The Instincts I Should Act On

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I have good instincts about when to exit a relationship.
I just never act upon them, is all.
The problem is, the instinct to flee seems pretty trivial at the time.  I’ll be sitting with someone I love at a lovely cafe, holding hands, talking about old lovers, and she’ll say something like “So he stayed with me for months, rent-free, never doing the dishes, just playing Halo and begging me for sex, and at the time I didn’t think anything about it because I was in love…”
And a little red warning light will flash: I should leave.
But that’s really ungenerous, I think.  So she had a bad relationship.  Who doesn’t?  She’s probably changed.  And we just had a wonderful date, and she’s so clever and witty, you’re going to just walk away for that? 
So I bob my head and say something noncommittal like “Yeah, that was unwise,” and do not say, “Sorry, it’s over” and walk out of the cafe, leaving my coffee on the table.  Which would be absurd for me to do so.  Just calling a relationship over a single isolated comment like that?  Nuts.
And then, months later, after much argument, when it turns out that in fact, the girl who made that statement is chronically unable to understand her own needs, and as a result we’ve been fighting because she can’t tell me what she wants me to do but that won’t stop her from getting mad about it, I realize: Yeah, shoulda left then.
Or I’ll be texting with someone after a wonderful day out, and she’ll say “So my friends didn’t believe we went on a date, because you didn’t mention it in your journal,” and that flash of DANGER DANGER will flood over me.  But instead of saying “Okay, we’re done,” I’ll simply explain: “I don’t blog about every date I have.  In fact, the nicer the date, the less likely it is that I’ll mention it, because sometimes my life is for me.”
Because it’d be crazy to just call it off after a single sentence.
Yet months later, after much argument, it turns out that my lover can’t differentiate between “What Ferrett blogs about” and “Who Ferrett is,” and gets angry because I’m not mentioning her enough in public, I realize: Yeah, shoulda left then.
The problem is that these things seem trivial, because they’re not big deals.  So what if she wants a little splash of front-page blog-lovin’?  So what if she’s bad at figuring out what bothers her?  Neither of these make them bad people.  Shit, if you were to pile up all my flaws, you’d have a stack to rival the Empire State Building.  And so I think Oh, God, that’s so trivial.  You can’t just call it off over one single thing – not when they have so many good things about them!  You love all the same movies!  They hold you when you cry!  This isn’t enough to break up!
Yet I forget that someone can be a great person, and still have an incompatible issue that makes them terrible for me to date.
So I anesthetize that instinct.  I focus on all the things they do wonderfully.
Yet underneath all those positive bits lies a core incompatibility that’s going to splinter us apart.
And I don’t know how it is for most people.  I used to think this Oh HELL no flash was some superpower granted by decades of dating and experience, but… I thought back to my relationships with my ex-girlfriends when I was in my mid-twenties where we had an intellectual debate on the nature of morality and they got totally angry because I was disagreeing with them on whether mankind was inherently kind, and I thought Oh, this is over.
And I was right.  I can’t date someone who gets upset about debating things.  That just doesn’t work for me, because I like intellectual tussles, and if you get bent around the axle when I start questioning things, then… you’re not right for me.
Though as always, I wouldn’t be able to justify that flash of instinct for months.  And seriously.  How crazy does it sound to say, “Well, she got mad when I said babies weren’t born kind, so I had to call it off”?  That’s the kind of thing sitcoms make fun of.  That’s shallow.  It’s stupid.  It’s the kind of thing you should be able to patch over.
And certainly I have lots of disagreements where we can patch them over, where I don’t get that Mortal Kombat flash of FINISH HER, where we disagree and it’s all cool.
Yet when I do get those flashes… they’re not wrong.  I can’t remember ever thinking I should leave now and having it work out.
I think other people get that instinct.  I think people hear their lover say “Wow, it’s so hot when people ignore my safewords in a scene,” and the warning light pops on, going Uh, yeah, this isn’t going to work for me.  But this lover is so good in bed.  And so kind.  And so smart.  And really, I mean, they just said one dumb thing, is that enough to dump them over?
Except wow.  Sometimes it is.  Sometimes it really is.


  1. Yet Another Laura H
    Nov 25, 2014

    Having been “that woman” with the ex in need of amputation, I’d just like to chime in on a tangent: it doesn’t matter to the ultimate result, but the woman in question probably knew exactly what she needed from her ex. Heck, I’m sure she knew that this situation was terribly unhealthy for her ex, too. And I bet she asked for help with the rent and the dishes, if she thought that she wasn’t rubbing his face in his failure to be a decent person.
    It’s just that women (usually women, although I’ve met at least one man who did this) as taught that we must anesthetize those wants (and they are wants. You don’t die if you have to financially support some depressed person, not literally, not physically). It’s shallow to want money out of a relationship. To expect a person with a penis to help out with household chores, we are constantly hammered with, is demeaning and emasculating; there is a huge class of pundits out there who shrill, “Well, no WONDER men today cheat! Women just make them feel like huge piles of shit, and then they’re surprised when they act like huge piles of shit?” One must treat one’s sexual partner as an adult with agency, or else one is a child molester, whatever one’s partner’s age.
    Which circles back to trusting your instincts.
    Trouble is, it’s hard to tell what’s instinct and what’s depression brain, laziness masquerading as inner wisdom, or a recap of society’s yammering. If Mr. Steinmetz finds a way to distinguish, I hope he lets us know.

  2. neb
    Nov 25, 2014

    Even if you’re not willing to take such an instinct to immediate breakup, I think it can be helpful to basically think it through all the way. Including recognizing that ‘we’ll work through it’ isn’t a magic phrase – it has to involve some kind of how.
    So thinking through to ‘OK, this is an alert because she can’t understand her own needs. That can be work-through-able if she worked on that and got better at it, but not otherwise. Or ‘OK, this is a problem because I like to debate and it doesn’t work when people get upset like this. This could be managed if I were OK with not having such debates with this person specifically. Am I?’
    Then if you want to stay and work through because you want to keep the relationship, you know both the ‘how’ for that and what would signal it being unworkable. And if you want to leave, you don’t just have a flash of badfeelings, you have an incompatibility that those flash feelings were an alert for.

  3. Eve
    Nov 25, 2014

    So is humankind inherently kind?

    • Yet Another Laura H
      Nov 29, 2014

      Not that you asked me, but I think the question is the same as the question: are cars inherently driving? No, but that’s what they’re designed to do.
      What do you think?

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