see how much power I really do have to notice when things are not right and to use my voice to speak out about it. Most of all, I see now that I am totally empowered to take the necessary actions that will keep me healthy and safe.

I hope that others out there reading this can use this information to help them stay strong, protect their precious selves from all the many predators out there, and realize that saying “no” to one person is not unloving when it means saying “yes” to something else.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Counseling Intern

I was really excited about this guy for a while. In fact, so excited that I didn’t write anything about our first three dates because I was hoping to one day be able to post something like, “and now we’re married with three kids and a dog”. But, alas, Date Four dashed those dreams.

He’s a kind person with caring eyes. I appreciate his smile and especially appreciate the many cool things we share in common-both having been in the Peace Corps, both practicing Buddhist meditation, both being in the field of counseling. These are near the core of who I feel I am, so I thought I had found someone I could truly connect with at a deeper level.

For the first three dates, we got to know each other better and it felt like there was a good mix of listening and talking, and just general good connecting.

Date four went like this: I take the bus to Boulder and meet him at his place. It takes me a little while to get there because I have to bike ½ hour from the bus station. He lives with two other ladies and one of them is home and lets me in. We chit-chat for a little while, get the gear together, and then he and I take off for a hike.

He’s chosen a place for us to go hiking in an area I’ve been to before. It’s a nice, well-marked trail. We go for six miles. The weather is warm. I had forgotten how much I enjoy hiking. It’s good to be out. Unfortunately, though, something suddenly seems stifled between us. All of that good relating or the hopes I had that we were relating seem to be breaking apart and turning to dust before my eyes.

I put on my counselor cap and start trying to lead him into conversation. It’s feeling like a lot of work for a Saturday morning. I’m asking questions, giving lots of time and space for him to respond, giving more silent time for him to possibly think of a question for me, but he doesn’t have any. Eventually, I just usurp the moment and start talking about what I want to talk about. Sometimes he responds and sometimes not. A few times he interrupts me to say something totally unrelated. Once, he looks at his watch.

Suddenly, the pendulum swings the other way and we end up talking about some very personal things-things that overwhelm and shock me. I think we have put ourselves in a position where we are “over-sharing”, pushing ourselves to be more emotionally intimate than we are really ready for.

He, being a dude, is still totally down for being physically intimate. I’m not so much, but am also having a hard time explaining any of this to him, especially given how eager I was about him in the times past.

He graciously offers to drive me all the way home with my bike. We end up talking about some more very personal and intimate stuff. Once that door is open, especially for two counselor types, it can be hard to shut. I think we both want to move on to lighter topics, but the weight of what was already said still lingers in the air.

Throughout the day and really since having met him, I notice (finally) the distinct absence of laughter. This, above anything else, is a tell-tale sign for me that we are not moving in the right direction. I don’t know it yet, but I have already made up my mind.

Once home, he asks if he can come in for a glass of water. I think of the book, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” (he’ll want a glass of milk to go with it…), but I say yes. He comes in. I’m thinking I have things to do and mostly that I need some down time after all this.

I am once again at a loss for how to tell him that I need him to go home because I need to be alone for a while. So instead I tell him I’m going to do laundry. I get out my quarters and grab my clothes. When I return from the laundry room, I find him with his shoes off lying on the couch. I tell him I need to go to the grocery store before I meet my friends for dinner. He says he knows I need to go, but it still takes a little while longer before he leaves.

He wants to see me again as soon as possible. It looks like we’re not on the same page. I will have some explaining to do, but I’m too tired and out of time for it today. I send him on his way and the rest will soon be history.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Carpenter

I receive an email from a cute looking guy saying that he finds me attractive. I am intrigued by the many pictures of him doing adventurous things such as rock climbing, mountain biking, and kayaking, so I email him back. We have a few nice conversations both over email and on the phone. Eventually, we decide to meet in Denver over the weekend. This is sort of a big deal because he lives in Buena Vista, a long ways away from Denver.

He insists that it’s fine for him to drive all that way just to have dinner with me, so we make a plan and here’s how it goes: we meet at the restaurant. As soon as I park my car to start walking towards the door of the restaurant, a newborn bird flies through the air and lands with a splat on the sidewalk in front of me. It is flailing around but doesn’t have feathers yet. This seems like a bad sign.

I see the dude fly by the restaurant as I wait outside for him. I call him and walk him back through the steps on where it is located and where to park. After a little while, I see him walk down the sidewalk toward me. He is very tiny, something you can’t tell by looking at an internet picture. His ears stick out at a remarkable angle. These are the first things I notice about him. That, and the fact that he seems awfully jittery. I wonder if he’s taken some sort of speed.

As we enter the restaurant, he exclaims that there are more people in it than live in his hometown. I can’t help but notice that when I talk to him or ask him a question, his facial expressions seem to be in sharp contrast to the actual words being spoken. It almost looks at times as if he has an imaginary friend he’s talking to. I find this very disconcerting.

On the other hand, I appreciate his passion for his work and hobbies. He loves to kite-surf. We talk for a while about that and I am enjoying learning about something new. He tells me that doing carpentry work is like urinating for him: it’s something he just has to do, something that just flows out of him. I tell him that he probably should develop a new analogy when explaining this to a gal on the first date. I try to offer up some other options, but he still likes his.

We talk about rock climbing-a common passion for both of us. He tells me that his last girlfriend burst into tears when he took her climbing. It sounded very traumatic. I told him I'm not much of a crier, especially not when climbing.

We go from the restaurant to Washington Park where he lets his two dogs out of his truck to run around as we walk around the lake. We are the only two people out at this point and he seems much more at peace.

At the end of the evening, we say goodnight and go our separate ways, saying the obligatory “let’s hang out” and “I’ll call you.” I wouldn’t mind seeing him again as a friend. He’s really interesting and seems like a kind-hearted soul. But, the feeling of disconnection pressed on me the whole evening, so I know he’s not “the one”.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Surgeon

I am meeting the Plastic Surgeon right after my work meeting at the Cheesecake Factory. Even though it’s early May, I’m wearing my ski parka, hat and gloves. He calls just as I’m finishing up with the meeting and we meet outside. He looks a bit different than in his picture, but not so much that I could say I was at all deceived.

I accidentally call him by the wrong name and he doesn’t laugh or even crack a smile. We go to a frozen yogurt joint down the street because I really like it there and I was able to keep myself from going crazy on cheesecake only by telling myself I was holding out for the yogurt. He says he doesn’t like sweet things so declines to order anything himself.

There are about 15 teens ambling about inside the shop. I feel like I’m back at work suddenly. I eat very quickly and zip up my jacket for a cold and rainy walk around downtown.

Conversation is fine. He’s good at asking questions and is very intelligent. I like his kind blue eyes. Unfortunately, I don’t feel any sparks and there is virtually no laughter between us. This seems like a tell-tale red flag to me.

After about 30 minutes, we agree to say goodbye. I again call him by the wrong name. The name I’ve been calling him is another guy I’ve been talking to. Serves me right. Again, I get no laughs from this. We briefly hug goodbye and go our separate ways.