Has My Abusive and Cheating Ex-Boyfriend Ruined Me for Other Men?

Recently, I finally left my verbally abusive/cheating boyfriend. It took me longer than it should have to get the courage to break up with him, but when I finally did it I felt a huge relief… And to put the icing on the cake, almost immediately after that I met a really nice guy who has clearly shown that he wants to pursue me and has hopes for marriage. I’ve told him I am not ready to dive into anything serious right away, as I need to heal from my last relationship’s trauma, and I also want to feel okay being on my own. Still, we’ve gone out casually a few times, and although I’ve told him I need to go slow, I definitely get the impression he’s already planning our wedding and future. In spite of his not at all being my physical type, I’ve been attracted to him because of his kindness, clear intentions, life goals, etc… Until today. On our fourth date (we went to church together), I suddenly came to the realization that I feel absolutely no attraction to him whatsoever. I’ve read some of your posts about attraction and understand that it is something that some people can either get over, and some people can’t, but I’m not sure why I suddenly feel such a drastic change overnight. Since I just left an abusive relationship, I’m confused about my feelings; is the problem my inability to find a nice guy attractive, do I feel smothered by his intensity, or do I simply not feel a romantic connection? I am starting to see a therapist to work through my experience with my ex, but wonder what I should do about this really nice guy… Is it worth giving him a chance and seeing if my feelings change? Should I just tell him I don’t feel it for him, after all? Thanks for your help! 

~Katie

Since I’m not a psychologist, Katie, I’m largely going to stay in my lane and tell you what I’ve noticed as a dating coach for fifteen years. It may or may not square with what a psychologist trained in abusive relationships may tell you, so take it with a grain of salt.

“Is the problem my inability to find a nice guy attractive, do I feel smothered by his intensity, or do I simply not feel a romantic connection?”

Yes, yes, and yes.

Without getting too deep into attachment theory, as a victim of abuse, you may associate love with bad behavior. Where other women may find a verbally abusive/cheating man unappealing, you may have felt that this is just what relationships are all about. You fall in love. You’re wildly attracted to someone. He treats you like shit. You stick it out because that’s how relationships are, or because you don’t know if you can do better, or because you’re afraid to be alone, or because you somehow suspect this is all you deserve. Abuse does a real number on women and what you’re left with is a sort of PTSD when it comes to men and relationships.

Where other women may find a verbally abusive/cheating man unappealing, you may have felt that this is just what relationships are all about.

You’re so used to being attracted to a man who exhibited cruel, unpredictable behavior that when you finally meet someone who treats you with consistency and kindness, it’s confusing.

Imagine learning that everything you believed about love was wrong; that’s the state you’re in right now. You’re going to need to rewire yourself to be attracted to men of high character and it will not happen overnight. Your therapist should be valuable in this endeavor.

That said, your other questions are perfectly fair and should not be discounted. Which is to say that EVERYONE gets turned off when someone’s feelings seem disproportionately intense, but especially a woman with your background. If you’re used to being treated poorly, being put up on a pedestal by a total stranger is going to be more jarring than it might be for someone else.

Factor in the distinct possibility that you objectively have no romantic connection, which isn’t anybody’s fault, but a biological reality, and I hope you can see the value of letting yourself off the hook on this one.

This guy may be doing everything right, but just like your evil ex wasn’t the last man on earth, I can promise you, there’ll be other nice guys who come along where attraction won’t be an issue.

I can promise you, there’ll be other nice guys who come along where attraction won’t be an issue.

Long story short – there’s a lot going on in your head right now, but you should not have to talk yourself into being attracted to someone just because he’s nice.

Never ever ever.

Healthy relationships are marked by attraction AND a lack of anxiety

Keep looking until you find both.

 

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Jeremy

    I was going to write a response about the problem of conflating sexual goals with relationship goals (and the predicament of the nice guy), anxious-avoidant attachment relationships, and confusing and activated attachment system with passion. But, having written such things so many times before, this would likely fall on Mrs. Happy’s list of things that she would bet me not to write, or that Evan could guess I’d say. So I’d encourage the OP to use Evan’s search bar on those topics and find some insight.

    1. 1.1
      Mrs Happy

      Bring on the bet.  But I’m going to make it manageable for you, Mr Jeremy: just no M’s (meta-goals or motivations).

      Happy to reciprocate, just pick my topics.

      If/when I win, you have to post me the bear book: ‘Bear attacks: their causes and avoidance’ by Canadian academic Stephen Herrero.

