Dear Em & Lo,
I am a woman from Mumbai, India. I fell in love with Sam when she was in India and we spent 6 months together, bundled up in her apartment mostly. Once she left India she became extremely obsessed with our relationship, and I was more than ever in love with her too — we made future plans and even DOMA was right there in support of our relationship.
We decided to live together in the U.S., but as my days to leave India came closer I found out she had lied to me and spent a weekend at her ex-crush’s place for her 30th b’day. Sam had been in love with this classmate for 2 yrs and I helped her move on. Her crush (Jess) was also in India for two weeks during which Sam tried to get her attention as much as she could but instead was let down and came back to me. Sam cried in my arms and I helped her heal and move on. (Jess is now engaged to a wonderful guy.)
After I reached the U.S., I tried to make Sam understand that a relationship will not work on a foundation of lies. We had some steamy fights and she eventually knocked me down! Beat me up black and blue and choked me until I almost passed out. I left the U.S. the next day to save my life. I am in India and still not recovered from what happened to me in America. Kindly help me understand there are better people I will meet and that this too shall pass!
With great spirit (a lil broken in places),
— Ms. Doma
Dear Ms. Doma,
Yes, there are better people out there! And yes, this too shall pass.
The silver lining to dating someone who is emotionally and physically abusive is that they’ve set the bar pretty low. In contrast, everyone else you ever date will seem like Princess Charming. Of course, this silver lining is simultaneously a potential problem: After being treated so terribly by your ex, there is the risk that you’ll fall fast and hard for anyone who is remotely nice to you — even if they’re completely wrong for you, even if they’re just a spineless bowl of Jello.
So, how can you balance these two competing forces?
We published a reader’s comment a few weeks back about the four early warning signs of a toxic relationship (isolation, pressure, non-consensual physical contact, loss of sense of self) — we think reading the post is a good start in terms of separating the Good Ones from the crazy violent lying heartbreakers. But we’d like to add to this list. So here are our top four warning signs of a bad relationship, tailored for you and based on your letter:
1. Your Partner Has Major Ex Baggage
If you’re consoling your partner about their past relationships or crushes, then they’re not ready to be in a relationship with you. Friends help someone heal and move on from a breakup, this is not the job of the next partner. Sure, you can talk about exes with your current partner, and there are even times when a little sadness is appropriate (e.g. dating a widow or widower, or someone who shares kids with their ex). But you are not the shoulder to cry on!
2. Your Partner Is a Control Freak
There are many different ways to control a partner — for example, Sam controlled you by becoming “obsessed” with the relationship once you were long-distance. You got sucked deeper in, thinking it was more serious than she ever intended it to be. Any time you feel that you are a puppet whose strings are being tugged on, it’s time to look seriously at the relationship.
3. Your Partner Lies to You… About Anything
In our experience, someone is either a liar or they’re not. In other words, someone who lies about small, meaningless matters will lie about big, important matters, too. So be wary at the first sign of dishonesty, even if it’s about something you don’t particularly care about. (Unless, of course, it’s in response to the question: Do you like my new haircut?)
4. Your Partner Dominates You Physically (Non-Consensually)
You ran all the way back to India, so clearly you understand that beating someone up and choking them are indicators of a bad relationship (not to mention a crime!). But did you see any warning signs of this tendency early in the relationship? Did she grab you or woman-handle you or physically manipulate you in a way you were uncomfortable with?
Most of all: Hang in there! You will love again, and you will find someone who is worthy of you.
Em & Lo