Know The Signs of a Toxic Relationship

My friend J. forwarded to me an interesting article from Salon that I thought would make for good discussion.toxic_2470112c

The author tells the story of a man she met online who, on the surface, seemed ideal. Their first couple of dates went off without a hitch, with the second ending in a hook-up back at his place.

Everything was going great until she left the day after their second date to go home to her parents for the holidays. That’s when the guy started to show signs of being unusually needy. He texts her and tells her that he misses her. Thrown by this admission she deflects. She thinks it’s too much, too soon. Which is weird, because she didn’t think it was odd that they got together for their second date the night after their first. And what have I said about people who do that? That’s right. Red. Flag.

When she doesn’t return the sentiment, he says again in a subsequent texting session that he misses her. Again, she says nothing.

Considering our short history together, my uneasiness was amplified with each “I miss you,” but I continued to bypass his declarations in attempt to continue at the pace that I felt comfortable with…But the dozens of “I miss you” text messages soon culminated in him asking me if I was seeing anyone else. I told him the truth – I wasn’t exclusive with anyone at that point, and that yes, I had been seeing other people. He then asked me to stop seeing anyone else and be exclusive with him.

I will point out that yet another Red Flag pops up, and that it’s his desire to be exclusive after two dates, before they’ve even had sex. Now, if you’re like me, you’re starting to see that this isn’t a one sided problem. Yes, this guy appears wickedly needy..but she’s starting to show signs of having issues, too. Instead of saying something innocuous like, “Aww, that’s sweet. I’m looking forward to seeing you. too” when he says he misses her, she ignores it over and over thereby amping up his neediness.

I told him I wanted to get to know him more and spend more time with him, but I didn’t feel comfortable making any promises to him at that point. I said this repeatedly in a wide assortment of language as he continued to fight me on my stance. (Red flag). I kept trying to meet him where he was at, trying to be kind but getting more firm as his pitch heightened and his tone darkened, and as he continued to balk at my ideas of dating. His remarks varied from “Why do you need to be with other guys?” to “But didn’t we have such a good time?” to “I don’t sleep around,” and a whole repetitive slew of the like. He would waver between machine-gun paced question after question (without room for any response), drawn-out textalogues on the subject, and then even threatening to cease talking to me completely. (So many red flags).

There were many red flags here and yet she continued to engage this guy. That, in and of itself,  is a red flag. She’s well aware that this guy isn’t totally stable, but she’s still indulging his behavior regardless. And she’s not just indulging it, she’s encouraging it.

I figured though, as adamant as he seemed to be about forging forward with our relationship, he would be forthcoming and even pleased about my interest in such information. I asked when his last relationship had been and if he had ever been married. He answered, very openly, and without apprehension.

Ahh, yes. The vetting questions. RED. FREAKING. FLAG.

I awoke in the middle of the night to him calling me several times in a row and a barrage of text messages frantically denigrating and interrogating me about my questions from earlier in the day. Clearly something had been roused in him, even if his response was extremely delayed. I answered his phone call in effort to stop the buzzing and whispered in shock, “What is going on?”

Was there a reason she never picked up the phone the first time he called or just turned her phone off? Rhetorical question, folks. I think I know the answer. She proceeded to let him implode via cell phone because, I believe,  she liked torturing him.

Now, this guy’s behavior is absolutely unacceptable. His anger and boundary issues are definitely a sign that something is amiss with him. He’s obviously struggling with some major emotional issues.

But so is she.There’s something rather sadistic at work with her, and I’m not even sure she realizes it. She likes hurting him. The more vulnerable he makes himself, the more casually cruel she becomes.

These two made for  a very toxic combination. She’s distant and withholding, alternately pushing and pulling and putting him on the defensive and behaving in a way she knows will get under his skin. He’s cloying and insecure and volatile and refuses to read social cues because he’s determined to be acknowledged.  They’d reach this place of feeling at ease with each other, then she’d do or say something to disrupt that.