      1. 1.1.1
        Jeremy

        WHAAAT?  No bet.  I wouldn’t last 2 days.  That’s like a diet where you can eat anything you want except things that taste good 😉  No matter what I’d bet you not to say, I’ve no doubt I’d fold first.  And then how would I win my prize of a genuine Australian DVD set of the Wiggles?

        1. Marika

          And I’m glad of it, personally, Jeremy. I always learn so much from your posts and analysis. Some people can just shrug and accept things as they are without a need to understand them, others…notsomuch.

        2. Jeremy

          Aww, thanks M.  You always know just what to say, even when I post embarrassing comments trawling for validation 🙂

        3. Mrs Happy

          Chicken dance

    2. 1.2
      Yet Another Guy

      @Jeremy

      I was going to write a response about the problem of conflating sexual goals with relationship goals

      I still find this area of female behavior intriguing, so I would appreciate your thoughts.

       

      1. 1.2.1
        sylvana

        @YAG,

        it’s a royal pain in the neck, that’s what it is. We have a bad habit of being very sexually attracted to men who have very little or even zero relationship qualities. And feel very little to no sexual attraction at all to men who have wonderful relationship qualities.

        Which makes combining sexual goals and relationship goals extremely hard.

        My only guess would be that this might have something to do with nature’s design. Males of all species will generally mate with whatever female will allow them to.

        While females tend to mate only with the strongest, healthiest males we can get. Likely because we literally risk our lives during pregnancy and childbirth. Therefore, we tend to choose mates who have the best chance of producing strong, healthy offspring.

        A good amount of aggression also helps prove that the male is willing and able to fight and protect the offspring once it is born. Hence the bad boy appeal??

        I wish there was a way to override this. But for some reason, when it comes to sexual matters, those very base instincts still seem to rule.

        At least men can claim that they’re not the only ones following baser instincts 🙂

        But I would like to hear Jeremy’s thoughts on this as well (Jeremy, please do note that I didn’t mention pleasure or orgasm at all this time)

        1. Jeremy

          How many posts does Evan have with titles like “My Amazing boyfriend bores me, should I dump him?”  Over and over, women seem to think that there are 2 different kinds of guys – guys you f-ck and guys you marry.  Hell, there was even a game the girls in my high school used to play – “f-ck, marry, or kill.”  Is it odd that boys never played the game where they tried to parse the difference between girls they’d f-ck versus those they’d marry?  That so many of those boys grew up to become men who’d (unwisely) marry the hottest girl who allowed them to f-ck her?

           

          Each person, man or woman, has a set of sexual goals and a set of relationship goals, and BOTH need to be met in a spouse in order to have the relationship flourish.  “But,” cry the women, “we can’t find men who have both!  We know men whom we find sexy, and we know men who’d make good partners, but these are not the same guys!”  Funny how not all women see it that way, though.  If that’s the case, if you REALLY can’t seem to meet any men who fulfill both sets of criteria reasonably well – then the problem is with your outlook, with the way you’ve (generic “you”) have allowed your mental wiring to form.  Perhaps you’ve associated an activated attachment system with passion.  Perhaps you’ve associated “challenge” with “quality.”  Perhaps you’ve associated “reliable” with “boring”.  If so, you need CBT to re-wire yourself.  The problem is not with all the men in the world, it’s with you (generic you).

           

          That’s my thought on this issue, Sylvana, and on all the various letters to Evan along these lines.

        2. sylvana

          Jeremy,

          Actually, I’ve always said a woman needs 3 men in her life. One for love, one (or more) for sex, and one for money. You tolerate the boring sex life with the ones for love and money, then have one (or a bunch) who’ll see you satisfied.

          True, not all women see it that way. But the majority of women does.

          This all boils right back down to the myth that women are emotional creatures when it comes to sex. It simply isn’t true. The mind is actually the one thing that needs the most stimulation for most women in bed. The physical comes in a strong second. The emotional might be needed before she ever gets to sex, and definitely enhances the pleasure, but it alone will simply not do.

          The part that I find very interesting (and rather ironic) is that a lot of the good guys with great relationship potential tend to do exactly what everyone tells them women want. They are sweet and nice and kind, even in bed. They tend to want to feed a woman’s emotional needs in bed, try to be very respectful and not too outgoing (let alone kinky), in order not to offend her sensibilities.

          And, as a result, end up having zero sex appeal, or end up being considered boring if she does sleep with him, because there’s very little reward, short of the emotional.

