Updated: Feb 17
What your mother may not have told you, because she didn’t know herself
Within weeks of moving to Toronto from Connecticut, I met a guy named Sam at the mall. His pickup line was so unusual I didn’t recognize it for what it was. He did a double-take and when I looked at him, he said, “Oh, I’m sorry, it was so weird, you look like my dead friend.”
We talked, he said let’s get some coffee. I was en route to apply for my new Canuck healthcare card, so I said sure, I’ll meet you after I’m done. He said he’d rather join me and we talked in the waiting room.
Long story short, there was something not quite right with him. He was was ‘love-bombing’ me. Trying to make me fall in love with him way too soon. Like, the first day. Lots of compliments, telling me how successful he was, trying to make plans with me. I told him I was going to New York in September for a family wedding; he said he was going with me. I said oh no you’re not, I’m going by myself. He asked why and I said I just met you today and already you’re making plans for September?
‘Making plans for the future’? It was like he’d read a script somewhere of how to make a woman think he was serious about her. And I’d known him for only two hours.
“You’re not going to New York with me.”
“I want to go with you.”
“We’ll see. Your job right now is to get to the weekend with me, you don’t need to worry about three months from now.”
Other things didn't jive. He'd call and want me to meet him right now. If I said I had plans he said, “Cancel them.” A few times I did, since they were errands, not something that involved anyone else, but he had no respect for my time.
Early on, I sensed he was a phony. He claimed he was in love with me, that he wanted us to spend our lives together. (Did the pickup manual say that’s catnip for chicks or something?) While I waited to apply for my healthcare card in the Service Ontario waiting room, I’d said I didn’t want children. He said that was great because he didn’t either. A few weeks later, as my suspicions grew, I tested him by saying, “I think I might want to have children after all,” and of course he acquiesced, Oh that’s a great idea.
Then Mr. I’m-So-In-Love-With-You didn’t call for a month. I blew the whole thing off. Then I accidentally dialed him as I’d forgotten to remove his number from my mobile (I hadn’t bothered to put it in the directory) and hung up immediately, but he called right back, claiming he’d lost my phone number and couldn’t call me. He probably did…since he hadn’t put it in the directory either. Or written it down anywhere. Because he was so besotted with love or something.
“Let’s get together and have dinner,” he said, naming an evening, because I was mad.
“Sorry, I have plans tonight,” I lied, testing him.
“Cancel them,” he said.
“Fuck you,” I replied. “Thursday evening works better for me.”
“I have plans that night,” he said.
“Yes you can. Tell her you’re going out with me instead.”
“It’s not another woman.”
I wasn’t sure it was at all true, but I didn’t care.
“Thursday night is convenient for me, if you can’t go out to dinner that night then let’s forget the whole thing.”
He insisted he couldn’t and tried to talk me into tonight, so I told him to fuck off.
I’ve always wondered what the deal was with Sam. He was a ‘type’ of some sort. I’ve considered whether he might be a narcissist, but nowadays everyone gets slapped with that label, and I never got to know him very well. Maybe he was a psychopath. Maybe he was a player, or a pickup artist, or just some random manipulative dick. I’ve often wondered if he found someone else and if he was making her miserable. I suspect he has.
Unfortunately for Sam, no one ‘love bombs’ me effectively. He complained about the ‘walls’ around my heart. Point taken, but in his case they were there for good reason. He wasn’t in love with me, and he was trying too hard to try and make me fall in love with him. He was playing me somehow, and I’ll never know what his mad plan was. He picked someone too old, too wise and far too jaded to pull that shit with.
I imagine, though, that if he found someone much younger and less experienced, that premature I-love-you-let’s-make-plans-for-forever crap worked just dandy.
Recognizing bad men and other potential abusers
Other women don’t have the radar for bad men that I have, and I want to fix that.
I read a lot of stories of women who were done wrong by men, or worse, sexually assaulted. Abuse, whether it’s emotional, psychological, physical, or sexual, is always traumatic, and many women, but younger women especially, don’t often have the experience or understanding of romantic and social dynamics to recognize ‘red flag men’ when they meet them. It may be even more challenging for Millennials.
I’m not sure how socialized any of them are, so pressured are they to succeed, succeed, succeed at all costs. Young boys and men have access to pornography in a way us early Gen-Xers didn’t — you had to steal your dad’s stash or hope to find one in a dumpster back in the day. I used to scoff at Christian and feminist claims that porn damages men’s views of women and sexuality, but now I’m beginning to think they were onto something besides their own sexual repression (and many Christians and feminists are sexually repressed).
