Dear Red: I'm Afraid My New Boyfriend is Like My Ex

Dear Red,

I'm dating a great new guy. He's kind, funny, and treats me well. The problem is that I'm having a hard time reading into some of his actions. My ex was generally manipulative and awful (borderline emotionally abusive), so sometimes it's hard for me to tell if my new guy is being genuine or trying to manipulate me emotionally. I'm pretty sure new guy is just being himself, but maybe I'm just too scarred from the past to recognize it?

Any advice you have would be great. I want to give this thing a shot.


Trying to Give Him a Chance


I believe our relationships help shape us into the people we are, either positively or negatively.

For instance, I dated a guy in college who sounds like your awful ex: I wasn't allowed to hang out with my friends, he'd make me feel bad for any decisions I made that didn't include him, and he would tell me I was being a bad person every time I tried to discuss these issues with him or point out how I thought he was making things difficult.

In short, he all sorts of fucked me up. And it took me a solid year to recalibrate from that relationship and emotional turmoil.

The cons were that I had to go through that situation in the first place.

The pros were that I figured out really quickly how to identify those kinds of signs of manipulation and fuckitude in other dudes...or so I thought.

The next guy I seriously dated was wonderful. Kind, caring, quirky, and remarkably intelligent. He was also very in tune with his emotions, which meant he was much more open to displaying and talking through what he was feeling at any given moment.

And to me, for a while, I interpreted that as, "OMG, RED FLAG."*

The ex had also been very emotional, and open to talking about his emotions...but I had to learn the difference between someone who would use those moments to manipulate me, and someone who simply had the gift of being open and vulnerable in a relationship.

The big difference was that my ex expected me to fix him and his emotions, whereas the new guy only wanted a little support and shoulder to lean on if he was feeling a certain way.

An emotionally in-tune person knows how to spot the difference.

For someone like you who is still healing from a bad situation, it's going to be harder for you to learn the difference. It was for me, too.

We all do it, in fact. We assume that our new partner's desire to play video games is EXACTLY like the old partner's desire (you know, the one who would play video games and IGNORE US FOR HOURS! And BE LAZY!). In fact, new partner really just likes to play now and again to relax.

Or, we assume that the new girl who cries when her feelings are hurt is exactly like old girl who CRIED ALL THE TIME, WHYDON'TYOULOVEMEANDBUYMETHINGS?!?!

In other words, we both are, and are not, the sum of our past relationships.

Which is to say that, of course, we can learn from the past, but we also have to realize that each new person is a unique individual with his or her own personality and approach to life.

I would say that your new guy is probably just a good guy, but you're still learning to sort your own emotions out, recalibrate your intuition, and figure out how to trust your gut and use your noggin.

My advice? Talk to the new guy about it.

It'll be scary, sure, but allowing yourself to get it out and be vulnerable and open with him will open a great dialogue that will help you both understand each other a bit better.

Good guy sounds awesome!



*This is not to say that those of us who have been in bad situations don't have the ability to recognize actual red flags. We just have to learn to sort the actual red flags from the not-actual-red-flags. Not easy, but doable.

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