          The women you talk of overcompensate by choosing negative mental stimulation (the chase, the thrill, the unpredictability, the passion) to make up for the lack of positive mental stimulation, because it gives them a similar “high”. A lot of women do end up maturing out of this phase, however.

          A woman’s sexual goal is very simple: Arousal, pleasure, satisfaction and fulfillment. No different from a man. If women were truly mostly emotional, we wouldn’t have the majority of them calling men who appeal to the emotional side “boring”. If her mind is stimulated, she’ll likely enjoy it even without great physical satisfaction. But without even that, sex simply becomes tedious.

          You say that women need CBT (are we torturing men’s privates?) to re-wire themselves. But that basically means that women need to re-wire themselves to be satisfied with only the emotional aspect of sex, aka with what society decided women should be. Not what they actually are.

          What it comes down to is boring equals “there’s nothing (or very little) arousing about him.” While he does evoke loving, cuddling, intimate kind of feelings, and gives stability, security, etc. (aka – fulfils all of the emotional needs), he does not evoke arousal.

          Basically, ALL excitement is lacking. Positive or negative.

          So she’d have to rewire herself to enjoy never feeling any type of excitement at all. That’s rather hard to do. Sure, not all women are like that. But there are also people who survive off just tofu, salads, and cucumbers just fine. The rest of us like a piece of chocolate or a burger from time to time.

          I think overall I’m a bit confused as what you consider a woman’s sexual goal. What exactly is it that you think a woman’s goal is when it comes to sex? And why do you think that the ultimate goal (not just the way to get there – men for hotness and looks, women because they feel an emotional connection) would be different from a man’s?

        3. Jeremy

          Sylvana, to clarify – it’s not that “women” need CBT, but rather women with this problem – women who want relationships but can’t seem to find any men in the whole world who have both sexual and relationship qualities.  In such cases, the problem is not with “all the men in the world.”

           

          It’s not that women should re-wire themselves to never feel excitement, obviously, but rather re-wire themselves to be able to experience excitement where they otherwise couldn’t – because of their faulty wiring.  This is absolutely no different than a crack addict who has become so addicted to pleasure-inducing drugs that he can’t experience pleasure in real life.  De-tox involves re-wiring the brain to be able to experience pleasure in everyday life without needing crack.  The addict might dread the de-tox, thinking that a lack of drugs means never again experiencing pleasure, but in fact it means the opposite.

           

          Finally, again and again you take YOUR sexual goal and extrapolate it to all women.  Not all women are like you, any more than all men are like me.  You ask me what I think women’s ultimate sexual goal is, and why it should be different from men’s.  My answer, as I’ve written so many times – each woman has a DIFFERENT ultimate sexual goal, which is why different women seek and respond to different sexual cues.  Men also have different ultimate sexual goals, but IME tend to group more in just a few categories, likely due to their much higher testosterone levels.  Why is that so?  I can only offer conjecture, but if women’s goals and desires were the same as men’s nothing would ever get done.

           

          Not all women are like you.  That can be hard to see, due to confirmation bias.  I had the same problem when I first came to this blog, until I realized that most men were not like me in some ways.  I struggled to be “normal” until I realized that I was normal….I just was a different kind of normal from those I grew up with.

        4. Nissa

          @Jeremy, I misread your remark as saying women need CBD (but it actually said CBT) and I spent a minute trying to find out what feminine feature it was supposed to resolve, before realizing the problem was that my brain is still asleep this morning.@Sylvana, your post comes across as a broad brush, though perhaps you did not intend it to be. However, I find myself agreeing with you when you state: A woman’s sexual goal is very simple: Arousal, pleasure, satisfaction and fulfillment. No different from a man. I would have to say that is true for me also. I have at least three men who have shown interest in dating me, one of whom has a lot of valuable relationship skills. He’s kind, thoughtful and interested. But here’s where Evan’s point about not chasing chemistry is valid: while it’s important to widen one’s field by accepting chemistry at “less than a 10-9-8” it’s very important also to insist upon chemistry at “greater than 3-4-5”. Otherwise, the likelihood of a one sided relationship (and probably lacking in sex) becomes much higher. I think Sylvana is talking about situations where a woman has chosen a man who is less than her personal chemistry minimum because she wishes that she could find this kind, sweet man arousing, but she doesn’t. Most women in this situation would consider it a kindness to not date this man or lead him on. But there are some women who are willing to date these men for less compassionate reasons such as her own personal benefit. My point here is that it’s not always just one or the other – there’s a spectrum.For myself, I know that I have ended up in relationships with men I considered “arousing enough”. Were they supermodels or wealthy? No. I distinctly remember thinking of my future husband as “ordinary” the first time I met him. But they were above my minimum for both chemistry and relationship qualities, so I dated them. And I was able to feel aroused by them throughout the relationship (and after).This tells me that when a woman is not being aroused, it’s because she went below her own Personal Arousal Threshold (PAT). Now that man might be objectively arousing to a lot of women (such as Hot Felon) but not personally arousing to someone like me (I’d prefer Anderson Cooper). So as a guideline, to avoid a sexless marriage, just date above your PAT and you should be fine.Also, for some reason my spacing shows when I type it, but not when it posts. Sorry.

