Is it over-analyzing or just being smart in dating?
June 17, 2009 9:22 PM   Subscribe

Am I over-analyzing or being rightfully cautious in dating?

I will soon find myself dating a certain gentleman. I like him, we share the same sick sense of humor and he has a lot going for him. The problem is I find myself analyzing what I don't like about him. This is all to protect myself from being in an abused relationship in which I have experienced emotional and spiritual abuse before. So, I am scared. For example I don't like it when someone asks everyday "so what did you do all day?" or "What are you doing now?" That raises red flags for me. I know it's unfair to do that to him but why couldn't he ask "so what's been happening?" I don't want to feel as if I need to explain my day just because he's asking what I did. Some people are telling me it's just small talk but all possessive men have this trait of first asking questions just like that. Am I over analyzing at this point? I just don't want to get abused like that again and then not even realize I am caught in a cycle again.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Am I over analyzing at this point?

Yes. Those phrases you quoted are totally ordinary and people say them all the time without a hint of possessive intent. Consider seeking therapy.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:27 PM on June 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

Just small talk. The threatening and innocuous phrases you give have roughly the same meaning in substance, and most people are not as sensitive to the differences. Let yourself spend some time with the dude so you can get a better sense of what he's like. You can't know based on what you're telling us.
posted by grobstein at 9:30 PM on June 17, 2009

Have you gotten any counseling since that abusive relationship? It could be very helpful to you to have someone help you out with getting into relationships again in a healthy way.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:32 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I concur: you're over-analyzing, unless there's more to it than what you describe.
posted by ProfLinusPauling at 9:34 PM on June 17, 2009

My husband asks questions like that and he's totally non-controlling and non-jealous. Even if this thing is a symptom of controlling behavior, you have to figure out what's behind it. It could just be habit or something he learned from someone in his family. Good for you, though, to look out for this stuff proactively.
posted by zinfandel at 9:35 PM on June 17, 2009

I don't want to feel as if I need to explain my day just because he's asking what I did.

This says more about your own self-value than it does about him. It's a perfectly normal question asked about 10-million times a day by millions of people in relationships. Your unease with it is your problem, not his, and if you ever want to have a happy and stable relationship you need to take control of it on your own.

I just don't want to get abused like that again and then not even realize I am caught in a cycle again.

You're allowing fear to cause you to regress in maturity and self-actualization. Are you not an adult? Can not you not make choices for yourself? Can you not assess situations and relationships and make decisions based upon your desires?

I bet you can if you try. Relax, enjoy the arc of the relationship and know that if (in the highly unlikely event) things turn negative you'll better be able to notice that thanks to your unfortunate past experiences.

Give this guy a chance. If you overreact you risk scaring him away (I know I would go running from anyone who thought asking, "What did you do today," was out of line.)
posted by wfrgms at 9:36 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Am I over analyzing at this point?


Some people are telling me it's just small talk...

They're right.
posted by Perplexity at 9:37 PM on June 17, 2009

I disagree with the first couple of posters. Mostly because those phrases can be "trigger" phrases. It really depends on context, tone, body posture...and without those, we have no way of knowing what the poster is seeing/hearing.

Here's my take: Never, never, NEVER ignore the part of your brain that tells you someone is dangerous to you.

If you find it happening with multiple people, then perhaps you're misinterpreting signals, but if someone is setting off your radar, then I think you should listen to your inner alarm.
posted by dejah420 at 9:42 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Am I over analyzing at this point?

YES. Unless you have other evidence about this guy’s behavior toward you or toward other women, this is harmless small talk. He's simply making conversation and if you are genuinely worried and/or upset because someone asks "so, what did you do all day?" it is honestly possible that you have not yet recovered from your abusive past to the degree that would make you emotionally healthy enough to be dating again. Chatty questions like "so, what did you do all day?" are, for the most part, rhetorical, and if you are uncomfortable with any possessive overtones, a dry or comical response, e.g. “I sharpened and oiled my bayonets” is a perfectly fair answer. It’s quite possible that the guy may be shy and just wants something to ask you to keep the conversation going. It’s really not all about you.
posted by applemeat at 9:42 PM on June 17, 2009

I'm assuming/hoping that you went to therapy for your abusive relationship(s) in the past. I don't know anything about your past or this current boyfriend in particular, but just your uncertainty and mistrust of your own judgment makes me think that you should probably still be going.

