3 Dating Rules for DV and Sexual Assault Survivors (that helped me move on) (Guest Post by Lindsay Fischer)
This week, we have a guest post from the amazing Lindsay Fischer, author of The House on Sunset, a chilling and brave memoir about intimate partner violence. More on Lindsay below, but first, her words…
3 Dating Rules for DV and Sexual Assault Survivors (that helped me move on)
Two years into trauma therapy, I toyed with the idea of dating like I toyed with the idea of changing my number (again). Maybe I’m ready to go on a date…
…maybe I should change my number, just in case Mike figures out my newest (4th) number and starts calling again.
That was three years after I left my abuser, and I was 29, ignorantly feeling my biological clock ticking away all of my chances of motherhood. You see, I wanted to get married and have a family, but I just didn’t feel ready (and didn’t know if I’d ever really feel ready).
Enter a former classmate and a fate-changing, unexpected dream: he had it, posted the synopsis on my wall, and then a mutual friend tried to play matchmaker, telling me he’d already told him I was interested (even though I never said that). Follow this true scenario up with my “if I’m going to start dating again, maybe going out with someone I didn’t immediately gravitate toward would be safer” mentality, and I took him up on his offer. Two years later – we would up married on Ka’anipali Beach in Maui.
(It’s way more romantic than my paragraph makes it seem, wooing and loving big parts left out, but cherished like-whoa.)
My previous relationship was almost deadly. I had a gun held to my head and was thrown down a flight of stairs in three day’s time, all before I left The House on Sunset. So I was serious about my safety, keeping myself isolated from everyone.
Trust? Nope. If I don’t know you, you’re just as bad as him.
But when I picked up possibility and interest, showing it to my therapist in the form of maybe I’m ready to date, she helped me figure out the safest way for me to start over, PTSD and BDD in tow. Not every day was easy, but I knew that going into it. Still, having a set of guidelines and expectations helped me navigate what felt like the most terrifying step in my survivorship.
- I had to tell the truth.
First to myself – acknowledging my fears of abandonment AND committing would be triggering, and my defenses would be heightened. Anything a guy said to me could’ve been taken out of context by my protective brain pieces. I couldn’t get mad at my body for wanting to shelter me, but I couldn’t let it be so debilitating I stayed in the same, stagnant place, repeating unhealthy patterns.
Then to him – Communication had to be open from day one. Like, “Here’s my baggage. I’m not saying you have to carry it, but you need to make space for it along this ride until I’m able to sort it.”
In doing this, he got to choose whether or not to try before my feelings would truly be hurt. Would it have sucked if he walked away? Yes, rejection stings. But I would’ve known he wasn’t ready to deal with what might come up as we progressed, and I deserved someone who would. Plus, he got to decide if my ish was something he could navigate, something he deserved to have the choice to do BEFORE investing feelings and then struggling along.
Lastly, with my friends and family, because they worried a lot too. More important than that, however, was that by doing this, they’d notice when/if I dropped out of their lives and alienated myself again. They’d know what I was doing and how to help me through it, much-much earlier than the last time.
- I had to take off the blinders and take it slow.
My therapist once told me that many people who are dating wear blinders in the early stages of courtship. They ignore the annoying chewing noises and the pension to interrupt conversations, because everything else feels so puppy-cute. Then, when in a full-blown commitment, those same peeps start nitpicking and analyzing these things, realizing that – maybe – the person they fell in love with isn’t as perfect as they seemed. Instead, she told me to throw off the blinders and pay attention to everything. And that’s exactly what I did.
But I also needed to take it slow, because one of the biggest red flags in my previous relationship was how fast we went from “this could be interesting” to “this is our home.” While I didn’t have specific rules to follow here, I checked in with myself regularly: had I spent enough time away from my potential partner to actually think about the things I’ve already listed? Was I with him more during the week than I was practicing self-care? Had I checked my list of warning signs and compared it to his behavior, looking for patterns?
If I hadn’t, I would restructure my schedule and spend more time apart, giving myself enough space to decompress and check in on my safety. A must, truly.
- I had to date a true adult.
This one was toughest for me to swallow, because it took all of the control right out of my hands (or so I thought). The person who showed interest had to be mature, able to understand – even on the smallest level –trauma doesn’t go away because we want it to. He didn’t need to know the dynamics of abuse or sexual assault, but he needed to know life could change in an instant (but take years to recover from).
He needed to listen to my concerns (as listed in #1) and know somedays might be rainbows and butterflies shit storms and panic.
Maybe I’d freak out and tell him I couldn’t do it.
Maybe him trying to touch me, even for a simple hug, would send me into an immediate struggle with muscle memory.
But knowing, and truly accepting, those things would mean he wouldn’t run when I got weird. He’d be there – ready to give me space – but welcoming upon my return, and we’d talk – you know, tell the truth – about what happened and why I needed to leave.
If you’re thinking of dating again after domestic violence or sexual assault, hang in there. This is one more area where you’ll notice everything feels changed, but by doing the hard work upfront, you’ll be better prepared for the hardships that naturally come when the world looks different because of what you’ve been through. That’s not an easy thing to ask of someone who isn’t ready for a real relationship, but it’s certainly a good way to weed out the partners who won’t be able to handle your recovery in every stage.
It wasn’t always easy, but keeping these three elements at the forefront of my dating game helped me feel in control, keep healthy boundaries, and build a meaningful, honest relationship with a man who supplements my life in the best ways imaginable.
Lindsay Fischer is a best-selling and award-winning author, and the creator of #domesticviolencechat on Twitter. An avid reader and learner, Lindsay took her passion for words into a classroom before starting a writing career. Life got messy when she fell in love with a man who would become her abuser, and it pulled her from the classroom. After three years of trauma therapy, she saw an opportunity to use her voice against domestic violence, blogging about trauma recovery since 2009 and releasing The House on Sunset, her domestic violence memoir, in 2015.
Lindsay hopes she can be an advocate for women, men and children who are still living inside the nightmare of domestic abuse. She currently lives with her husband and three dogs in St. Louis, Missouri.