How to Become a Relationship Terminator

Relationships have been one of the biggest challenges in my life for many years now and this week held yet another lesson. I’m starting to recognize the patterns I allow to repeat and to see that I’m being given the opportunity to act on my own behalf. In other words, it’s high time I learned to get Terminator tough and stick up for myself!

I was blasted with another bunch of bad behaviour from men online. I think this must be designed to murder the feisty bitch that is my ego. Kill her dead once and for all time. She always seems to come back, albeit looking a little worse for wear like the robot in Terminator after Arnold was gone, dragging itself by one scrawny metal arm. Ew. Just die already!

But then something good emerged: me, as Sarah Connor, with a machine gun and mirrored sunglasses, spraying bullets and not giving a flying f*ck what anyone thought.

All this while fighting a nasty cold. The kind that makes it impossible to do anything without rolling up Kleenex and stuffing it into each nostril. Took two days for the mucous to thicken and then it tried to go into my lungs. Not happening. Out came the eucalyptus and the head over the bowl steaming trick my Mom always used for us. By this time, I’d lost my sense of smell and it was only when a friend came and dropped off a loaf of homemade bread for me that I realized I may have overdone the eucalyptus a bit. At least it masked what must have been the overwhelming cat box smell….

A Tale of Two Typical Men

So I’m already not at my best. No coffee with friends to make me laugh at myself and no relief by going to work and distracting myself there. Instead, I was communicating with two guys on the dating site. And I was not in any mood to mess around. “Put up or shut up,” as the saying used to go, back in the 70s. (Ah! The 70s! Another typical bumper sticker: “Beam me up, Scotty. There’s no intelligent life here.” Bumper stickers seem to have fallen out of favour as the Boomers have gotten older and a lot less funny. Now they’re worried about the damage the sticker might do to their Lexus or Audi and about their car being keyed if they express a non-copacetic point of view. No one laughs out loud anymore! They only LOL. I digress…)

First Up

Guy #1 was someone I “liked.” There is a heart shaped button at the bottom of every person’s profile – and an X. If you “like” them, you hit the heart and they get a notification. Now I have only clicked “like” on a few men but I know that men typically like as many women as possible, thinking it increases their odds. Maybe it does but I’m trying to be a little discerning here. As much as it is possible in a fake world with fake people out to rip each other off and everyone wearing their best selfie smiles. It’s not quite as bad as the doomsday landscape of the Terminator movies but it’s close.

Anyway, this guy had that curly hair and happy smile that I’m a sucker for and not much else but I thought I should be proactive. A few days later he liked me back and we exchanged a couple flirty messages. Then he asked what I was doing Friday night and we made arrangements to have a glass of wine and phone call after I was off of work.


Meanwhile, Guy #2 had “liked” me and messaged me. We had written back and forth a few times but he was one of those irritating communicators who would suddenly “drop out” of a conversation. I always go into “red alert” mode when talking to guys like this now. Are they talking to several women at once and having a much more interesting conversation with someone else? Or are they watching the hockey game and it’s not intermission yet? Inevitably, something even more nefarious creeps into my imagination. Guys like this on dating sites are plentiful and strange.

Excuse Me…Are You a Cyborg?

When I was first going online, oh so many years ago now, these types of messaging relationships would have me absolutely baffled. I remember being so excited that I was talking to someone and sharing stories about our lives. We’d be writing back and forth when oddly they would go silent. Right in the middle of an exchange! It would be like having dinner with someone at a restaurant and bantering back and forth, laughing and talking. Suddenly they get up from the table and without saying a word, turn and leave.

I’d go over our conversation, reading everything, to see if I’d said something off-putting and then carefully craft a message, gently asking if everything was all right. There would be a delay – sometimes of hours, sometimes of days – and then a message would arrive as if nothing had happened.

I still don’t know what these guys are doing during this “downtime” but I know one thing for absolute certainty: they are just not that into me.

