Are you overreacting, or is your gut instinct is trying to tell you something?
Q: I’m 28 and I recently started seeing someone new. He’s charming, outgoing and a total romantic, which I love. But there are also some things he does that make me uncomfortable. Sometimes he tells really weird jokes that make fun of women. He only has negative things to say about his ex-girlfriends. But then he compliments me all the time. He tells me I’m different, so much smarter than them. He told me he loved me only a month after we were together! I didn’t say it back, but I was really flattered. Still, I know moving fast is something abusers do. So, I don’t know whether to be swept off my feet by this guy or wary of him. – Leah J.
To be blunt, Leah, it sounds like your gut instinct is telling you to be wary of this guy. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from my years of talking to survivors of domestic abuse who saw the warning signs clearly in hindsight, as well as reading and re-reading The Gift of Fear, it’s that listening to your gut has the potential to save your life.
I’m not suggesting that this guy, or any guy, who is charming, has a weird sense of humor and dislikes his ex-girlfriends is an abuser. It’s more about how you feel when these things come up with your new partner. Are you simply turned off, or do get that worrisome tingle running through your body alerting you to potential danger? That’s your intuition.
In The Gift of Fear, author and violence expert Gavin de Becker lists 13 “Messengers of Intuition”—things you may feel when you’re around someone that signal something is worth paying attention to. They include:
- Nagging feelings
- Persistent thoughts
- Gut feelings
It sounds like you’re feeling more than one of these when you’re with this new guy, and you shouldn’t be quick to disregard them.
De Becker talks about some of the pre-incident indicators associated with domestic violence in Chapter 10 of his book. Among them are “At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together and marriage.” One of the main reasons an abuser will accelerate the pace of a relationship, such as confessing his love for you early on, is to try and “lock you in,” so to speak, and make you feel like the two of you are a solidified, committed couple. It may feel charming at first, but it could end up turning into a form of power and control.
In a 2013 Psychology Today article titled “Behind the Veil: Inside the Mind of Men That Abuse,” author John G. Taylor writes that men who abuse are “very clever, smart and extremely charming. Most of these men have a personality that draws people in because of their level of charm. This is part of their art to deceive and manipulate.”
Then again, he may just be overly eager to divulge his feelings in order to see if they’re returned. There are 29 other indicators on De Becker’s list, though, that you may want to review to see if this guy fits any of them. They include things like “He refuses to accept rejection” and “He expects the relationship to go on forever, perhaps using phrases like ‘together for life,’ ‘always,’ ‘no matter what.’” More red flags equals more reason to be suspicious of his intent. You may also want to review our list of 25 Relationship Red Flags (click on “View All” to see all 25 at once). In fact, No. 3 is “Sarcastic comments downplayed as jokes.”
A penchant for sexist jokes isn’t exactly an admirable quality, but a study out of Western Carolina University found it could be even more than that. Their survey of 387 heterosexual men suggested those who found sexist jokes funny were more likely to hold “precarious manhood beliefs”—that is, they felt their manhood was in question. Telling jokes that put women down only reaffirmed their place in the hierarchy of sexes, or so they believed. Something to consider.
You may be wondering if you should talk to him about your concerns. You can definitely try and the way he responds will give you more insight into his disposition. Does he get angry quickly (red flag!) or does he take into account your feelings and show empathy and understanding? Do you see a consistent change in his behavior going forward?
Whether or not your new partner may turn out to be abusive can’t be predicted with the utmost certainty on my end, but I can say that the fact you’re even questioning it should tell you something. Here’s what I can say: Abusive indicators can escalate into abusive behavior. If you read through our Survivor Stories, you’ll see a lot of survivors talk about how their abusers started off “innocently enough.” And so, they wrote off some of the red flags. They talked themselves out of listening to their gut. But their gut instinct turned out to be right and many of these survivors wound up in some pretty dangerous and sometimes violent situations.
You may want to read “Three Ways to Listen to Your Gut” to make sure you’re listening to your intuition if you continue seeing him.
Stay safe, Leah.
Ask Amanda is meant to offer helpful resources and information about domestic violence. If in crisis, please reach out to your nearest domestic violence shelter for the guidance of a trained advocate.