It boggles the mind to think about how long I stayed in my shit-show of a marriage. Writing a book about it really drew the harsh truth into focus. I made choices. He made choices. Everybody involved played a role in perpetuating our extended death rattle and postponing our demise. There’s more than enough blame to go around. Rarely is one person fully responsible for it. Marriage is a far more complex beast than that, even when it’s good.
I should have been able to stop it before it started. Clear warning signs were there at every stage. I was staring right at them, but I didn’t see them for what they were. I looked right past them, focusing instead on desire and childish belief in fairytale promises. In the beginning, they were subtle. There are a lot of reasons I can give for my actions—a wanton disregard for rational thought, for one—but when it comes right down to it, those reasons are just excuses. When all of the stories and outrageous details are stripped away, all that I have left is me and several steamer trunks worth of hard-earned life lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
I sometimes wonder, if Now-Me (with all my hard-earned smarts) could talk to Then-Me, what could I say to get through to her and spare her the from the struggle? Honestly, I’m not sure if anything could have circumvented the unnatural forces that kept us bound together for so long, but you never know... If there’s any chance that the whole string theory thing was right about anything, then maybe all the words I’ve written can be a cosmic message in a bottle that will wash up on the shore of Then-Me’s life.
Of course, she’d have to be willing to read it. That’s another issue altogether, but with hope for her sudden enlightenment in mind... I send the following message from Now-Me to Then-Me and to any other poor soul that might stumble across this list as she ponders her future relationship:
Alane Gray’s Top 6 Signs He’s Not the One.
(Alt. Title 1: 6 Terrible Omens of a Doomed Relationship.)
(Alt. Title 2: You can’t fix this. Get out while there’s still time.)
1. The Thirsty Suitor.
Yes, it is possible for a date to be too into you. Infatuation is good in small doses, but there’s a very narrow margin between a passionate romantic and an obsessive control freak. If you ‘re feeling weird about how often he shows up, how long he wants to stay, or how desperate he is to be around you, listen to your gut. If you find yourself making excuses for him to your friends or saying things like, “He’s just really intense,” or “He’s just a passionate guy,” it’s time to slow things down. See how he reacts when you set some boundaries. If he’s a good one, he’ll be fine with it. If he can’t handle it, you’ve got your first clear sign.
2. The Crying Crybaby.
When you think you’re dating the one, it’s easy to slide into some deep conversations. You’ve had a great night, and you’re sitting next to each other on the sofa, sipping on the last glasses of wine from the bottle you’ve shared, when the conversation gets more personal. You both start unloading some of the heavier stories from your respective pasts and let your vulnerabilities off the leash for a little while. It’s usually a good sign. It means you’re getting comfortable. It means that you both think this relationship has legs. If you can get past the hormonal rush of love and really pay attention, this important milestone can be very enlightening. But if he cries—run. Unless he’s suffered a recent tragic loss (i.e. death of a family member, close friend, beloved pet, or something like a limb in the last 12 months) there is no reason for him to shed a tear—not at this stage in the relationship. It does not mean he’s good-sensitive. It makes him weirdo-sensitive. At the very least, it means he’s a little too comfortable crying about his baggage. At the worst, it’s a manipulation. Either way, it’s easy to misinterpret this as emotional depth when your brain is telling you that you’re falling in love.
3. Words have meaning.
Always remember that what they say is who they are. I don’t mean that they are what they say they are. I mean that the words that come out of their mouths when they aren’t working at impressing you are the clearest indicators of who they are on the inside. Here’s my point (or rather, three of them):
Point 1: Never say never.
The Bieber, in all of his bubblegum popstar glory, said it best. Your potential mate really should “never say never.” In my case, it was, “Never compare me to my mother!” That ended up being a deep and murky well of relationship drowning sewage that I chose to overlook. Even though he said he wanted to rise above his past, he didn’t. It was a temporary intention. He fully believed himself at the time, but it wasn’t true. When he said, “Never compare me to my mother!” what he was actually saying was, “I am exactly like my mother!” Proper translation in the early phase of a relationship is paramount.
Also, where there’s one absolute, there are many. The first one is usually just the tip of the “absolute” iceberg. One of my ex’s other big winners was, “Never call me buff!” (If you’ve read the book, you know exactly how stupid that one was.) As it turned out, those things were very much on his mind. Of course, we all have our issues, and we all have things we don’t ever want to hear from anyone, let alone from the person we love. But, if he’s compelled to demand that you never utter those words to him, it’s more than just a simple insecurity. It’s probably more like a pathology.
