The Ol’ Dating Bait and Switch

Have you ever dated someone who represented him or herself as someone other than who they were? Or perhaps they were “themselves” around you, but misled you in regards to their intentions? No one can maintain the perfect façade some of us portray in the heady days of courtship, but I’m talking about something different- a diametric about face from someone in either their being or behavior intended to deceive or manipulate. Yet people who engage in this kind of pattern are often lying to themselves…

It is a sign of emotional health to believe what someone is telling you. Being overly paranoid and suspicious is not. It’s also normal to want to sugarcoat the truth so as not to hurt someone- to overstate feelings or overshoot how much bandwidth one has for a relationship. Feelings can change during the exploratory stages of dating, and even men are entitled to that “female prerogative” of changing their minds. A different thing entirely is pretending to be a shiny lure on the end of a line, only to reveal oneself (once the prey is hooked) to be a worm.

Perhaps you married that person- several people I know realized some years into marriages and children, that they were married to sociopaths. (Oops.) While I think the “sociopath” label has become a little overused (someone can have narcissistic tendencies without necessarily being clinical) if you’re the recipient of the Ol’ Bait and Switch, the pain can be intense. Or in the immortal words of Maxwell Smart, “That’s the second time I’ve fallen for that this month…”

The hardest relationships I’ve ever had to get over, were where I felt duped, where people were not honest and clear about their intentions. Harder than losing a long-term marriage, because I knew what our common objectives were from the start and they never changed, until they did. As painful as the marriage split was, it was much harder mentally to cope with a much shorter relationship years later, with someone who was going through a traumatic life event and instead of pulling me closer, began to ghost. I stopped sleeping and eating almost entirely, then had to go to outpatient treatment. Funny how he ghosted, and yet I became one.

In fact I had several “ghosting” experiences like this in dating post-marriage, but those other men had never promised me anything, so on some level I knew I was fooling myself. Beware someone who pushes for exclusivity, commitment, or sex too early, these are things that should be given freely, and not to appease someone’s insecurity.

Women have the reputation of hearing what they want to hear from men, and it is harder to have sympathy for the attitude of “I can change him.” Or “He says he doesn’t want a relationship but it will be different with me…” Men are guilty of this too, and trying to “change” an avoidant woman is just as preposterous an idea, or as the immortal squirrel in Rocky and Bullwinkle says “but that trick never works.”

When someone clearly tells you they want to be in a relationship, that they want to go deep, to share each other’s spawn (if applicable) or even allude to making new spawn, then suddenly do an about face, it can be damaging on the level of little else. This Satanic behavior is more prevalent than you might think, sometimes as easily fallen into as the trap of just “telling someone what they want to hear.” Then there’s the added bonus that once the next person comes along who is truly offering you those things (and they will, I promise!) that person gets to pay for the previous asshole’s mistakes. Yay!

So I guess the message here is please “Be straight” and I am not talking about sexuality, obviously. This issue runs across lines of gender, race and sexuality. Human beings make mistakes, but there’s no reason to be a dick. Don’t string someone along because you can’t stand yourself enough to be alone, and don’t allow yourself to be strung along for the same reason. Go by what you notice, not by what you wish was happening. If your gut is in a constant state of uproar, it’s not time to Ask Your Doctor, but to look deep inside and admit your anxiety might be trying to tell you something.

On the subject of sixties television shows and their hidden truths, relationships like these can leave one feeling like Dr. Bellows in “I Dream of Jeannie” or the neighbor Gladys in “Bewitched” – you knew something was off right from the start, but then you look like the crazy one. Promising someone a commitment and then suddenly reneging without a conversation, or appearing to be Mr. Sex Maniac and then overnight turning prude, are forms of gaslighting. Don’t worry, you are not crazy. Or maybe you are, but that’s another topic for another day…

3 comments

  1. This one hit the nail on the head- it’s very easy to convince yourself you’ve totally lost it when the switch takes place seemingly overnight. A person really can get pushed over the edge with this… And it is far more prevalent than some people would believe.

    • I think the main thing is “then what…” What did you do with that experience? Did you move on or are you still venting 10 years later to anyone who will listen? I am still working on it but perhaps if we all stop trying to “understand” and just let go, we might find peace.

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