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How Do I Fix My Picker?

Dear Chump Lady,

Do you have any advice on how to fix a broken picker?

I’m nowhere near ready to date yet. Not even close. But in all that I read, the message is very clear: chumps should go out, find a life, enjoy and grow ourselves. And this clearly will take some time. I’m okay with that. But what I’m not sure about is whether having a full life is enough to actually fix our bad bias when it comes to choosing a partner. I worry that no matter how happy I am with life, I’ll still avoid the good guys and be lured in by the enchanting dark temptation of the disordered.

I want to fix my picker. Any advice warmly welcomed. 

Caroline

Dear Caroline,

This is a big topic, but I’ll hit the highlights and I hope Chump Nation will fill in with their experiences too. Fixing your picker really just comes down to fixing yourself and learning to have better boundaries.

Fact is, freaks are out there. I can’t give you a 100 percent guarantee that your life will never intersect with another disordered freak. You don’t control that, but what you do control is YOU. Where you were once a chump, now you’re mighty. Where you once ate shit sandwiches, now you know what a deal breaker is. Where you once spackled and tolerated abuse, now you know how to enforce a boundary — and what happens when you do not. (More abuse.)  Moreover, you know that you’ve survived infidelity. You stared that motherfucker down and you won.

This is powerful knowledge that you take forward with you.

So you want to “fix your picker”?

A) Start small. Forget finding the love of your life right now and dating. Look at your circle of friends. Are you being a chump with them too? Are you keeping Switzerland jerks in your life who are neutral about infidelity or your ex? Are you eating shit sandwiches of “shared history” and tolerating disrespect? Jettison crappy people from your life. Cherish the people who show up, who reciprocate, who get you, and bring out your best self. When you master friendship and keep healthy people in your life, and you know how to be a friend? Then I grant you permission to date.

The best relationships aren’t based on just lust or status, they’re based on shared values. Think of a relationship as a very long conversation. Can you sustain interest in this person and they in you? You want a partner you wouldn’t mind being trapped in a small room with for the next 30 years.

B) Know what you want. It’s okay to want the dream — a loving, committed partner who cherishes you. There is nothing wrong with you for wanting that. Not one damn thing. I swear we’re all afraid to own up to this, like it’s a flaw, like people will sniff the neediness out on us or something. I mean, WTF with the “hook up” generation? If you don’t want to be a friend with benefits, DON’T BE. No judgment on FWBs, a person needs to get laid sometimes, I get it. But never confuse this with a relationship. It’s okay to hold out for the real deal and dump people who don’t measure up.

If someone keeps you around as an option and you want their full attention? Quit wasting your time. DUMP.

If after ages and ages of dating, this person can’t “define the relationship” — let me define it for you — it’s dead. You’re kibbles. Go find a real monkey.

Healthy relationships build organically and slowly. (Only the disordered instantly Love You!) But they move in the direction of increasing intimacy and connection. If your relationship is going in circles and you’re getting mixed messages? Mixed messages are actually a message that say “DUMP ME.”

C) Know what you want, but don’t want it so bad that you’ll tolerate crap. It’s okay to want the dream — a loving, committed partner who cherishes you. It’s not okay to accept shit thinking your abject humility and unconditional understanding will make it happen.

If it’s not happening? Dream a new dream.

D) Look for reciprocity. The best indication I can give you that you’re in a healthy relationship is that the other person wants to DO for you. Effort is sexy. Good people remember what you said and care how you feel. If you do for them, they want to do for you. There is no scorecard, no begrudging attitude, and no snark about your vulnerabilities. Good people are open for relationships and they communicate that with interest and availability. Pay attention.

E) Avoid the sparkly. If you like Bad Boys and Girls, that’s on you. Other people do not confer sparkle status on you. They don’t complete you. Quit being a kibble dispenser and start being your own person. If you need the extra frisson of dangerous sparkles to be coupled, examine that. Do you like the adrenaline rush of the pick me dance? Do you thrill to the competition? Do you have a little latent narcissism yourself? (The sparkly person LIKES me! I am MAGNIFICENT to be in their circle!) Stand up for who you are. If you aren’t anyone and are just a inchoate blob of potential — go be something. Then real people will be attracted to you for YOU. Not for what you can do for them, buy them, or kibble dispense at them.

And chumps, that’s all you want really — real people, not fakes. When you’re authentic (a steady diet of chumpy shit sandwiches does not make you authentic, it makes you resentful and phony), then you’re ready to be a healthy partner and friend.

Get out there, Caroline!

This column ran previously, but hey, we all need a picker primer. 

Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at info@chumplady.com. Read more about submission guidelines.
  • After my divorce I spent 2 years and 8 months in therapy. I am an extrovert by nature, a talkative and friendly person, but I made a choice to shut up my mouth and learn to listen instead for two long years. I was called “the quiet one” at work. 🙂 The thing is I learned to be patient during those years of silence, I learned to hear the person in front of me instead of just prijecting and coming up with conclusions. That brought me huge benefits. I am happy living by my own, came to like myself and enjoy my own company, made few but strong friends in the process and learned how to wead those people who, unfortunately, are no good for me. I haven’t found anyone to partner up with romantically yet, but that’s OK. I am confident that I will know when I see him this time, there is no rush. So yeah, I guess the key is to work on yourself really, know yourself, trust yourself and love yourself in that healthy way that doesn’t tolerate disfunction any more.

    • “I learned to hear the person in front of me instead of just prijecting and coming up with conclusions.”

      You weren’t one of those types who assumed you knew what people wanted to say and therefore finished their sentences?

      • I was one of those types who assumed that people in front of me were just as I was. I was seeing them through my own qualities and faults, and not as they were. I was naive.

        • yup, that’s me, seeing those in front of my through my own qualities and faults and not as they were. I was (am?) a “don’t judge someone because they see the world differently/grew up differently” type. I am still struggling with this. I knew my ex-husband was from another world than me, but he seemed to be like me on some levels, and he professed to be! and I chose to believe the words instead of the actions. I don’t want to “judge” people, however, it seems fundamentally important in the world of life partners. I was alone 13 years before I married my ex. I loved my alone life, but wanted to see what marriage offered, and I thought I was being SO choosy about a partner. I was naive. When he left I thought I was duped, and I was, but by myself for 18 years.

          • Be kind to yourself. You are a good human being. I know so well what it feels like to doubt and be angry at myself for making this mistake of choosing a narc as a husband. And it took me a long time and a LOT of work on myself to see that: hey! he was an ass. I don’t own that. I was genuine in my love and commitment to him. I can learn though, and maybe next time I will do better. There is always hope. I don’t like judging people either, butI now see it as necessary for my survival. I have the option of walking away if their values do not align with mine. I don’t steal or lie or hurt people on purpose, so why should I spend a minute with someone that does that or finds that acceptable? That’s all really. Hugs to you. You are mighty!

            • Hmmm yes … being boundaries but staying the non-judgemental person I prefer to be … a tricky balance. Think I’ve nderlined a paragraph in a Brene brown book somewhere on that!

              • Look at at like this: judge behaviour not people. Also know, and this is a fact, that you can not make anyone see their wrong doings or change anyone who doesn’t see change necessary for them. Some people like being assholes. And that’s fine with me, I just choose not to pour my soul to them.

      • Just around the bend, I’m sorry, I finish sentences. How awful when some holds up the mirror, I’ll try to stop and be a bit more patient

    • Well said. You’ve just alerted me to something I need to work on. Thank you for sharing how you did it.

    • What a great post, Unchumping! Bravo to you for making such big and important changes. That is really mighty!

  • I remind myself that his infidelity doesn’t define me. It defines him. I’m not lesser than because he cheated. I’m a good person who will use the knowledge from this experience to walk away when the red flags are waving. Knowing I can survive alone and don’t need to settle just to have someone in my life.

    • Interesting how the chumps tend toward gun shy and the cheaters think they’re relationship material. Infidelity is probably the biggest indicator that one is a relationship imbecile. I cannot even imagine dating…9 months out from DDay in a 27 year relationship. The bar is so high right now even I am not getting over it. My husband and the AP totaled my marriage, totaled me, totaled my daughter, and two weeks ago I totaled my beloved MBZ AMG parking at the divorce attorney’s office (my foot slipped off the brake onto the gas). So right now me, my daughter, and my car are in the shop and I am not going on a date until I am confident that I am road ready….A LONG WAYS AWAY. Been in therapy and recovery too long to do otherwise. I might go on a date (which means do something FUN and DON’T get physical) if Jamie Fraser from Outlander asks me out. Which isn’t likely.

      • I am a car girl and I love car metaphors…for the “before” pictures, Google “Mercedes In Mind” San Francisco Chronicle….and pray that my car can be restored to sanity. I am letting go if that’s what Higher Power wants, but my mechanic and everyone else is saying
        “REBUILD”. It’s been a great metaphor for my life right now……

        • More car/relationship metaphors…enjoy!

          Long term relationships are like high-performance driving…a learned skill.

          My husband flunked the “driving test.”
          (He is not old enough to drive)

          If you don’t follow the maintenance schedule, you kill the car. Marriages and cars require maintenance.

          Buy your dream car, the highest quality you can. If you follow the maintenance schedule you can drive it and enjoy it for life. Same with relationships.

          Don’t try to build a Ferrari from junkyard parts.

          Don’t expect your car to last if you neglect and abuse it. Or intentionally drive it into a wall.

          I thought my marriage was a Ferrari and we were maintaining it together. He drove it on purpose into a wall when he had an affair(s?) and totaled it.

      • So true. We’re so busy trying to fix ourselves and the cheater is off thinking he’s got all the answers for success in his new relationship (the one that started on a foundation of lies and deceit).

        Ironic.

        • Yes ONM ^^^^. And the worst part is that us chumps (or at least me) think that those assholes really DO have all the answers and ARE truly changed for the better for the new sparkly OW.

          I need constant trust that they suck reminders :/

          • Reminder: affairs are dysfunctional relationships and a symptomatic of the grand relationship incompetence of the participants!

            • Thank you Velvet Hammer! Those words are delivered perfectly in my time of need. And they are full of truth, as is the whole CN site for which I am forever grateful!

  • I needed this today. Just out of major relationship after divorce. This one wasn’t a cheater but still a manipulator to (still) chumpy me. I didn’t look at the red flags, listen to my gut instinct, I thought I had the “dream” a man who loved and cared for me, and ignored the signs. Wasn’t until I decided I couldn’t see a future with an alcoholic, non-parenting parent salesman who could reel me back with words until one day he didn’t. For me. My happiness. I upped and left.

    Picker is sorting its shit. And it’s ok not to have the dream. I am ok.

    • Hey Emma,

      I’m another who had a terrible major relationship after divorce. It lasted just under a year, with an old high school boyfriend. Who was a total alcoholic. Who loved me instantly. I was reeling so hard from the blindsiding of my divorce that I just clung to it.

      I almost, ALMOST could acknowledge that I was taking wrong steps when I got serious with him. I knew in the back of my mind that when everything turned to shit, it would be that much harder to recover, since I had repressed so much pain from my Cheater.

