Dating Red Flags: Excessive Clingyness and Obsession

When we last left my hopeless 16-year-old self, she had accepted the label of Zachery’s girlfriend. No date. No cute words. The next day she just walked into school a taken teenager.

She was going to regret that.

196000_1003689610578_7377_nThings started out pretty tame. I’d talk about all my dreams surrounding writing, college and a future. Always the planner, I had big ideas of what my future would look like. Zachery would nod here and provide a blank stare there. He wasn’t really that sociable. I figured he was just nervous. We hardly new each other before we became an item. I was more than happy to take things slow, giving him time to open up.

Not a week would pass before I learned Zachery and I had different definitions of ‘slow.’ A week was all it took for that dreaded L-word to come out of his mouth. I wish I remember the moment better, but I think he first said it via instant messenger(the only place where he was more than happy to contribute to the conversation). My response was a long paragraph detailing how I wasn’t there, yet. I had great respect for that L-word and I would only use it when I truly felt that way. In time, I told him.

Valentine’s Day approached soon after we started dating. I remember what my gift: a lovingly crafted piece of macaroni art on paper. Maybe that would have been cute when I was six, but at 16, it was ridiculous. Never one to care about Valentines’s Day anyone, I just went with it. Zachery was clearly obsessed with me and at least he tried, right? Having read Twilight, I knew obsession was the highest form of romance.

…except his obsession didn’t come of very romantic.

Zachery was uncomfortably clingy. Where ever we went, he had to have his hands on me. Walking side by side in the hallway, he’d have an arm wrapped tightly around my shoulders. It was like a three-legged race. Even teachers commented on how uncomfortable I looked.

This photo, “DSC_0325” is copyright (c) 2014 Sue Talbert Photography and made available under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license

I assumed he had the best of intentions and choose not to say anything. If he really knew me, he’d be able to tell how uncomfortable I was. If he really cared, he’d speak up.

Unfortunately, this clingy behavior became a staple of our relationship. When I the movies, I sit straight in my chair with my hands in my lap. Still, he’d wrap his arms around me (both arms, one in back and one in front). I’d keep myself tense and refuse to lean into his embrace, but he would go further to lean his head on my shoulder.This list of examples goes on and on. Not once did he ever act like he noticed my discomfort.

If clingyness was Zachery’s worst quality, the relationship would have been over by this point. By this point, though, I had come to fear him. He kept a tight grip on me. When I tried ignoring him (in a failed attempt to get him to engage in any kind of conversation), he’d get a bit shaky. His eyes would squint a bit and his emotionless voice would take on a slightly darker tone.

Lucky for me, my best friend was dating his younger brother. Whenever Zachery and I made a date, I’d turn it into a double date. I thought that would keep me safe. That would keep his hands from straying to even more uncomfortable places.

For all its benefits, the arrangement with my friend would take quick negative turn. As I built up the confidence and self-worth I would need to break up with Zachery, she let me in on any inside information that would change my mind.

Did you ever go through a phase where you equated obsession to romance? Where do you think that idea comes from? Do you think Zachery’s obsessiveness and clingyness were related to his alleged love or to an ulterior motive? What would your 16-year-old self have done upon receiving macaroni art as a Valentine’s Day gift?


34 thoughts on “Dating Red Flags: Excessive Clingyness and Obsession”

  1. I broke up with a guy who didn’t want the relationship to end and would constantly leave me notes. I even started dating someone else but he continued to express intentions of getting back together. One day he brought me flowers (?) actually a branch off a pyracantha bush after his morning run and left them on my desk. Your macaroni art reminded me of “his” flowers…I tossed them in the trash.