As for this man asking about your daily activities, I agree that this could be a red flag. However, many people ask this question innocuously: it's just something to say and they really couldn't care less about the answer. Or, he could care about the answer if he's really, really interested in you -- he thinks about you all day and wonders/imagines what you're doing. Or he's a possessive psycho.

The most important thing for you to digest is that a person who asks you a question is not entitled to the answer they want. You can answer someone's question in any way you choose, or not answer at all. So let's determine why he is asking these questions:

Level 1: If he stops here, he's just normal. When he asks you what you did today or are doing now, just give a vague non-answer; this is what most people want. "Oh, not much." "Same old, same old!" "Errands." Or give one benign example: "Ironing."

Level 2: If he pushes for more detail, he's just a little annoying, not threatening. You can jokingly say "Oh, let a girl have some mystery!" or something like that.

Level 3: If it doesn't end at level 2, then he probably has issues with social boundaries, or maybe he's a control-freak. Here we are getting into red-flag territory. You can take the "joke" further: "Only my husband will know how I spend every minute of the day." (Use this last one with caution, since, I hope you know, bringing up marriage early on is usually a bad idea.)

If he's still hassling you, he doesn't know or doesn't agree that he is not entitled to know what you don't tell him, and that your daily activities do not affect him. You can give one last direct attempt: "Why is it so important to you to know?" But any guy who would hassle you like this and pursue a line of conversation about something that should not be important when it is obviously making you uncomfortable/unhappy, especially this early on in a relationship when he should be licking the base of your pedestal, should be cut loose.
posted by thebazilist at 9:47 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've never been in a particularly controlling, never mind abusive, relationship. But I am really bizarrely sensitive to certain turns of phrase, and I understand at least a little of what might pass through your brain when you hear certain trigger phrases.

It's an old hat that gets dragged out a lot around here, but cognitive behavioral therapy, either professionally or via the Feeling Good Handbook, is pretty useful to help you take things like this at face value, to hear "what did you do all day?" as just that, and not "Account for your time, or there will be consequences".

I don't mean in any way to suggest that you should deny any instincts that might protect you, but as an objective outsider--these are smalltalky phrases that everyone uses, not just people with issues, and you truly may be hearing something in them that isn't really being implied, based on your past experiences.

If you treat "What are you doing" as "so, what's been happening" and answer accordingly with "oh, work was crazy, but I had a great peach with lunch! How was your day?", it seems to me a controlling abuser will be continually unsatisfied with your responses and demand more detail, more often--and there's the red flag you're worried about seeing.
posted by padraigin at 9:51 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Questions like that could be totally fine, or -- given that you have been in a bad relationship before and therefore are more likely to be attracted to people like that -- they could be early indicators. I'd need more context to have an opinion here:

- Are there other things that make you uncomfortable or that you'd consider warning signs?

- Could you get someone else's perspective on him? What do your friends think?

- Does he react well if you say "um, would you mind not asking that exact question or at least not in that wording? I have this weird paranoia." A normal guy wouldn't mind if you clearly and unaccusingly defined what does and does not freak you out.

I'm somewhat with dejah420 here, that your gut might know something before you have all the demonstrable evidence. Of course, it might not. But either way, if it's more than just one example from one conversation, then it doesn't really even matter whether or not he's officially A Bad Person -- forcing yourself to go against your protective instinct is not a fast track to a comfortable and rewarding relationship. It's fine to just find someone you feel more at ease with. (People make dating decisions for far sillier reasons than that.)
posted by salvia at 9:52 PM on June 17, 2009

Please, please get some therapy if you haven't already. This is coming from someone who suffered through severe mental abuse and physical abuse from a relationship when I was young and stupid. I never did seek therapy and I wish I had so it wouldn't have taken me 10 years to sort out the effects that the relationship had on me. People that have not been through a situation like this do not understand how that phrase can make you feel. OP, I know where you are coming from. In the back of your mind, you know that your reaction to the phrase is over the top, but there's this trigger in your brain that turns on after hearing anything that is even remotely similar to the controlling phrases that the abusive ex used. Please get therapy or your current and future relationships will suffer.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:57 PM on June 17, 2009

Those are pretty innocuous questions, and you're probably overreacting. But you know, maybe not -- we can't hear his tone of voice when he asks. Try watching less for the initial questions he asks and more for how he responds to your answers. If "What did you do all day?" can be readily followed with non-specific things like "I dunno, some errands and stuff" or "Had lunch with a couple of friends" without him getting all third-degree on your ass in the follow-up, it's not a big deal.