      Like you, I’m ok. I appreciate the solidarity that many of us have experienced this, though. It’s ok to make mistakes. And it doesn’t mean that we aren’t capable of healthy relationships. Hang in there, girl. We got this.

      • It’s a really important point that nothing good comes from repressing the pain from the cheater, D-Day and the endow a relationship and then jumping into something new.

      • Thanks Liz, I also fell for the instant love bombing, flowers delivered to work, expensive holidays the whole bit. Even though I was 2 1/2 years out from cheater, I was craving what this felt like and fell for it. But in time things started to reveal themselves and I discovered a narc under all the layers of masks. Since leaving (2 months ago) I can’t believe how light, energetic and calm I am. He was sucking all the life out of me! Thank you for saying “it doesn’t mean we are not capable of healthy relationships” I have to tell myself this at times when the doubt creeps in.

      • Hi Emma and Liz,
        So glad you guys wrote in. I was feeling like I was the only idiot who got into another bad relationship my first time out the gate. I think what did me in was ignoring the red flags because he was so sweet and sparkly! I thought I had graduated from Narc University and could spot them a mile away- and of course- lightnig couldn’t possibly strike twice!? This was the universe rewarding me with Mr.Right after so long and all the pain I’d gone through. Well, I was naive as hell. To make a long story short, the man I dated for 8 months and proclaimed to love me so was actually married for the last 8 years. After I found out, I asked him what kind of man would know what I’ve gone through with my ex-husband (cheating and emotional abuse) and actively pursue me knowing he had this double life secret. He said “what kind of man? Like 100,000 men would!” No apology. I of course promptly found his wife’s number and told her what had happened and who he was. She seemed mildly surprised and is still with him. She texted me the next day that she confronted him and he doesn’t want to go to counseling, but she “hopes he won’t do it again”. I left it alone after that. It’s her life. I now realize I have to always follow my gut if they don’t seem right or add up. I have a habit of looking at the best in people and taking what they say above my own intuition. That’s gonna have to change from here out.

        • Trusting intuition is a big one for me, our stories are so similar, OL. I liked what you said about the universe rewarding you, I thought this narc was my prize too, delivered after all the bad shit I’d had to deal with… finally, I thought, this was something GOOD for ME. Nope, turns out it was another lesson for me to learn (or several) to tweak that picker.

          • Ugh, SO TRUE for me too. God/the Universe was giving me this man as a reward for what I had to go through. Nope…

            It doesn’t seem fair to have to go through the horror of cheating and divorce, then turn around and deal with another terrible relationship! But I begrudgingly admit that it has made me wiser. We are human and we have been through the wringer, but it didn’t break us.

            Even though that rebound guy wasn’t Prince Charming, I do fully believe each of us deserves one (if we desire another relationship, that is). I haven’t given up hope–I’m just trying to be more patient.

            • Hi Liz,

              Thanks for commenting, I haven’t given up hope yet either- though I will say that I did have some moments of feeling like maybe all men were just dogs. I know that’s not true, and I’m related to some great men and am friends with some great guys, I just have to tweak my picker. So, this last guy, just like you said, I’ve “begrudgingly” had to learn from. The red flags were there- I knew he said a couple “white” lies in the beginning about himself, had said some weird things/stories about people he knew were cheating that were not exactly in line with how I felt, he had no contact with his first 2 teenage kids (apparently the mother left him and took the kids and he has no contact now with her or the kids). I took his SAD story from his side of being alienated from his own children. Looking at things now, I bet “no contact” was probably the best thing that woman could do for herself. I also still realize I need to get better at implementing my boundaries, and calling people out when they say things that I know don’t add up. The power is ours, we know in our hearts and minds what’s really right and if something seems off. I do still believe in love and I wish for you and all the other ladies to find it too – first strongly inside ourselves and then, when we’re ready with that right person, who knows what love really is. hugs

    • I think the first break up after the divorce might be the most difficult to do. I mean, when was the last time you had to say “this isn’t working for me”?
      Sure we had to exit our marriage but that was easy, I had a photo of Narkles the Clown and the Flying Whore together. There was nothing to talk about. That was it. Boundary crossed and consequences ensued.
      This thing where you don’t have a big blatant action, where its really about being devalued or love bombed and taken for granted, that’s where it gets grey. It’s a judgement call. You have to have the judgement that this is unacceptable and you need to move on. Many of us work hard at relationships and everything we do. We give people the benefit of the doubt, the shirt off our back or the last dollar in our wallet. It’s not in our nature to say “I’m sorry, this isn’t working for me. I need to end this relationship.” But that’s what we need to do.

      • Yup exactly that’s what I just did. It really hurts. He still insists that he loves me but couldn’t treat me the way I need to be treated and attempted to break a very important boundary. I’ll allow myself a month to grieve then get on with my life and continue on fixing my picker.

      • Trusting intuition is a big one for me, our stories are so similar, OL. I liked what you said about the universe rewarding you, I thought this narc was my prize too, delivered after all the bad shit I’d had to deal with… finally, I thought, this was something GOOD for ME. Nope, turns out it was another lesson for me to learn (or several) to tweak that picker.

  • I think I decided yesterday that there are a lot of people I have to cut out of my life. Mutual friends, primarily church, are supporting her and/or acting as Switzerland. Some don’t know who she is, but some do. I have to fix my picker, but right now I’m without the support group I thought I built over the last 18+ months of hell. It feels just like another round of devaluing and discarding. We start to actually file for divorce today. Ugh …

    • Big day and big decisions. Be brave.

      I was in the same boat; church friends and all. It seems especially tricky given what we’re taught about the church community.

      But they simply don’t share my values. And they know who she is & what she did (or part of it).

      Hang in there, a better day is coming.

      • Thanks, Tall One. If you don’t mind me asking, are you co-parenting? We’ve been very active in our church community since we moved here 3 years ago. I thought of our pastor as a friend (many nights drinking scotch and bullshiting). I want the boys to stay in a community that loves them. I just don’t think I can stay. So, if you are co-parenting, how does this work? Any insight appreciated.

        • You know how you can buy velcro strips and the better velcro is really hard to pull apart? Thats what your job is right now. You need to rip your life away from the your STBXW and stand alone. What attached to your other, adhesive side is what matters and stays with you in your new life.

          No contact makes that rip easier. And no contact likely means finding a new church, life, friends, etc.. Focus on ripping yourself away.

          I’m on the other side of the fire and am just beginning to understand what divorce really means to my poor, chumpy brain. It means I go this way because she went that way. The kids come across the emotional bridge to my life, then the kids take the bridge back to her life.

          Co-parenting means I physically take the kids to her house or I take them to an appointment when its my time. It doesn’t mean we overlap in some way like I once thought except for events. Again, my values are not her’s (or Switzerland-friends’). So, my values in my house, her’s at her house.

          The best state of mind I’ve achieved is the thought that my son and daughter deserve an emotionally healthy mother. And while I can wish all sorts of pain or cancer or karma to strike her down, my kids don’t deserve that pain. So I can wish her well for their sakes (but I dont out loud).

          Find a new life to live with a new place to worship. There might be some new cute singles there waiting for a guy like you….

          • If your question is what to do about the kids’ religious experience, she can take them to the church she goes to (presumably the Switzerland one) and you can find a community for all of you when you have Sunday custody. The kids will be fine. It might be good to try on a lot of faith communities before you make your choice.

          • Tall One, I either agree with you or hope to feel that way some day. Officially taking a break from church and will worship elsewhere for, at least, a while. I won’t go as far as to say it’s permanent yet. But I am definitely leaning that way. Everything filed. Just need to take this parenting class together and wait on the judge.

      • yesshesucks- The church part has been a struggle for me too, ( nonetheless my faith and the remnant friends have helped me survive and dare I say it…almost thrive). I understand Grace and my need for it, I understand we all make but mistakes, but geesh- when do we call a wrong a wrong? When does church begin to be a place of refuge for the serially betrayed and offer them love and comfort without immediately shoving the forgiveness rhetoric down the throats of the emotionally starved and abused? Why does it feel to some that to remain in the church perpetuates our stay in Chumpdom? I think real faith empowers us to know where our identity is and to know our worth in spite of being discarded by someone we once loved. If you’re current community isn’t offering you that, find one that does.

    • “We are filing for divorce”? That has me a little concerned. I am filing for divorce sounds better. I don’t know how long you have been married or your particulars but I hope you have your own lawyer and you are doing this meeting with separately so your best interest are taken care of.

      • Thanks for your concern, Gentle Reminder. Once couples therapy proved unsuccessful (she cheated after we’d been in it 6 months), I found the mediator and got a shit sandwich I could live with. I contacted the legal person who put the paperwork all together for me to print/organize (a process I found to be both terribly sad and somewhat cathartic). Since I contacted legal person, I am the one serving. This is giving me something of a sense of control, but it never would have gotten done if I didn’t make it happen. We should be able to do the first 2 steps today. We have to take a parenting class, together (yuck), before we can complete step 3. Then we wait at least 21 days before a court appearance (since we have kids).

        The mediator came recommended from our therapist, the legal person from the mediator. Was a lot cheaper than lawyers, and has made co-parenting doable the last several months.

    • If there is one big surprise I got from all that happened it was who stood by me, who I was able to lean on, who sat me down, dried my tears and said “it happened to me too” or “this sucks but you are going to be fine, in fact you will be fabulous!”
      That support system you built might not be the people you thought they were. You may be surprised who is your biggest cheerleader through this mess. For me it was a guy I went to high school with. We were not close in any way, in fact he lives hundreds of miles away from me and we haven’t been in the same room in nearly 30 years. Had no idea he had been through this too. He let me vent each night. He checked on me each day. He repeatedly reinforced that I would be fine and I would find some lucky guy who would value me. He told me every day for months. He was right. I guess my point is drop the Switzerland friends and cling to anyone who honestly tries to help you. Let them! I know sometimes it is hard, but allow them in and be there to return the favor.

  • I’m with Chump Lady – effort and action is sexy. And I may get myself into trouble here but in person is necessary. A meaningful, deep committed relationship doesn’t exist if all your contact is electronic. It’s very easy to e-maintain someone and hide behind a screen. If they like you, they want to SEE you – live, in person. This new digital age has made it much easier to be flaky.

    • Amen— they will SEE you live and in-person if you truly matter to them. This is also true for close friends. I’ve had to demote a close girlfriend of mine of many years who has not made any reciprocal efforts to visit with me in my time of need these last 2 years. In her (well-resourced shoes), I would have gotten on a plane already.

      Had to drop kick another less-close Switzerfrien-emy who, upon hearing I’d been narcissistically abused, correctly likened my exh to the abusive Perry character in Big Little Lies (Nicole Kidman’s character’s husband, played by Alexander Skarsgard), but then she mailed my abuser a Christmas card and asked if she and her husband and kids could fly down and come visit both me and my exh. Nope! I told her “since you’re still in touch with my abuser —who you correctly likened to Perry in Big Little Lies—- I seriously cannot be in touch with you.”

