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.

       

  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 🙂

  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.

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