Dating Deal-Breakers

I was going to do another ‘year of blogging’ review of 2015 to mark the end of the year and the beginning of a new one, but then I thought, hell no. What people really want to read about, and what I really want to talk about, is dating.

The main thing I’ve learned this year is that if he appears to be too good to be true, then he usually is…

This is such a cliché it’s almost embarrassing to be writing about it. I’ve had two instances of it this year, both with men in their late thirties.

The first, a man so into me, he wanted to be with me all the time, to have long conversations while gazing at the sky, lying in the park. I knew it was too good to be true but I went for it anyway. He turned out to be a narcissist of the highest order, obsessed with the reflection of himself he saw in me. He kept mentioning babies, knowing that I’m childfree, but his need for a mini version of himself was manifest.

The second was someone I’m still trying to figure out. He played the ‘I’m not like other guys’ card, which of course means he’s exactly like other guys, only about ten times worse. He stunned me temporarily with his good looks and great conversation. He managed to wedge in feminism, tampon tax and abortion rights into the first hour of meeting him. Again ‘too good to be true!’ ran through my head.

And he was.

He didn’t seem to like that I didn’t get in touch after the first date and later the following week he told me off for waiting for him to do the asking. “Is that what feminists do?” he teased. We went on to have the obligatory WhatsApp flurry of messaging but the second date never materialised.

I can’t help thinking that I was targeted for take-down by a guy posing as a feminist. This is apparently a thing – these guys are called macktivists.I actually enjoyed the date I’d spent with him – and I’d deliberately managed my expectation so that I was happy with the one-off experience.

I think my radar was telling me that was how it should end but I allowed myself to be flattered when I eventually heard from him again. Flattered into agreeing to his arrangement to meet up a second time, which of course never materialised. He’d just wanted to be in control, I think.

What a sorry state of affairs.

I abhor game-playing of any kind and men are always surprised when I immediately text back or make a straightforward arrangement that I’m actually committed to. Everything is built behind smoke and mirrors in the dating world and although I’ve trained myself not to expect anything, I’m still taken by surprise by the shitty behaviour.

One of my biggest dating deal-breakers is ghosting. The minute I sense that a guy is deliberately not responding to texts or withholding any sign of interest, I’m off. Narcissist guy was a master of it, and even had the temerity to reappear from the shadows with some epic excuse for his silence which always involved some alleged misconception about our arrangements.

‘I’m not like other guys’ guy switched off his phone for the duration of the day we were supposed to meet for a second date and then blamed it on leaving his phone charger at work and having to buy a new one. I did actually laugh when I finally received an ‘explanatory’ text from him, giving ‘mansplaining’ a whole new meaning. B-bye.

Narcissist guy did something that is another huge dating deal-breaker for me. He turned up drunk to a date. I now think that this is a form of relationship sabotage. He knew I was cooking a meal for him (I never cook!) and he knew I was excited about seeing him. So what better way to put a woman in her place than to a) not mention the leaving do you’re going to after work, b) get totalled at it, and c) bring some godawful wine and lie about the ‘real’ bottle getting stolen while you were asleep on the Tube?

Some men like to be told off for this sort of behaviour so that they can rely on the whole ‘I’m just a bad boy’ schtick later on. I call it Naughty Boy Syndrome. It’s taken me years to realise that they want me to get annoyed with them so that I end, or at least back off from the relationship, meaning they don’t have to.

So I don’t get annoyed.

I just let them go.

Quietly.

And then blog about them. Ha ha…

Still, in autumn 2014 I dated a classic portfolio of deal-breaking that I’ve yet to blog about. I’ve been saving him for a rainy day.

My deal-breaker antennae were already twitching when he was clearly excited about getting notifications from Candy Crush on his phone. This was a man in his forties who’d made small talk into a way of life. Against my better judgment, I decided to press on.

Then came the comments on how, in his local train station, ‘Pakistanis’ were ‘good at squashing into trains’. I asked him how he knew they were Pakistani? Funnily enough, it had just been a wild guess on his part.

It goes on…

He met a lesbian friend of mine, and later asked me what a man had done to her to make her that way? And oh, he had a problem with feminists…

By this time my antennae had almost short-circuited, yet I still pressed on, determined to think I could look past his racism and homophobia.

 

And then came the denouement. He had a snoring problem which he’d attempted to fix with an operation but it hadn’t really worked. One night (the eleventh date!) I was desperate for some sleep so I moved silently into the lounge and blew up my inflatable bed.

When I woke up the next morning he was standing there, fully dressed and ready to go. Apparently I’d crossed a line by my actions.

I’d left him alone in bed and he hated waking up alone. Poor lambkin.

Funnily enough, I absolutely love it.

 

 

 

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The Art Of Conversation

Over the last two weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about conversation. I’ve been doing it a lot, too – from Salon London‘s night presented by Theodore Zeldin in which we all had to turn to a complete stranger and ask each other a set of deep and meaningful questions, to a freelance networking event in which we had to do the same thing, but simply discover common ground with the other person as quickly as possible.