I know this dynamic. I’ve experienced it.  There’s your garden variety lack of compatibility and then there’s a pairing that is so unhealthy that it can actually destroy you should you let it go on for too long. That’s what this is. These two bring out the absolute worst in each other.

Usually, we see the gender roles reversed in this dynamic. That’s probably why so many people didn’t question her and believed her interpretation of events. In this case, it’s the woman who keeps poking and prodding the guy, antagonizing him until he explodes or goes on the attack.

At this point, when I see hints of this kind of treatment, I don’t stick around to see if I’m rushing to judgment. That’s how scarred I am from having gone through this.

If this situation is similar to mine, they haven’t heard the last from each other. They will continue to dance this messed up dance until one of them sees what’s going on and says”no more.” That’s the most fucked up thing about relationships like this. It seems like they never end. These are two people who lack the self-awareness to be able to understand what they’re doing. THAT’S the real problem. Neither of them see how they are actually contributing to the drama. I have no doubt this woman sees nothing wrong with how she handled things and believes that she was justified. Just like he will blame her for being so accusatory and detached. They’ll go around and around and never come to anything resembling a resolution.

Some relationships are like this. They are a continuous loop where things are really good, then something happens, then there’s volatility, then an implosion. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. One person is Lucy holding the football and the other is Charlie Brown, charging towards. And we all know how that ends.

Anyhoo, those are my thoughts. What are yours?




Sometimes the love of your life is the love of your life. (R)



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22 Responses to “Know The Signs of a Toxic Relationship”

  1. fuzzilla Says:

    **She’s well aware that this guy isn’t totally stable, but she’s still indulging his behavior regardless. And she’s not just indulging it, she’s encouraging it.**

    I think that she wanted to believe his acting crazy made her really super special and deserving of all that intense attention. That he was crazy *for her* rather than just crazy.

    **They’ll go around and around and never come to anything resembling a resolution.**

    That’s what, in therapy, they call “being hooked.” Doesn’t mean being in love (though I suppose that can be in the mix, too), it’s when you just can’t let an argument with someone die because something about them triggers some really primal hurt/anger/whatever in you. That’s when they’d say, “So who is [person you’re arguing with] in your family?”

  2. Nate Says:

    Wow this is eye opening. I was insecure like this guy for quite a while, something I’ve since healed. I’ve mostly healed the resulting wounds as well but I never considered how much (consciously or unconsciously) the girl in the relationship was contributing to it. I could probably go through and re-think what happened in a couple of situations and learn some lessons and gain some awareness that it wasn’t entirely ‘my fault’ if I was being played a little bit.

    Having said that I wonder how much baggage I have around it, some grievances. I am a bit hyper-aware of if someone is not being genuine with me.

  3. Nicole Says:

    I wouldn’t call this a toxic relationship – as some of the comments on Salon pointed out, it was really just a couple of dates with a guy who turned out to be crazy. We’ve all been there. I think I went out with half a dozen variations of this guy when I was dating online.

    It’s more worrisome to me that the author let this guy make her anxious and scared, not just in dating but in her everyday life, seeing him in crowds everywhere, worrying about how close to her apartment he works. It’s great that she can move on and not feel bad about being physically intimate with him, but it seems like realizing she shared herself in other ways with him (swapping fantasies, texting pictures) is harder for her to get over.

    I don’t care that half the raving lunatics on dating sites have naked pictures of me, but I did have a hard time getting past having sex with someone and then realizing they were an asshole. Bottom line, if you’re going to regret doing something with someone if they turn out to be batshit crazy or a jerk… Don’t do it until you’ve known them a while. There are lots of batshit crazy jerks out there.

    Also, maybe I am the exception that proves the rule, but my guy and I had our second date the day after the first and we are still happy and drama free many months later. We met for drinks and had such a good time we decided to meet up for coffee the next day. We also talked about exclusivity right around the time we first slept together and started saying ‘I miss you’ right away.