  2. 2
    Lisa

    I think if she continues dating and the pattern repeats itself, meaning she is not attracted to nice guys who treat her well, then she should be concerned that it’s her. However at this point it’s too soon to make that call. I have many female friends who call what most people call anxiety with chemistry. Will he call? Does he like me? Are we exclusive? It’s just not abused women but women who have had the unfortunate experience of dating guys that are all jerks. So when that nice guy comes along they don’t feel chemistry they need the push and pull anxiety. On the flip side it seems like this man is moving faster than the LW is comfortable with and she’s expressed that but he continues.  That’s a red flag and very unattractive. It would make me unattracted to a guy as well and I have no history of abuse.  Or men that are head over heels immediately come off as desperate and you meet a lot more men pushing for kids and marriage then you would think in online dating.

    1. 2.1
      Clare

      I agree, Lisa.

      There’s that middle-ground between men who are avoidant/emotionally unavailable and keep you guessing, and those who are insecure/desperate/clingy, and I think many women battle to find it. I’ve dated both and endured pain at the hands of both. The emotionally unavailable men generally leave you feeling anxious and empty, and the insecure/clingy men can be possessive and controlling. I will say that the insecure/clingy men are easier to get into a relationship with, but I don’t think one type is better than the other.

      I can’t say for sure from the OP’s letter that her boyfriend is necessarily insecure/possessive/controlling, but I do think planning a wedding and future after four dates is much too fast. I think the OP is right to be apprehensive and should give herself a break. She isn’t going to get over her fear of an abusive relationship by getting into a relationship which is smothering. She needs a nice, steady middle ground.

      For my own part, I have got better at distinguishing the guys who are emotionally unavailable and the guys who are excessively pushy early on and cutting them loose. I’m holding out for that middle ground.

  3. 3
    Marika

    Katie, I can speak from experience, as my ex-husband was verbally abusive and cheated – I was so gun-shy early on in online dating that I tended to gravitate to guys who seemed as boring as possible, to shield myself from drama and hurt. But that isn’t fair, to you or to the guy. There’s a big difference between a “lack of anxiety”, which is a good thing, and “boring with no chemistry”, which is a bad thing.

    The advice here has really helped me. I tend to be an overthinker, and a bad experience can create that, so maybe you are too. But a lot of valuable commenters here aren’t. So there are quick and easy ways to figure out if you’re wasting your time, such as do you feel an urge to kiss him? Or does kissing him disgust you? Do you have to force yourself to reply to his messages? Or do you actually even feel a sense of dread when you hear from him/make excuses not to get back to him? All bad signs. I’ve made excuses for giving guys like that “a chance”, but it’s not worth it.

    I’ve also been known to do the opposite, and have done it twice recently, spending months with guys who did have the anxiety thing going and made me feel unsure and off-balance. (With some wonderful experiences in between the uncertainty). I still do gravitate to these guys, but am getting better at cutting them off after not too long. Again, the info here helped with that. One rule of thumb mentioned was that every 3 months, a relationship should show signs of progress. If they are dragging their feet on any kind of committment (even, say exclusivity) after three months, then after another three months you’re not sure you have a boyfriend – may be time to move on.

    So I have to be aware of both these tendencies. No doubt the answer is somewhere in between. You should want to see them and hear from them and kiss them, but not feel the anxiety/off-balance thing when you’re constantly questioning yourself. You should both be putting in effort, and it should be relatively smooth.

    That’s my template of how it should be, from the learnings here and witnessing people in good relationships.

