I looked like a scared little girl in a foreign place.
The restaurant he picked was very fancy for our first date. The prices on the menu made my eyes widen and my mouth drop. My mind immediately went into its hypervigilant, “this is too good to be true” thought pattern.
“This is above me.”
“I don’t deserve this.”
“He must be expecting something in return.”
Insecurities from my previous, abusive marriage of fifteen years were running wild. I was molded and brainwashed into believing that I wasn’t good enough for elegant dinners or the nicer things. I wasn’t made to feel like I was worthy of a person researching and planning a special date just for me, or that I was even desired more than just an object that could be wanted or rejected on any given day. This felt like unusual territory, and I had no idea what to think.
The date ended up being the start of what is now my second marriage. He wanted nothing in return other than the opportunity to get to know me further. He was the perfect gentleman, and little by little, I began to realize that I most definitely was worth every second of that encounter and more.
Dating after domestic violence can be bittersweet. On one hand, you have been starved of genuine love and attention for so long that you almost crave it. On the other hand, you may be so extremely sensitive to red flags that you are almost looking for any reason to run because you never again want to endure what you survived again. So, how do you find a balance?
First, take the time you need to date yourself before you jump into anything romantic. You are worth finding! The greatest gift you could ever give yourself is the adventure of soul searching. You will realize very quickly how incredible and unique to this world you truly are. If you have been in a controlling or abusive relationship, the odds are that you have no idea what makes you feel fulfilled or happy because you have been too busy surviving to even consider the thought of living. It’s time to heal from your past and be your own hero. You don’t need a knight in shining armor when you can rescue yourself!
Once you feel ready to date, the key is to remember that you cannot compare every person you meet to your past relationship. This is incredibly difficult because abuse survivors are taught to look for red flags and signs. While any indication of abuse should end the potential relationship immediately, you must be careful not to assume that every relationship will end in abuse. One of the side effects of years of my own trauma was hypervigilance. My body was constantly bracing for impact, so-to-speak. It was wired to be in fight-or-flight mode, like a wounded animal waiting for a predator to return. Although I hoped that someone would treat me right one day, it was easy for my nervous system to react as it did in the middle of the abuse, even during the slightest healthy argument. It took time, but I began to let my walls down and give my body and mind the rest it so badly needed.
Honesty is another key to a healthy relationship after domestic violence. You don’t have to open the first date with your history of abuse, but eventually, if the person seems like someone you could see a future with, it’s important to share your journey with them. This could help them to understand more clearly how to be patient with you when your mind and body are triggered, how much you value authentic love without trauma, and how strong you have had to become in order to be where you are today. Honesty breeds intimacy and brings couples closer together even when the truth may not always be so pretty.
Lastly, don’t get discouraged if it takes time to find that person who will fulfill you after years of trauma. The last thing that any survivor wants to do is to jump into the sequel of the first relationship simply because loneliness can cause us to lower our standards in trade for momentary affection. You have come too far to not require the healthy love that you deserve. There is someone out there who will treat you correctly, and that person is worth the wait.
Love after domestic violence is a beautiful thing. I believe survivors appreciate the smallest gestures that much more because they know what it’s like to have that love withheld. As they say, in order to see a rainbow, there must be a storm to begin with. You have endured the storm, and your rainbow will shine brightly when the time is just right.