My first romantic relationship began fall of 2015 with someone who I will refer to as “Frank.”
Prior to this relationship, I promised myself to never lower my standards, to respect, honor and protect myself from fools who just want to get into their partner’s pants, and to never be afraid to speak my mind. I look back now in disbelief: I broke all three promises from the start of the relationship.
Though the experience was traumatizing, I came out of it more aware of myself and much stronger. Here are 6 tips for anyone who has yet to enter, or might be entering, a romantic relationship for the first time.
1. Protect yourself – not your partner’s reputation – from his misbehavior
Over the course of the relationship, I felt like I needed to protect Frank’s reputation. He would share with me things that I found very disturbing, things that warranted red flags, but I kept them to myself.
Looking back, I realize that I was worried that anything negative about him would reflect badly on me. If I had attracted such a person, what did that say about me? Now that I think of it that makes little sense, he was responsible for his behavior, not me.
2. Your body is your own
If your prospective partner’s hints at his sexual desires take priority over your wellbeing, drop the relationship instantly.
During one of our phone conversations, Frank listed to me what he thought were the rights of a wife that her husband owed her. He then asked me, while nervously chuckling, “Do you know what the rights of the husband are?”
Instead of giving him the answer he was looking for, I argued there is more to a relationship than just sex. I didn’t know how else to voice how disturbing I found his insinuations.
3. Keep someone in the loop about the relationship
Find someone with whom you are close and whom you trust, and keep them in the loop about how you are feeling. If you can’t do this, at least keep a journal. You want to be able to reflect on your conversations once your head feels clearer.
Frank once told me about a girl who went to his high school who told him he needed “to get laid.” Why did he share that with me? What was the message in there for me? Was I his solution to the problem in that story?
Again, I covered this up to protect Frank and suppressed how it made me feel.
4. Just because your prospective partner desperately wants to get married doesn’t mean you have to be
Time and time again, Frank would tell me how disappointed and sad he would be if this relationship did not work. I was aware he was saying this to make me feel horrible for ever trying to end the relationship. It was obvious that he was desperate and that made me feel pressured – like I had to keep going.
Now that I am out of the relationship, it boggles my mind how I allowed him to manipulate me. I was in no rush to get married and his desperation was no reason for me to keep the relationship going.
5. Lying is not cool – ever
If your prospective partner is lying to impress you, he is not worth sharing your life with, let alone any of your time. Frank would often tell me that he shared my passion for travel and my obsession with fruit-filled breakfasts, in ways that gave me a gut feeling that he was not being honest.
Some friends would tell me that if he’s lying to impress me that meant he was really into me. I say that’s bogus! If a guy can’t be open and honest with you from the beginning who says he will be honest later on.
6. ‘Polite’ harassment is still harassment
It’s just called “passive” aggression.
It was not until many months later that I found the courage to end the relationship. A few months later, he bcc’ed me an email offering to send weekly emails sharing religiously-oriented videos.
I blocked his email.
I now ask myself: how did I let this happen to me?
The relationship began after a mutual contact connected us after Frank expressed interest in me. We began talking on the phone and had a couple of in-person chaperoned ‘encounters’ – I won’t even refer to them as dates because of how disturbing they were for me.
Before this relationship, I wasn’t naive to the fact that some people can be sleazy and manipulative. I turned down other individuals who made such advances.
But because Frank approached me in a formal way I assumed he could be the one. Also, the mentors with whom I had surrounded myself at the time made the guy seem like he was more than who he actually was. The mentors who did not know him were always prepared to reassure me that being married was far better than being single.
In addition, I felt like I needed to give in and accept him with all his shortcomings, as a result of the mental conditioning which girls are exposed to in my Arab-Muslim community. On top of that, the mentors I consulted made marriage seem like it was the be-all-end-all of life.
Romantic relationships and marriage should not be approached like a recipe or checklist. A union of two people, of two souls, is much more than mixing ingredients together and hoping it works out.