Today, I continue my series on dating after abuse by summarizing some great advice found in Emily Avagliano’s book, Dating after Trauma: How to Find the Love of Your Life After Experiencing an Abusive Relationship, Rape or Sexual Abuse. In this book, Emily Avagliano describes the way she dated after suffering sexual trauma. She required her dates to “run the gauntlet.” What does this mean? In Roman and English armies, it was a way for a condemned soldier to redeem himself by running through two rows of his fellow soldiers who would beat him. If he made it to the end, he could rejoin his comrades with a clean slate.[i] Emily Avagliano uses the term in a much less repellant way. In her book, she says she required her husband to pass a test before she would agree to marry him. He had to pass through the gauntlet to win her heart. She required her dates to pass through a series of steps before they could reach intimacy or engage in heavy conversation with her[ii]. This sounds very similar to Joshua Harris’s advice in Boy Meets Girl. Both books look at dating from the perspective that the man must win a woman’s heart. You are not responsible for “catching” him.
In order for this to work, you will want to remind yourself God loves you, wants the best for you, and you are worthy of marrying a respectful, loving man. Focus on whether he is good enough for you, not whether you are good enough for him. When you are with him, don’t ask yourself whether he likes you, ask yourself whether you like him. This is another reason it is important to heal from your past abuse before dating. You need to have healthy self-esteem so you can believe you are worthy of being pursued in a Godly manner.
Allow Him to Lead
Her next advice sounds old-fashioned, but is for our protection, and it actually works. Let him be the leader. Don’t be the instigator in the relationship; let him suggest what you do. Don’t feel you need to help him – he’s a big boy! If he can’t lead you when you begin dating, he won’t be able to be the spiritual leader of your home either. If you help him run through the gauntlet, you are reacting out of fear that no good man will ever want to marry you, and you are willing to settle for less than your standards. This lowers your self-esteem and makes you look desperate. Let him do something nice for you, and you can then do something nice in return. For example, he calls you; you call him back. He tells you about his childhood, you tell him something about yours. Don’t vomit every bad thing that every happened to you, but reveal a bit about yourself. He brings you flowers, you bake him cookies. You get the idea.
An Unhealthy Man
Ms. Avagliano contrasts unhealthy men to healthy men on pages 116 through 120[iii]. She says an unhealthy man will rush you to be emotionally or sexually intimate with him. He won’t call when he says he will. He will often call you and want to see you right then, and then won’t call for days or weeks. He will claim to have certain values, but will act completely differently with you, or brag about treating someone else badly in the past, (but claims it will never happen with you). He is emotionally immature. He doesn’t want to talk about your relationship; he will always want to keep you guessing. If you share your feelings, he will withdraw from you. He has few friends, or you dislike his friends. He dislikes your friends and family, and tries to keep you from them. He treats those he considers “lower” than himself (like waiters or janitors) poorly. He is jealous of other men you come in contact with for no reason. He wants to know where you are at all times, but never wants you to know where he is. When he gets angry, he blames his anger on you.
I would say the list above also describes men who are apt to become abusers. Keep away from men like this!
A Healthy Man
In contrast, a healthy man earns the right to be your best friend by his constant, good behavior. He does not rush you either emotionally or sexually. He takes the relationship slowly, but is always interested. He calls you and asks you out again very soon after your last date. He is trustworthy. The way he describes himself equates to the way he acts toward you. You feel safe around him. He is thoughtful of your wants and needs. He wants to know more about you, what you think, how you feel. If you set a boundary with him, he doesn’t withdraw, but immediately corrects his behavior, or works for a good compromise. He apologizes if he makes a mistake. He has many deep relationships with friends and family that you like. He likes your friends and family and allows you to spend time with them, even if it takes time away from him. He doesn’t blame you for his bad behavior.
Abusive men will rush you into a relationship. Healthy men will take their time. They will remain engaged and interested but won’t pressure you to commit to them in the first few dates. This is because unlike abusive men, who are looking for someone to control, healthy men are looking for someone to love. When you begin seeing a healthy man, you may not “fall in love” with him right away. This is OK. Don’t get upset if you don’t immediately feel strong emotions toward him. Your feelings may grow over time. Just ask yourself if he could be a good friend.
Keep in mind you are looking for a real human being. Your future husband will not be perfect, just as you are not perfect. He will have some flaws. Just make sure he is healthy, and willing to own his mistakes and make changes for you.
Things to Know About Good Men
Ms. Avagliano says she dated many men who failed the gauntlet before she met and married her husband. Women who are happily married will tell you two things about their husbands:
- Dating them was easy, and
- He was so nice to me; I knew he was different[iv].
I can affirm this. My second husband is as different from my first husband as day is to night. When I dated my first husband, everything was difficult. He argued about everything. I felt I had to constantly explain my motives and actions. My second husband trusted me from the first day. He had reasonable boundaries with me, and allowed me to have reasonable boundaries with him. He didn’t pick fights with me for no reason. We rarely argued. He was kind and polite and thoughtful. Dating him was a joy. Being married to him is also a joy. God is so good!
Proverbs has a lot to say about living with a quarrelsome wife. I contend these verses work just as well to describe life with a quarrelsome husband. Please allow me to substitute the word “mate” for “wife” in the verses below:
Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging mate.
Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome mate.
I pray Emily Avagliano’s advice will help you avoid choosing another a quarrelsome, abusive mate.
[ii] Emily Avagliano, Dating After Trauma: How to Find the Love of Your Life After Experiencing an Abusive Relationship, Rape or Sexual Abuse (Bad Kitty Print Shoppe: USA, 2013), 112
[iii] Emily Avagliano, Dating After Trauma, 116 – 120
[iv] Emily Avagliano, Dating After Trauma, 116