February 20, 2019

Are These Red Flags, or Am I Being Sensitive?

Hey, Bonita…

Hey Bonita,

I've been dating a guy, and I've noticed some things that might be red flags, but I can't tell if they're really red flags or just things I'm super-sensitive about because of a bad past relationship.

Quick history: About two years ago, I dated a guy who was no good. He was insincere, dishonest and sneaky. Since then, I've come to the conclusion that he must have enjoyed kind of jerking me around and seeing how much he could get away with. That's the only reason I can see for him keeping us together when I tried, very earnestly, to set us both free from a relationship that was clearly not working.

Now, two years later, I'm dating a different guy. We've been seeing each other for about six months, and it's long-distance. Things were fine at first—as they often are—but in the past month or so, I've noticed some kind of unreliable behavior. Like, we make plans to talk on the phone, but when the time rolls around, he doesn't call, or doesn't answer when I call. When that happens, he sometimes acknowledges it the next day, but sometimes he never acknowledges that we had these plans. (He's in a different time zone, so talking on the phone does require some planning.)

He was planning to come to town to visit for a weekend. Normally, he arrives on Friday and leaves on Sunday or Monday. For this weekend, though, he implied that he had plans to see his mom on Friday evening for her birthday, and that's why he was coming to town Saturday and only staying for 24 hours. When he got here, I asked him if he had had a nice visit with his mom, and he said, “Oh, I didn't see her—yesterday was just a normal work day for me.” What he said didn't quite seem like an outright lie, but it did feel misleading.

In addition to this, he has spurts of being really attentive and sweet, and it's starting to feel like he acts that way when he perceives that I'm upset—maybe as a way to keep me on the line. Am I being too sensitive? One of the worst legacies of the guy I dated two years ago is that I don't really trust my own judgment, because it failed me so badly then. Is the current guy acting shady, or am I just hypersensitive? I don't trust my instincts, so I need yours, Bonita.

Whoa, Nelly


You certainly seem alarmed over your boyfriend’s recent miscommunication, but it makes sense, all things considered. You’re still hurting from your past, and I think you’re allowed the space and time to heal from that seriously horrible ex. Your question was edited for length, so readers should know that I cut about 200 words of pure trashbag behavior: gaslighting, cheating, emotional manipulation, you name it. You are much better off without that douchebag in your life, and most of us would come out of that particular situation scarred and changed.

You’re not a bad person for responding to a genuinely confusing communique with suspicion and confusion. That’s what my therapist would call a trauma response, and it’s not really something we can control if we’re not actively working on healing from the trauma that makes us react that way. So, my first piece of advice would be to get a therapist to help you with the residual mess of that old breakup. It’s clearly affecting your ability to navigate new relationships, and you deserve to be as happy and healthy as anyone else.

As far as your current relationship is concerned, I advise you to simply ask for what you need. You’re perfectly within your rights to tell this guy, “It’s important that you remember to call me. When you don’t, I wonder how serious we really are.” He should not buck at getting kindly-worded feedback, because good relationships require mindfulness and effort from all parties involved. There could be a very understandable explanation for all that confusion over the weekend, but you have to ask about it first, and you also need unlearn the desire to respond to your current partner as if he’s your old one. You’re second-guessing his affection and attention because you couldn’t trust it from your ex, and that’s not good. Don’t let your past hurts sabotage your present and future.

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