Dear Carolyn: I’ve been seeing a lovely man for a year. We eased slowly into the relationship — friends for months first — as we were both still hurting after recent divorces.
We are perfectly suited in so many ways — identical interests, shared friends, same-age children, parallel life experiences — and we enjoy each other very much, despite the time restrictions that running separate households and raising children entail. There’s a lot of laughter and a sense of relief and sanctuary.
So what’s the problem? I’m having a hard time trusting him. His longtime marriage ended because of an infidelity on his part. He takes full responsibility.
But he often doesn’t take responsibility for admittedly minor things between us — saying something hurtful, for example, or forgetting plans we’ve made, or other mild but annoying, inconsiderate actions. There is always an excuse — a reason I don’t understand or somehow misinterpreted.
When I raise my concerns, he says he certainly understands but that’s just the way he is — spacey, no filter. He is charmingly socially awkward and absent-minded-professorish. Which is all fine if he would accept the impact of his actions on me.
On the other hand, I was married to an occasionally verbally and physically violent drug addict for 16 years with all the passion, intensity, gaslighting and insanity that sort of relationship entails. The two men could not be more different. I never gave up hope until the bitter end and nearly died from grief. My current relationship is a welcome, healing relief.
Am I oversensitive or seeing real red flags?
Carolyn says: People who can’t or won’t admit fault are always a red flag.
There are judgment calls, always, but — forgetting plans? If one can’t simultaneously be one’s unfiltered self and form the words, “Oh, no! I’m sorry. No excuse. Please forgive me” — then that’s not a self around whom I want to spend much time.
But, also always a red flag: Coming out of 16 years of “passion, intensity, gaslighting and insanity” with a “violent drug addict” and still greeting your own distrust with, “Am I oversensitive?”
Questioning your reality is the emotional signature of gaslighting. You know this. It’s when you respond to something done to you that’s objectively bad — as in, something you’d never encourage anyone you care about to put up with — by wondering if you’re the one at fault.
Plus, the reasons you cite for his suiting you — besides sanctuary, which I’ll get to — are ones of coincidence, not character. Interests, kid ages, “parallel life experiences.” These are important for compatibility, but they won’t help you trust an untrustworthy person or like an unlikable one. Commonality and character count.
When you question your ability to judge character — especially when your history gives you cause to — then I urge you not to go it alone. Find a good therapist who can help you (re-)calibrate your boundaries and judgment.
That you find emotional relief in this man compared with your ex is a character point in his favor, and could mean one of us is overstating the importance of your boyfriend’s defensiveness. But he could just be less awful, too.
So there’s no overstating how important it is to hear and trust your own voice. Please do not commit further, to anyone, till you do.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at email@example.com.