“You know, it’s funny… when you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.” — Wanda, Bojack Horseman
By the time you’re in your 20s, dating gets really complicated. You don’t spend days romanticizing the single gaze you get from the captain of the football team as you walk past him along the hallways of your high school. You don’t spend hours by your cell phone waiting for a text from your crush. Heck, you’ve gone through so many hopelessly romantic situations that you’ve become disillusioned, convinced that it’s impossible to find the kind of dreamy love you fantasized about in your youth.
And then you meet him… the one who brings all of your hopeless romanticism back to life.
I thought that at the age of 22, I had become extremely realistic and practical when it came to love. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted in a man and I didn’t have particularly high expectations, but I sure thought that I was able to call men out on the crap they pass off as “love”. Fresh out of a long-term relationship of three years that ended due to deep-seated differences, I left my hometown for a summer job in an isolated location. I figured that being away from everyone, in a place that had limited internet access, would do me some good and aid my soul-searching process.
“Hey, anyone sitting here?”
I looked up to see a fit, attractive man looking at me. With a weak and tired smile, he gestured to the seat at the bar next to me. I had interacted with him a couple times during our work orientation and in the cafeteria, but I couldn’t remember his name. We’d talked about our hometowns the first time we met.
“Denver, right?” I asked, and smiled.
He nodded. We had great banter, really good conversations, and I still didn’t know his name. We had exchanged names the first day on the job, and I was pretty sure he didn’t remember mine either. I went back to his place that night, and we stayed up all night jamming to tunes on his guitar and his vinyl record player until the sun came up. We had breakfast together at the employee dining room, and then he made plans to take me out for dinner at the village diner. I eventually found out his name when we exchanged numbers and saved our contacts on each other’s phones.
We dated for close to four months in person; cohabiting, camping, hiking, and spending a crazy amount of time together. We were in a long-distance relationship for about two months. Everyone in that town knew of us as a couple, and we were dizzy in love. He drunkenly proposed to me when we were in Las Vegas together, and he told me he was going to marry me someday because I was the love of his life. As wary as I had been about being impractical and unrealistic in a relationship, I thought this was it. Because, holy shit, how many boys would tell you straight-up that you’re the love of their lives and that they wanted to marry you someday? I’m totally going to marry this man. Being a hopeless romantic, it was difficult for me to stay skeptical. And the red flags? I never saw them until we were done.
#1. He asked me to be his girlfriend two days into knowing me.
This didn’t seem like that much of a red flag to me at that point. It was the summer, and we were having fun. Hence, putting a label on our relationship that early on was merely an indication from him that he wanted us to be exclusive. I was cool with that— after all, we did have great chemistry. It felt really nice to feel wanted, and I also did not really know how to not be in a relationship, considering I just ended things with my ex-boyfriend of three years. Having someone by my side felt good. Having someone who wanted to commit to me for the rest of the summer two days into knowing me felt good.
What I’ve learned since then, was that wearing my heart on the sleeve and throwing myself into a commitment to someone I just met was a horrible idea. Being in a new town in the middle of nowhere made us all desperate for stable, consistent company. We wanted someone who would eat with us at the cafeteria so we wouldn’t have to eat alone; we wanted someone who would go on hikes with us; we wanted someone we could drink with so we wouldn’t have to sit at the bar alone, making awkward conversation every single night; and we wanted someone to love so we didn’t have to be in the employee pub every other night looking for company.
#2. He said his ex-girlfriend was crazy.
As we dived headfirst into a relationship, we also had the talk about our previous relationships really early into knowing each other. He opened up to me about how abusive his ex-girlfriend would get. She threw him out of their old apartment, changed the locks, and then, threw out all of his stuff. I was sympathetic and believed him when he told me his ex-girlfriend was crazy.
Sisters, if your new beau tells you his ex-girlfriend was crazy, you should have a sense of the amount of crap he probably put that poor girl through. When we decided to try out a long-distance relationship at the end of the summer, I spent hours on the phone with his mother (more on this later). His mom then told me candidly that he drove a ton of his girlfriends crazy. She talked to me about that particular ex-girlfriend, saying that she was a mature, beautiful, and utterly responsible girl, who had her life together. However, he relied on her for emotional and financial support most of the time. When the girl had enough and broke up with him, he apparently locked himself in their apartment for an entire week. Eventually, he had to leave the apartment for meals and essential items. While he was out, his ex-girlfriend – along with his mom and brother – snuck into the apartment, changed the locks, and moved all his stuff back to his parental home.
