Dating Red Flags: A Father’s Warning

Teenage TK is a smart girl with big dreams of world travel and novel-writing. She was also lonely and had sever doubts she was worthy of anyone’s love. Those feelings are probably what lead her to accept the label of Zachery’s Girlfriend over MSN and put up with his obsessive clingiyness no matter how hard it was walking through the hallways like I was in slow motion three-legged race.

To no one’s surprise but her own, the relationship plummeted fast. There was no conversation. Being with Zachery wasn’t much different from being alone, the only difference being that I saw swords as more than sharpened sticks. Even though Teenage TK was ready to end things, a friend’s message that Zachery had already bought her a birthday present (which turned out to be the aforementioned sharpened stick) and prom’s fast approach convinced her the merciful thing to do would be to wait it out until after prom.

Soon after she made that decision, it was fear that kept her complacent more than her flawed ideas of mercy. That fear was heightened by his selective deftness, especially when it came my wishes he stop groping intimate areas.

The way his body shook and his eyes hardened when he was angry became a normal occurrence to me the more I tried to avoid spending too much time with him. It wasn’t until a friend became so afraid on my behalf that she confronted me about the emotional abuse that I saw how dangerous my situation had become. Unfortunately, that epiphany came in the middle of prom night. TK was in public, but she was in no position to end a relationship and make it home safe.  She’d survive, riding out the night, bloody hands and all.


My junior prom came to an end with the rising of the Sunday sun. I made my way home and probably slept for most of the morning. The events of prom haunted me. I could still feel the way Zachery gripped my arm and the dread that hit my stomach when I realized the situation was dire enough for a friend to pull me aside in her worry. I thanked God I made it home alive after the zig zagging way Zachery drove on the road, apparently mad with anger.

More than anything else, I remembered the ferocious sound that came from Zachery’s room after prom and the blood on his hand he tried to explain away. The idea of spending two more weeks with the label ‘Zachery’s Girlfriend’ was more than just unpleasant, it was horrifying.

Despite my friend’s warning, I still harbored the same old worries about ending a relationship with someone who was obsessively in love with me (or so he said). What would he do to me when I broke it off? If he left me alone, would he take out his anger on someone else? Would he take it out on himself.

It was then that I made one of the best decisions of my life: I told my parents. Even during that conversation, I still tried to justify stringing out the relationship for another two weeks. I thought it was the right thing to do, but my father set me straight.

“You need to break up with him now. Don’t let him think this could ever pass as acceptable behavior,” he said.

That night, as I visualized different scenarios, wondering which one I should carry out. None of my teenage notions of mercy could overcome my father’s solid logic. When I made my way to school the next morning, it was with the realization that any action Zachery took against himself or others would be his fault alone. His actions were not my responsibility.

I don’t remember if I saw Zachery before classes started that day, but I do remember having friends close by at the end of the day. They knew what I was about to do and I asked them to wait for me when Zachery approached. I needed their support more than ever.

“We need to talk,” I told Zachery taking him aside.

I like to think I said something about his actions during prom being reprehensible, but I was struggling to keep my composure. Inside, I was panicking. Breaking up with someone was not on my list of essential life experiences. All I really remember saying is, “we’re over.”

“Okay,” said Zachery in his typical, monotone voice. I could tell he wasn’t getting it, which kind of blew my mind. I’d have to spell this out for him.

“No, you don’t understand, ” I countered. “I’m breaking up with you.”

“Oh…,” he said, with as much inflection as I had ever heard from him.

I’m not sure which one of us walked away from that conversation first. All I remember is falling into the arms of my friends, feeling physically exhausted from maintaining my best poker face through my talk with Zachery.

After school, I drove to the library for work and did a little dance among the books. I had never felt so free.

Do you think Zachery understood how bad his behavior was? A  question for the parents: what would you do if you thought your teenager was in a potentially dangerous relationship? Given that teenagers don’t usually tell their parents everything, what warning signs would alert you your child was in a dangerous relationship? What would you do if you thought your child might be the perpetrator in a dangerous relationship?


…or is it?


25 thoughts on “Dating Red Flags: A Father’s Warning”

    1. I put a tab at the top of the blog so you can read the whole story in order. There is more to say, especially since my friend kept dating his brother and is now married to him. I’ll touch on some of that next week.

    1. His words certainly did help, or maybe it was just the look in his eyes. I’m sure it’s uncomfortable to realize how dangerous of a situation you’re child is in.

  1. I hope Zachery accepted that it was over. As for your questions, my kids are too young at the moment for me to have direct experience. However, I think it’s all about fostering good quality, open, non-judgemental communication between parent and child so they can feel able to talk to you on any subject. I also think it’s about knowing your child and being vigilant so you can notice the small details of change that night suggest something is awry, whether that’s relationship stuff, bullying, trouble, anxiety over anything. I can’t project enough to know how I would handle finding out one of my kids was abusive but I suppose that I’m doing my level best to raise them so that they have empathy and compassion and are more likely to avoid such behaviours. I certainly would not tolerate or accept it but I’m not sure what I would do.