    I think the big issue is not how much you see each other or talk/text, but that both people need to be on the same page and able to read and respond to each other’s signals. Crazy dude in the article wasn’t crazy for texting her a lot or wanting to be exclusive – he was crazy (or an ass, or both) for not backing off when she asked him to.

  4. JulesP Says:

    A little over a year ago, before I met my current man, I went on two dates with a man (via Jdate).

    First date was fine – just drinks. Second date was good too. Just more getting to know each other. However (you just knew there’s a however coming..), the next phone call I got from him following that date was for him to advise me that he’d frozen his Jdate membership and that “I shouldn’t feel any pressure”.

    In his next phone call he demanded to know why my profile was still up. My response obviously pointed out that I’m not supposed to be under any pressure :-)

    Anyhoo.. long story short.. I told him that based on this behaviour I didn’t see any point in continuing – especially as we hadn’t hit the sack and I hadn’t led him to believe in any way that I would be ready to be exclusive with a man whom I met only twice.

    So, do I think the woman who wrote the article led him on/tortured him… not entirely. I think she was possibly trying to give him a gentle send off. Which didn’t work!

  5. Yvonne Says:

    “…I believe, she liked torturing him…There’s something rather sadistic at work with her, and I’m not even sure she realizes it. She likes hurting him. The more vulnerable he makes himself, the more casually cruel she becomes.

    I read the Salon article, and didn’t get any of this at all. I think it’s a well-written piece. It sounds like she got physically involved with this man rather hastily, but I wouldn’t call what they had a “relationship”, and I think if she’d wanted to “torture” him, she would have stuck around. She became afraid of him, and she ended it.

    “Creepy. Cunt. Bitch. Fuck you. Fuck off.” Is repeatedly calling and texting expletives to a woman in the middle of the night an appropriate response to being asked if you’ve ever been married? I don’t think so, and I also don’t blame her for being frightened of this man. Ultimately though, she refuses to let her fears and self-blame rule her life, and that was my takeaway.

    • BostonRobin Says:

      His abusive texts were uncalled for, but none of this would have happened if she’d cut him off at the first sign of harassment. Which she did not–out of sadism or attention whoring, who can say.

      • fuzzilla Says:

        I guess I agree with the attention whoring part, but not the sadism.

      • Yvonne Says:

        I’m not sure that this was attention-whoring as much as her own naivete about the situation. She really liked him, was seduced by their great chemistry, and didn’t want to believe the truth about him, which was in sharp contrast to the amazing guy she thought she’d met. She does mention in the article that she now sees his pushiness as a red flag. More to the point, she was dealing with a very unstable person who I can’t imagine wouldn’t have problems in any relationship he might try.

    • fuzzilla Says:

      Yeah, I was with Moxie on the idea that the woman didn’t do everything she could to shut down this weirdo immediately. I can agree that she contributed somewhat. I saw parallels from my own life, there (where I knew the guy was nuts yet for a while told myself his behavior was “intriguing” and that he was “just so crazy for me”).

      I agree with you, though, that Moxie took it a bit far and was overly harsh on the woman. Failing to immediately shut him down is not really “torturing” him…

      **when he says he misses her, she ignores it over and over thereby amping up his neediness.**

      This, for instance, ascribes motivations that I don’t see. She could have been considering her response or just freaked out. I don’t think it’s fair to say “she should’ve known she’d amp up his neediness.” His neediness is not her responsibility. If he were sane, he would’ve read her response as, “Huh, maybe she’s busy” or, if he read it as lack of interest, he would’ve been okay with that. (Of course, if he were sane, he wouldn’t have sent a bunch of needy and demanding texts in the first place).

      I guess there’s room for debate about whether you’d call her “responsible” for his behavior, or whether it’s her responsibility to smile and nod and back away from the crazy as soon as she recognizes it.