    • So, so, so sexy!
      Effort, action, caring, supporting, reciprocating…..all…..sooooooo……sexy!
      I’ve had some health issues lately and boyfriend has been there every step of the way. Plenty of, “let me get that”, “I can take care of it for you,” and “are you ready for that?” I see the difference every day in how I am treated but when the big stuff hits and I am not standing all alone it makes me want to cry my eyes out for not seeing how crappy my life was before. It’s nothing like giving birth to a man’s baby only to have him go right back to “work”

      It’s OK to want better for yourself and to hold out for it. You already know how to be there for someone else. Now you need to learn to let someone be there for you. It’s something a lot of us have to learn.

  • This is so timely for me. I just dumped my boyfriend. I hadn’t fixed my picker and ended up with another disordered narc. It was covert—he was so sweet I refused to see it. Then the blame shifting projection and gaslighting came up. We were talking about starting a life together. When i said he would have to pay rent in my house( because it’s all I have thanks to the narc ex), he refused, offering instead to buy half. On the face of it that sounds fair except I had already told him my greatest fear was losing my home. When asked he said his share would be willed to his daughter not me( note he is worth aboit 2 million and his plan was to sell his house worth aboit 1 million and put about 1/3 of that into my house leaving him hundreds of thousands leftover). He had already demonstrated that his generosity was only for himself and his grown daughter( trips, a new Jeep for Christmas and he was planning to pay half of a house for her). As I would be needing the income from my house within 5-7 years approaching retirement, this plan meant I would end up without my home if he died. There was zero empathy for my plight. Add to that the last minute need for a dog sitter when the two of them were leaving to go on a trip to scotland( and yours truly stepped up as they probably expected). They were gone 11days and I used a dog walker 3x ( with their permission) as hey you know I have a life! Not only did I not get thanked or given a gift for this favour, he actually gave me shit for using the dog walker and he didn’t want to pay for her( I flipped and walked out at that point). He paid but I felt that was him sending a message that I would never be a priority. I dumped him.
    I refused to believe what was right in my face. I spackled over bad behavior—again!! I actually broke up with him 3x before this final time. I just didn’t want to be alone.
    Now I do me..I learn to love myself so much no freak will be able to do this to me. SMDH

    • That is a first! Let’s move in together but I will buy your half of the house instead of paying rent? The other big problem that was not going to get better is his enabling aND spoiling his adult daughter with continued buying her expensive stuff . You were very smart not to fall for that.

        • Newlady15, you should be PROUD of yourself! Don’t beat yourself up that you didn’t see all the flags sooner, congratulate yourself that you set firm boundaries once you did see them flags a-waving. You had the strength and fortitude to walk away, even after investing time and your heart into the relationship. You did the right thing to run. Keep running from that one, and don’t look back!

          • Agreed! You saw the signs, correctly interpreted them, refused to spackle or dance, and got out before any serious damage. That’s a serious win, in my book.

            • Thank you cal gal and traffic. I know it but am hurting right now. My ex made me feel like I was a terrible person and unlovable and this is making me revisit those awful feelings. I just wasn’t ready and accepted behavior I shouldn’t have accepted. The boundary building took place while this guy and I were dating so kind of hard to go back and correct although I tried. I think we were doomed from the beginning because I won’t let it happen to me again. Onward and upward…

        • I am so glad someone brought this issue up! My now SO is a chump and it’s no surprise his ex is a narcissist but the problem is the narcissistic off spring. I watch my own daughters for signs of it but they seem to have a good amount of empathy thank god, but his kids!

          They are both flaming narcs and he does not want to deal with it! He is content to worship and jump through every hoop no matter how ridiculous.

          I tried being nice to them and to him about them but oh man it’s tough they make my skin crawl. One of them is already cheating on her fiancé (yes! another chump!)

          My picker is okay I think cause I have no problem with setting boundaries and priorities for myself but now I find myself partnered with someone who is still broken and not sure what to do to help him

          • Oh, NoMo. You didn’t break him and you can’t fix him. Step away quickly. He has to take care of his being chumped by his kids all by himself. I have a brother who married into that and she always chose her narcissist son over their marriage. Fifteen years after their divorce, he’s still dealing with fall out.

            Walk away from him sweetly, but decisively. Unless he decides not to be chumped by them, you’ll live in a mine field. He may be a wonderful person, but YOU deserve a marriage that doesn’t exist on eggshells.

            Big Hugs!

            • The worst part is that he insists he’s doing the right thing! Spackling is indeed his forte but we all know how that is

              • Okay. RUN! Seriously. He is still enmeshed with an abuser. He will expect you to be enmeshed and in service to the abuser too. If you think that it is difficult to get away from an abusive spouse because you “love him” just imagine how difficult it would be to break with a narcissistic abusive child. Odds are he never will and he will expect you to be sucked back into it. Renae is right: You cannot fix him–he probably doesn’t want to be fixed. Being a chump is partly making yourself available to become a target when you know better. Right now, they are both watching you to gauge your behavior and see how much you will put up with. Besides there is no guarantee that his cheater was the only narcissist in that house. If you recognize that she is abusive and you recognize that he refuses to see it, do you really believe he would ever acknowledge if you become the target of her abuse–let alone defend you from it? He won’t. I have a friend who took on a marriage like this and her two stepchildren have beaten her down into as big a mousy doormat as I ever was for my ex. Sometimes you can only save one person and it is absolutely okay if that one person is you!

          • Careful of what might be a bit of your own codependent tendency. This isn’t for you to fix. It isn’t for you to “help”. This isn’t your situation.

            Believe me, the co-dependent traits I have of “care-taking” and “control” are seeing some signs here. It’s part of what I’ve been working on for the last year (starting when I was in RIC mode last year hoping that dealing with my “co-dependent” traits would help save my marriage – yet that very thinking was co-dependent anyways.

            You might want to check out Melody Beattie, Dodependent No More, and journal the reflections questions in her chapters. Hard core codependency is a bit scary. I think that it is more likely that people have some tendencies.

              • I was at a waterpark last week and the woman sitting next to me was reading this book! I wanted to give her a fist bump 🙂

            • I do need to read that one and maybe aloud lol thank you

              I am glad you took something good away from your stint with the RIC!

              • If you think the RIC is all for enabling abuse, wait until you see how our culture treats stepparents. Especially stepmoms. You are expected to do everything for his children and never say a peep. Any hint of disapproval from you or boundary setting will be interpreted as you being an evil stepmom. Her enabling father will complain that he is in the middle, or, does not see the abuse. He may even bond with her over putting you down because that is the relational aggressive triangle he is used to.Please get away from this man NoMo…

      • Run as far and fast away as you possibly can if you meet a man who is supporting and enabling adult daughters. Some kind of weird ass dynamic going on there. Ask me how I know.

    • NewLady 15,
      Thank you for this today.
      I have a boyfriend I started seeing 8 months after my divorce. He’s fun, everybody loves him.
      We don’t live together, but would like to. He (at age 50) has his mother living with him because due to chronic pain she’s heavily narcotic addicted and when he became single he took that on.
      It’s not that she can’t be on her own, she chooses to be this way. She does have pain, but she’s her own irresponsible pharmacist. She’s kind of driven everyone away but her son and he feels responsible for her.
      She treats him like her husband and finds ways to come between us. He has a daughter and a brand new granddaughter that he barely sees because he literally goes to work and just manages her. He spends a couple nights a week with me if she doesn’t orchestrate some “emergency” to bring him back.
      He allows this….I get it. He’s part of the problem, an enabler. We’ve broken up for short periods of time.
      He’s a great guy…..but as long as she walks this earth I will have no real relationship with him. I know he needs to make a choice and walk away and look out for her from afar.
      I’m buying the marital home from my ex next week. I feel super mighty. I have had this epiphany the last week or so that unless the dynamic of their relationship changes that this is no longer acceptable to me.
      Sometimes fixing your picker comes in many different forms. I feel ready to walk away as long as her dysfunction is going to take center stage in our relationship. I guess my inner conflict has always been that I didn’t want to be the person that encouraged somebody to cut off their own mother.
      Your post really helped me today.
      He doesn’t have to change anything if he doesn’t want to, but I do.
      This is my life.
      I am inspired by the mightiness I find here.

      • Yeah. Beware of unhealthy mother-son relationships.

        I have a mother who has suffered from mental illness for 18 years, and I am her primary care-giver when she has bad episodes. Over the years, we have developed clear boundaries so that my own life does not become paralyzed and to break the potential of dependency. I enlist the aid of services in the community and family members, and my mother simply has no choice in the matter. It took a couple of years for her to understand that I will not be there every time I’m called. I triage. Is it an emergency? No. Then call your doctor, call his nurse and get yourself in for an appointment. Are you just feeling unsettled? Then, call so-and-so and find out if they are available for coffee this afternoon and they’ll keep you company. I will be there today or tomorrow at this time for this long, after I’m finished work, got the kids where they need to be. I will call you later to check in on how you’re are feeling and share in what you have done in the last while to help yourself feel better.

        It took a long time to reach this point, after I suffered compassion fatigue when I was on maternity leave with my pre-mature daughter and my mother suffered six major episodes (and six hospital admissions) in about a five month period. It is not healthy for this guy to not set clear boundaries with his mother that are therapeutically positive. If he can’t manage that decently, then he’s not in a place to balance a romantic relationship in his life well.

        Again, my two cents worth only.

        Unless it is an emergency (and I’ve learned to identify a real emergency from drama)

        • Thank you!!
          It’s very comforting to hear this from someone who is in the position of being the care giver that clear boundaries need to be set.
          It’s been 3 years that we’re togetger, it’s only gotten worse.
          This is not a life I can live.

          • Good for you! Just because he is willing to be an enabler for his mom doesn’t mean you have to sign on to share that burden.

      • Mine has an equally unhealthy relationship with his daughter. He treats her like she’s 8 and she behaves like she’s 15(she is 29). He pays almost everything for her and gave me shit about the dog walker instead of gratitude for the absolute huge favour I did taking care of her dog for 11days. I was becoming the doormat I swore I would never be again. We can’t fix them.. they have to want to fix themselves. It’s sad but we have to be our own advocate and walk away to protect ourselves. ((((Hugs))))

    • Oh yeah you dodged a bullet with that one. I’m not against treating your kids special but it would appear your needs would not have been a priority and these covert types tend to use their kids to make you feel like you are always taking a back seat. It is very deliberate and a great weapon to use against you. If you take issue with his attention and money being focused on his kid, he’ll make you feel guilty or look bad to others. In any case the lack of a gift for dog sitting, 11 days mind you, speaks volumes.

    • NewLady

      The best part was protecting yourself and your future! Coverts are very tricky and difficult to spot. With them as all predators it’s not what they have, it’s what they need. You set a boundary and had expectations. Good job!

      And what they have is often an illusion. There’s a difference in being a millionaire and being humble.

