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Random Acts Of Blindness

I’ve had two horrible, abusive marriages, and have been divorced for five years. When I wasn’t looking (of course), I met a woman I clicked with emotionally and intellectually. Our friendship started slowly, but recently elevated to hugging and kissing. I’m now panicking, thinking I’m not ready for a relationship since I’m unable to feel secure with a woman after being cheated on by my second wife. How can I learn to trust?


There are things that are beyond a person’s control, like when you’re sitting in an easy chair in your living room and you die in a plane crash. Or maybe you’re walking down the street, minding your own business, and a horrible, abusive marriage falls on you like the house from “The Wizard of Oz.” Twice.

Chances are, you put more thought into what you’re having for lunch than who you’re supposedly having for forever: “Did my steak have leg room? Did my lettuce have a happy childhood? Did my chicken have meaningful conversations and a chance to read the classics?” After you’re done with the important questions, there’s just enough time to ask, “Hi, I barely know you, but will you marry me?”

Of course, knowing somebody well is no guarantee. People change. They get more conservative, or less conservative, or convex in the places they used to be concave. But, beyond the handful who go barking mad at 29, most people don’t change a whole lot. In other words, it’s unlikely you married some sweet, gentle flower who woke up one morning a raging, plate-throwing psycho. If you never knew what hit you -- until you started picking the Wedgwood out of your left cornea -- it’s probably because you never really looked at what you were getting into. Even now, you write about your marriages like they just happened to you, and paint yourself as a victim -- very convenient, since “blaming the victim” is considered heresy on par with using the flag to clean the bathtub.

But often, the victim does bear some responsibility. Take me, for example: I used to live in a pretty isolated section of downtown New York City, just past a big UPS garage. I had a rule that I’d only take Greenwich Street home when the UPS guys were there loading and unloading. After moving to California, I came back to visit and lah-dee-dah wandered down Greenwich late one night -- followed, unbeknownst to me, by some creep who ran up behind me and helped himself to a big grope. I screamed and thrashed, I ran, I was fine. Did I tell myself I was a victim? No, I told myself I was a moron -- and resolved to never again meander around New York City with my street smarts dangling off some palm tree back home.

Your problem isn’t learning to trust, it’s learning that trust shouldn’t be thrown around like birdseed. Figure out what your standards are, then put time and effort into determining whether a particular person measures up. Don’t get sidetracked looking for the good in people, since you’re unlikely to get divorced because your partner is witty, attractive, and inventive in bed. Instead, look for the bad and the ugly, and decide whether you can live with them before you let a woman into your life. Don’t make excuses: “She’s great except that her last 12 relationships broke up after she cheated on the guys with their best friends. This time will be different.” Yeah, sure it will -- because no two so-called best friends will have sex with your girlfriend in exactly the same way.

Posted by aalkon at August 11, 2006 1:10 AM

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Trust what an emotive subject, as a kid we lived in a neighbourhood where, it was safe to leave the back door open and the key under the mat, grans always had their key hanging on string inside the letter box, just in case they always said. these days its not safe to walk down the street, and as for leaving the door open and the key under the mat, are you mad!!
what has happened? who knows! really have we evolved into the untrustable if that is the case, what will the next generations be, will it get worse, & will we be saying what our gran-parents used to say "in the good old days" maybe thats what they meant?

Posted by: Cindy Little at August 11, 2006 8:08 AM

Actually, trust should be rationally based. Take the time to look at people's actions and see if a person seems worthy of trust. This takes making finding somebody ethical a priority. It was for me. That's why I spent about ten years, from 28-38, mostly alone.

Many people trust randomly, or out of wishful thinking, which is stupid and dangeous -- emotionallly, or physically, depending on the situation.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 11, 2006 9:12 AM

Blaming yourself is the first step in learning how to trust again. Only once you accept that you have poor judgement can you work on improving it.

Ask yourself if you display poor character judgement in other areas of life. Do your friends betray you? Do you get taken advantage of often?

Identifying a pattern in your own behavior can give you insight into what your mistakes are and how to start changing them. Be objective and don't be afraid to experiment. Changing yourself is hard to do so good luck.

Posted by: peter at August 11, 2006 2:19 PM

Good reply Amy. Having had to work my out of a very abusive relationship, which in many ways I volunteered for, or at least ignored the "flags" that were waving, I will say this, it takes work.

After escaping, and yes that is exactly what it was. I spent thousands of dollars on my shrink, spent PLENTY of time alone and took the time to really look at myself. Mainly how did I let this happen to me, I did not deserve it, but how did I let it happen?

Now, well I am very happy alone, and having raised my boys to adulthood, am pursuing a relationship. The difference in me? I do not ignore the "obvious", I know what is acceptable, I know what I am bringing to the relationship table, I have a sense of what I want, and I know that there are MUCH worse things than my own company. I also know that I am pretty happy, and do not need anyone to "do" anything for me, except be a partner with, in a relationship that is healthy, sexy, happy and not a disfunction junction of suckiness.

It is truly wonderous how your life changes, your relationships change and your joy in life becomes almost a daily experience, when you have your head scewed on in a decent manner. No, it was not easy, but I thank myself everyday for having the where with all to fucking do it.

Posted by: sonja at August 11, 2006 8:03 PM

Sonja...congratulations. If everyone were as emotionally healthy as you sound, I'd be working at a gas station.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 11, 2006 8:07 PM

Amy, as threatened, I quoted you. Now I see that *of course* you're giving good online dating advice...it's what you DO.

You're so right about this man. A few years ago, I met one of these who had a red flag here, a yellow one there, and a few nicely peach ones waving from poles in his emotional front yard. I ignored them. When we finally met in person (he was out of the country when we started writing via match), his flags nearly suffocated me within two hours. I was upset, but more than anything, I realized that it was sheer lunacy to ignore the warning signs just because everything else seemed "so perfect." Hell, I've learned that "perfect" in and of itself is a warning sign!

I tend toward the opposite side of the spectrum anymore (reject them fast), but it's better for me (and my daughter) in the long haul.

Sonja, let me add my congratulations to Amy's. I hope to be there someday, but there's no rush.

Posted by: Allison at August 14, 2006 10:40 AM

Exactly right! The most important thing anyone can do is learn to be a good judge of character, and that means seeing what's there! Not 'giving the benefit of the doubt' (no such thing) or any of the other BS that people delude themselves with. Spending time with yourself, getting to know yourself, and also meeting a lot of people to practice your character-judging on (but not getting involved with them!) is very important.

Posted by: Chris at August 27, 2006 12:48 PM

I found the book "How Could You Do That to Me!" surprisingly useful in understanding the taxonomy of liars, lies, and your own gullibility.

A good balance of analytical and practical (despite it's Oprah-worthy title). It's a quick read, but contains some key concepts that I found help order the thoughts and feelings that swirl about when faced with deception.

Although I read it because of spousal betrayal, the book covers more than this -- describing various betrayals from family, friends, and coworkers, and the various ways you can respond to them. Key to your response is understanding what the author calls your own "trust factor" and understanding why people lie (which includes their innate personality traits and the specific situations they lie about). It suggests a practical way of assessing a person's trustworthiness (which is where heeding the "red flags" comes in and judging character, as Chris notes) and assessing your own gullibility (sandpits of trust, as the author calls them -- one of them is "giving them the benefit of doubt"). Finally, it describes the various responses to betrayal that you can take.

Posted by: Charly at August 28, 2006 5:20 PM

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