It was so interesting. The first exercise resulted in me and the woman I was talking to really connecting over shared experiences and thoughts on things, ranging from our favourite sound to what we think about family, friendship and love. We’ve been in touch since and I was delighted to find a potential new friend, not least a fascinating companion for the evening.

Theodore Zeldin's menu of questions – designed to allow two people to find their common humanity.

Theodore Zeldin’s menu of questions – designed to allow two people to find their common humanity.

The networking event took place the following night, and yet again, I found a woman whose life and interests created a Venn diagram with mine and the joy was in the discovery of the commonality, and the points of differentiation. Both nights reminded me that people are just people – it’s so easy to put barriers up, especially living in a city, but if you remove them only for a moment, there’s someone like you standing there.

I’ve had to really force myself into the art of conversation over the last six months, finding myself having to network professionally in a way that I haven’t done before. Sure, I’ve been a public figure in the UK publishing industry for some years now, but it’s largely been as a public speaker or commentator. I’ve had to generate more one-on-one conversations than ever before and I’ve really enjoyed the process of properly meeting people, not just shaking their hand and swapping a business card during a conference coffee break.

By and large I’ve found that people are generous with their time and advice, and unexpectedly supportive. It’s definitely restored my faith in people, even though I already know that the publishing community is uniquely friendly and supportive.

Whilst all of this great stuff has been going on, I’ve similarly had my faith in people diminished by being ‘ghosted‘ by someone purporting to be a friend. If you’ve not come across this yet, then lucky you, but it’s when a person cuts off all communication with you, suddenly and unexpectedly, especially easy if you’ve only really got to know them through social media. They just stop responding. They cut off the live conversation just as it’s at its zenith. They fall off the face of the earth.

I’m the first person to admit that I live a huge part of my life behind an iPhone and I socialise with people who do, so meeting a new friend through a meet-up group based on that foundation is bound to be risky. However, I do try and attain a level of authenticity – I am where my tweets or Instagram pics say I am, I am the same person in a live conversation as I am on Twitter or my blog. I want everything to be 360 degrees-me, live or on social media.

And then you meet someone who isn’t any of those things – they are not where they say they are, they are not who they tell you they are. Everything about them is virtual so to turn into a ghost is incredibly easy. They are one-dimensional, appearing only online through one medium and are uniquely obsessed with who interacts with them there. All the follows, unfollows, comments, likes – all are tracked obsessively and every bit of interaction with other people is about how they are perceived by them. It is a form of narcissism and it’s so clear to me that they are only interested in a reflection of themselves in a pool of other people.

This is a person who knows the power of a well-timed online manoeuvre and has clearly used it to great effect when ghosting before. It has to be the most cowardly and basically shitty thing to do to a person, and I say that as someone who did it once years ago, before social media was invented. Yet this is a growing trend among younger people who are used to living most of their lives online and who are less committed to the things they say and do there.

If anything, these experiences have reminded me of the importance of real-life interactions over virtual ones and I’ve never been so keen to make the former happen. I could put barriers back up again, in the wake of being ghosted, but I won’t be diminished by the experience. I won’t hide behind my iPhone or my laptop because I want to be in the world, right here, right now.

You can’t hide forever.

Toxic People

We’ve all come across them – those people in our lives that behave in a way we can’t work out. “But who DOES that?” we exclaim, when they’ve said something dreadful to us, taken credit for something we’ve done, or dumped us in some epic fashion. We sit in pubs with friends who don’t do that sort of thing, endlessly going over and over the whys and wherefores of why we might have caused them to do those things. What did we say? What did we do? What was the trigger? What could I have done to stop it?

The answer is: nothing.

The answer is: they’re toxic. And they’re everywhere.

I first started realising that this was a group of people with distinct behavioural traits when I hired someone (years ago) that I came to regret. The alarm bells had sounded at interview stage, but I couldn’t quite hear what the bells were telling me. I took it to a third interview because of the clanging, and on the way to introduce them to my boss, they overtook me in the corridor. Who DOES that? I knew it was strange, but I went on to hire them because they said everything I needed to hear, ticked all the boxes.

Boy, was that a mistake.

It was like inviting a cuckoo into the nest. This person decided to befriend other members of my team and try and turn them against me. If I was your boss, they’d say to them, I’d promote you. They were downright nasty to my face, but wreathed in smiles whenever there was anybody else there. I noticed that they looked slightly to one side of my head when they spoke to me. Who DOES that?

I almost left that great job because of that one person. When I reported the behaviour to my boss, his reaction was “Oh, you two…” like we were squabbling siblings. No. I was being systematically mentally bullied by a toxic person, mate.

Thankfully, this person left the business before I did, and I’ve noticed that since then, they’ve only been able to hold down short-term posts. Funny that. Toxic people hardly ever last long anywhere, unless they’re running things.