It’s even worse if he claims that it’s the “one thing” that “makes [him] lose control.” Like I said before, where there’s one thing, there are many, and if he openly admits that he loses control—believe him. No amount of love will ever change that. One day, when the new relationship shine wears off, he’ll probably lose it on you whether you followed his rules or not.
Point 2: He’s Just Joking.
The day you notice that the jokes he makes with the guys are at odds with what he says to you—you’re done. Whether it’s just small talk or an all-out meeting of the dude minds, there really shouldn’t be a grand difference between his attitude with them and his attitude with you. Words have meaning. Unless there’s an open and compelling reason for the difference, then he’s lying to someone. Maybe he’s lying to them. Maybe he’s lying to you. Maybe he’s just lying to himself. It doesn’t matter. That dissonance is only going to get worse over time.
Point 3: The Man Doth Protest Too Much.
Let’s face it, when a man fervently opines on his hatred, it’s usually an admission of guilt. Maybe it’s a subconscious reflex, but his lack of self-awareness doesn’t make it any better. In fact, it makes it worse. I’m not talking about simple statements of his dislikes like, “I hate kale,” or “I can’t stand meatless pizza.” I mean his grand proclamations of sweeping hatred. For my ex, it was, “I hate liars.” This particular omen should have sounded like a tornado siren in my head, but it didn’t. Instead of hearing it for the confession that it was, I blamed the people he condemned without question. Furthermore, I made it my mission to prove my own honesty and to unconditionally give him my trust in return. It was a fool’s errand. His words were just verbal sleights of logic designed to distract me from his own inherent dishonesty.
And Lord help you if he ever throws a fervent “trust me” in your face. Simply put, if he has to tell you to trust him, you shouldn’t. Trust is something to be earned and shared, not demanded or weaponized.
If he’s constantly worried about the other men you interact with in your life, it’s a problem. He’s either had too many bad relationship experiences that he hasn’t been able to shake (and has probably cried to you about them at least once), or he’s just too insecure. Whatever the problem, if you ignore it, or worse, if you placate him by dropping friends or changing the way you deal with your coworkers, it’s going to catch up with you. This is step one in the isolation process. It’s a way to make himself feel better by controlling you. This won’t get better with time. It will only get worse. Once you figure it out, the only way fix it is to end it.
(Of course, if you really are flirting with other guys or choose to use sex to advance your career, then that’s on you. Jealousy isn’t wrong by default. Sometimes, it’s totally reasonable.)
5. That Thing You Do.
If he constantly points out one of your habits, he probably hates it. He might call it cute or say it’s adorable, but deep down, he probably doesn’t. (In my case, I habitually squeezed the toothpaste tube in the middle instead of from the end.) When they really think it’s cute, they don’t usually say it to your face. They add it to the pile of all the things they really love about you. When they keep commenting about it out loud, they’re either passive-aggressively trying to change you or they’re trying to convince themselves that it is, in fact, cute and not something they’ll grow to despise.
(The same is true for the reverse. If you dislike his habits now, you’re really going to hate them later on. You can’t seriously expect him to change. It doesn’t work like that.)
How often does he call his mother? How often does he complain about his mother? How many horrible stories does he have about his mother? If the answer to any one of these three questions is A LOT, then your intended has a mommy-wife. (It’s gross, I know.) If so, then you have to ask yourself some really hard questions: Is he with me because I remind him of his mommy-wife? Am I his rebellion against his mommy-wife? Or, is his mommy-wife just fine, and he just can’t cut the apron strings? (This one’s rare, but it happens.) Whatever the answers are, it’s usually never workable. It’s hard to consider that he’s with you because of some uncomfortable dysfunction rather than your own general awesomeness, but you can’t ignore it. It will become a big deal sooner or later.
Obviously, these aren’t all of the possible pre-marriage warning signs. This list barely scratches the surface, but they are the ones that I know best from my own experience. If you see a terrible omen, the solution is simple—just cut things off as swiftly as you can and don’t look back. If you’re not quite sure if it’s an omen or just a little hiccup, it’s important not to panic. In isolation, a hint of one of these signs might be workable. You’ll just have to keep your wits about you. It’s easy to let a hint here and there collect into one big problem over time.
Whether it’s just a hint or a full-fledge harbinger of doom, a relationship warning sign shouldn’t be ignored. It’s a guidepost that can keep you from heading down the wrong path. And remember, terrible omens are like fire ants. The one that stings you is rarely the only one around. It’s just the first one you notice.
If you want more detailed examples of some ridiculously clear warning signs, check out my book,
Terrible Omens: Happiness Is the Other Way.
At the very least, you’ll feel better about yourself.