Learning to See the Exit Sign

August 3, 2012

in Relationships

Exit signDo you see the sign to the left? I am told by a reliable source it is an exit sign. I can’t see it because I have a rare visual disorder that only affects my ability to see exit signs. As you would imagine, this is very dangerous in case of emergencies. And I seem to have emergencies that require my ability to see the signs.

I believe, even with rare conditions such as mine, that if you work hard, you can overcome anything. So while this is a unique handicap, I refuse to just accept it, allowing this disorder to negatively affect my life.

When it becomes apparent over time that men I am dating have no friends, bad relations with family, strained relationship with their children, speak poorly of co-workers consistently, or are borderline hostile with many, including strangers, I see this:

not an exit signWhen men I date have little or no parenting skills, don’t respect the importance of my children in my life, see parenting as a box you check off when financial responsibilities end at 18, or don’t make an effort to even have a casual relationship with my kids, others are able to see this, but I cannot:


When men I have dated have been controlling, manipulative, inflexible over important issues, deceitful, or unfaithful, this has continued to be the sign I have seen:

not an exit sign

Why I can’t remove myself from relationships I know are feeling less fulfilling over time, have warning signs that should not be ignored, or are causing me angst is something I have spent time contemplating over the last month. I am fearful, terrified actually, to find my impairment hasn’t improved months into the next relationship. Something new has become a concern as well. Once I have the ability to see an exit sign, I am not sure when it will actually be the right time to follow the exit route.

In my last relationship I saw two red flags on our fourth date. Those two separate issues, nine months later, were the two most prominent flags flying high at the end of the relationship. I see it now, but should I have ended the relationship abruptly at that point? I ultimately fell in love with the man and we shared good times, but there were many months of the flags moving higher up the pole and new flags being introduced, but without me being able to find the exit sign.

Now I am fearful this is what I will be able to see the next time:

several exit signs

I have been working on training myself to improve my impairment. Maybe it will never be as easy for me to see the signs as it is for others, but I believe I can get to the point where they are visible. I have had several first dates recently with more scheduled in the near future. I believe I will be more successful with this visual handicap by taking my time to get to know someone better without my heart completely invested. But of course I don’t have all of this figured out.

So, the relationship writer asks readers today:

When is the right time to end it?

Could I overreact and end a budding relationship too quickly because of my history?


Nicole August 3, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Such a tricky spot to be in. You question yourself, you wonder if you are being overly cautious, but then not cautious enough…

Maybe it would help you to just step back altogether, not date, not experiment with this in real-time before you’ve figured yourself out and how you want to approach this from now on. You clearly want to change something, but it sounds like you aren’t sure how, or to what end. Maybe figure that out first, and then you can be more objective about what is a deal-breaking flag and what is a live-with-it flag.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm

That is great advice Nicole and something I have been wondering myself. I feel I am in a safe zone dating very casually, but that will eventually lead to something greater with someone and then what? Can I figure it out now or is this something that needs time to develop a full understanding?

Nicole August 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm

I think everyone needs time after a breakup, even if there’s no great mystery to resolve. I made the mistake for many years of jumping from relationship to relationship. And I think that made it harder for me to recognize the things that needed improving and the changes I wanted to make. Not saying you are diving into another relationship, but what is a casual date today could end in one of those jittery-knee kisses and then all logic goes right out the window. ;-)

Listen to yourself. You’ll know what is/isn’t right for you.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm

I hear from everyone in my life exactly what you just state: “Listen to yourself. You’ll know what is/isn’t right for you.” I am also told I have great intuition, but choose not to follow it, which is also true. It’s probably those jittery-knee kisses that affect my ability to think clearly at times. :)

Thank you for these two great comments. Both are immensely helpful to me.

Marie Nicole August 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm

When is the right time to end it? There is never a right time to end something. Or what I should say – never a right “timing”. I’ve always ended things in a very brash just-rip-the-bandaid-off kind of way. Otherwise, I know not to trust myself to follow through. Ending a relationship is the hardest thing because it means you’ve given up hope that maybe, just maybe, this time, this guy, it just may be THE ONE.

So, when DO you call it quits? When your little voice says ouch. When you look at the man and ask yourself “If I were to leave town on business, how would I feel leaving him alone with my children overnight, for a weekend, for a week?” And if your answer is a solid “Bah. No problem, they’d have a great time” then stick with it. But, being a single mom – I think you have to tell yourself that if the answer is anything else than that then – ditch. Walk away. Follow the exit signs.

