Hmmm. I think this is going to be a lot more random and winding than I first thought. It’s all off the cuff and not that planned out. Apologies ahead of time.
The Second Mistake : Boundaries
Knowing where to draw the line is key with anyone in your life, and you have to know yourself and your limits in order to draw those lines effectively. They’re called boundaries, and you have a right to set them for yourself and a right to expect others not to cross them without consequences. Boundaries are necessary for a healthy social, professional, and even private life. One must be realistic and firm when setting boundaries, and one must be rigidly consistent in enforcing consequences for infractions.
Those words, my friends, are in no way the words of the dumbass that dated Karen. Those words fall off the lips of someone who has seen beyond, someone that has experienced a Karen. Sure, I “knew” about boundaries and all, but it’s kind of like the difference between watching football and playing football; one is fun and makes sense, the other is moving too fast and ends up with you face down and bloody.
Within 2 months, I moved into a new place and invited Karen and her daughter to live with me. What. The. Hell. Was. I. Thinking. Boundaries? What are those?
Wait, let’s back up. One does not just make the decision to move in with someone they only just met off the cuff. There are things that precede that to break you down.
Karen blew up my texts and messaging constantly and demanded a lot of my time. Within a couple of weeks, I met her young daughter that, and this is not me just being pissy, was an awfully behaved child, and I’m giving a lot of leeway before making that statement. Before the first month was out, I had met her family, which wasn’t that out there, except her father was this awful loudmouth that had a threatening demeanor at all times; not that he would threaten you, but he seemed like he was about to go off his meds and start a bar fight at any moment, regardless of whether you were in a bar or not. He was loud and obnoxious and acted too friendly toward me him damn self.
Note: throughout all of this time, I let each step happen even though I was also pretty uncomfortable with each step. I chose to spend that time even when I wanted to do other things. I chose to meet her child even though I thought it was too soon. I agreed to meet her family. She can’t really be blamed for any of my stupid decisions. She wanted what she wanted, which is perfectly fine, if misguided; but I, lacking healthy boundaries, just kind of went with it instead of standing up for myself. Idiot.
The Beginning: Privacy? What privacy? What are you hiding?!
On the day we moved in together, I brought boxes up the stairs from the moving truck to find that she had already started unpacking books, which I thought was strange. During my next haul of boxes, I caught her quickly hiding my journal that she snagged from one of the boxes (though it only looked like my journal and was really just a lyrics books a girl I was once in a band with had given me. It wasn’t even in my handwriting). I let her know I had caught her and she just snickered, that kind of “aw shucks” thing kids that are caught with their hands in the cookie jar do. “Violating your privacy makes me a little devil. Could I be any cuter?” And, of course, I blew it off; whereas I should have literally just started taking boxes back to the moving truck.
Within a week, I had agreed to purge my entire photo collection of 15 years of any and all ex-girlfriends. Mind you, these were not pictures of ex-girlfriends that one puts in a frame; rather, these were pictures of events and gatherings that my exes happened to be at when the photo was taken, usually with a lot of other people. Essentially, I agreed to get rid of a lot of good photographs of major things in my life because she was just so upset with my stupidly “bringing my past relationships into a new bond”. She was also adamant that her constantly talking to her ex-husband was fine though, as he was the father of her child, and she had to dutifully do all she could to maintain their relationship (by talking to him a lot?). Sigh.
Within two weeks, a major blow up started, because I did one thing I was extremely firm about: I refused to give up the password to my computer. What was I hiding? Were there lots of women? Was I running a dogfighting ring? So mysterious. That’s how it was framed. It was an affront to everything about a relationship, I was assured, such as trust, sharing, and honesty. Strangely, boundaries and respecting privacy was not mentioned in what constituted a strong relationship.
Within 3 weeks, Karen hacked into my computer anyway. She was incensed that I still had the contact information of my exes in my address book. I mean, I could just call or email them at any moment. Karen assured me that her being upset with my hiding things was more than enough to override my concerns about her invading my privacy and openly transgressing a firm boundary. Truthfully, I was the bad guy, and I was just upset that she was showing how dishonest I was by hiding things from her….like names of people I never talked to in my address book.
Within 4 weeks, I realized she was going through my phone. This was right before smartphones got big and my phone at the time didn’t have any kind of lock on it. She wanted to know who the hell this woman in another state I talked to every now and then was. Never mind that I had talked about that friend and how I’d known her many years very openly. Again, her being upset was, while not more important than my privacy since she didn’t find anything, at least matching my concern because the thought of finding something was so upsetting. Shoot me.
You can see where this is going. Within another month, she was in my email. During that time she started talking to my friends online that she hadn’t been introduced to yet “just to get to know them.” And on and on, it only got worse.