    1. I’ll mention some of what happened to Zachery after all this next week. It seems like you have a good method in store. Noticing those differences in teenagers can be so hard. They often to their best to keep things from parents as it is.

      1. Well I’m not at the teenage stage yet (though my oldest is already testing me as a moody tweenager) so my theory might fall to parts in practice. However, having some sort of forethought and approach has to be better than just hoping for the best. I hope.

  2. Even though a relationship has both the male and female sides, the most important aspect is being comfortable. Without the feeling of security a relationship is basically built on shifting sands. Many relationships have taught me this, and it is vitally important that you learn from your past. Important not only for your sake, but so one day you can give the advice your father gave you, maybe to your children, or a best friend or even a stranger. Hold on to what you believe to be true and you can over come anything.

    1. I agree. There were many wrong choices made by me over the course of that relationship, but I don’t regret it. I needed to learn the things I learned during those months. I’m not sure there was another way for me to really understand otherwise. I can do my best to pass that knowledge on, but there will always be things a person needs to experience to understand.

      1. I agree as well. Experiencing those situations is the best, though not preferred way of learning those life lesson, but having a strong figure, as you make your father out to be, is one great advantage. With this story, you can give support and knowledge through understanding, even without having to speak to another person, as they will be able to relate to your story.

        Continue to be an inspiration, and a strong person. Thank you for having the courage to write about the experience, as I am sure you are going to be a great influence to those around you.

        Keep strong.

    1. Well, my friend kept dating his younger brother and eventually married him, so I know everything that happened to him in the years following our relationship. There wasn’t a lot of sunshine or rainbows.

  3. Been there and seen it more than once. Even to those close to me.
    I, to be honest hate these stories, they make my blood boil in rage.
    My sister has been there, my ex and many more. And I would loose it have lost it as one friend found out once.

    There is very little one can do other than support, keep checking in,as the one in love always believes at first he/she will change. Keep being supportive and do try to make clear how abusive the relationship is. Help them and make sure you are a person they would come to when they try to escape.

    It is tough to be on the sidelines.
    god damn this brings back bad memories.

    1. Yeah, I have to agree. You just have to let the person know you are there for them. But if I thought something physically abusive was going on, I’d call the cops in a heartbeat. That is to say, if I knew the relationship was abusive and, upon driving up to their house, I heard what sounded like a violent argument, I’d call 911. I’d rather have my friend alive and angry at me than in the hospital or dead. I’m not sure how easy that is to do though….

  4. wow by the reactions during your relationship, I expected something else, like some kind of violent reaction to the break up. Did anything else happen afterwards? Any news of how zachary is now adays?

    1. If anything, I walked away knowing I was better off alone than settling. You could say I walked away with no belief in love, since, at the time, I didn’t think anyone would ever love me. I decided I had to learn to love myself and to love a life on my own.

  5. Funny, how little that ending surprises me — after all his attempts to keep you under his thumb had failed, he just gave up trying. I’d call him a slacker but I don’t want to sound like I was rooting for him!

    I think what your father did was perfect, and I’m going to keep that in mind as an example if such a thing were to happen to my daughter; one problem I had as a youth was that I would pull away from confrontation, as I found it difficult to stand up for myself or to even go after what I wanted. I’ll be ashamed if my daughter doesn’t learn how to get past that from me.

    But if I thought that my child was the perpetrator of an abusive relationship? I’d be doubly ashamed because it’s hard to imagine that I could raise a child who would act so. I guess the best thing you can do is try to reason with them and get them to understand what relationships are about.

    Maybe I’ll have to cross that bridge someday — if so, I will do what needs to be done with speed.

    1. I’m not a mother, so I’m not sure my opinion really counts here (but here I go anyway). To me, the hard part would be noticing that something is wrong. When do you act. I also remember a teacher saying something about how I looked really uncomfortable around him, but that teacher never went farther then that comment. Maybe it never got bad enough that someone needed to step in.

      It’s similar to child abuse in a way. My mother works as a teacher and sees her share of kids who she suspects might be abused at home. However, without some kind of proof, she can’t really say anything. There are certain things she is required to report, but if she has a suspicion based on the way a child acts or dresses, that’s not really enough.

      How bad do things have to get before parents and school staff step in?

      1. They probably have to get pretty bad. After all, teenagers are going through a tough time where their brains and bodies are changing so fast you have to be certain to say for sure whether something they do is a direct result of parenting or the influence of friends or popular culture or just plain antisocial (criminal) tendencies. In my pedagogy classes the emphasis was on reporting anything suspicious to a school counselor or social worker, and it was their job to investigate and escalate. In the absence of those if would think the tendency would be to wait to be sure and cover your tail in any case.

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