      • BostonRobin Says:

        There are people who get off on emotionally torturing people. It’s a self-esteem boost for a very dark and pathetic sort of person. I had the misfortune to date such a person–but the oddball luck, months later, of stumbling upon her “secret” blog that included a series of entries mocking me and saying what fun it was to string me along for the few weeks we dated. And it wasn’t just me–they whole blog was about her series of “victims,” but also about how she is basically a very sad and miserable person.

        It’s helpful to be aware that such people exist, so you can avoid them! All part of developing instincts.

    • Nicole Says:

      I didn’t see her as baiting or torturing him, either. Granted, we’re only getting her version of the story, but to me it seemed more like she was inexperienced and didn’t know how to handle things.

      Maybe she liked the attention, or maybe she really liked him and was hoping things would work out. Her “push/pull” is less about messing with his head and more about trying to establish some kind of boundary without being cruel. Someone who’s dated more would probably have seen his insecurity as bad news and just cut things off, but when you haven’t been there before, you don’t know that it’s better to be rude than to risk getting caught up in a messy situation.

      • Selena Says:

        “…maybe she really liked him and was hoping things would work out. Her “push/pull” is less about messing with his head and more about trying to establish some kind of boundary without being cruel.”

        That was my impression also.

        The whole situation seemed to take place in a week or less. They go out out twice and she’s smitten. Then she leaves town for the holidays. He starts texting “I miss you’s” and going on about exclusivity. She feels this is too much too soon, but doesn’t want to blow it with him. She questions herself.

        Then it appears he backs off/calms down. He answers openly to previous relationship questions. They talk about presents and treats. It’s only later in the middle of the night he starts blowing up her phone getting progressively abusive. I wonder if he got drunk?

        She writes IN RETROSPECT she sees many of the things he texted as red flags. We’ve all been there haven’t we?

        Since all of this seemingly happened over a matter of days, I don’t see deliberate cruelty, etc. on her part.

      • D. Says:

        That was my take on it as well. She says at the start of the piece that she was inexperienced and nervous about online dating. My guess is she was inexperienced at dating in general, too.

        Plus, if you haven’t come across this kind of behavior before, you don’t necessarily recognize the escalation while it’s happening, or you keep thinking that the next exchange will clear this up and the other person will chill, or you just can’t believe what you’re seeing and are trying to extricate yourself from the situation as diplomatically (and often ineffectively) as possible.

        If your instinct is to give the other person the benefit of the doubt, or at least not to assume the worst, then this kind of stuff can blindside you. And when you’re in the middle of it, you can fail to realize that a simple “Sorry. I’m just not interested. Best of luck. Bye,” is perfectly acceptable at that point.

  6. BostonRobin Says:

    Something’s not adding up in her story. Whenever anyone goes on about getting harassing texts and calls from someone, I always want to know why they don’t just block them. Carriers usually provide this on their websites, or you can download apps for free. I’m sure if you call customer service they can set blocking up too. No surprise that she gets a text from him a month later. Still haven’t figured out how to block him? Really?

    She seemed to be contributing to his pain too, with that nonsense about how she’s dating other people–ten to one she’s not, just said that for probably the same reason she didn’t block his number. I’m not going to speculate on that reason, but like I said, something’s not adding up.

    I’ve seen enough of this oddball behavior from dating partners–both of them–that I pull the plug at the first hint of it now. That woman with her push-pull nonsense and the guy with his Level IV Cling-on/BPD “I hate you don’t leave me” symptoms.

    The one thing I really demand in a dating partner is CONSISTENCY, and frankly neither one of them showed it. This is why it has become imperative to meet people from a wide range of social circles and venues, so you have a baseline for normal behavior. That’s why I doubt that she was actually dating other people, since her instincts weren’t honed enough to give this guy the boot.

  7. Fyodor Says:

    I think that certain people find this type attention flattering and validating. Even if you’re dealing with an unstable person, the power dynamic makes you feel important.

  8. ATWYSingle Says:

    She agreed to a second date the night after the first. She went home with him on the second date. Clearly, she was okay with the pace of how things were moving. But then when the guy said he missed her, suddenly things were moving too fast?


