Dating Red Flags: The Aftermath

I think it’s clear to everyone that I was lucky. It would have been completely logical, by teenage standards, for me to ignore my friend and my father, thinking I knew how to best handle the relationship. I don’t know if abuse would have ever taken a physical turn, but, years later, I’ve come to recognize what I experienced was indeed a mentally abusive relationship.

There’s a discomfort when I say that, because I have nothing to show for proof. I have no scars to show, no court orders to present as proof. All I have is my story.

This was an important story to tell because,while I got out, many other people don’t. Many people, both male and female, enter situations like I experienced, convince themselves they’re in love and stay with the relationship for years. Not all of their relationships turn physical, but many do.

They might ask themselves how such a thing could happen. They happened, because they didn’t see the warning signs, the dating red flags.

I don’t think Zachery intended to cause harm. If he ever took a physically abusive turn, I don’t think those actions would be something he would have been proud of. These thoughts have made me realize that perhaps many if not most abusive relationships are like that. Most perpetrators never go into the relationship expecting to be abusive. Perhaps they just think a relationship should be a certain way and lash out violently during moments where the relationship doesn’t match their ideal. A normal person in that situation would probably end the relationship, but maybe perpetrators suffer from their own poor self-confidence. Maybe they don’t believe they deserve any better or can do any better.

None of this is an excuse for Zachery’s actions or any other abuser’s. I just mean to point out that Zachery is very much his own person, with his own suffering and insecurities.

I have no proof of this, but a part of me always suspected he may have got bad dating information from a friend or magazine. I know I had heard before that saying the L-word could get you laid. Barney on How I Met Your Mother does that all the time. In high school girl world, many would accept that word and say it back without really knowing what they were saying.

At 16 (and then 17 once my birthday passed), I had no idea what love was, but I knew it wasn’t something to take lightly. I refused to say the word unless I truly meant it. Looking back, I think that was one of the first red flags for me. It wasn’t just that he told me he loved me after dating hardly a week, it was that I specifically asked to take things slow. Maybe he had a source that said, “all girls say that, but they don’t really mean it.”

This photo, “her face” is copyright (c) 2014 Beth Punches and made available under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
This photo, “her face” is copyright (c) 2014 Beth Punches and made available under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

A lot of these ideas about Zachery finding bad dating advice came after my year working as a self-proclaimed online dating expert in college. If I hadn’t heard this terrible advice in high school, I definitely found it then, The internet is full of bad dating advice.

The question everyone wants to know is what happened to Zachery after the breakup. Zachery called my friend that night, the friend who was dating his younger brother, crying. According to her account, he said he wouldn’t ‘do anything’ because I was suffering enough (which made me feel a little guilty about dancing around the library in glee not 20 minutes after the breakup.)

Soon after prom, Zachery graduated. From that point on, all I heard about him came through that friend who would eventually go on to marry his brother. That story is his, not mine, so I won’t be giving too many details here. I will say that college was a bit of a struggle for him, though I think that struggle was related more to his attitude than his intelligence. He started dating a girl from his minimum wage job who he quickly knocked up. They were married in her back yard.

Given our own fall out, I haven’t spoken to that friend in more than a year. Still, she never told me anything that indicated abuse. To the contrary, everything she had to say implied all those clingy, obsessive habits Zachery had were admired and returned by this girl.

I don’t know what kind of life Zachery leads these days, only that’s it’s a life I would never want. From what I heard, he, his wife and his daughter were not living what anyone would consider an ideal life. He eventually went on to have a falling out with his own family. Last I heard, he rarely speaks with them unless he needs something.

Still, I wish him the best. We were both ignorant teenagers during our relationship. While there is no excuse for his actions, I made my own mistakes, the biggest being my continuance of the relationship even after I wanted it to end. I believe they call that ‘leading him on.’ I thought I was being merciful, but what I did was quite cruel.

If a friend came to you with the warning signs mentioned throughout The Zachery Saga, would it be enough for you to urge them to end the relationship? Do you know what happened to the people from your past relationships? Do you wish them well?

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25 thoughts on “Dating Red Flags: The Aftermath”

  1. From a guy’s point of view I think your assessment is right on, particularly the self-confidence issue. He felt you slipping away and so became more clinging which pushed you even further away. Also, often kids don’t realize they’re kids.

      1. Exactly. I think about that here and with my bullies. Yes, the experiences were terrible, but we were all just kids. We didn’t know what we were doing.

  2. My ex (lover) and I split up last fall when he cheated on me after a 26-yr affair. I’m not at the point where I can wish him or his new gal pal well. I will take the hurt to my grave, but go back to him (should that scenario ever present itself)….no. Never.