Same Old Song & Dance

So guy #2 began this dance. I called him on it – told him I wasn’t interested and disliked his communication style. It was a bit tough for me to be so assertive but I was ready to end this “relationship” and so stood up for myself.

Awhile later he actually wrote back and defended his actions, as these gas lighters do. He said he was trying not to “overwhelm” me or some stupid thing. Halfheartedly, and out of politeness more than anything, I wrote to him once more and again, he dropped out. The next morning I had a whole series of messages from him telling me that I needed to tell him when I was online so he could be more regular in his communication. Ha!

Was I sad over it? No! For I had a date with Guy #1, who had curly hair and a real job and everything.

Good Lovin’ Gone Bad

“Hope is just unrealized disappointment.”

South Korean Character in Sense8

Friday at work I was all smiles. This distraction proved to put me off my guard so that I didn’t notice some strange behaviour from a co-worker. (More on this another time.)

I stopped by the liquor store to get wine for my “date” night and hastily ate supper. I lit a candle and put on what I thought was a fairly safe playlist for background music. This guy was older so I chose ELO. Ah! The 70s! At the time we’d arranged, I texted, “Is it wine o’clock?” He texted back almost right away a laughing emoji and said it was.

Then I waited. And waited. Finally I texted again, asking politely if he was going to call me or WTF basically. He said oh, sorry, but he’d had to go help his Mom with his Dad, who had dementia. I said that was too bad and meant it on many levels.

Block You, Asshole

I sat in stunned silence – no, that’s not entirely true. ELO was bleating happily in the background. Did I mention how sick I am of their sappy nonsense? I grabbed my phone, went into the mystery that is the nuts and bolts of the thing and figured out how to block a number. There would be no more texts from Guy #2. I told myself that this would really show him! But honestly? He probably wouldn’t even notice.

What’s Your Excuse?

In my life I often make excuses for the bad behaviour of other people. This has been my coping strategy as long as I can remember. There are several reasons for this. Partly it is because nastiness, unkindness, and manipulation are just not something I do. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been deliberately mean to someone and I’m ashamed of each instance. Once I had been hurt very, very badly and another time I hadn’t slept properly in weeks. I figure that if someone is acting this way they must have a reason because I would have to have a pretty good reason.

I also hope that people would be understanding and forgive me for my bad behaviour. Allow me to apologize or make it up to them somehow. So I make up stories. Maybe they’ve just been told they have terminal cancer or their dog just died or their parents beat them every day and kept them chained up in a basement. In this way I can be kind to those who are mean to me.

The other reasons are more problematic and more embarrassing. Part of me is just happy someone is talking to me. This low self-esteem is what guys on dating sites prey on. Logically, I know I am just as worthy as any other person out there but emotionally, not so much. Sadly, I am learning that not everyone deserves a second chance. That some treatment should not be excused and the small feeling of indignance or anger deep inside me should not be ignored.

3 Minutes is All You Get

John Gottman is a relationship researcher who was profiled in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. Gottman uses a coding system to track every single expression in an interaction between couples in his lab. These codes are used to predict, with 80% to 90% accuracy, which couples will divorce. This accuracy holds even after a small three minute sample of their conversations. (Although there are problems with his research and the way he calls these outcomes “predictions,” there is definitely something to be learned about communication from his work!)

In Blink, Gladwell quotes Freud and points out that it is important to utilize quick, snap judgements in complex situations with many variables like a relationship. (Although it is counterintuitive, a more detailed “pro and con” analysis is better for simple decisions or ones where your own bias can come into play. Read a summary here.)

In an interview that I can’t find but remember because it struck me as true, Gottman said that the way a couple meets is like a microcosm of the way their entire relationship will go. Were they respectful towards one another? Was one person drunk or non-communicative? Did one person do all the “chasing” or emotional work? How the relationship began often carries a blueprint for how the relationship will continue. If one person had to chase the other in the beginning, chances are that they are still doing the chasing. Unless they finally got fed up and got a divorce after wasting years of their life, let’s say. Hypothetically. 😉 Gladwell calls this a “fist” or a pattern unique to each person – or in this case, couple.