Moral of the story: Don’t listen to everything he tells you, especially when he says his ex-girlfriend’s crazy.
#3. He confessed to cheating on his exes, saying he would never do that to me because I was the love of his life.
At this point, we had moved in together, and getting drunk and hosting parties at our place had become a nightly routine. We would get together with a bunch of other employees, get drunk, hit the pub, and then get back to our place to jam. One night, after everyone left, he got really emotional about how he used to be a terrible person. He told me that he used to cheat on all of his exes, and they wouldn’t even ever find out. He told me he had never really truly felt love before, and that I made him feel different. He told me that I was the love of his life. And he told me that he would never cheat on me.
Six days before I was about to fly 10,000 miles to visit him at the end of our two-month long-distance relationship, I found out that— surprise, surprise, he cheated on me. I’m not saying that cheaters will always remain cheaters, but in his case, he did exactly what he said he’d never do to me.
#4. He asked me to move across the world for him one week into dating.
One week into our relationship, I was sleeping over at his place every single night. We were ready to move in together and have our own place. We started talking about the future, and I always thought that making future plans was a sign of a healthy relationship. It meant that you were planning to experience life beyond what was in the moment. It felt really sweet that he asked me to move across the world for him, and I was so dizzy in love I felt like I could really do it… except that I had to serve a bond for a job back home.
When we talked about our future together, there was absolutely no compromise. It was about me moving across the world for him, and he didn’t – not even once – consider moving across the world for me. While I would most definitely not have minded moving, this really led me to realize that he would never give up anything for me.
I don’t know why I never saw that. We were on a post-work road trip to Denver. On the day I left the city, he did not even send me off at the airport. Instead, he hopped into an Uber and headed downtown for one of his college classes. He didn’t even attend more than half of his college classes across the rest of the semester, and often skipped out on classes just because he “didn’t feel like attending” or was “way too high”. I wonder why I agreed to a long-distance relationship with someone who didn’t even send me off at the airport on the day I left.
#5. He forgot my birthday.
I’m honestly not even the kind of girl who cares about “monthsaries” or “anniversaries”, but I can’t say I wasn’t bothered when he forgot my birthday. In fact, he didn’t even text me on my birthday weekend and only hit me up again on Monday, when he wished me a happy birthday in his time zone. My birthday had already been over at mine, and I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed. I can’t say I wasn’t stupid enough to not realize that this man wasn’t worth my time and tears, either.
#6. I was on the phone with his mom when we were in an LDR a lot. Way. Too. Much.
This should have been the biggest red flag. I don’t know why I ignored it for a longer period of time than I should have. Halfway into our long-distance relationship, I spent a lot of time on the phone with his mom. He would spend weekends being in a stupor and go off the grid for days on end. When he left the summer job, he had moved back in with his mom, who would get worried when he disappeared for days on end. I would get phone calls and texts from his mom asking me if I knew where her son was. As a result, I spent a lot of time contacting his best friend, or a bunch of his friends on Facebook, trying to find out if he was alright. He never told his mom about any of his friends, and she would get extremely worried half the time, afraid that he was out self-harming or overdosing.
He would also get physical with his mom sometimes when she confronted him. I spent some time on the phone listening to her exasperated complaints, comforting her while she cried. She told me on many occasions that I deserved better than her son. I don’t know why I still didn’t listen to her— Mother knows best, indeed.
This relationship was an emotional roller coaster ride. In hindsight, our time together throughout the summer was made for movie screens. It would have been a perfect summer fling, but it was ultimately a horrible relationship that was built on absolutely nothing. There were a ton of red flags, which I either did not notice or kept denying because I was desperate to hold on to the idea of him being the love of my life. It was definitely an important lesson— it taught me love, patience, and pain all at once. Perhaps the next time around, I’d be a little smarter about it all.
Thank you, next.
Feature image by Sherryl Cheong
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