    In terms of opening yourself up to pain, since you’ve experienced some relationship trauma, I would also have a plan in place for the inevitable break-ups, or false starts that are par for the course in dating. Mine revolves around yoga, listening to Love U, spending time with my sister’s dog and some other soothing things like that. Otherwise you go into a tailspin after every setback and either decide to play it safe forever, or get re-traumatised each time. Of course, if it’s really bad, then professional help is also a good idea, as I’m just a random on a blog! haha.

    I’ve also accepted that my tendencies are always to try to fix the broken anxiety-ridden relationship, I can’t change that feeling. I can change the reaction, though, and remember that if I can get over my ex-husband, I can get over any bad dating experience!

    Hope that helps 🙂

    1. 3.1
      sylvana

      I think this was wonderful advice!

       

       

  4. 4
    Karl S

    OP should take some time to be single and process her past. Jumping straight into a new relationship seems like a dangerous move, especially with a guy looking for marriage after just 4 dates. Although, considering your last date was going to church together, maybe early talk of marriage is the norm among your community?

  5. 5
    Roxanne

    well for me I came from cheating and verbal abusive relationships but its not because I was attracted to guys who didn’t treat me well. They started off treating me well, and when they stopped, I stuck in hopes that we could fix the relationship and they would go back to treating me well because well they did it before instead of realizing that they are showing me who they are when they stopped. now that im dating I still focus on guys who treat me well but who KEEP on treating me well. but I too felt a little gun shy about a guy who did everything right before during and after the date and was really pissed at my self because I wasn’t attracted. I mean this guy feels like instant boyfriend except I am not feeling him at all and it really bothered me. I think it bothers me because I am afraid that when I do come across a guy that seems like a really good guy but I have attraction with that he is going to end up like the other guys who stopped treating me well and that if I let the guy go who treats me well but I have 0 attraction that somehow he would have been the one to treat me good forever lol. Like somehow attraction means bad because I have only started relationships with guys I was attracted to and look where that got me. so right now im trying to remember that “the next guy has nothing to do with the last guy” and choose guys I am attracted to and treat me well consistently and “not be blinded by chemistry” when they don’t and cut them quickly. thank you Evan for all your advice. good luck to the OP

  6. 6
    BellamyTree

    All the literature and online stuff, from popular to academic, says that when a man is planning your future together within weeks of knowing you, it’s a red flag about a likely controlling or abusive relationship.

    There is a lot online  and a lot of books about this now. All writers agree that wanting to tie you in very quickly is a marker for someone who will later on turn out to be controlling in all sorts of other ways as well. Even men who seem very ‘nice’ in the early stages. Think about it – already he’s trying to shape and determine your future together without letting things develop naturally.

    I think Evan often talks about healthy men needing a bit more time to get to know you before committing.

    Having left an emotionally abusive marriage 8 years ago, I did a lot of reading about controlling men with no empathy (call it what you will – narcissism, sociopathy, non-criminal psychopathy ). My ex-husband talked about our future together after 3 weeks. It seemed incredibly romantic. The first man I had a relationship with after separating also dove in very quickly. It’s a sign. But not a good one.

  7. 7
    Wahtevah Beech

    Nice job using someone as a rebound. Real nice use of the golden rule.

  8. 8
    loubelle

    my ex was full on as soon as we got together, lovebombed, future faked, lied, the whole lot. was with him 5 year (more fool me). He was emotionally abusive and controlling but turned himself into the victim lol. alarm bells went off initially tbh when he was always playing the victim, and pity party central at his house. woe me, please feel sorry for whats happened to me. He however as i have now found out brought it all on himself and what he accused other of he had done himself (cheating etc). gaslighting the whole works. alot of baggage, and whilst i dont mind that because we all have baggage his was his own doing and he continues to add to it by taking not a smidgen of responsibility. awful 5 years. after him i was bitter, resentful of men in general, thinking is this what men are like now days, i would rather be alone and not have to fight for every bloomin man against women who were less than moralistic, and against a man who wasnt moralistic even if he claimed to be. however, i am now with a man complete opposite and i deserve that. my ex said ‘you deserve better’, at the time i thought eh? now i realise he was 100% right. He was a covert narcisisist with real massive issues.

  9. 9
    Jennifer

    This post literally made me tear up. I can really relate to the attachment theory around experiencing love from abuse. After 10 years of being single I have finally met someone who is completely different to the men I used to become involved with. Because he treats me nicely I am petrified he doesn’t like me as much as I think he might. I now realise I feel afraid because the attachment he is expressing towards me is healthy and what I really deserve.

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