I posted an ad on Craigslist for a fishing buddy in the hopes that I’d meet a nice man who would enjoy the outdoors with me, help me improve my flycasting and teach me some fishing hot spots in the area. I did meet someone- We’ll call him Just Don’t. We met up after exchanging several emails and a couple of pictures (nothing racy- that’s not how I roll). His pictures were nothing to crow about, but the guy wasn’t hideous or anything, and he used pretty solid grammar, spelling and mechanics in his emails, so I figured, why not meet up and see what kind of chemistry was or wasn’t there.
We met at a bottle shop and had two beers each. He was polite, had nice eyes, and was apparently super self-conscious about his teeth because he did everything within the twitchy power of his buccal muscles to not reveal his teeth to me. Later in the evening he revealed that he’d recently been in a bad bike accident (drunken face-slamming into a curb. Ouch, but also first strike in my book- drunk bike accidents are for 22 year olds, not 28 year olds) and that my straight, white teeth made him feel insecure about his. I told him not to worry but he continued to pucker his lips and giggle in lieu of smiling, and it was weird. Not bad, per se, but weird. We said bye and hugged. We agreed to hang out again, maybe go fishing.
A fishing day was indeed our next get-together, and I was looking forward to it. Just Don’t was quite a gentleman on date one, and I was looking forward to a pleasant day together, learning more about one another and maybe catching some trout. Early that Saturday, he picked me up and took me to a couple of fishing spots that were unproductive but extraordinarily scenic. Things seemed to be going according to my hopes! He knew a vast amount about the local waters and about fish in general because of his job (he worked for a wildlife management agency). I was starting to find him really cute because he’d relaxed a bit by the end of the day and was funny, playful and sweet. His smile came out more and his teeth weren’t bad at all!
We fished and hung out several times more, and it was starting to feel kind of romantic. We hiked a local mountain and watched the sun set. He brought me flowers just because. One time we fell asleep on my couch in a cozy embrace. I was amazed at how relaxed I could feel around this person! I normally (annoyingly) can’t even fall asleep around my longer-term partners, let alone a new friend. He tried to get sexual with me a couple of times and I wasn’t ready, which he dealt with reasonably well. I was getting very interested in Just Don’t as a possible prospect for something longer-term, and feeling a lot of affection and tenderness for him as we got to know one another more and more.
I also had some concerns about a few things right away, including the fact that he lived with his father. Although it made sense financially (his job required him to move around the state and he was only in the city for chunks of each year), it still made me uncomfortable because he never invited me over. We only met at my place or out on the river. When I asked him about it, he said he had a lot of conflict with his dad and it would be uncomfortable for me to come over. As we talked about family and friends, it emerged that Just Don’t had quite a bit of conflict in his relationships. He was not on speaking terms with his best friend at the time we were dating. There was lots of drama in his extended family. Things like that gave me pause. And so did smaller things, like the giant discrepancy between our education levels. Part of me always wants that to be off the table because not everyone gets dealt the same hand when it comes to opportunity, and I’m not convinced I need my partner to share my affinity for higher education.
I also asked him to be my date at a cocktail party one time, and he had to go out and buy a pair of shoes to look ‘nice enough’, which apparently was a huge financial hardship for him that his dad gave him grief for later. Two problems stood out there: One, he was broke even though he worked full time for the government, which was very puzzling to me since he was living rent-free with a family member. And two, the bigger and scarier thing: His dad was still a major part of his financial life and was looming over him in the background of his life. Living with dad was LIVING WITH DAD. I was hoping it was the lower-case version, but time showed that it definitely was not. Apparently his dad was upset that he bought dress shoes because the money was supposed to go toward groceries. Is it just me, or is this kinda messed up for a 28 year old man to be engaged in this dynamic?
The kicker came when I went away for a three-day conference at a coastal town nearby that involved a fun ‘surfing school’ option on the first day. I was not available to communicate much with Just Don’t, and when I let him know in a quick phone-call that I would likely not be able to call to say goodnight, he got a bit upset with me, like I’d broken a major promise. He also sent a text about five minutes after that call, saying: “Try not to let some surfer dude steal you away.”
