I was out with a friend last night, talking about relationships, and the topic of anger came up. While we discussed various ways about how anger can manifest and cause trouble, I had a flashback to a woman I dated several years ago. More specifically, the flashback involved how I responded to her telling me she was sleeping with another guy.
Here's the basic set up. We had been dating about a month. We got along pretty well, and things appeared to be heading towards a committed relationship. Given that I'm not into “juggling dates,” I had stopped going to the online dating sites, and had told the other two women I was writing to that I had started seeing someone. Judging by her increased interest in spending time with me, as well as the increased physical intimacy, I assumed she had done the same. Turns out that wasn't the case.
As a relative newbie to online dating back then, and also someone who really didn't have much experience dating outside of my “friend and acquaintance pool,” I was unprepared for the kind of issues that can come up when you date people you have no prior connection with.
So, there we were, sitting at a coffee shop having a conversation, and I must have brought up something about her being “my girlfriend” or something of the sort.
And she says “But I've been seeing so and so as well.”
“What?” (with confused look)
“Oh, I've been spending Fridays with so and so, and Saturdays with you.”
Tensely, trying to hold it together, I respond, “But I thought we were becoming a couple?”
“Well, I like you a lot” (touches my hand) “but I don't know if you're “the one?”
“How can you know something like that for sure after a month?”
“I don't know.” (looks away) “I didn't think it was a big deal. Are you angry?”
I pause, briefly surveying the room as my body began shaking. “No. No. I'm not angry.”
“You seem angry?”
“No. I'm not.”
“I'm sorry. I just don't know.”
About ten minutes later the relationship was over.
Looking back on this situation now, there are plenty of signs and missteps that were taken. First of all, there were the assumptions both of us made that ultimately led to things unraveling. Next, there were the signs I missed that clearly pointed to something not being quite “right” about the relationship unfolding. Friday wasn't the only day marked off on her calendar. I actually only had two or three evenings to choose from to spend time with her. And I had no idea what she did with the rest of her free time. In addition, she didn't really make a lot of contact in between dates – it seemed like I was often the one initiating contact. At the time, I thought it was because she wanted me to “chase her,” to be “the man,” but obviously that wasn't the issue really.
And then there's the anger during that conversation. Back then, I was highly attached to an image of myself as a guy who is basically nice, kind, and respectful. I really loathed those men who screamed at their girlfriends or wives, and who basically had no control over their anger. Unfortunately, though, I was almost the opposite. I tended to stuff or minimize anger, to the point where it actually sucked some of the life out of me. My confidence was shoddy. I too willingly placed my needs to the side to support others, including the women I dated. And then would have these occasional angry outbursts over usually quite trivial things, which when they came within a dating situation, often were surprising for the person I was to dating experience.
This particular incident is an almost comical expression of that. But it would be another three to years before I would start to see the pattern, and make changes in my life as a result.
One of the main things I took out of the work I did around anger and relationships is that much of it was tied to the assumptions I would make and then believed in wholeheartedly, even when there was evidence to the contrary. And I have to say that in more recent years, I have had much less anger drama in my relationships because I make fewer assumptions, and hold those assumptions I do make in a much looser, lighter hand. And I'm more honest, in general, when I'm not happy with something going on.
All of that has, regardless of whether I'm in a relationship or not, a happier person.