And never look back.

That part (the not looking back part) is crucial. How many women have been dragged back in? How many women have believed the promises of change?

You’re on the right track.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 3, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Thank you for this comment Nicole. I went swimming this afternoon, spending lap time thinking about your question regarding kids staying with a boyfriend. Would it work? Would I feel comfortable? That’s any easy test to think about as I move forward.

As for not looking back: I excel. I had two back-to-back relationships that I continued to be pulled back in. Now I am an expert on moving forward with no glances in the rearview mirror.

Thank you for this comment. It is helpful. I always appreciate your comments though….so keep them coming. :)

Vinny C August 3, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Except when the warning signs are too blatant to ignore, it’s hard to know when the right time to end it is.

As for overreacting and ending a relationship too quickly, that’s a definite risk. I know. My wife almost did that when we were dating and if I had accepted defeat that night, we would have missed out on what turned out to be an amazing relationship.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 3, 2012 at 9:05 pm

What a great story Vinny. I am so happy for you that you fought for your wife.

alfred lives here August 3, 2012 at 9:29 pm

A tricky one, I think the best way is to look for the signs early, and if they are there RUN.

When I was dating, and I didn’t meet my husband until I was 40, I believed that the third date was the true eyes on the person — best behaviour was over, and then the true scary insights came to light… RUN.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 3, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Thanks Brahm. I am going to start wearing my running shoes on third dates. :)

Aimee August 3, 2012 at 11:09 pm

I think we fail to see the exit signs because it is inconvenient to our need for instant gratification. Even though we know we are in a harmful relationship, or at the very least an unfulfilling one, the positive things the relationship affords us from minute to minute are more important than distant harm. We need a sense of belonging. We need to know there is someone out there who thinks we are worthy, sexy, desirable, funny, smart. Every day, we look forward to all the little things, the text messages, the emails, hearing their voice, knowing that we have something to fill our empty moments, and something to brighten our dark moments. It’s belonging. We crave it. And we will blind ourselves to keep it. I am a firm believer in self-confidence. I truly believe the lack of it fuels so many of our bad decisions, lack of decisions, underwhelming relationships, even harmful ones. Those who know their worth are the ones who are able to staunchly refuse to settle. We all need each other, a shoulder, a hand, a heart. But there is a difference between the bold and the diffident. The bold must stretch to make room for romantic love, and refuse to do so for anything less than what they deserve. The diffident, however, have a perpetual hole in their hearts always thirsty to be filled. And usually, our hearts rule the day.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 4, 2012 at 8:34 am

You have excellent points in this thoughtful comment Aimee. Thank you! I seem to lose all objectivity once my heart is fully involved. I am very good at understanding what I want in a relationship and the qualities I want to find in a man. It is easy for me to move along when there isn’t a match. So, I am not one to date for the sake of dating or the need to have someone in my life. That said, once the heart is involved, I do exactly what you describe: I blind myself and justify excessively to stay in. The distant harm you describe just doesn’t register for me, but it needs to going forward.

Thank you again Aimee. You are very wise.

eleanore wells August 3, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Your gut usually knows what to do before your head does. If you can “be quiet” enough to listen to it, without the clamor in your head that will try to rationalize questionable behavior, you’ll do the right thing at the right time.
-Author, The Spinsterlicious Life: 20 Life Lessons for Living Happily Single and Childfree
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 4, 2012 at 8:36 am

I am very good at rationalizing questionable behavior and my little voice is usually crying out for me to listen. I simply ignore that little voice. I need to start listening.

Thanks for visiting Eleanore!

Jester Queen August 4, 2012 at 9:42 am

Also, hindsight is 20/20. You can’t possibly know on a fourth date, unless the guy engages in something outright violent. Looking back, you can say, “Yup, that was serious.” But at the time… hard. Then again, as someone seriously married to the first person she ever dated (and started dating when she was 22), I’m not the one to ask.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 14, 2012 at 10:29 am

You have a great point and make me feel better looking back. Thank you Jessie.