    A few days later the “Ex” approached my current boyfriend, commenting that his actions didn’t seem to be bothering my boyfriend. To which my boyfriend replied, ” _____ (me) seems to be handling things just fine. If there is ever a moment when she expresses that she can’t handle you or that you are bothering her, I will come over and beat you over the head with a two by four.” The Ex just looked at him and said…Oh, okay and that was the last time he ever bothered me. 😉

    1. That’s nice he left you alone, but I wish he would have respected you enough to leave you alone. It’s like he respected your boyfriend enough (after hearing he did disapprove) to back off, but not you. That’s a pet peeve of mine.

      Macaroni art would surprisingly not be the oddest thing he gave me, but that’s for another thursday. I got notes and poetry as the relationship continued because I still tried to ignore him. Part of it was that I didn’t want to be the one to hurt him. I wanted him to break up with me. In the first month, though, I just wanted him to talk to me. If he would have had the maturity to ask me what was wrong, we might have hashed out our problems and dated longer than we did.

  2. Clingy boyfriend; kiss of death for most relationships.
    Guys don’t seem to realize that the average girl doesn’t want to be joined at the hip with him…….. of course it works both ways, as there are girls out there who do the same thing….

    1. I think there’s a period in the early teenage years where being clingy does work. I blame Twilight. In those years, dating is more of a status symbol than anything else. I think a lot of boys just do whatever they think they have to to get the girl (and vice versa).

  3. A man I dated in my twenties was very obsessive. Initially, I mistook that for love. With all the attention he gave me, he must have really loved me…I thought. Maybe he did. I’ll never know. His obsession turned to total control and that turned to threats. At the end, he was served with a restraining order and I haven’t seen him since our court hearing, years ago.

    1. I didn’t date Zachery enough for it to turn into literal threats and restraining orders, but it definitely built up to there. I’ll write about it in another Thursday post, so for now, let’s just say I had more of a back bone than I gave myself credit for.

  4. Dating in high school can be rather “iffy” like that. It really isn’t wise. It seems to make sense, but when you can’t even get married or start a serious relationship, there’s no point. Then, it usually just turns into the boyfriend and girlfriend using each other for pleasure, as Zachary did with you. I’m sorry you had to go through that!

    1. Yeah, dating in high school is more like a status symbol than anything else. While there’s no problem with ‘dating for fun,’ that was never really my thing. It’s why I’ve only ever had a handful of relationships. I don’t like the idea of just dating for fun.

      1. Yeah, dating for fun seems like a waste of time and could easily turn into the use of another person….
        I’m home-schooled so I don’t have to deal with this stuff 😉

  5. I definitely misunderstood obsessive, possessive, and even abusive behavior as love a long time ago. He would say that putting up with his verbal abuse would make me “strong” because I was too sensitive for him. It was someone who was much older than I was and he also never wanted the relationship to end. I got tired of his abuse and him trying to get involved with my life as a ‘friend’ (when I was trying to see other people) only for him to constantly attempt to cross those boundaries. I definitely never paid attention to the red flags and I felt so stupid because of it. We don’t speak anymore and I’m glad that I’m now in a healthy relationship.

    1. It’s so crazy the number of women and girls who get into things like that. From the ages of 14 to 24, women are most at risk for domestic violence-type events. While things would eventually turn emotionally controlling (which I would say is emotionally abusive), I thank God it never got far enough that anything physical happened. I’m glad you got out of your situation before it got any worse.

  6. Hahahaaa, sorry, but the image of him trying to watch a movie with BOTH arms around you just kills me. And the fact that you sat erect and didn’t feed into it is even better. Like, I wish it was a photograph with the caption: “Awkwardness level: Teenager”.

    Macaroni art as a gift would be cute. I drew a LOT in high school, so all my awkward relationships involved writing love notes in class featuring a badly proportioned me.

    1. Yeah, it was so odd. Even as I sat there, I was like “Really, this is what you’re going to do.” If that were to happen today, I would shove him off and tell him to get off me. What made it even funnier was that my parents had brought us to the movie. They were just a few rows behind us.

      Love note can be cute. Hell, even the macaroni art could have been cute if it looked like he put any effort into it.