    • NewLady … good for you. If there is one thing I have learned from all the mess of divorce, it is to NEVER sacrifice my financial security for anyone. I will never, ever buy a house with anyone … I will ALWAYS fully own my own house even if I share it with someone else. A loving partner may live with me, but if at any time that arrangement needs to change … it is very clear who will be leaving and who will own the house left behind!

      • I’m with you. No more mingling of finances/assets for me. When I die it all goes to the kids but that’s it (ok, if I have an SO that I really like I might leave him a few bucks in my will to spend on fun if there is anything left by then).

        • Yeah well, if you live in a community property State and your SO has been contributing to the cost of anything related to YOUR house, they can claim a portion of it. It is best to make sure that any “contribution” goes to groceries, gas, car insurance, phone/cell bills, water, cable, internet…stuff that THEY use too. Do not include house payment, home insurance, property taxes, property improvements.

    • Count me in. Waited 2+ years post D, 5+ years separated to date and STILL picked very badly. Also an alcoholic, also very encouraging of MY bad habits, also loved me instantly. But … saw (And ignored) red flags.

      Spent 3 years in that, trying to get loose for at least the past year plus. Finally did a month ago. Clearly, although picker *identified* the problem, picker didn’t prevent me from zealously choosing inappropriately. Taking picker into the shop for a tune-up.

      This column is exactly what I need to read TODAY, on a plane, after running 800 miles to BFF, to get away from the ghost of XBF. Been ruminating on this very subject for the last 2 weeks. It’s like I leave, wait a long time to date again, pick another cheater or narc. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Haven’t dated anyone who wasn’t at least one, if not both, of these things my entire adult life. 🤢 Despite being able to *identify* fire and it’s burning goodness, still can’t keep my hands out of it.

    • Wow, you dodged a bullet there! I’m so glad you got yourself out of that situation which was potentially disastrous financially. It is very telling that he wanted to own half your house after you told him losing it was your biggest fear. That gives me the shivers. Glad you are safe and hopefully you are okay emotionally too. {{{hugs}}}

  • I mean, I’m working so hard on myself. I set long-term goals and I put in the effort. Why would I want some random man who isn’t doing the same? He would drag me down unless he meets ALL my criteria, which are non-negotiable. He may not exist, and that’s ok.

    BTW, I just finished grad school. Now certified to be a K-12 principal. And I kicked ass at all the work. And it wasn’t easy, or cheap, or quick. It was rigorous and thought-provoking, healthy, and worth it.

    So no, I won’t accept just any old man to join me on the journey.

  • I’ve dated two women in the past year: “The Teacher” and “The Brit.”

    Teacher was a very nice lady who at a certain point became a bit frustrated with my every-other-week availability and said, “This isn’t what being in a relationship is supposed to be like.” I reminded her that “I specified ‘casual dating’ in my profile for a reason,” said I was sorry I wasn’t able to be what she needed at this time, and politely broke things off.

    Brit was VERY open and told me an awful lot about her past during our first date, enough so that my lovebombing radar started emitting little signals. In the interest of not being too hypersensitive, we went out again and things continued as they did during the first date. The night before I was to leave on a 5-day business trip, I came home to find a gift bag filled with travel size items (toothpaste, shampoo, etc) at my front door and said radar immediately started going haywire. I called her and had a very difficult conversation, about how I appreciated the gesture but how it made me uncomfortable after only a week knowing her. She was taken aback (“You really need to learn about how to just accept a gift and say thank you”); we went out 2 more times but are not seeing each other any more.

    All of which is to say: BOUNDARIES. Unapologetically. It may mean some tough conversations and hurt feelings along the way, as well as the very real possibility that I won’t get get laid as often as I’d like, and that I may never get close enough to someone to have the type of long term relationship that CL describes. But it can be no other way.

    BOINDARIES, and honesty/transparency.

    • It was a kind gesture. Women may get excited if they met a man who appears quasi decent. Reciprocity. Small acts of kindness.

      • Seriously??!! If any man on this site suggested any of us women should lighten up because a man we dated for a week left a gift on our doorstep and it made us uncomfortable, the torches and the pitchforks would come out. Double standard much?

        In anticipation of a reply that indicates you’d also berate a women for doing the same then you’re seriously on the wrong site. Boundaries belong to individuals and aren’t for you to dictate.

        Also perhaps you should reserve the rest of your harsh judgement for those you meet in person. I’ve met UX so I know your observations are worth nothing.

      • The thing with boundaries is, you don’t control how the other person responds, or if they like them. Same goes for comments on other people’s boundaries.

        I removed the “harsh” bit of the rest of this comment. Let’s keep it supportive here, thank you.

      • Wrong. Re-read the part where they had only just met, and his radar started going haywire. It was a lovebombing and he correctly picked up on it. Then her response to him setting that boundary was to try to lecture and change him: “You really need to learn….” blah blah she disrespects boundaries. Well done, UXworld!!

        • I saw this same thing. He said “I am uncomfortable” and she responded “you need to change your viewpoint”. That really looks like early charm-to-rage. Makes me think the TMI she was dishing out was probably self-pity.

          Understanding the three narc channels of charm, self-pity, and rage has been life changing for me.

          • True, it was an attempt to control how UX thought or felt. Major red flag is when someone invalidates your discomfort.

            • If I dated a guy and he left a gift on my doorstep after a few dates it would creep me out. Which begs an answer to the question of how she knew your address UX?

              • For our 2nd date, we met at my house and went out from there. So, she’d been there already. But it’s not close to her work nor to her residence, so she went out of her way to make the gesture. Both extra-thoughtful AND extra-creepy.

              • I am a woman who received a gift after barely getting to know the guy. It creeped me out. Too much, too soon.

      • I think what bothers me most about the gesture is that she left the gift on his door step. Creepy.

        In one way, it was thoughtful to provide the travel items for the trip. But, they had met one week before and she was already driving up to his house without him being home to leave the gift? Too much, too soon.

        A simple voicemail wishing him a good trip, and hoping that after his return they might go for coffee and he can show her pics, would have sufficed. Even that would have been pushing it.

        • I think a brief text wishing him a safe journey, would have been appropriate at this time.

          I think she was just over excited and probably wanted him to think about her while traveling.

          However I do agree, too much too soon.

    • My initial thought was that a small fairly impersonal gift after two dates doesn’t seem too off. But you know what? If it felt uncomfortable to UX, then that is all that matters. If we have learned nothing else … WE get to decide what feels right to us without taking a societal poll. And we pay attention to our OWN gut feelings. The gift no doubt felt intrusive because UX was already feeling gut warnings that he was very wise to heed. I am confident that his departure from the association was perfectly polite. We really don’t owe anyone a complete explanation of our current boundaries, except maybe our children.

      • Total agreement here, plus UX telling her this is uncomfortable and her basically negating his right to feel the way he was feeling. UBT…..” I should be able to tell you how to perceive this, not your own feelings…I should be in control of your reality, not you.” Gag!

        Glad you showed her the door, UX.

    • So, I’m curious… had she apologized and said she didn’t mean to overstep, would that have been a redeeming factor? Some people are just gift givers by nature and that can be really uncomfortable for someone who isn’t.

      I apologize all the freaking time. I feel so clumsy sometimes and the only thing I can do is listen and adjust when someone is assertive, but then the faux paus is “out there,” like an elephant in the room.

      • I feel you Kintsugi. I hate it when I find out I have upset someone, often when I think I am doing what they want. I will always apologize and try to do better next time, but with some people there is no forgiveness. Maybe they will forgive you but they will still think lesser of you for screwing up in the first place. Some people are more forgiving than others. I am trying to gravitate towards the more forgiving ones (while still trying to avoid repeat mistakes). Of course it’s worse when they don’t tell you what’s bothering them. Then you might go on screwing up for years when you think you are doing the right thing.

      • I think that he ‘might’ have passed up on a decent woman. The woman is a teacher. Teachers are generally empathetic individuals. They look out for their students and are generally thoughtful people. She may have just been looking out for him.

        I would not invite a date to my home for a second date. Nope. I would have to get to know someone a lot better. His inviting her to meet him at his home by the second date, kind of signaled her that he was feeling pretty comfortable with her. She then followed up with a volley of kindness. Just my two cents…

    • Congrats UXWorld for paying attention and enforcing your own boundaries !

      There was a helpful sheet on the literature table at a CoDA meeting which listed healthy versus unhealthy boundaries. Oversharing (what I call spewing) on first meeting somebody is not healthy as well as giving gifts to someone you don’t know. You’re a grown ass man who knows what toiletries to pack for a trip, not her little son going away on his first overnight. Showing up uninvited and unannounced at a person’s house (male or female) is kind of rude and a bit stalkerish, imo.

    • Bottom line is the gesture made you uncomfortable and you expressed your discomfort. That is EXACTLY what former Chumps should do! Whether the gift was creepy or just well-intentioned but over the top nice is immaterial. The only thing that matters is that you listened to your inner voice and acted appropriately to protect yourself. Bravo UX! Thanks for being such a good example of fixed-picker.

    • If it’s not too fast for getting laid, it’s not too fast for leaving gifts. But I already told you that before. 🙂

  • Yes, it’s all about knowing yourself better, in my experience. A lot of it is figuring out what attracted you to the relationship and kept you there despite the red flags. It’s about figuring out what you’re susceptible to and becoming alive to your patterns, aware of the kinds of traps you tend to fall into — and willing to kick you own ass forward every time you identify those traps and patterns. Which is another way of saying that you’re no longer willing to settle for crumbs — or even half a portion. And that you are enough, with nothing else needed to complete you, so that if someone comes along and enters your life they enter as whole persons that you can fully see, as fun additions to your life, as equals and partners.

    • Well thank you burden. It appear I little left to say on the subject.
      I went to therapy to fix myself and I asked those questions about why I found things acceptable that I should not have. I found my answers. I made changes. I kicked my own ass forward and I continue to do so.

  • You should be on guard for people with boundary problems, drug or alcohol problems, they don’t see their kids, its always the exs fault. They live with their parents (but normal in some cultures), too intense too soon. Wanting to live together when only being together a year. Good luck for the future.

  • Well I married young and was pretty afraid of being on my own. I didn’t think at the time I had settled, I just had a low opinion of myself and accepted unacceptable behaviour. And things got better and we sailed along, until his sudden departure 29 years later . And now here I am single. And kind of liking it. There’s something thrilling about knowing you are your back up. You know you can rely on yourself . It makes me feel strong and invincible. And clearly STBX was needy of new attention and appeared to fall in love fast, then run out on his family. So that makes me feel stronger as I would never be that weak.
    And look what we have all survived! Your stories. I am often in awe of you.

    Thinking a lot about formerly very good Switzerland friends and whether to leave them behind. My personality has always been to try to see things from another’s perspective and, you know many people are a big mixed up and not really aware of what it is like from where we stand. So, jury still out in on that. Picker needs refining. Just standing back and keeping my distance and watching.

    • I just had a revelation BeStill.. Tracy…

      …about Switzerland friends- Maybe- Just Maybe, Right In Front of Our Eyes are BOUNDARIES.