Rebecca August 4, 2012 at 1:09 pm

You’re not the only girl who’s ever found herself in this situation so don’t be so hard on yourself. A very good point is that you’ve begun to notice and acknowledge when you find yourself in a bad relationship. That’s step one and it’s a very important one. Doesn’t mean that the next step – EXIT – will be easier. In working with a life coach I’ve come to learn that all of our behaviors date back to childhood to something that triggered and made a home in our psyche that says, “this is how I feel and think about myself and so this is why my life is A, B, C or D.” It’s a powerful AHA moment and until you ask yourself who am I, what do I want, what do I feel I DESERVE, it’s just gonna be Groundhog’s Day over and over. For me, asking those questions released the muck in my life that was weighing me down and making me make the same mistakes over and over. Good luck to you and know this too shall pass. All of this is a learning experience and the journey which you must travel to get to your moment of awakening. I sense it near however. Blessings, Rebecca

Naked Girl in a Dress August 14, 2012 at 10:25 am

Thank you for the encouragement Rebecca!

hilljean August 4, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Hi there–I found you on Write on Edge and I want to leave an insightful, constructive comment but like Jester Queen I am just not the authority on this. I married my high school sweetheart, and literally just yesterday my hubby and I were talking about how hard it would be to have to date at our age. To have to dress up, put on your best face, and hope that you’re spending time with the right person. But you know what, the people that do date probably learn a lot more about relationships and men/women then people that get married early. So you do have the upper hand and when you are given the chance to use it, you’ll be equipped to make the right decision.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 14, 2012 at 10:24 am

Thank you for visiting and for you wise comment!

Corey Feldman August 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm

It’s a hard balance. I’ve been there myself. I have ignored warning signs and jumped ship at the innocuous.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 14, 2012 at 10:23 am

I am trying to stay the course and take my time in the beginning. If I do a better job evaluating at the start of a budding relationship, I hope it will lead to better decision-making later on. We will see.

Janet Ong Zimmerman August 11, 2012 at 1:26 am

Here are some signs for when it’s time to end a relationship.

– His behavior doesn’t match what he says.
– He doesn’t treat you well.
– He doesn’t respect or value you.
– You don’t respect yourself or know your worth.
– He doesn’t introduce you to his friends and family.
– He keeps you separate from his friends and family.
– If you work in the same place, he ignores you, doesn’t acknowledge or speak to you.
– There’s no contact or very little contact in between the times you see each other.
– You continually question his behavior or the status of your relationship.
– You’re depressed and sad more than you are optimistic and happy.
– You’re not a better person with him in your life.
– You’re not able to be who you really are.
– You find yourself obsessing over every single detail and not knowing what to do.
– You’ve had the “where do I stand”, “what’s going on with our relationship”, “how do you feel about me/us” talk with him and still have no answer.

Women tend to put more focus on what their partner says versus what they do. My experience is that women place 80% of their focus on what he says and 20% on what he does. What he does is equally if not more important than what he says. For instance, if he’s constantly telling you how special you are but spends very little time with you, his actions are speaking loud and clear.

If you have doubts and are questioning your partner’s actions, your intuition is telling you something important. Pay attention because the answer to, “What should I do?” will reveal itself based on your partner’s behaviors and actions. Ask yourself, “What are my partner’s actions revealing to me?” Ultimately, you want and deserve someone whose words match his actions.
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 14, 2012 at 10:17 am

What great points! Thanks for sharing this, Janet.

dieta August 26, 2012 at 10:18 pm

“It’s not you. It’s me.” How many times have you heard that one? Have many times have you found those words tumbling from your own mouth? Often, we use that line in an attempt to gently extricate ourselves from a situation. We verbally try and reassure others that the reason the relationship is ending is solely on our shoulders. Which is usually a big bunch of hooey. Usually, it’s both you and me, at least to some degree. But it’s easier to shut a relationship down with a mea culpa and a (hopefully) graceful exit.
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Brook L. Dame October 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm

How did I miss this post? It leaves me thinking of that old adage, “Keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.” It’s a true statement but, unfortunately, it doesn’t give instructions on how to break the pattern of staying in a situation that we know, ultimately, isn’t in our best interests. I like the approach I saw on a telly show some time ago; if, after a date, I can look at myself in a mirror and not be scared of my reflection looking back at me with an expression of disgust, bewilderment or the “that’s a few hours of my life I’ll never get back” look then I’ll know it’s not yet time for viewing the exit sign.
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Naked Girl in a Dress October 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm

This is a great test for evaluating a relationship, Brook. Thanks for commenting!

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