I read stories of abuse by men and I wonder — intellectually, not judgmentally…
How did she not recognize early on that he was likely a problem?
This is a question we should constantly ask ourselves as well as each other, not to blame the victim but to drill down to where female psychology and romantic/sexual socialization fail us all.
My mother, who was feminist before it was even a household word but denies to this day she was ever the “F” word, drilled it into my head that you NEVER tolerate physical abuse from a man. She warned me about control techniques, how if they hit once they’ll hit again, how you should never listen to their pleas and entreaties that it’ll never happen again, and that he’ll try to win you over with treats and gifts to ‘prove’ to you he’s serious.
I’m not really sure where my WWII-era mother got it from, raised in a generation to be true to your man no matter what and to tolerate whatever abuse he gives you and be grateful for his very presence in your life, because she was married twice and abused by neither her ex-husband nor my father.
My uncle, her brother, confirms that #1 was never abusive, just a manchild. She left him, which women of her generation almost never did.
Maybe it was my grandmother's example, who defied her own generation by going out and working to help support the family since my grandfather was unable to provide properly himself.
Mom’s ‘never tolerate abuse’ entrenched itself in my brain. She conveyed to me the message that I had the power to decide how I was treated. No one had the right to treat me badly, and the sooner I got out of a bad relationship, the better.
I’ve never been involved with an abusive man.
I believe to this day that women have the power to avoid toxic men, and that if they assert their power to leave early when things go pear-shaped, they stand a much better chance of surviving, hopefully wiser and smarter about their choices.
I believe many women truly don’t understand they have this power. I don’t judge them. I'm sympathetic and want to see all women make great choices.
(And to any men reading this, I want to see you make better choices too. Plenty of men are just as blind to women’s red warning flags.)
As a teenager, I became quite observant as to which boys/men seemed like they might be trouble. This is where my own reading and observation came in…Mom never told me how to avoid the wrong men, just what to do if I found myself with one.
The Girl’s Guide to recognizing potential Danger Boys
Here’s a quick list I came up with. Men who fall into these categories should raise red warning flags for women but, I want to emphasize, does not mean he is necessarily an abuser or otherwise bad guy. Proceed slowly and with caution. These are risk signs, but do not, by any stretch, encompass all the men who fall into each category:
Affluent white guys. As we entered the ’80s I noticed that young, good-looking Yuppie men had a certain attitude. Today we call it ‘entitlement’ but we didn’t use that label as much back then. They clearly felt entitled to whatever they wanted, particularly women. The misogyny wasn’t much below the surface.
Homophobes. I noticed the correlation between how homophobic a man was and how disdainful he was of women. A guy who didn’t like the idea of homosexual sex and didn’t want to know anything about it but didn’t mind being around gay guys was far different from the guy I knew in high school who ‘hated fags’. Today, I see that real homophobia is actually a symptom of deep-seated misogyny. A man who ‘hates fags’ is a guy who hates you. Because ‘real men’ don’t let themselves be treated like a woman, which is ‘weak’ and therefore contemptuous. Avoid him.
Men in hypermasculine professions. This includes the military, sports, police, firefighters, construction workers, and, at least in the U.S., lawyers. Any profession that’s ‘macho’ or encourages aggression in men, either verbal or physical, is a red flag. That said, I have a friend married to a construction worker who is a wonderful, caring man and a very good father.
Men espousing right-wing/conservative values. This is a bit problematic as misogynist assholes hide in progressive politics as well, but they’re better at hiding their misogyny or denying it even exists, because after all, “I’m a liberal!” The hidden misogyny of, say, the ‘Bernie bros’ is a topic for another day. But…traditionalist, right-wing values often include a more patriarchal view of women’s place, which may or may not be in the home but which damn well mean she’d better know her place and that means not competing with men, and especially not earning more money than her partner. Being a ‘traditional man’ means hiding your feelings and never questioning that violence and aggression resolve many problems. Self-awareness is for pussies.
Men from misogynist religions and cultures. This is a big one. When they grow up in an environment where the culture teaches, or even worse, ‘God teaches’ that women should be submissive and subservient and that you have the right to whack her right back into place if she falls out of it, they may well bring these toxic values with them even if they don’t show it initially. That said, I have a friend from one of these cultures who completely turned his back on his misogynist birth religion and became an atheist. He is one of the kindest, sweetest guys I know and I’m sorry we couldn’t get together as he wanted to do back in the day. I didn’t because of his background. Turned out it was a good call on my part for an entirely different and non-toxic reason — later, he decided he was bisexual and poly. Fair enough, and I’m happy he’s still my friend, because he’s a great guy.
