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What Can We Learn From This Woman's Abusive Relationship?

The red flags were everywhere. 'Maria' has no idea where she made mistakes, and no one will tell her. The truth hurts too much.

A couple sitting on the curb with their backs to the camera; the woman is hunched over with her head  in her hands while the guy looks on dispassionately
Photo by Odonata Wellnesscenter on Pexels

Everyone’s got a superpower; mine is not getting abused in romantic relationships. Okay, it helps that I’m never in them anymore but even in my tawdry twenties I never had an abusive boyfriend. It’s why one of my missions in life is to help women primarily, but everyone else as well, take back their power and avoid or get out of abusive relationships before shit gets real.

I know something abuse victims don’t know: How to avoid domestic violence. I steer clear of all the red flags.

Unfortunately, no truth-telling victim ever seems to learn anything new from her experience, like what women can do to protect themselves better. Like, what warning signs they’ve learned to avoid. Like, examining what she could have done differently or what she missed, perhaps because she didn’t know what she didn’t know. Like, avoiding toxic men and getting out early long before he’s invested enough to go all O.J. on her.

Tedious railing against the injustice of a deeply patriarchal world in which men are more physically powerful only gets you so far. Focusing attention and the demand for change solely on men is like stopping six feet from the front door in a burning house and bitching that your back is on fire.

It’s long past time to start doing post-mortems on the ways women get mistreated, abused, and murdered. Not to judge or blame them, or ourselves, but to learn from these mistakes so we don’t make them again, and help others to avoid reinventing the ordeal.

In project management a ‘post-mortem’ is when a team conducts an analysis on a completed project - a building construction, an ERP system implementation, a large order fulfilled and transported to a customer overseas. It asks What did we do wrong? What did we do right? What caused the mistakes? What can we do to mitigate future risks? Why did we make the right decision in a crisis? What can we improve?

The goal is to learn from their mistakes, and team members need to take responsibility and be accountable for their own errors, and recognize what everyone did right so they can do it again.

I recently ran across a Newsweek article titled Woman Blames Andrew Tate For Turning Her Boyfriend Into A Rapist.

Number one, no, I don’t think so. And number two, she missed all the waving red flags including one so big you could unfurl it down the side of the Rock of Gibraltar.

How To Avoid A Bad Boyfriend

The first really big red flag the article’s Maria missed was her boyfriend’s ‘obsession’ with misogynist huckster and now alleged sex trafficker Andrew Tate. If she didn’t know who Tate was then, she must surely have Googled him. I’ve written about Tate before.

Flying red flag saying, "Men who worship Andrew Tate are not men you want to spend time with"
Flag photo from Public Domain Pictures

Maria described how her boyfriend would play Tate’s social media videos in all their vainglorious misogyny. Loudly, for her edification. I wonder how she could tolerate listening to Tate spout off about how men own women and how women share responsibility in getting raped and not thought, “Hmmmm, maybe I can do better than this bozo.”

What would we think of a black woman who stayed with a white boyfriend who watched white supremacy videos?

All throughout the relationship the boyfriend displayed clear signs of his disrespect for her, and pretty certainly other women. I don’t believe listening to Tate turned him into a rapist (spoiler alert, she was the victim) but it may have accelerated it. He was drawn to Tate because he already had issues with women.

A therapist quoted in the article speculates that compassionate, empathetic women, as Maria seems to be, are the sort of women misogynist men are drawn to. They easily forgive and want to do what’s best for the man. (There’s another red flag!)

Every relationship has problems, and no one is perfect, but women like Maria are missing some critical recognition in their brain of clear and present danger. It’s unclear whether she comes from a history of abuse; if she did she doesn’t mention it. One doesn’t require an abusive childhood or prior abusive relationships to be abused, as Nicole Brown demonstrated.

Maria even missed the second-biggest red flag, which came later, after the initial Andrew Tate Fanboy flag: She got raped, and it’s clear she unconsciously enabled it by permitting toxic behavior in the bedroom from the beginning. The Boyfriend had groomed her for this moment.

Yes, she was collusive. Not blameworthy; the fault’s all on her rapist boyfriend, but she unwittingly collaborated. This is the most difficult insight against which so many women, feminists and abuse advocates resist acknowledging: Tolerating bad behavior encourages abusers to push it farther, to see how much more she’ll take. Dina McMillan outlines and details exactly how abusive men do this in her superlative book “But He Says He Loves Me!”

It’s detrimental to women, and the antithesis of what domestic abuse advocates and activists seek to eliminate. We have to recognize the role the victim plays when she allows a man to mistreat her.

If she doesn’t have the insight, knowledge, or self-esteem (or grew up with my mother) to identify the red flags and know when to get out and move on, she will continue walking down a dysfunctional staircase, giving away a little more of her power every step down until she passes a point where she can’t save herself, someone else will have to. If anyone does.

It’s her power. She agrees and decides to give it away to him, whether she realizes it or not.

We’re doing a disservice to women, victims, and ourselves when we refuse to accept responsibility for our personal power and the decisions we make.

And if there are women who honestly can’t see those red flags, who are genuinely blind to the warning signs, we have to address that too. This isn’t something men can do for us. We have to address these problems ourselves.

The Boyfriend exhibited all the common traits of abusers: Manipulation, gaslighting, derogatory comments, blah blah blah. Nothing new here. The red flags were everywhere, and Maria missed them all.


Double-booking a date

Tristan Tate, Andrew’s less-famous brother, advises men to save time by double-booking two women at once, and tell each woman that the other is just a friend. The Boyfriend did this to Maria, repeatedly.