      The ‘friend’ who holds this position manifests something about their character. That being that they set personal boundaries to Not Get Involved in our shit. Hmmm. No Reciprocity? Reciprocity with Conditions attached? Perhaps.

      The other character marker is the ‘I’m Ether Peril school’. Flammable and Dangerous. FLEE!

      My step-daughter lives within a very short walking distance from me AND is Switzerland incarnate (It’s her Mother-Daughter bond) AND she has 4 children with a Afghanistan-PTSD’d Redneck, Alcoholic, meth head that somehow can hold down a job for a fixed duration before imploding. I’ve had to collect him at a regional jail for eluding the cops while he was drunk. He’s worn orange in other words but for similar substance abuse related things. I don’t even want to go into his head. Fuck that, I’ve seen enough. I’ve tried to send the message to her that I am the same stable parent who raised her from 14 upward.

      Part of my training in CN is to look for ‘The Tell’. Gifting in a serial cheater is a way for them to assuage their what? guilt?HA! – but is better made cognizant for me if I view it as a form of their image management. I conjecture they’ve need to recreate their image for themselves to recalibrate their secret behaviors from sight for their whipping post’s further hypnosis. Like a mental reset. Like well I got thoroughly fucked by that hook up and I’m feeling a little dirty. I’ll do something nice to fool the idiot chump. It helped me to see back into the past and identify her behaviors that I HAD NO IDEA WERE ACTIVE in her disarray. HOLY SHIT WHAT A RIDE THIS CHAPTER HAS BEEN. Time for me to apply the brakes.

  • Wish I had been wiser 21 years ago when after 4 years on my own, single parenting and having just gone through a high conflict divorce, I met ClusterFuck and all I could see was the love bombing, and how he seemed so different from my Ex! Yeah, he was different all right, we moved in after a year and a half which you’d think would be enough time. It was a classic narc story, it was after leaving my lease on my apartment, changing my 3 kids schools and moving them into CF’s house over my ExH’s objection (in court, one of three times he forced a custody fight in court), that the abuse really began. Never physical unless you count screaming rages lasting 2-4 hours at least 2-3x a month, screaming so loud spittle dripping out of his mouth and his finger pointing an inch from my face as physical. I felt I had committed, and maybe I really was a bad person like he kept saying I was? frog in the boiling water…. abuse and his sexual deviance kept incrementally getting worse. But everyone was watching! My entire family! Mutual friends! I would say I was young, being only 41 when this all happened, but that’s no excuse.

    Don’t be like me… don’t care what other people think of you, don’t stay in a toxic relationship just to “not look like a two time failure.” I spent 16 years with ClusterFuck the narc till I caught him cheating. Had that not happened I would have stayed in the toxic co dependent relationship the rest of my life. After D-Day I was insane for about two years. I turned over every rock he hadn’t hidden… and found he had been cheating on me the entire time while I financially supported him. I’m 5 years out and only just now am accepting that I made the biggest mistake of my life all because I wanted to be in another relationship so badly to make up for being divorced. So … don’t be like me then, be like me now… I’ve wised up, sometimes I feel “too late” because I cannot risk a third mistake. But honestly, YES, I’m relieved to be out of these abusive relationships and have a real chance to just lead a peaceful, honest life in my older age.

  • My picker will be on hiatus for the foreseeable future. I need this time to regroup after investing 42 years with a disordered man. Basically, you don’t see what you don’t want to see.

  • There’s also so much pressure to get into another serious relationship as soon as possible.

    I don’t talk about romantic interests anymore, I got sick of hearing “oh it didn’t work out, that’s too bad”. When it worked out just fine for what it was. It doesn’t have to be deep and it doesn’t have to be committed to be good for both parties.

    • Exactly, what’s this rush to get into another relationship right away? Why not be on your own and find solid footing and time to heal. Why not just take time to be safe, instead seeking fake safety with a disordered person. What kind of stability is that, going from one loser to another. I never understood the notion of forcing yourself to date. It’s because we force ourselves to date that we end up in making decisions out of desperation and loneliness. Worst situation ever to make such an important decision.

      • It’s not so much pressure to date. But pressure to couple down into another exclusive and committed relationship asap.

        I don’t know if it’s the local culture here, but casual dating is seen as wasting time, and if you’re not trying to lock down “the one” then you have committment issues.

        I don’t want to be in a serious relationship at this stage in my life though. I want to be free and live as I see fit.

        One of the first guys I met really put my teeth on edge. We had only met for a short coffee date and talked on the phone. And he gave me grief about not responding to texts in a timely manner and not answering my phone when he called late in the evening. That’s too bad, my phone stays on silent and zipped away in my purse most of the time. And I’m a night owl so late in the evening I’m often on the way home or taking care of evening chores and not available to talk and text. This was a problem for him and he got really accusatory. I don’t respond right away and stay out late, so I must be up to no good. Fuck that guy. I hit the reject button on him so fast. We weren’t a couple, we weren’t even regularly dating. He had no entitlement to me to get pouty and bitchy over my not being available to him exactly when he wished.

  • After being in a toxic relationship I spend time observing couples. Not the fun stuff plastered on FB, the reality IRL. What I see for the most part is the giver taker dynamic. Matter of fact just yesterday a woman was shopping in the second hand store I frequent and I watched her taking time to select clothing and other household items. I was surprised when the guy sleeping on the used couch joined her and found fault with every item she picked out for HIM. But when it came to the funky rooster drapes I looked at her, smiled and said I loved them.

    Becoming an observer helps you push aside what you previously tolerated as normal.

    And I loved CL’S description of her vacation when she recognized MCL had different preferences and they spent time doing their own thing. That’s ok.

    However, I’m not sure I’ll ever want a partner
    I wouldn’t mind being trapped in a small room with for the next 30 years. Fixing your picker isn’t for ‘the one’; it’s for all relationships including family. It requires honesty and respect.
    The best person to meet your needs is yourself. Start there, learn to say no. Have expectations and always be willing to walk.

    • Im going to make this a meme….

      “Choose a relationship with someone you’d want to be trapped in a small room with for 30 years!!”

  • Trust your gut. Early on their are signs. Signs that you (and sometimes others that you tell) will poo-poo as insignificant, a one-off, you just being picky.

    I once dumped a guy because I didn’t like his shoes. THAT’S picky.

    My ex, our first Christmas together, gave me the most awful gifts that I could receive. (Maybe another woman would like them, but they were nothing that I would ever use. I’m allergic to mostly all perfumes, and he bought me perfume. I wear all silver or white gold, he bought me a gold watch.) I told myself it was me being selfish and shallow. That I was spoiled. He couldn’t read my mind! But it never changed and it was one symptom of his narcissism and sick need to disappoint me and play the martyr.

    There were other things too, but I ignored them. Because I thought they were small and unimportant because I didn’t think my wants were important.

    • I completely get this. very early on in my relationship with my ex I got him baseball tickets to a playoff game because he loved baseball. Shortly after for Christmas he got me diamond earrings. They were nice, but not something I wanted. Then for my birthday, he took me out to a steak house. I’m not a big steak eater. he is. But I didn’t want to be rude, so we made it into a joke how he takes me to places he wanted to go to for my birthday. Except it wasn’t really a joke. He never listened to my needs and I didn’t value myself enough. Eventually, after the 4th or 5th necklace, I told him that I really didn’t need any more necklaces. I never received another gift from him again, UNTIL after he cheated on me (but before I knew) while I had cancer. Then I received a couple of household items that I always wanted but never would buy for myself. So his guilt made him buy me a present that I actually wanted? More likely that our daughter was old enough to want to buy me a present and told him what to get because even a 6 year old can be more thoughtful than him.

      But the bottom line is, the signs were there all along and I ignored them. I thought I was being selfish and rude to not appreciate his gifts. But it was my gut telling me things weren’t right.

  • Since my romantic history had been peppered with narcs (4 in a row, married the last) and a passive aggressive jerk (college boyfriend), I decided I’d rather be alone than be with anyone (a) tepid about me, or (b) who made me feel bad about my self. Kindness and reciprocity would characterize any relationships or friendships, or I’d stick to dogs.

    I have learned my lesson from attraction to sparkly narcs–my picker is now set to “kindness & integrity.”

    • I also look back and see some repeated patterns in my romantic history. I see this whole faulty picker thing as rooted in what you associated love with as a child. One may have had some elements of sparkle (humor, optimism, extroversion, etc) in an otherwise sound-charactered parent or important caregiver, so evermore any recognition of those kinds of things in a potential partner equates to them too being reliable, good, warm and secure. The associations can be based on seemingly non-sparkly traits as well, ones that nonetheless are now sparkly to you. A warm and dependable grandfather may have been religious so at some point you made an emotional association based on that. Or a mother whom you always defined as unfailingly loyal, true and decent even if she was volatile or prone to aggressively respond to perceived slights. On an emotional level, experiencing these things again will make you feel as though you’re at home and secure. This I think is our “picker”. Our emotional dictionary where we define what means what, and more importantly what feels like what. And yet the sparkly and non-sparkly behaviors, traits and indicators we see don’t necessarily mean what we think. That extroverted religious guy could in fact be the biggest abusive cheater in the tri-state area. That “spunky” girl could actually be BPD. I actually think that the more our pickers lead us repeatedly to bad people, the more likely it is that the original template for the association was in fact themselves very flawed, perhaps disordered, not merely imperfect. (This can be hard to learn because it then reveals and undoes far more than you may expect.) And we, knowing no better and knowing nothing else, defined a niche of goodness and special understanding around them that left us secure in the sure knowledge that we are loved. Then we go forth applying those definitions and understandings to our inter-personal world, looking to replicate them because they are the guiding stars and the only reference points we have emotionally. They make “sense” not in a conscious logical way but in a subconscious felt way. Fixing this means getting ahold of these positive triggers and emotional definitions and seeing them for what they are. They are at worst red flags and at best not guarantees. And it leaves us knowing that our emotional responses to them require further verification (because they won’t likely ever stop producing real feelings) and clear boundaries. But at least we’re on to the stimulus part of our buried romantic stimulus-response system.

      • You may be onto something. My Dad was always very helpful. He volunteered for the jobs that nobody else would do. Ex was also very helpful. The difference is that my Dad did it because it made him feel good to know that he was making life easier for someone else. He got pleasure out of that. My ex did it because he wanted people to think highly of him and praise him for being so helpful and capable while he played humble. If he did too much without enough kibbles in return he would get resentful. Reciprocity was also lost on him. He never noticed what others did for him, only what he did for others.

        • Chumpinrecovery,
          I recall there’s a ChumpLady article in the archives discussing the difference between “nice” (pretending to appear caring) versus “kind” (genuine caring for others).

          I’ve been fooled by “fake nice” people too many times and the only way I can confirm whether it’s nice-ness or kindness is to look for consistency, and that the kindness shows up most of the time, not just in the selected few situations chosen by the narcissist to make himself/herself look good.