  7. As a rule, kids don’t know how to express affection. Boys (and even men) will often assume that if they love someone enough, then that person’s company, touch, and love are all they should be focused on. I know that for me as a 16-year-old, as well as for many of my friends, it was largely a matter of “this is how I’m supposed to act, right?” This was the case for a number of my female friends, as well: they thought they had to be touching or in the presense of their partners roughly 24/7. So, while I don’t know exactly where it comes from, I don’t think this undesirable clinginess is just a trait of “creepers”–at least, not at age 16.
    Of course, we’re supposed to grow out of that, at some point, and learn that personal space, boundaries, etc. are important. We should learn to listen to our “inner voices” (self-esteem, self-confidence included) and know when “enough is enough.” Also, we learn that different people like different things.
    For example, I recently dated a woman in her early 30s (my age) who absolutely insisted on having near-constant touch, and got grouchy when I didn’t give it to her. For me, she wanted more than I was willing to offer, so I gave her what I could at the “upper end” of my limits, but tried to respect my own boundaries, as well. Other people I’ve dated wanted almost no touch; but most wanted something in-between.
    So, I think that part of the “growing up process” has to do with learning what we, ourselves, want, and learning that not everybody wants the same thing–and finding ways to respect both, and know when to walk away.
    Popular media like the Twilight Saga, Pride and Prejudice, and just about any teen drama or soap opera make it a LOT harder to figure out what’s “normal” or healthy; so part of the fault lies in what we’re watching/reading/listening to, and hearing those who have been doing the same. The rest, I think, is probably indiginous to the more infantile aspects of human nature, and is something that most people eventually “get over.”
    Food for thought: did you ever tell him plainly (bluntly but with kindness) that you don’t like to be touched that much? One of the hardest things to master in any relationship is learning to read another person’s nonverbal communication–and teenagers are especially bad at it. Additionally, men are generally pretty bad at it, and do much better when told, “I want/don’t want XYZ.” I made more than a few faux pas before learning to ask bluntly what a person wanted or was feeling.

    1. NO! But I should have voiced my concerns to him. Like you said, I was partially doing what I thought I was supposed to do. It’s not like I was uninterested in an emotional connection. I just had an image of what a relationship was supposed to be. I didn’t think I was supposed to tell him. I thought he was supposed to just know…. that if he really liked me, if he was really paying attention, he would know and speak up. It’s ridiculous, I know, but no one ever told me differently.

      1. Thank-you, Jakluman and TK.
        When I think about it, it really is pretty bizarre how we’re taught to expect folks to “just know.” I’m not sure how much of it is intentional or cultural…but it seems like everyone starts in that place and has to claw their way to a position of asking and speaking up.
        Do you know if it’s that way in other countries, or if it’s just a USA/Western culture thing?

        1. I don’t know, but I relate it more to gender issues. Girls are told to flirt and test guys to see if they really like them. They’re told ‘make them chase you.’ On the flip side, men are told about all these different tricks to ‘get the girl.’ Neither of these messages takes into consideration the emotions and values of another person. It turns the person you date into a conquest. I think those messages might be related to the genders not being 100% equal yet. We’d be better off if we sent our youth the message to be considerate of others, not to pressure others. Any ‘tricks’ they use to ‘get’ a person should be based on healthy communication.

          1. I agree. I’ve long thought that if one has to expend so much effort “testing,” “chasing,” “running,” and otherwise doing “tricks,” then it’s goign to be very unlikely to find a person with whom one can really connect, once the novelty of these activity loses its charm. A change in narrative to our (future) children seems like the biggest component to changing how the genders interact. Of course, parents, alone, can’t control the whole narrative, so having other people around who support such a paradigm shift is undoubtedly helpful, regardless of one’s parental status.

            1. I think most people mature to a point where they drop all the acting when it comes to relationships. Sometimes, I’ll have friends complain about how a guy is behaving. The only answers for his actions is that he really doesn’t care or he’s playing a game (girls do this too, I just have more single girl friends then single boy friends). I tell them every time, even if he does care, if he’s playing a game, he’s not worth your time. To me, it’s a sign of immaturity.