My heart sank and I felt a familiar twinge in my gut: UNHEALTHY.
This was the beginning of toxic communication. On the one hand, I had never committed to dating Just Don’t exclusively. I was not his to steal. On the other hand, the subtext of that message was that I might treat a burgeoning romantic relationship without proper respect, or fail to communicate with him that I had met someone else and just HAD to run into the waves and have conference sex with him, whoever the ‘surfer dude’ might be.
The next two days involved his ever-more desperate texts and emails asking me to communicate more frequently with him, saying I was much warmer and more communicative before leaving. Yes, I told him. That’s because I was at a conference in another city and was both working and socializing on company time. I was not going to be very available, and it wasn’t about him. Even still, I let him know I’d be back around 7:30 on Wednesday. I sent a text saying so while on the road. At 7:39, we were dropping off colleagues from the carpool and he sent me this text:: “How’s it going?”
I was pretty fed up with his lack of patience over the past couple of days, and asked him if we could meet on Friday instead since it was getting later and he worked at 4:30 the next day. Then he sent this: “Wait, were you just going to change it to Friday all along?”
My jaw dropped. This person, who in the grand scheme of things, barely knew me, was trying to start some shit with me! Unreal! I felt pretty unsafe about it, and that kink in my stomach that insinuates itself in the presence of unsafe people went off hard. I spent the next week completely extracting myself from the relationship. I tried to explain to him that his communication style made me feel really unsafe, and he fired back criticism and accusations that floored me. I had no idea where he was even getting this stuff until it dawned on me. He’d told me that his last relationship ended in a fireball of explosive relationship yuck. He’d been with a woman for five years and found out from all their mutual friends, including his best friend, that she’d been cheating on him off and on while he traveled for work. No wonder the conference was a trigger for him! BAGGAGE, BAGGAGE, BAGGAGE! I told him I was unable to even try to be friends because of how reactive he was. I told him I didn’t want to talk to him anymore. He started yelling and I hung up the phone. Fortunately he did not try to call or text me for several days.
Then he emailed me to ask me if I’d seen his ‘Craigslist ad.’ My stomach kinked again. Here was a man who couldn’t just move on and lick his wounds privately or with trusted friends and family. Apparently someone had flagged his post, so he’d copied the body of it into an email to me. His miserable post was a plaintive cry to the greater Craigslist community to help him ‘get me back’ at any cost, citing his own lack of patience as the reason he ‘fucked it all up.’ He implored any compassionate reader to help him make me see that he truly was a good man, making a special request that any ‘woman out there’ might help him understand the situation from the feminine perspective. This puzzled me. I’d tried to explain my lack-of-safety feelings about his communication to him several times. Why did he need someone else to do it?
The whole thing was just bizarre. I sent him an email back saying to please not email me anymore. Then I blocked any future messages from him.
Overall, this situation continues to haunt me. This person knows where I live. He obviously struggles with regulating his emotional reactions to situations. He’s got a powder-keg of tension inside that seems to find its way out in romantic scenarios. He was like this after just three weeks of dating. What would he be like after he let his guard all the way down? Abusive. That is what that special place in my gut told me, and continues to tell me. Abusive. Just Don’t.
Sad but true. A person who, for a little while, showed me incredible natural areas and taught me many secrets about the lives of fish, brought me flowers and coffee, had a tiny kitten named Lily, made me laugh and enchanted me with his blue eyes, taught me how to cast a fly-rod properly, and held me until I fell asleep in his strong arms, turned out to be very unsafe for me. I’m really glad I got to see this so soon into the dating relationship. Though I miss the nice parts of how it was to be falling a little bit for this person, I feel pride that I listen to that cold twinge in my abdomen these days instead of disregarding it over and over to my own detriment. I hope everyone else pays attention to this feeling. And I keep my doors and windows locked at night just in case, which is also sad but true.