I have been navigating the hell that is internet dating for the past two years. Like everyone who has tried Bumble or Tinder or Plenty of Fish or one of the other billion dating apps/sites, I have amassed stories of men saying weird things or dates going strangely.  For the most part my experiences have been harmless and mildly entertaining. Until a month ago.

I started Bumbling with a guy who looked happy in all of his pictures. I was attracted to that, because smiling is nice! He was witty. Seemed intelligent. He did this weird partial capITaliZatION thing, which mildly annoyed me, but I got over it.  

Pretty soon, I began to see red flags. I think I saw them as yellow flags at first, because I was not taking them very seriously. The first flag was a text in which he asked me if I did not wear a bra in order to show that I am a LIBERATED WOMAN.  Then he insinuated that we should all be past that “women’s liberation stuff”. Later, he asked if he could call me, I said no, and he called anyway. I did not answer. I texted him a day or so later and said that he seemed a little sexist, that he did not really understand boundaries, and I wished him the best.  He texted back that he could respect that, but could he please have a moment to defend himself. He was an articulate, respectful, and thoughtful apologizer.

I agreed to meet for a drink. He was flexible about the timing. It was easy for him to be flexible, he said, because his ex-wife had full custody of his children at the moment. Something about her filing a motion because of an abuse allegation. But there was no CPS report, and it seemed like it was sorting itself out.

As I type this, I am aware this sounds fishy, right? What’s even stranger is that I had just completed a masters degree in counseling and taken a graduate-level class in family violence.  So why, then, did I find myself on a patio drinking a margarita with a guy who had a zillion red flags? It was the skillful apologies, the affable phone personality, and my inner judgement of myself that says I have to give people multiple chances.  

The patio was loud and full of people.  As I was drinking a margarita and talking about something, he took my hand. And shushed me. Now, had I been in my right mind, I would have gotten up and walked away.  But I was having a terrible, awful, no good, very bad day, and so I said directly, dryly, “Don’t do that.” And we kept chatting. He went to pour some of his drink into mine, and I said, “No, thank you because I have to drive,” and he poured more in anyway.  I did not drink it. He walked me to my car. I let him kiss me, and while he kissed me, he pulled my hair.

I got in the car, and as I reflected on what happened, I was very confused.  On the one hand, a little hair tug can be innocuous. But I had not consented to a kinky side dish to kissing, and it seemed out of place for a first kiss. But I dismissed it, and we kept chatting and texting over the week.  

He started talking to me quite a bit about his kids, and more flags went up. I realized that this man is likely an abuser. And that I was being groomed to be his next target. The part of me that doesn’t want to be a judgy bitch tried to tell myself that maybe I was wrong, and maybe I should give him a chance. And the part of me that is actually wise told me to run away. So I texted him that I was not interested in continuing to see him. He said he understood, but he just had a few questions about my grad program. And proceeded to continue to text. He only stopped when I started answering the exact same thing every time.  

Now that the fog has cleared, I can reflect on all the warning signs. The overarching issue was his inability to honor my boundaries.He called when I said not to. He poured his drink into my glass when I said no. He was taking what he wanted, and doing what he wanted, with no regard for me. The inability to respect another person’s boundaries is a key indicator of domestic violence. Hair-pulling and forcing alcohol are physical abuse. If that was first-date behavior, what was his fifth-date behavior?  Or a year into the relationship?

I have reflected on my own choices, and why I continued to ignore the flags I was seeing. I think I ignored them partially because of the fear of being a judgy bitch, and partially because I am an eternal optimist, and sometimes that keeps me from seeing people for who they really are.

I also think that the very act of online dating – what got me into this situation in the first place – has a negative effect on my self-esteem. When I am not swiping and texting and arranging first dates, I generally feel pretty great about myself. I feel attractive, intelligent, and witty.  When I am in the swirl of swiping, I feel fat, ugly, and devalued. I find myself worrying that the man I am about to meet will find me attractive; that maybe I need to be more passive and not unleash the full power of myself on dates because I don’t want to be off-putting. But that is a literal set-up for me to have less power. And it only further feeds the cycle of harsh judgement I’m inflicting on myself.

I guess I owe the Shusher some gratitude for these realizations. Too bad he’s not into liberated women.

If you think you are being abused, or you need information about domestic violence, you can visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline site, or call 1-800-799-7233.