Men who fetishize other races. When I first moved to Toronto I was targeted — racially profiled even — by men from those same toxic religions and cultures who, it turns out, had a real thing for white women — and when I dyed my hair blonde it got even worse. I have nothing against interracial couples and in fact am more open to it in Canada where the racial situation isn’t nearly as farked up as it is in the U.S. (and this was many years before Trumpistan). Men who racially profile romantic targets usually expect them to be stereotypical in some way. Asian women are often expected to be submissive and compliant. White women, for those profiling me, were expected to be sluts.
Muscleheads. Guys who spend more time at the gym than they do in a bookstore can absolutely beat the crap out of you. Calling out gym rats can be a bit problematic as some of them are just very fitness- or goal-oriented. But really watch out for the ones with a hypermasculine attitude. These guys need to get to know you better, in public places, before you go home with him to check out that hot bod in private.
Control freaks. He could be an ‘alpha male’, and if he’s telling you what to do or criticizing you too much up front, run like the wind. My sister-in-law told me of a friend who got involved with one of those aforementioned men from a misogynist culture dominated by a misogynist religion. At first he was a ‘normal’ wonderful guy, but as time went on he started dictating who she could spend time with and how she should dress. He wanted more ‘covering up’ now that she was ‘his’. As in, his property.
The way he treats others. Last summer in Aruba I got friendly (but not too friendly) with an American who’d helped me out of a jam the night before. We agreed to go out for dinner and some drinks but I was the only one who ate dinner. He said he wanted to leave plenty of room for alcohol. [See: Next bullet point]. I didn’t like how he treated the waitresses who served him. He called them ‘sweetheart’ in a deprecating manner and complained rudely about the strength of his drinks. I’d had no plans to see him beyond this point but had I been, he would have ruined it right there. And speaking of alcohol, that brings me to my last point…
Alcoholic/drug abuser. I don’t have any relationship with the latter but I’ve run into several alcoholics. One was my long-term ex-partner but he also wasn’t an active alcoholic when we met and later moved in together. Once I realized him for what he was (it took awhile, he was never abusive or it would have taken less time), I should have gotten rid of him earlier. But I didn’t, and he caused me a lot of stress and sturm und drang before it was all over. And I was dumb enough to take him back a few years later, but that ended badly for reasons that had nothing to do with alcohol. Or abuse.
I think it’s misguided at best and a huge, dangerous mistake at worst for feminists to ignore how to teach/help women make better choices. Maybe they don’t know, themselves. A lot of feminists are coming from a history of abuse and violence. It’s possible they haven’t learned a few key lessons or maybe they’re too traumatized to look too deeply. We need to help them, too.
I wish young girls could grow up with someone like my mother, because she was one particularly smart cookie for her generation. That said, she still asked judgmentally when we talked about women in abusive relationships, “Why doesn’t she leave?” Back then, we as a society had little information or understanding of the dynamics, economics and psychology of the abused and the abuser. Mom couldn’t stand the author of The Burning Bed when she saw her on a TV talk show because she felt she should have left the guy instead of burning him alive. She was even more incensed when the audience cheered the wife. Many years later, I read the book, well after ‘the battered wife syndrome’ became a household phrase and more research had been done on abusive relationships, and I understood why she didn’t leave. We are all products of our time, and today’s oh-so-woke feminists may well find themselves in the critical crosshairs of tomorrow’s feminists for not being woke enough to realize just how much they refused to recognize how they enabled women to become and remain victims.
Many feminists have a pipe dream in which one day, with enough lessons and sensitivity training, men simply stop raping. harassing and abusing women. I have my own pipe dream: That one day, the only men who ever find love, affection, and sex are the good guys, because no woman will have anything to do with an abuser. Misogynists will die with their bicycle grip-shaped dick in their sticky calloused palms.
There are LOTS of good men. We have got to value ourselves enough to not ‘settle’ for abusive assholes like O.J. Simpson or suspiciously phony Sams who may be up to no good. We have got to gently challenge ourselves, and each other, when we or our friends and loved ones get involved with toxic, abusive men.
Women have choices. We decide. Let’s decide to not allow abuse into our lives. And then let’s teach it to our daughters, as we teach our sons to respect women (as does your partner, because he respects women too, right? Right? That’s why you allowed him into your life.)