    The guy persisted in telling her he missed her, and she persisted in dodging the comment instead of just putting him out of his misery. That’s fucked up, and everybody here knows that.

    She didn’t have to say she missed him, too. She could have said something polite but effective. Instead she chose to let the guy twist in the wind. Sorry, but come on. That’s cruel. Then she started asking him probing questions about his last relationship and whether he’d ever been married. I mean, who the fuck asks those kinds of questions via text? Why is she trying to have those kinds of conversation then? She was putting him on the defensive because she knew he was over-eager and would probably answer her.

    Then she just sat there while he was blowing up her phone. Why did she even answer the phone? Why not just turn it off?

    She liked the drama of it. She liked seeing this guy so fucked up about her. Of course she shouldn’t have told him the truth about dating other guys. Radical honesty = bad, remember? She knew it would fuck with him. We’ve seen this behavior in guys and said they were assholes.

    A rational person would have bailed the minute he demanded exclusivity. But did she? Nope. She continued to engage him.

    She’s as nuts as he is.

    • fuzzilla Says:

      **Then she started asking him probing questions about his last relationship and whether he’d ever been married. I mean, who the fuck asks those kinds of questions via text? Why is she trying to have those kinds of conversation then?**

      Ah, I guess I missed that that was over text, I assumed it was a conversation on the date.

    • Selena Says:

      I thought the same thing about asking about previous marriage and the like via text – Who does that? Why would someone do that? Bad form at the very least.

    • Nicole Says:

      She’s clueless, awkward, and what folks here call a “bad dater”. Telling him she’s dating other guys, asking about his past relationships over text, answering his needy texts sometimes and ignoring them other times – those are all things that she could have handled better. But that doesn’t make her cruel or twisted. Maybe she is a psycho who likes to torture men, who knows, but I don’t think we can assume that from this one situation.

      There are relatively few truly cruel people out there, plotting and scheming to drive other people crazy. They exist, but they’re rare, especially compared to the vast numbers of us who don’t know the “rules” of dating and screw up by accident. I’m sure I hurt a lot of guys’ feelings when I was dating. I certainly got my own feelings hurt plenty… But I’m willing to give those men the benefit of the doubt and assume they just didn’t know the best way to handle things, not that they were out to make me miserable. Same thing here.

  9. GeekGurl Says:

    Did not read the entire article – but apparently was not just as described above … more involved (sharing pics/fantasies?)etc.

    She was comfortable doing all that, and ‘into it’ – but he says ‘I miss you’ and she short circuits? Nope.

    She is not just a bad dater or a frightened damsel. Is she a wicked cruel witch, plotting to make him nuts? Doubt that.

    However, she did get off on the game and fed the fire … and that IS cruel and toxic. And playing that game with the wrong guy could backfire, but she knew just enough about this guy to think she could get away with this AND have yet another ‘poor me’ story to share and get all the other chicks clucking about ‘stalker dudes’ …. Since she is sooooo all that – the guy could not help but go nuts over her!

    Maybe in her mind – payback for that hottie dude who played her that way? Moxie is right – they are both toxic.

  10. Lisa Says:

    no ring of truth

    SARAH LIED about hER MAN

  11. Steve D. Says:

    I’ve been in a similar situation. I did not text abusive texts mind you, but it was obvious the gal I was dating, did not want a relationship between the dates, while I did. She would read and not respond to my texts. We had already been intimate and agreed to meet again a few days later. As Moxie stated here, we were not compatible. It was a clear case of incompatibility. And yeah, it would have kept becoming more toxic. She wanted the relationship on dates only, while I wanted one between the dates (i.e. texting, phone calls, etc.). She essentially wanted me to finance the drinking on her days off and ignore me other wise. I’ve always believed there’s no such thing as clingy unless the interest is NOT mutual. I thought Moxie did a great job seeing the perspectives from both the man and woman. My final thoughts are that 2 people should discuss what the sex means to each other. If the sex is just sex, say it and both be on the same page about it, or don’t do it.

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