  8. What a great read! I’ve always found it to be girls that are more clingy. I’ve been stuck having problems with men not opening up. When men are like that they tend to take caring and worry as obsessiveness. Which is a shame. I think girls are always gonna be more caring and, well, motherly, and it’s a shame that some guys can’t accept that.

    1. I think girls often seem more compassionate because society accepts that as an exclusive female quality. Men feel like they are supposed to hold in their emotions and that their not supposed to show a soft side. This isn’t true at all, but it certainly effects how teenagers act. Ideally, most people grow up and realize that women can be tough and men can be kind.

      I really wanted this guy to open up. When I first started dating him, all I wanted was a discussion. He never said anything, though, and the relationship spiraled.

  9. Hi TK..thank you for the follow..loved your blog..regarding clingy boyfriends..I’ve always been pretty direct with boys who were clingy and sure enough those relationships ended with me giving them the silent treatment..on the other hand there was once this relationship where I was the clingy one..needless to say that didn’t end well obsessive possessive behavior 😉 is relationship suicide..:) do drop by my world your comments and thoughts are highly appreciated..meanwhile looking forward to more from you too….

    1. I think clingyness might work for some relationships… but I think both people have to like that kind of romance. There also has to be respect there. Obsessiveness combined with love and respect could probably be cute, but this guy was just doing it because he though he was supposed to.

      Honestly, I don’t even think he was dating me because he liked me. I think he just wanted an excuse to get closer to my friend.

  10. Oh dear. I’m sure I was Zachery for the early part of my dating life– so very awkward. In my defense, however, some girls were quite cruel. Then I regret being awkward the other way– acting in ways I thought were friendly and then not knowing what to do when girls showed interest. Then, when I met my wife, the shoe was on the other foot– I was out of my comfort zone. We did figure it out, of course, as it’s been almost 15 and half years of marriage now.

    1. At that age, we’re all just stumbling along trying to figure it all out. I feel like I was a bit cruel in staying in the relationship. I should have cut it off as soon as I realized this wasn’t for me. That’s a story for another day, though.

  11. I don’t think I’ve ever described a boyfriend as clingy…obsessive, possessive and even abusive yes, but not clingy. Your guy was definitely clingy, downright insensitive and bordering on obsessive. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Twilight series helped teenagers understand the boundaries of love. I was always Team Jacob because Edward Cullen reminded me too much of my high school boyfriend – and not in a good way! At first I thought his jealousy was sweet, his possessiveness was a sign of his caring for me. Boy was I wrong, and it took four long years to extract myself from his obsessiveness. Too often clingy and obsessive behaviour can lead to something darker and teenagers (and adults) need the self-confidence and self-awareness to realize it’s not a sweet sign of love.

    1. I LOVED Twilight in high school and was all about Team Edward… which might explain why I stayed with Zachery for a while despite his obsessive behavior. All he had to do was ask what was wrong.

      Future stories will reveal, however, that telling him to back off didn’t work.

  12. The boy (not a man by my standards, regardless of age) prior to my now husband was clingy and abusive. At the best he was demanding, extremely critical of me and controlling. Even once I had left him, the threats continued. It took about three or four years of work but he finally left us alone. Thankfully no one was hurt. Clingy isn’t just a descriptive word in a relationship, in my experience it’s a sign of serious trouble.

    1. EXACTLY! My relationship eventually evolved into what I would call borderline abusive. I was able to get out before it got really bad. In my experience, someone that clingy is likely to have jealously issues even after the relationship that can cause serious trouble.

      1. That was my problem. Even after I was married he’d stalk us. We’d moved and would still see him driving by, but calling the police really wasn’t an option I wanted to use. At that point we used the naughty child technique and ignored him, instead of feeding the troll.

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