Dissing #MeToo and feminism

He repeatedly expressed dislike for feminism, #MeToo, and left-wing activism, which didn’t bother her until he made some ‘inflammatory’ posts on Facebook.

Controlling the bedroom

He began ‘leaking controlling sexual behaviors’ in the relationship and blamed her if she complained. A particularly telling comment without greater context is when Maria said, “He would say that I’m making it sound like he raped me.” I don’t know exactly what she meant by this but it sounds like somewhat rapey behavior began for a certain time before the actual rape occurred. She stayed with him. She clearly allowed it. This was another really huge mistake on Maria’s part.

The Boyfriend wouldn’t take ownership of his behavior when she tried to discuss it with him. This is typical of abusers, regardless of sex. ‘Nother red flag.

Changing her behavior for him

Maria changed herself, lost weight, did her makeup as he claimed he’d like, all in an attempt to get him to like her more, or love her, I’m not certain. This is also classic abusive, controlling behavior on the abuser’s part. The questions I wished she’d asked herself were, Why am I doing this? Why for him?

Then shit got real.

The rape

I want to make it clear: I’m not blaming Maria for her rape. The Boyfriend is 100% responsible for that. But you can’t rape a woman who isn’t there.

I hope that Maria, and women like Maria, will learn something from her honest mistakes and not make those same mistakes themselves. Don’t be the victim!

This is how you learn. You can be a career victim or you can learn to watch for early red flags to avoid this tragedy.

I listened to my mother when she talked to me from an early age about controlling, abusive men and not to put up with any of it. How women think if they love him enough he’ll change (no), how you can never change a man (or anyone, really), how if he hits you once, he’ll do it again, so don’t give him another opportunity (YES! YES! YES!).

Post-mortems are useful for any traumatic event in your life, whether it’s an abusive partner, a horrible job, a relationship with a toxic parent or child, or the unproductive way you handled a trauma you couldn’t control.

To reiterate: The point is not to blame yourself, but to learn from your mistakes.

Believe me, I haven’t gotten involved with another alcoholic since my ex-partner.

An abusive relationship is a grooming process, in which the abuser (consciously or unconsciously) tests his partner constantly to see how much she’ll take.

Every step in which she doesn’t set boundaries, or allows him to sidestep them, gives him permission to continue pushing the envelope.

We don’t like to think of it that way but it’s the truth. Assholes only go as far as we let them. That’s why we encourage children to stand up for themselves, to stand up to bullies. Because bullies prefer easier victims.

Related: She Is Willing To Do Whatever It Takes To Be With Me - The women who accused Marilyn Manson of abuse

Maria’s ignored, or unrecognized red flags were many, and in the bedroom, at some point before the rape, The Boyfriend exhibited ‘controlling sexual behaviors’ for an unspecified time before the rape, including saying, “You act like I’m raping you.”

When the actual rape occurred, after a lot of alcohol, Maria says he said ‘derogatory things’ to her during the rape. Maybe things he, or maybe they’d both heard Andrew Tate say, or advise? Was this the first time he’d said them, or had he said them before? Red flags, red flags, red flags.

I don’t know her history, but if she can talk to Newsweek, she can ask herself these questions.

Rape wasn’t even a red flag for her after it occurred; she actually tried to patch it up with him, but once again, The Boyfriend didn’t take ownership. She felt she should be able to trust him, but why? What had he ever done to make her think she could?

Eventually, it seems, she finally left him.

Maria’s mistakes

Maria never questioned his preoccupation with Andrew Tate; the toxic philosophy she knew the guru subscribed to; the toxic videos The Boyfriend listened to.

She didn’t challenge him in the bedroom (or likely, out of it), when he became controlling, manipulative and abusive.

She tolerated a lot of toxic behavior for unknown reasons, which may or may not involve previous abuse or abusive relationships. Whether it did or didn’t is irrelevant; these are the mistakes she made, that she must not make again to avoid another Andrew Tate-styled relationship.

I can only speculate on what went pear-shaped with Maria, because the Newsweek article didn’t ask several critical questions or offer much backstory, perhaps for space reasons. But it’s clear Maria was breadcrumbed every step of the way because she allowed it, most likely out of ignorance because who would choose a toxic relationship like this?

It strikes me that compassion and empathy, two highly valuable qualities in a prospective romantic partner, can function as a weakness if one isn’t careful to guard against others willing to take advantage of one’s good nature.

Maria chose not to report The Boyfriend for the rape, and for once I’m glad she didn’t. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have gone well for her. It would have fallen, rightly or wrongly, in the ‘grey rape’ area where the authorities could argue she was in a relationship, they’d had consensual sex before, he claimed it was consensual, so now she’s saying it wasn’t?

She was too drunk to know what she was doing! I bet he planned that for his potential legal defense.

Every step of the way The Boyfriend groomed her to take more of his shit, and his first shot across the bow was subjecting her to Andrew Tate’s toxic philosophy. She allowed it. She didn’t leave his apartment or house when he played it. She allowed ‘controlling sexual behaviors’ which culminated in a rape.

She’s not to blame for what happened to her, but she colluded, whether she realizes it or not.

What we want to do, whatever toxic situation we’re in, is to stop colluding.

Here’s a depressing little tidbit to end this otherwise depressing article about how some women collude in their own oppression: The Women Who Love Andrew Tate: ‘He’s What Every Man Should Aspire To Be.’

Good luck with that, ladies. Remember, I told you so.


How to avoid abuse:

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