Anyway, before they left the company, this person smugly told me that they’d lied in their first interview with me. That what they really wanted to do was the exact opposite of what they’d been doing for me, and proudly stated ‘that they were good at that’.

“I’m good at lying in interviews.”

Who SAYS that?

I swore to always listen to alarm bells whenever they even dinged during an interview from that point on, but I still got taken in by another person a few years later. A lot of us were. We all said they appeared ‘warm’ and ‘kind’. I went on a business trip for a few days with them and still didn’t spot the signs. But the people on their team did. And boy did they suffer. Why are they DOING this to us, they asked? Because they could get away with it, unfortunately. For a while, at least.

That ability to present one face to one set of people and another to another set; that ability to learn ‘nice’ behaviour so fluently that they fool everyone around them.

Who HAS that?

Sociopaths.

In the aftermath of that bit of disastrous recruitment I started to become aware of sociopathy and narcissism. I’d read a bit about it, searched around online and found those lists of classic traits: deceitful, cunning and manipulative, often very intelligent, and unable to feel guilt, remorse, shame or responsibility for their actions. These people are hugely egocentric, charming and often brilliant with words. They have to win at everything. At all costs.

I started to think about all the people I’d encountered in my life that displayed some or all of those traits, to varying degrees. How I’d never been able to work out their motives, and found myself down the pub with others, saying, “Why would someone DO that?” Well now I know. They’re wired like that. And thankfully, I’m so not.

My theory crystallised after a hugely disastrous relationship ended. I’d fallen for someone with an astonishing ego – charming, brilliant and funny with words – on the face of it, my perfect guy. But I had started to see glimpses of a hidden monster a few months in. A twisted smile as I looked back at him unexpectedly, the fact that his biggest sexual fantasy was stealing another man’s woman. Who SAYS that? (Thankfully, he hadn’t stolen me.)

He’d even started to adopt behaviours, hobbies and interests of mine and passed them off as his own. I tried to think of this as flattering, but actually it was just plain weird. Friends took me to one side and said they didn’t like him – he’d said cruel things to them under the guise of humour or messaged them while he was in bed with me (without me knowing) as if to show off his ‘winnings’. Who DOES that?

A few months before it ended, he started to show his true self, as he started to disconnect from me, picking fights that would end with me wondering what the hell was going on. It was horrible, but I now know that it was a lucky escape for me. I’d seen the beast and got away from it. Typically, in his epic wordy ‘explanation’ of how things ended he gave me a list of reasons why it was my fault, and clearly felt no remorse or guilt.

One of the characteristics of these Toxic People is that you can never make them feel guilty. We Who Have Consciences want to tell them what they’ve done, how they’ve hurt us – make them feel as bad as we do. We fantasise about telling them everything and watching them slope off into the darkness, hunch-shouldered and crying. But they don’t. That’s what we’d do if we’d done something really awful to a person, but they don’t even recognise that behaviour. It is useless to try and reason with them because they simply can’t see it. Does not compute.

I’ve talked to a couple of friends recently who’ve encountered Toxics while dating. One said, “Why did she make me feel like I was the love of her life, that we were going to be together, then disappear completely? Why did she then get back in touch and do the same thing over again? Why? Who DOES that?!” It turned out this person had a gang of women hanging on her every word, charming them, making them feel they were the only one. making them vie for her attention. The technique she is using is ‘give them it all’ then ‘give them nothing’. Classic narcissism. Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen (see link below for a great blog post on this).

My new coping mechanism is not to reason with these people, it’s to get away fast when I spot the signs. You must excise them from your life, if it’s humanly possible. You’ll never change them, they just learn new behaviours that allow them to appear ‘normal’, to make you think you’ve made an impact on them and keep you coming back for more. But all you’ve done is just give them more material to use against you. The beast still lurks within.

You’ll witness many variants of the Toxic – there’s the whispering poison-spreader in the office, who gathers a few allies around them and feeds them toxic titbits to ostracise them from the rest of the team and make them sneer at everyone else. I’ve seen a few budding careers take an early setback after being drawn into one of these little coteries. (Don’t be sucked in. You’re just feeding a horribly insecure beast.)

I think that’s my ultimate technique with these people: just don’t feed the beast. The beast wants you clinging on for titbits and morsels of charm and praise until you think you can’t live without them. And just at the very moment you think that, they know it and they withhold everything.

There is great power in giving nothing, watching them rootling around to see what you might have for them.

Don’t give them anything to feed on.

Get away quickly and don’t look back.

 

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On narcissists in relationships: http://selfcarehaven.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/five-powerful-ways-abusive-narcissists-get-inside-your-head/

How to Spot the Office Psychopath: http://yourlifeworks.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=373544

On narcissism:
http://www.salon.com/2014/09/20/this_is_your_brain_about_narcissism_the_truth_about_a_disorder_that_nobody_really_understands/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

Smart ways to deal with Toxic People:
http://www.marcandangel.com/2013/12/08/7-smart-ways-to-deal-with-toxic-people/