Sometimes it's harder than you think to say "no"
Emerging from my marriage of 16 years, I felt vulnerable. It was like I had no skin on — no protective barrier. I had no boundaries. I didn’t know how to speak up for myself anymore and I struggled to say no to people.
“No” wasn’t a word that had been respected often in my marriage. “No” meant “Try harder to convince me.”
Because of this, I entered into the dating scene almost immediately after leaving my ex. Guys asked me out and I just didn’t say no.
But it left me in a much more risky situation than I had imagined. Generally, it was great. I went on some lovely dates with some amazing men.
But occasionally, it was awful.
The date that wasn't a date
I invited an acquaintance over to my house for dinner one night. I thought I knew him fairly well — well enough to feel safe being alone with him. I was quite wrong.
We sat on the floor to eat and after chatting for a bit, he made an announcement.
“I’ve liked you for quite a while, you know.”
It was only a month after my separation, but apparently he’d had his eye on me for a long time.
I laughed, out of shock more than anything. “Oh! Really. I’m sorry, I only see you as a friend.”
He got offended.
“What! Am I not attractive enough for you?”
“It’s not that,” I said. “I just don’t see you that way.”
Then he tried to convince me. (“No” meant “try harder” for him too, apparently). He proceeded to explain in graphic detail how great he is in bed — including how large he is — and offered to demonstrate.
“I could give you a real treat,” he offered. He wrapped his legs around mine and held my hand, stroking it. He wasn’t taking the hint.
Am I going to get raped here? I wondered briefly. I froze.
Fight, flight, or freeze
A lot of people know about fight or flight reactions to threatening situations. There’s also a third reaction — freeze.
Researchers describe the freeze reaction as tonic immobility and it was first observed in animals. In a study of the freeze response (published in 2008), researchers describe it as the following:
Tonic immobility may be the best option when the animal perceives little immediate chance of escaping or winning a fight.
In humans, the researchers found similar results, related to anxiety and fear.
We found that tonic immobility was most often reported by those individuals who also experienced significant fear during the challenge.
In my experience with this acquaintance, I genuinely don’t think he meant to scare me. But he did. He’s big, strong, and could certainly have gotten his way, or close to it, if he’d tried (which thankfully, he didn’t).
He crossed the boundaries physically when I had clearly said I wasn’t interested and that lack of respect for my “no” wasn’t okay. It felt like an attack.
If it happened today, I would have responded quite differently. I would’ve expressed very clearly that I wasn’t impressed and he should leave.
I never thought I was the freezing type. But divorce can make you fragile, especially with a toxic marriage. Even without a divorce, we never actually know how we’ll respond to a threat until it happens.
When you experience a freeze response, it might feel like this:
- Feeling stuck in some part of body
- Feeling cold/frozen, numb, pale skin
- Sense of stiffness, heaviness
- Holding breath/restricted breathing
- Sense of dread, heart pounding
- Decreased heart rate (can sometimes increase)
- Turned towards the threat
(From Trauma Recovery.com)
Should we avoid dating after divorce?
I have so many wonderful guy friends who supported me after my divorce and I went on lots of fun, incredible dates with other kind, sweet men.
For me, spending time with other men was very healing. I’ve always believed there are many amazing guys out there — I didn’t want to get into the man-hating mindset that some women fall into after a failed marriage.
Dating after divorce can also be fantastic for learning about yourself. A lot of people insist you wait a year, or a set length of time but I don’t think there’s a timeline that’s right for everyone.
For me, dating straight away was mostly a positive experience. I learnt a lot about myself, I noticed a pattern of relationships that needed to change, and I discovered what I needed to do to heal.
If I went back and did it again, I would do the same but I would protect myself a little more.
- I would learn more about new men in a group situation or meet up in public places.
- I’d have a friend on standby in case a situation went bad.
- I’d protect my physical boundaries more until I knew I was confident enough to boldly say no without freezing.
After divorce, we can be vulnerable — men and women! We need to protect our boundaries just that little bit more.