Violating Boundaries: It’s not just for privacy anymore
But privacy wasn’t the only issue of transgressing boundaries. I just accepted things that were totally not okay. She wasn’t just communicating with her ex-husband to pick up his daughter sometimes or arrange functions. She was chatting with him at least a few hours online a week. That’s not okay. That’s being in a relationship with someone else, especially since their divorce had been, surprise, contentious, with him ending up with domestic violence conviction to show for it.
She continued to talk to all these male online friends, which I really was fine with, but then expensive gifts started showing up at the house. “Friends just buy things for each other” I was assured. Apparently, they buy 300 dollar gifts for each other all the time. If a meal is more than 5 bucks, I make my muthafuckin friends pay their share. That’s a behavioral boundary that I let slide. Stupid.
I moved into a bigger place (this was before I had any real money) because she was going to help with the rent. But when she finally did get a job (after a LONG time), she spent every nickel on healthcare and childcare, though a lot of her health care was on skin creams for a condition that wasn’t that bad (ie, not necessary). Apparently, mildly better skin was more important than keeping a roof over her head. It ended up not mattering anyway, as after a couple of months, she got mad at someone (who had less power than her at the place) and quit. Sigh. But I let it happen. A financial boundary: crossed.
These stories go on and on, and throughout this series, you’ll hear more. But, at this point, you should be seeing the pattern.
My Honor: My Downfall (sexism rears its head again)
I might not be the smartest person in the world, but I’m not the dumbest either. I have multiple advanced degrees and a good career (though to be fair; at the time, I was just in grad school). The question is begged:
Why did I let Karen transgress not one but a seeming endless number of boundaries?
I’ve thought long and hard about this question, and the best that I can come up with is “honor”.
In the first part of this series, I talked about the sexism involved in undermining Karen’s agency and how that fooled me into not correctly attributing all of her problems to her; she wasn’t to blame for anything, it was the big bad world that had treated her so wrong that was to blame. If the big bad world was to blame, then I was honor-bound as a red blooded male and man of real metal to save the damsel from all that big and bad.
You might think this is hyperbole, but it’s really not. Karen instinctively knew that sexist part of society that suggests men need to be big and white knightish and save the helpless woman (as they all are in those scenarios) from the clutches of evil, and she played it to her advantage like a fiddle.
Put yourself in the situation and see how you might react: a woman you’re slightly interested in is near tears because of something awful that has happened to her at the hands of some man, and now her young daughter will suffer a horrible fate of poverty because of it as well. The metaphorical societal audience asks you: “Are you going to just stand there and let not only this poor maligned woman, but her sparkling little child perish to the clutches of this degrading world?! What kind of man are you?!”
Or just imagine you’re on the street and you see some woman who says she’s just been mugged and her child is wandering in the street; would you not feel honor bound to do something immediately to help them? That’s the exact same feeling I had at the beginning of the relationship all the time. I had the resources to put a roof over this woman’s head along with her child, so I courageously did, knowing that wonderful woman would help out with the bills since, being safe and sheltered, she could focus on getting a job.
And Karen would reference other men doing things to help their families and providing and all of that. And to be honest, I really didn’t mind providing. And I suspect she actually meant she would try to help out when she said it, but she just failed to realize how much of a screw up she was. But it was that grating lack of gratitude for feeding, sheltering and clothing not only her but her daughter that got to me. Because the stories weren’t just of other men taking care of their families; they were stories of other men taking care of their families better than I was, evidence of how I shouldn’t expect thanks because it was my duty to provide. Not only was thanks not given, I needed to step up my game and provide even more.
Again, you can see it all played on this notion of doing the right thing. My boundaries were secondary as there was a young child that could literally be out on the street if I didn’t succumb to every whim Karen had. Was I some monster that liked to watch women and children cry because I was doing something they(read “she”) didn’t like? Men that make women cry are being abusive. Men that have anything that is not completely shared with their significant others are hiding something and being abusive. That slowly slides into, “Men that upset women, on purpose or not, are being abusive and are the scourge of the earth.”
As this series continues, honor will continue to be a theme and linchpin that kept me locked in this relationship, even as things became psychotic and dangerous. I openly admit I was blind about it, and, at its heart, there is a sexism that many women strangely work to their advantage (though it hurts women overall). Just be on the lookout for those honor strings to be pulled at all the time. And when you hear about things escalating in very bad ways, and you begin wondering how I couldn’t see how off things were, begin thinking of how any transgression she made might have been framed in terms of me being dishonorable societally towards a helpless woman.
In the next section, I’ll tell you about another mistake: other men.