          • REALLY,

            I love that article about “nice” vs “kind”. It was profound to me because my cheater was so nice. I could not sort through the cognitive dissonance when he cheated and ghosted us. So when I read that post I got a deeper understanding and it made so much sense. This is also why everyone still thinks he’s such a great guy, because he’s so NICE!

            I think one of the other things regarding niceness and kindness is how someone makes you feel when no one is looking or when you’re in an argument. Kind people care about your feelings. Kind people would be introspective. It would bother kind people to have created that bad effect on you. “Nice” people-not so much.

            Example: We used to have bbqs all the time and feed everyone. And he used to be super into doing a great job on the grill for everyone to enjoy. I thought it was because he loved grilling. Looking back on it, I realized that there was just so much kibbles for him because “he was such a good grill guy”. So we’d blow hundreds of dollars a month on throwing these bbqs for friends, family and random people and they would all rave about the meat he cooked and he would get so much delish admiration OMG! but then he’d bitch about money. He needed to be seen as “nice” and generous and he needed the kibbles. Meanwhile his single-mother sister was struggling physically, financially and emotionally but we “didn’t have enough money to really do much to help her”. Um. Yes we did.

            Lesson on nice vs kind.

      • Sometimes, I think I picked my ex because he reminded me of my father. My parents were divorced when I was 12. After some problems between the two of us, I stopped going to his house and my younger brother followed suit.

        My father stopped having contact with us. We only saw him on the holidays and he even ‘forgot’ to call my brother a couple of times on his birthday. Not a good parent at all.

        I never had one of the Daddy’s Girl relationship. He was always standoffish to me, overbearing, not easy to please, always seemed serious or stoic. I envied friends that could talk to their fathers. Mine was the man that stood apart with his arms folded in front of him.

        I think I tried to conquer my father through my ex husband. If it could fix the ex, maybe I could fix the hole. It was a failed experiment. There were times that I would look the husband and realize that we didn’t have the same relationship as other couples that seemed more at ease with each other. I always had to be careful about what I said, or how I asked it, or what I asked. I’ve never said any of this to anyone, not even my mother or best friend.

        • It sounds like you’ve reasoned this out pretty insightfully. The thing now to consider is the raw emotion beneath the outer uneasiness or disconnect with your ex. You may find that it feels “bad” at the same time it feels “right”. That is, the uncomfortable slightly anxious distance may in fact also feel comfortable because it’s what you know. It’s what you’re familiar with from your father. Not just familiar but ironically settled, secure and possibly even excited and enlivened. If so, then that right there is the picker problem. It isn’t the outward triggers themselves (stoic behavior, silent demeanour, etc) it’s that the underlying emotional unavailability of this person feels “right” to you even if somewhat discomforting at the same time. Now imagine the opposite type of person, an open sharing available kind of person. How would you really feel with them? Chances are they might make you feel on edge a bit or possibly you’d feel fine with them but ultimately disinterested, no “spark”. This then is the problem. Adaptive and healthy traits in another isn’t wired to the dopamine or seratonin or whatever actually makes us feel the feeling of comfort, attraction, excitement, etc. We wired it incorrectly in our need to define “love” as that thing we had from this figure in our young lives. And these feelings and the behavioural cues that fire them are beyond our direct reach and somewhat our control. I think though, when they are finally clear to us they lose most of their power to direct us blindly. And they lose much of their emotional power too. Like a red hot stove top, once burned through a certain way we make that association too on an emotional level. And the opposite positive traits become vested with excitement because we now know fully that they point true North.

  • I dated a guy who seemed to be there emotionally. I kept trying to figure out if he was just really into me, or if it was love bombing. He seemed considerate of my feelings, yet I would get the third degree if I didn’t say back to him what he wanted to hear, like “yes, I really miss you too.” Things were moving way too fast in that he wanted me to be all twu love, but he was hell bent that no one was meeting his kids. I got that, my kids had been through so much crap with fuckwit forcing smoopsie in their lives I understood. It was the inconsistency I was picking up on.

    There were other little things, little hints about how hot he thought I was, but if I gained more than 10 lbs. I would no longer fall within his ideal. A familiar pressure that I could become lacking in some way. The difference in this vs. my marriage is, I know my worth isn’t wrapped up in some superficial thing like wearing a size 4. I get that people want to be attracted to the person they are dating, but if their commitment depends on my clothing size, no thanks!

    Then it came out 6 months later, he was a cheater. Cheated on his wife twice! He knew very early on that I was divorcing because of serial cheating, yet, he chose to keep that information from me for 6 months. Needless to say I ended it. I ended up getting a long text from him about how at some point I needed to trust again, blah,blah, blah, and some not so nice ranting about how I lead him on.

    I didn’t feel the need to defend myself by responding. It was over and that was that. For a while I got the occasional “I’m in town, just thinking about you” text. Crickets from me. I eventually blocked his number because I didn’t intend to talk to him again.

    I think the biggest change in me in dealing with my serial cheater are as follows

    – I know my worth
    – I know I don’t control manipulators, liars, or cheaters. What I do know is, I trust myself enough to GET OUT if someone is any of the above.
    – I don’t make excuses for people any more. How someone’s chooses to behave is their CHOICE. I take no responsibility for someone else’s behavior. This isn’t to say that we don’t influence the feelings of others, but the actions they take based on their own feelings are not my responsibility. In other words, I understand the reciprocal nature of feelings, responses and behavior, but I only control my half. I won’t take the blame for “making” someone treat me like shit!
    – Unconditional romantic love is a ridiculous concept; my love does have conditions. You have a right to behave any way you choose, and I have a right NOT to put up with it by walking away. I don’t want to beg and plead for your consideration. If I’ve told you one time and you choose to do it (it being whatever I said I didn’t like) again, I know you don’t consider my wants before or at least equally to your own. I’m not talking about leaving socks on the floor here, I’m talking about deal breakers.
    – It’s nice to feel like someone has your back, but ultimately I am the only one who can guarantee my back is covered. Not very romantic I know, but the hard truth rarely is.

  • I bought a copy of Adelyn Birch’s ‘Boundaries after a Pathological Relationship’ and I keep it in the bathroom and read a bit every day, trying to get it firmly in my head. It’s the best book (apart from Chump Lady’s of course) that I have read since realizing I was a chump.

    • I just bought the Kindle version. I’m not sure what boundaries are and it’s something that I need to learn about me and how to enforce them. My father was a bit of narc and very overbearing. Whatever boundaries I needed to form were leaky at best. I have values that I’m not willing to compromise, boundaries are a different story.

    • Thank you for the recommendation. The outline in the link provided by REALLY Done is very helpful just by itself.
      I really have gone through a lot of self-reflection as to how I ended up with a cheater who seemed so safe. Not sure my picker is perfect but it is improved. I am honestly starting to recognize BS when I come in contact with it.

      • Maybe being a chump will encourage him to cheat????

        Every relationship that i’ve ever been in, the guy cheated on me.

        My 16 3/4 year marriage started out with me choosing a man who i felt loved me more than i loved him.

        I said to my girlfriend this: “You know that guy in high school who was always crazy about you, but you didn’t show much interest? That’s the man you want to marry”

        Well i did, and he cheated on me, pretty much from the get go.

        His word over the waving red flag.

        Because i was a chump.

        2 young sons gave him the benefit of the doubt.

        He got board with the frumpdom that became me.

        Young emplyees are temptation.

        Good riddance. The conversation between us was dull anyway.

        30 years alone in a room? I cut my losses at 16 2/3.

        I never dated or played the field. It’s a new approach for me and i want to see what’s out there. Also, want to focus on developing a super satisfying career.

        It’s all in me.

        We are supposed to learn from our mistakes. Makes us smarter.

        Thank you for sharing Chump Nation.

        Female Wisdom is power.

  • I am happy to report that my picker is near repair! I recently was messaging with a man on a dating site. He started pushing up against my boundaries and my indication he was doing so only caused him to ramp it up–I blocked him without another word.

    There’s another fellow. Through our messaging, he’s already shown me he’s a blameshifting, gas lighting manipulator. The king of breadcrumbing. Today’s the day he gets the ax.

    I just tell myself I’ve put up with enough being jerked around by men during my lifetime, if I never have another one in my life, that will be fine.

    Onward and upward!

    • I failed to acknowledge Chump Lady’s sage advice outlined within this post–having retained it over the years is what guides me.

    • This column and your post, Hesatthecurb, are so well timed for me. I just opened an account with an online dating site yesterday, intending to dip my toe into the dating world since it’s been about 16 months since my divorce was final. Snakeface and I started seeing one another exclusively during my freshman year in college and married a month after I graduated, so I haven’t had a date since…1984.

      My plan is baby steps toward meeting someone, just exchanging messages for a period of time before we actually meet, if it comes to that. I exchanged messages with a guy for the first time last night, and within minutes he was asking me to text him (which means sharing my phone number with him) and asking what my weekend plans were. Aaagh! Moving too fast for me, which was a real turn-off. I didn’t have even a moment to set boundaries. If I can’t politely send him on his way, your post has given me the permission I needed to block him.

      • Nicelutherangirl, please be very careful on your dating site!! Definitely do not give out your cell phone number to anyone. That’s why they have chat on the dating site.

        I love this Youtuber, Dana Morningstar Thrive After Abuse. She has a series of videos about how to avoid online dating scams. Here’s the first one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb1xKPdRZxg

        She has also said in a lot of her videos to not chat for too long if you are interested in someone. Take it to the next level with a phone call to see if there’s any chemistry. Then go out for coffee for a quick meeting so you are not stuck on a long date with someone you don’t want to be with. She has lots of great advice. I hope this helps! 🙂

        • Oh, yeah, no worries Martha, I’d NEVER share my cell number – that’s why I was so taken aback by the guy that asked for it within the fifteen minutes (!!!) of our first contact. I’m naturally cautious by nature and my intention all along was to use the site to chat with people for a while first. Got that covered! I’ll watch the video after work today, though, because I am definitely open to dating and safety advice since I’ve been out of that game for so long. Thank you!

          • I can’t believe all the men who ask for my phone number immediately on dating sites and then get the ass when I refuse. Personally I’m done with dating sites. A lot, and I mean a LOT of these guys are nothing but predators and perverts. I’ll be single forever before I subject myself to meeting any more weird ass men.

  • When I met the X, I didn’t know that love bombing was. I had been on my own for about 8 years, never married, and had gone out with various types of men. I just thought he was really into me (in a good way) and I thought I could trust him. I discovered about 4 months into the relationship that he was self-centered. It was a huge red flag that I demoted to an itty bitty tab. We were married at 11 months into our relationship. I honestly thought we had what it took to make the distance. I was very wrong.

    I’m not worried too much about my picker right now. I”m more concerned about the type of life I want, what do I need, where do I want to go from here.

    The loneliness does get a bit unbearable. I went through this when I was my own the first time and I’m not keen about doing this again. I do have a couple of wonderful friends and I can always pick up the phone when I need to hear a voice. They have been a god-send through this whole horrible ordeal.