Who Am I to Disagree?

If I apply this to internet dating, suddenly relationships that seem complicated become much clearer. Finding these patterns is shocking because I want to be “nice” and give everyone another chance. Then I realized: this has NEVER worked for me – ever. Not once has a guy that acted badly in the beginning turned around to be some amazing partner. (Some of my sordid history is here: Bullies and Bastards: How to Get Fired and End Up Alone)

All this went through my head as I sat alone by candlelight. I mean, Gottman has made his life’s work studying relationships. He must know a heckuva lot more than I do. Plus, he’s been divorced a couple times himself so he has some street cred as well.

Where There’s Smoke

With Guy #1, when I checked my gut, as Malcolm suggests, I felt a kind of romantic dizziness. A wilful ignoring of facts over some fantasy I’d concocted. I think this is how I stayed in a relationship for 32 years – I was actually in a relationship by myself and totally ignored what didn’t fit!  

If I begin to do this in the future (as I’m sure I will!), I’m going to look to the actions of the other person rather than my concocted story of what’s going on in their heads.

For Guy #2, it was much easier to see the pattern. My gut had been screaming at me since our very first interaction and it was saying, “WARNING! ALERT! This guy is hiding something  and might be crazy / a child molester / or a tax accountant in disguise!” Well, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic. For sure I felt uneasy and wary.

There was a little trick he used that I think might be helpful to point out. I’m embarrassed to admit that I fell for it all the time when I was first out of my marriage and desperate for attention. Guy #2 would drop out and disappear but when he came back full of excuses, he’d throw in a gratuitous compliment about my “nice smile” or imply that he was smitten with me somehow. My ego would then allow his attentions once again. Flattery will get you everywhere…

Of course it is completely wasted on the jaded me of today.


Goodbye Stranger

So I went onto the dating site and blocked both Guy #1 and #2. BAM! GONE!

After all, who am I to go against Gottman?

This is something I’ve rarely done: not given someone the opportunity to come back with a story, an excuse, a reason even! I am nearly giddy over the power this has given me. It is me saying, “I won’t be treated badly.”

Face the facts: If a relationship starts off badly, it is not going to get better. I have enough experience now to know that all the fantasizing, excuses, or second-third-fourth chances only prolong the inevitable and waste my time.

Here is an excerpt from the Gottman Institute on how to form meaningful connections:

“When you make a bid (an attempt to connect) for connection and the person you’re dating turns toward you with interest, affection, and understanding, a deposit is made into your Emotional Bank Account. And positive deposits build trust.”

How Does It Feel?

A few years ago, being younger, I had quite a few interested men online. I thought that I should be polite so any guy that “liked” me, I would feel obligated to “like” in return. This meant that I was spending hours in conversations that ranged from banal to threatening. I had trouble keeping details straight so developed a spreadsheet listing names and numbers of children, jobs, etc. Then I developed the spreadsheet even further, listing each trait that I wanted in a partner along with a weighted rating system so that I could better filter on who to give more attention to.

I also had a list of deal breakers that would zero out ANY of the good traits automatically. These are the guys that should have been blocked completely but I just didn’t have the “heart” to do that to them.

In the end, no matter how carefully I crafted the spreadsheet, a brand new deal breaker that I hadn’t even considered would come up as I was talking to some guy. Eventually, in frustration, I scrapped the whole spreadsheet idea and wrote along the bottom, in all caps, HOW DO THEY MAKE YOU FEEL?

If I pay attention to how I feel when I begin talking to someone as well as look carefully at their actions, I will know exactly what to do. And yes, it may mean terminating them from my world. Sticking up for myself feels so good. Plus, I know that I’m making Sarah Connor proud.

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