Consider the following dating scenarios, where two women are at lunch, talking about their new boyfriends:
“He’s great! He really seems to be into me! He calls me and texts me all the time. He’s always asking what I’m doing and where I’m at and who I’m with. He pops in all the time at my work, which my boss doesn’t like and which makes some of my co-workers nervous, but they’re just jealous. Although we’ve only been going out for a short time, he’s already told me he loves me. He says stuff about us being together forever. He seems really interested in my past boyfriends. I even caught him checking my cell phone when I was coming out of the bathroom. Pictures of me are all over his Facebook page, even ones I don’t remember posing for. Isn’t that cute? Even when we’re not together, I always seem to run into him, like at the gym, or when I’m out with my girlfriends after work. I have to say the sex is wild too. I know that all sounds weird, but it’s okay because I’m kinda flattered by the attention. It’s like he can’t get enough of me!”
“My new boyfriend is a real man’s man! He’s so tough and strong. I really feel protected when I’m with him. We were at this bar the other night and some guy bumped into me and spilled my drink. It was an accident but my boyfriend practically ran over and tried to fight the guy. Didn’t I tell you he was protective? Anyway, he’s really into me. We had a lot of drinks one night and we got to talking about our past relationships. He told me he had been arrested before because his old girlfriend had falsely accused him of hitting her. She sounds like such a witch! Anyway, he said he was just trying to get away from her when she bit him on the arm. The cops got there and of course, they believed her story that he was trying to choke her. You know how some women can be! Our sex life is great too, although when he’s drunk he can be a little rough. I know that all sounds weird, but it’s okay because all this just shows how much he cares.”
Let’s recap, using our Danger Score Cards: First guy is a stalker; second guy is an abuser. Both women are in jeopardy if they stay with these manipulative, obsessive, and potentially violent jerks. Added Bonus Points: If they don’t get out now, the stalker may become violent and the violent one may become a stalker.
In relationships, as in life, people fall into habits and routines, often based on past successes or sadly, past failures. Some people learn from their relationship mistakes; others are doomed to keep making them. So if a good predictor of future behavior is past behavior, then we can expand this idea in the context of our two women above and say a good predictor of future obsessive or violent behavior is past obsessive orviolent behavior. Sad to say, without a significant mental health or criminal justice system intervention (and many of these guys aren’t fixable, despite psychiatric help or jail time), the cycle of predatory behavior from these men toward the women they attract will continue. (Note the rationalizing language used by both women, as they make excuses to each other, to accept what should be unacceptable.)
Let’s look at our first woman’s boyfriend, the poster boy for what my colleague at San Diego State University, Dr. Brian Spitzberg, calls “obsessional relationship intrusion.” Notice how often this guy shows up in this woman’s life without being asked. This behavior is called “boundary probing,” meaning he is forcing the edges of their relationship by going to places where he can continue to observe and dominate her. Look how he moves to quickly from like you to love you. See how he uses his social media account as a way to broadcast his feelings, which is meant to say, “Back off World! She’s mine!” Pay attention how he plants the early seeds of jealousy by his constant attention, so when she tries to break up with him (and she will, hopefully sooner than later), he will have woven their lives together so tightly that he can use guilt and intimidation to try and make her stay. None of this is endearing; it’s creepy.
Let’s look at our second woman’s boyfriend, who may go from Mr. Right to Mr. Right Hook if she’s not careful. (Thanks to Brett Butler for that one.) Australian violence risk assessment researcher Dr. Paul Mullen talks about the Big Three warning signs from potential domestic violence perpetrators: a history of substance abuse, a history of violence, and previous sexual intimacy with the victim. Do we se all three factors with this guy? Does he like his liquor? Check. The booze gives him courage, helps him with his need to dominate, and gives him a rationalizing alibi for his bad behavior the next day. Has he hurt threatened or fought other men and abused other women? Check. So he has proved to himself that violence is often a good solution to his life issues, especially when he wants to control someone. Why might he have a bite mark on his arm? Because he had it tightly around his former girlfriend’s neck. And has he had (forceful) sex with her? Check. This need for dominance in the bedroom makes it easier and more likely for him to say, “If I can’t have, you no one will,” when she tries to leave him.
Let’s say for the sake of discussion that both of these imaginary women are able to extract themselves from these guys and live to tell about it. In the real world, they would have to endure threats, fear, and constant anxiety, and use patrol cops, detectives, prosecutors, and psychologists to ultimately get free.
To avoid hooking up with these types again, both women need to ask themselves these questions, immediately after they get home from their next first dates:
Do I see any indication that he is moving too fast, talking about love, marriage, starting a family, living together, or running off and leaving the real world behind?
Is his interest with putting me on his social media accounts reasonable or narcissistically entitled? Does he see me as some sort of trophy he has to display?
When it comes to getting in contact with me, which part of the “Goldilocks Rule” are we at? Too much? Too little? Just right? Not calling me at all means he probably has other dating options. Calling me seven times as I drive home is a red flag the size of China’s.
Do you see evidence of a drug and alcohol history, with lots of stories that ended with him in jail, alone, bleeding, or having ruined a social function? Alcohol and drugs are disinhibitors for violence and stalking behaviors.
Is he pressuring me for sex and is the sexual act about menace, control, dominance, or inflicting pain?
Do I hear about his use of violence or is early childhood exposure to it as a common theme in his life? Most men can count on one hand the number of real fights they ever got into. If this guy has kept track of his number of brawls and knockouts, head for the hills.
Dr. Steve Albrecht, PHR, CPP, BCC, is a San Diego-based speaker, author, and trainer. He is board certified in HR, security, and coaching. He focuses on high-risk employee issues, threat assessments, and school and workplace violence prevention. In 1994, he co-wrote Ticking Bombs, one of the first business books on workplace violence. He holds a doctorate in Business Administration (DBA); an M.A. in Security Management; a B.S. in Psychology; and a B.A. in English. He worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years and has written 17 books on business, HR, and police subjects. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DrSteveAlbrecht