  • I’m sharing a comment left at Chump Nation by a chump over a year ago, but I’m sorry I don’t know who wrote this. I liked it because it was concise:

    “Here’s a simple way to think of it. You set your standards–such as no sparkly people, no one who takes subtle digs at you, no one who doesn’t like your friends being around or you spending time with family, no one who makes you feel guilty about spending time alone. No alcoholics, unemployed people or people you need to “help” to do adult responsibility. No one who doesn’t pick up his share of the checks or does his share of the driving (if physically able). No one who is rude to other people, especially waitresses or their mother. No one who wants a nurse and a purse. No one who keeps jumping boundaries. No one whose story doesn’t add up.

    You hang on to your own house, your own car, your own bank accounts, your own job, your own friends. You keep an eye on all your relationships by working on your codependency.

    You keep dating casual until you are reasonably sure that the person you are dating meets those standards. Then you spend a year or two making sure it wasn’t an act. If we don’t know anything else, chumps, know that people can wear masks. If you see bad signs, you don’t spackle. You end the relationship. Every single time. And if he dumps YOU because you know your worth, you have standards and boundaries, then he’s shown you what he is. Sometimes you get dumped because the predator can see you aren’t going to be fooled for long.”

  • To CL’s list, I would add:

    F. Know when someone is not available.

    That mean, no one with an alcohol problem (defined as someone whose drinking creates life problems.). No one who does heroin. Oxy, meth, cocaine or other drugs.

    That means, no one who is still in another relationship or who is enmeshed with someone else in an unhealthy way. That includes those who are still sitting in the kitchen of their X every day, those who make decisions based on what their X needs him or her to do, those whose relatives (parents, kids) are sitting firmly in the “life partner” seat.

    Someone who needs you to fix them financially, emotionally, psychologically. Someone who needs you to help them do “adult” things. This is not a person who can be an equal partner. The only fixer-uppers you want are houses.

  • I thought I had fixed my picker after I left my kids dad. Waited 3 years to date because I felt I couldn’t trust my own judgement after leaving someone who was a blatant asshole and emotionally and financially abusive.

    So after 3 years, I meet narcopath, I was completely fooled by his predator behaviour simply by the fact that he wasn’t a blatant asshole like the ex. He was charming and has a “nice guy” image with a side of wounded victim from all his exes. Presented as a family man and boy, is his game good because he has everyone fooled….

    I thought we moved fast because we were in love and at our age, why waste time? We wanted to blend families and live together and start our life together, like yesterday.

    I did not heed the red flag and my own intuition screaming at me, but once I moved my kids and myself into his house, his mask dropped and what occurred became systematic abuse cycle. Everything you read about what psychopaths do, he did. Emotional and financial abuse, AGAIN, but this time so subtle and insidious that I could not recognize it until I left him and read about it. I left feeling like i was going crazy and that is not me. So I started googling and fell down the tunnel of information about cluster b’s and found Chump Lady.

    I went on 1 date in the last year and I call it the date from hell. This guy screamed red flags and disorder from the minute we met and after a 1 hour conversation I was done.

    Dating is now totally OFF my radar as I am not ready and my picker is not fixed. It is too exhausting to spend my energy on being suspicious of someone and waiting for their mask to drop. And that’s ok.

    That being said, I have also ended 3 friendships with women friends who displayed alarmingly narcissistic behaviour and have gone low contact with my dad.

    I enjoyed reading what everyone else posted above. A lot of good information to keep handy.

    • Big ((Hugs)) to you sister! I got fooled by a guy (my first time out the dating gate), that used the same playbook yours did. Seemed like the nicest guy, single devoted Dad, had some tough experiences with women (broken hearted- boo hoo BS). I was also fooled that he showed no blatant signs of being an arrogant alpha male entitled ass hole like my ex husband; in fact he would frequently comment and commiserate on things my ex said to me that were horrible and be just as offended by them. Anyway, he was married and a serial cheater at that; lived a double life. It threw me off when I found out, cause I thought I had it figured out too. But I see there are different play books they use, but in the end, the mask always falls sooner or later. Like I said to my ex-husband, ironically the day before Dday, “everything under the sun comes to light”.

  • Far too often, we, as young people, go from being children to being married, so we never learn how to be ourselves. I have come to believe that marriage should be only done after a strong investigation of one another’s parents, upbringing, and future expectations! Forget this “struck by lightning” stuff!

  • Do take is slow, not only for you, but those potential partners. I rushed in and did no favor to my first girlfriend post-divorce by still being neck deep in trauma (and not seeing it).

    But this is about your picker and avoiding these fucking narcissistic monsters all of us had managed to snag in our lives. That voice you did not listen to in your head while you were in the land of mindfuck? Train yourself to listen to it, give it a louder voice, because deep down your gut is correct about being uncomfortable.

  • EMDR Did amazing things for me in regards to removing blindspots. It removed or “reprocessed” many blindspots that were causing unhelpful unconscious reactions to things that my conscious or logical mind would have never agreed to. Note: One side effect to having old programing reprocessed and or removed is that you no longer participate in old dysfunctional family patterns in the normal or collectively accepted unconscious way. You see dysfunctional thinking for what it is which makes it almost impossible to blindly fall into it any longer. This can actually make family members that are still acting out the unconscious patterns upset with you because you seem to have “forgotten the rules of the family games.” It is so worth it thought. I don’t think you can “fix you picker” until unconscious blindspots are properly addresses and reprocessed. EMDR was Profoundly Helpful.

  • Really timely topic for me. Great comments.

    I’ve online dated for four years. Countless one-and-done dates. A few ill-conceived short-lived relationships.

    The bad news: This infidelity shit has really done a number on me. I’m sure I have PTSD from the trauma. As a result I ran too quickly from a few nice, genuine women who liked me.

    The good news: my Picker is honed like a knife: if there is one sign of meanness or selfishness, I am done. One woman I was seeing proclaimed “I hate dogs.” When she saw my expression, she hastily corrected herself: “Not YOUR dog…” But that was enough for me.

    Another was clearly vaguely irritated that I had trouble reaching orgasm—even after I explained 1) it had been a long time for me since marriage and I was nervous, 2) I’ve always had some trouble and it was not a big deal as long as she was satisfied (she was and didn’t offer to “help” me), 3) I just started an anti-depressant and this was one of the side-effects. That ended that.

    In any case, my hope has not waned: I know I am a catch but I would rather spend my life alone (with my dog) than Find myself in another relationship with someone who is anything but sweet and kind.

    But it’s hard: as I said, this shit is traumatizing.

    • People in our culture have such weird priorities around sex and orgasm.

      Why isn’t it the most basic thing to ask each other what we do and don’t like and want, answer each other openly and honestly, then share together based on what we learned, checking in along the way?

      Why would anyone want to sexual with someone in a way that brought the other person, and one’s self, anything but joy and pleasure?

      I know, my Chump is showing. 😉

    • I used to have trouble climaxing myself and it drove ex nuts. I tried to reassure him that climax was only a small part of the enjoyment I got out of intimacy and he shouldn’t worry about it. He hated it though because it made him feel inadequate and he accused me of not liking sex. Over the years I learned how to climax more quickly and consistently. Towards the end it was ex who had trouble with orgasm. I was afraid it might be some medical issue but was afraid to bring it up because I didn’t dare offend him. I was also afraid it might be me not being good enough or attractive enough since he wasn’t being very nice to me in those days. In his case it turned out he was getting his rocks off elsewhere and just had nothing left for me. Of course once he had tasted forbidden fruit I really did become “not good enough” and he didn’t desire same old, same old anymore.

      New guy also had issues with that early on and I had some anxiety over it based on my experience with ex. New guy decided to do something about it though. Now things work well most of the time. When they don’t, he still seems happy to have tried and he keeps coming back for more. I just have to get over my own anxiety that it isn’t me, he isn’t blaming me, and he is happy to be intimate with me as much as he is able.

      • it was a race who could climax quicker…..then you sit and think……im being masterbated at…… not a word or correct grammar to be sure….but…..I am being masterbated at…for….? I will never again…be in race who can climax faster…..

    • Hey David,
      I feel like I have PTSD too; the ex-husband cheating (more than once), then also having a pretty bad experience of being lied to by the next guy I got into a relationship with. I started to think it was all men that suck, and I have to really stay away from that; it’s not beneficial to feel that way about half the world’s population. So seeing your post validates that we all suffer; it’s not about gender, it’s about character, both men and women are equally able to be kind, loving souls, we just have to be open to seeing the good ones and dropping the bad ones. Good luck to you, I’m sure you’ll find someone great when you want/are ready.

  • I had to comment about the dog. My mother, before she passed, made me promise that I will only date men who are kind to animals and/or have pets. My ex was terribly jealous of the family dog. I now have all the pets, the family dog (he’s always been my shadow) and two cats.

      • My XH the substance abuser was jealous of the cat I had when we got married. He came around after a while and was kind to the cat. I’d say that I missed a red flag but the DRINKING was the big flag….

      • This is how bad it was. Toby, my big overgrown lab-mix baby, just wanted to lay on the carpet in front of the couch while I was watching TV. The ex would make him lay at the other end of the room because “the dog doesn’t need to be up my ass”.

        Toby is 9 and we’ve had him since he was a baby. The X was physically abusive and Toby turned around once and bit him. The dog’s instinct runs to fight, not flight. He wanted to get rid of Toby then and I refused. That began an 8-year war that really never relented. I stood my ground – I don’t stand for animal cruelty, and I don’t believe in getting rid of pets as if they were material objects. Toby is a good boy and loved by all, except the X.

        • One thing I know for sure. Anyone who isn’t kind to my pets can stay out of my house. Period. One thing I really appreciate about VKM is that he had 2 rescued pit bull mix dogs and he had a plan to introduce me to the dogs, and vice versa, knowing that people are often afraid of those dogs because damaged, abused dogs have attacked people. And of course, people often forget that dogs and cats are animals and will respond instinctively when they are hurt or afraid. As he says, we teach dogs how to behave. We are supposed to be the smart ones.

  • I think the key for me will be figuring out what my priorities really are. So far I haven’t detected any character related red flags with New guy although I have only been dating him for a few months and it took years for Ex’s dark side to manifest so who knows. He seems to genuinely like me the way I am and neither love bombs nor ignores me. He is also very patient with my constricted schedule and appreciates the time I am willing to give him around looking after the kids, house, dog, etc. He didn’t get upset when I left him behind for two weeks of vacation with the kids but was suitably happy to see me when I got back. The main thing I worry about with him is that his comfort zone for life is a lot narrower than mine. This can make it frustrating when trying to come up with activities or even where to eat if we go to dinner. So far, we have managed to find enough common ground to get together 2-3 times a week and have fun together. Sometimes he is even willing to pull out of his comfort zone a little. I do worry, however, that I may eventually get bored of the limitations on available activities and dining establishments available to us and/or he will get annoyed by my nudging him outside of his comfort zone. It would be nice to be able to have more high adventure outings with my significant other but that just isn’t possible with him. So far, he is perfectly willing to let me go on those high adventure outings without him, however. I have been able to go on those adventures with my girlfriends, kids or the outdoor meetup group I joined when I got divorced. Eventually that issue may pull us apart, but for now it seems to be working for us. I could break up with him and go looking for someone who is more high adventure, but that someone might be a jerk. The guy I have now isn’t. What do I want more, high adventure outings with my love interest or someone who treats me with kindness and respect? Maybe there is someone out there who can do both or maybe not. What I do know is that I am not going to go off looking for Mr. Perfect while still clinging to Mr. Pretty Darn Good. My relationship with Pretty Darn Good will last or fall on its own merits without consideration to what else might or might not be out there.