    1. The relationships could have gotten to the point where I wouldn’t wish him well. As things were, I accept that we were both just children. In three months, I had reasons not to like him, but not reasons to hate him.

  3. Abuse rarely has the consideration to reveal itself as such. If it were so easily identifiable, then it wouldn’t exist.

    1. True, which is why people go through stuff like I went through and never think it will turn violent when they decide to stay.

  4. Now I know how you feel about Twilight and I couldn’t help but think about your story and that scene when Bella and Edward went to visit her mother in Florida and her mother said “I’m worried about you and Edward… There is something strange about the way you two are together. The way he watches you, its so protective. He’s very intense about you.” How this seemed like when you were talking about your friend warning you about Zachary, how Zachary was just like that, very intense about you. And I couldn’t help but feel like maybe Edward is a glorified controlling slightly abusive boy. Now I’m not hating on Twilight, I definitely enjoyed the books and I don’t think that is how he is supposed to be perceived but I think about conversations we’ve had before about Edward and comparing it to your situation and I can’t help but think, what if a teenage boy read twilight (highly unlikely) and thought, that’s how I’m supposed to be, I’m supposed to be like Edward, pretend to protect her but really they end up controlling her. Or even girls who think its ok to date someone like that because its like their own fairytale “Edward” and get stuck in an abusive relationship, cause lets be honest, a controlling relationship is one step away from becoming an abusive one.

    1. I was obsessed with Twilight in high school and I wonder if that’s part of the reason I stayed. As an adult looking back, it’s clear bella and edward had an abusive relationship at least mentally.

  5. I was reading about filters on how we think and social acceptance. The high school mindset has a lot of these. I played sports and most of the guys acted the same, like jerks. There was a few of us in honors programs that eventually folded into the jerk category. I wasn’t one of them but understood that not being a part of it I was filtered out as well. I think high school is a lot of trial and error.

    1. High school is just awkward and terrifying. You’re both a child and an adult. You’re body is changing. There’s all these stressors. Trial and error is a good way to describe it.

  6. Yay! Fun story time!!! In high school I was friends with 2 girls, S & R. There was this guy in our group of friends we called Dmo. The 1st time he asked me out, I informed him that I was friends with his current GF Sarah and I questioned if he knew he was dating her. Then I told him he was a terrible person. So, 1 yr later, he asks me out again. By this time I was already dating J and wow did he get upset at J. He pushed him into a wall at school and was all, “Why didn’t you tell me?” Stormed off. Whole thing blew my mind. I was all, “… wow… some people man.”

    So he starts dating R even though everyone knows that S has always like him. Whatever, I don’t even care. He dates R for 1 yr, shocker, they break up. So now he “settles” for S since for the freaking 3rd time I say no. I’m still dating J, have been for 2 yrs by now. What the actual fuck? Take a hint dude. Well, halfway through Junior year J breaks up with me b/c he misses his friends. I get really depressed and cry a lot. I start hanging out with his friends. So Dmo takes me and our other friend Josh to Swing Around Fun Town. I have a great time, he drops Josh off, then drives me home. When we get to my house he asks me out again… AGAIN! I tell him I still love J, I’ve never seen him as more than a friend. Sorry. He starts crying on me. He cried for 2 HOURS!

    The next day at school I tell S what happened. I tell her she needs to break up with him b/c he’s just going to knock her up, cheat on her, and leave her. She starts crying and walks away. After the 2nd period ends, she comes up to me in the hall still crying and says she asked him and he said none of that ever happened. I calmly stare at her tear soaked face and say, “If you’re going to chose to believe him over me, even though I have absolutely no reason to lie about such a thing, then I never want to speak to you again. Your choices are not my problem.” And I walked away. I never spoke to her again.

    Let’s fast forward to after we graduated. What do you think happened? Care to wager a guess? I’m so good a predicting the future I should take my show on the road.

      1. I never got the impression she had low self-esteem. She was fat and she loved it. She used to play with her arm fat in front of him for fun. He would tell her to stop b/c it was “gross” and she would just be like, “well I think it’s fun.” And just keep doing it. Dmo was an ass but for some crazy reason he was the man of her dreams. She’s actually happy now though. She’s dating J’s best friend D.

    1. I didn’t mean it as a put down any more than having a child unexpectedly is a put-down. These are just not the ideal, as I said he did not live an ideal life. Sorry for the offense.

  7. It is nice to see that you have considered his side of things, misguided as they were. It humanizes him when it would have been very easy to call him scum and walk away.

    1. and that’s exactly what I want. He was just a kid. I want people to see that. Yes he was wrong, but he shouldn’t be hated.

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