    I do also sometimes worry that I may have started dating too soon and that isn’t fair to New Guy (Mr. Pretty Darn Good). I do still have some uncertainties regarding my priorities. I am also still dealing with the trauma of my long term marriage blowing up which is a distraction from the mental attention that should be going to New Guy. The first thought on my mind every morning is still “ex was a jerk to blow up our marriage the way he did” instead of “isn’t it nice that I have New Guy in my life”. New guy is a bachelor who has said things to imply that he might like to be married some day (not necessarily to me, just in general). As of right now I don’t think I could ever get married again. I worry that I am wasting time that he could be spending courting women who are interested in marriage. Then there is the fact that I don’t have full confidence in anybody’s feelings for me. He seems to be really into me but ex seemed to be really into me too even years into our marriage. I feel as if I am not able to fully open my heart to New Guy because I don’t want to become attached. I want it to be easy on both of us if he decides to move on before I do. He hasn’t made any real commitment to me and I haven’t asked him to. We just keep getting together 2-3 times a week and texting daily. Our relationship is more implied than stated and for now I prefer it that way. All of that being said, I don’t want to over think things too much. Right now we are both enjoying being together and maybe that’s enough. No point in breaking up now because of what might happen later.

    • My parents were happily married for 53 years until my father died. They really had nothing in common in terms of interests: my mother was an intellectual and a journalist. My father was a, well, “simple” man and a musician. She read, he didn’t. She had her friends, he had his. She was obese, he was skinny. He couldn’t keep his hands off her (reported my mother in her late years!) and they simply liked being with each other. She said they had one unspoken rule: If they knew something would hurt the other, they didn’t do it. 53 happy years.

    • Let’s just say that the VKM is willing to go to an event if I ask him to go, but many times he’d just as soon not see the play or go to a concert or even a ball game. He’s not one for sitting still that long. But I have no problem going to things alone or with a friend. And when my schedule is full during winter sports season, he hangs out with hid adult kiddo or friends. I think the larger question is always whether what a person brings to the table is what you want, as you indicate at the beginning of your post. For me, it wouldn’t work if a partner needed me to be around 24/7. I need space. So does VKM so right now we are a good match.

  • I think my picker issues started resolving when I focused more on the “relationship” than on me or the other person. Was the relationship a safe, supportive, fun place to be, where I felt ok being myself? Was it respectful and affectionate? Did it grow slowly and consistently? Did it make both our lives better? Did it feel like a haven from the world, giving me energy and optimism? For some reason, over-focusing on myself or the other person’s actions confused me more; I’m way too analytical, and it just turned into this labyrinth of self-doubt and rumination. Plus, sometimes someone can be a great person, but totally wrong for you. So it helped me to really watch and listen to the relationship itself. I had one terrible relationship with a narc since the cheater, several short relationships that ended for normal reasons (mostly because the relationship didn’t feel secure), and am now in a loving, happy relationship I feel really good. in.

  • When I first dipped a toe back into dating, I did absolutely everything wrong. I sort of like to think that the universe put this new person in my path to test me and see if I’d learned anything at all or if I was going to have to repeat the cycle until I learned the lesson. Red flags were flying and I was spackling like crazy because I was really scared. But I caught myself and I ended the relationship early, and thank God, because I have no doubt it would have been a train wreck. Then I just decided to cool it and let my life just unfold and deal with the aloneness. I kind of became a spectator of sorts- watching other couples relate to each other and meeting lots and lots of new people- a few potential dates (most not) and during all that time alone I grew less afraid. I think being scared of being alone was a life lesson fear that I needed to face because it was my fear that was driving me to grasp at bad choices. As I grew less afraid, my life grew bigger and I started seeing the hole inside me being filled up and then one morning I was absolutely fine. I wasn’t afraid anymore. I didn’t need a partner like I though I did when I was scared. But I did have to struggle for years to move past fear.

    I believe fear is a liar and I believe fear traps us and keeps us down if we let it. I think fear drives us to stay with people who mistreat us because we buy into the idea that someone is better than no one. But that’s not the truth. The truth is when we seek companionship, it’s best to seek out whole people instead of people with holes. When you see a hole, it’s always best to step over or around it so you don’t trip and hurt yourself.

    I’m in a happy, healthy relationship with a fellow chump now. He doesn’t sparkle. He wears his phone clipped to his belt and his shirts too big. But I don’t care. He’s kind and we share the same values and many of the same interests. And that is all that matters to me.

    • For me, once I stopped being afraid to be alone–and in fact began to enjoy the potential for real solitude and freedom–the options for relationship widened, because I wasn’t looking to fill some hole inside myself (to use your hole metaphor).

  • There are two things that absolutely helped me find a great guy after having been twice chumped. 1.) I learned how to break up with people. Seriously. Before this in my life, I thought I had to have some big, clearly defined “really bad thing ” in order to justify breaking up with someone. When I started earnestly dating again, I realized I was in danger of being chumped again if I actually waited for the “really bad thing” before breaking up. So then, after a few dates, if I felt uneasy (even if it had vague origins) I practiced saying this: “Thank you I had a lovely time, but I just don’t think this is going to work out for me.” Smile sweetly. Walk away. No further discussion needed. In fact, if they didn’t accept that or got angry, that was evidence that I absolutely made the right call. 2.) Things in common are just that. THINGS. Just because someone shares love of a hobby, or, love of cats, or, whatever, doesn’t mean we were meant to be. What matters is that we share morals. Period. So what if we have a great time at concerts or art museums? That doesn’t mean squat if he would cheat. I learned to talk less and listen more. If I didn’t jump in with my opinion and give them something to mirror I was astonished how many men would just tell me they had previously cheated. Or, how many would laugh it off or say it wasn’t a big deal etc. This was true of all kinds of morally sketchy things. A guy on a third date once admitted to me that he cheated on his taxes. Men told me they had committed adultery, left children, been in a fistfight with an ex. etc. It was crazy. Let a topic come up like cheating. See how they react. Let them talk about it for a while while you eat your salad and nod and say “mmmhm.”

  • This post is very timely for me too and I need to remember that narcs occur in the workplace too, and may be male or female. After my discard, I accepted a job more than 1000 miles away from an organization run by a woman who is looked upon with great respect in my profession; she is considered to be smart, kind, and easy-going. I had met her many times, and thought the same. But in working closely with her, it took me ten months to realize that I was being gaslighted, manipulated, and treated with enormous disrespect. What she was, actually, was expert at image management. When I heard the same phrases coming out of her mouth that I’d heard from fuckwit X (and learned about here at CL), i.e., “that didn’t happen”; “you’re misunderstanding that”, “I’m worried about your memory”, it was clear what I was dealing with.
    Interestingly, a week after I left, one of my coworkers informed me that bosslady was a cheater too and that she had started a romantic relationship (still ongoing with someone in the same profession) while still married!

    I have a job interview next week, and I’m nervous about not recognizing a workplace narc and a toxic work environment. Dating is entirely off the radar for me for a while if I can’t even get my picker working in an entirely unromantic and situation!

    • Most people are expert at disguising their worst aspects. Don’t blame yourself for not being able to detect personality defects!

      You’re on the right path if you can begin to see this without investing yourself in a romantic relationship. Keep up the good work!

    • Pay attention to Jojobee’s points above. Remember that a job interview is not just about whether they want YOU; it’s about determining if you want them. Pay a lot of attention to what the boss says–do you hear lots of PR? Impression management? Lots of “I” statements? Think back to the interview for your last job–what red flags might there have been? What does your gut tell you? Observe the people you DON’T talk to. What is the general atmosphere?

      I can remember years ago interviewing for a HS teaching job. The interviewer said, “We turn out a good product at —- HS.” My response: “I don’t see kids as products.” It was reputedly the best school district in the state at the time, but I knew it wasn’t a fit for me. This situation is not unlike how we can get fooled in dating people we’ve known as “friends” for a long time. We start out with a huge positive opinion and thus miss early red flags because we think we “know.” So the boss with the stellar reputation and the “best company” or the place everyone wants to work may not be what it’s cracked up to be. Or maybe it would be a good place for many people but not for you or me. So go in with an eye to observing and having your own values front and center.

  • I follow Harvard Psychologist, Martha Stouts “13 Rules for Dealing with Sociopaths in Everyday Life” from her book, “The Sociopath Next door.”

    I won’t list them all but I’ll highlight the one that resonated the most with me:

    “When considering a new relationship of any kind, practice THE RULE OF THREES regarding the claims and promises a person makes, and the responsibilities he or she has. Make the Rule of Threes your personal policy. —- One lie, one broken promise, or a single neglected responsibility may be a misunderstanding. Two may involve a serious mistake. But three lies says you’re dealing with a liar, and deceit is the linchpin of conscienceless behavior. Cut your losses and get out as soon as you can. Leaving, though it may be hard, will be easier now than later, and less costly. Don not give your money, your work, your secrets, or your affection to a three-time. Your valuable gifts will be wasted.

  • I don’t date any more, and have no plans to do so going forward.

    My picker is now pretty good in terms of spotting dangerous/unsafe people generally, which is good, because I was way too much of a labrador puppy beforehand. (The toiletries on the doorstep story? That was me back in the old days. And I would have thought I was being model girlfriend material. ZERO BOUNDARIES.)

    So that means real, sustaining friendships now, probably for the first time in my life. These fill me up, and I don’t get lonely.

    However, I am aware that when I meet someone who I find attractive, I am prone to take subtle digs. It’s like I am looking for the flaws straight away. I have to learn to accept that someone can just be attractive, and I don’t have to try to tear them down.

    The thought of dating, forming a relationship of trust with a man over time, makes me feel exhausted. I feel like I would be on edge the whole time, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It would take a very particular man to have the patience to participate in the romantic equivalent of the Pitch Drop Experiment.

    So I am better off as I am – happy, healthy, productive, loved, loving, and learning all the time.

  • Very important advice:

    Do you have a little latent narcissism yourself? (The sparkly person LIKES me! I am MAGNIFICENT to be in their circle!)

  • The one thing all the cheaters/abusers/creeps I have been involved with were “pursuers”. So I never really had the opportunity to decide if I was interested in them, because they were interested in me first. I think the biggest thing to watch out for is flattery. It’s one thing to be a little pleased with compliments but don’t just lose your mind because someone ” likes ” your hair, or dress, or eyes. It’s a big diversionary tactic that involves absolutely no effort from a narc.

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