Of course, then, you also have to know how to recognize the difference between somebody asking who the friends you had lunch with are because he demands to know who you're spending time with vs. somebody asking who the friends you had lunch with are because he likes you and is interested in your life.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:58 PM on June 17, 2009

Am I over analyzing at this point?

No. You don't need therapy. You have a need to avoid controlling people.
You are more sensitive to the signs than most, but there is no harm in that.
Tell him how you feel, and if he doesn't accommodate your feelings, find someone who does.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:15 PM on June 17, 2009

I'd be more interested in hearing about this "sick sense of humor" you share. Are you sure the things you're joking about-- and the way you're joking about them-- are healthy? Maybe the kinds of cracks he's making are tipping you off to something familiar from your past.

Therapy ought to be helpful.
posted by aquafortis at 10:16 PM on June 17, 2009

"I disagree with the first couple of posters. Mostly because those phrases can be "trigger" phrases. It really depends on context, tone, body posture...and without those, we have no way of knowing what the poster is seeing/hearing."

I really have to disagree with this. When much younger, I was in an unhealthy relationship that eventually turned into a long-distance unhealthy relationship. Phone calls would go back and forth and turn into badgering sessions from the other person towards me, which made me feel like total shit and worthless. This went on for a number of months until I finally took control and ended it. Really fucked me up for a while.
The takeaway though is I got to a place where I began to dread taking a call (this was in the days before ubiquitous caller ID) because it might be her, and if it was, it might turn into another one of those badgering sessions. To this day, almost 20 years later, every time the home phone rings, I have a tiny shot of adrenaline and a microsecond of panic before my rational mind smothers it. So I think it's entirely possible to get over-sensitized to certain triggers to the point where you can no longer rely on your instinct to be correct, and instead have to kick in the thinking part of your mind to truly evaluate what you've just seen/heard.
posted by barc0001 at 12:18 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is all to protect myself from being in an abused relationship in which I have experienced emotional and spiritual abuse before.

Every time you think that it could be like that, remind yourself that "its never going to be like that again. This isn't the same as that time." Remember that this time you know that you know now how to get away from abuse.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:19 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

so what did you do all day?

it's a perfectly reasonable way of opening a conversion- and since you don't know each other well, it will probably have to suffice. Nice weather? Do you like stuff? How about our local team? just seem a bit thin. Fair enough be wary, but because someone asks you about your day does not mean they are possessive.
posted by mattoxic at 12:26 AM on June 18, 2009

In general it seems like small talk but his turn of phrase is odd. Do you have a job? what did you do all day? comes across as slightly negative (well to me anyway), like you've been sitting around on your ass all day, rather than how was your day? Its the kind of thing my dad would say to me during the school holidays, (although for him it was a good humoured jab)

He could be possessive, or he could just be trying to show interest. Don't feel compelled to give him a detailed itinerary of your day, give a vague answer (ie 'stuff' or 'the usual' or 'not much' - whatever you want to say). You don't need to give any more detail that you're comfortable with. If he pushes the issue then your instincts are probably right.
posted by missmagenta at 1:22 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

These are not abusive or controlling phrases in any way. (Unless they're done at the point of a weapon.)

These are perfectly ordinary questions that anyone who wants to get to know you, to become closer to you, to love you, would ask.

If you have a severe negative reaction to them then I'm afraid I have to go against my usual advice and say that yes, some more therapy might do you a great bit of good.

Or reconsider dating. It is very very hard to date someone who has triggers that, like yours, are not obvious. When one partner has to walk on eggshells at all times, it leads to an unbalanced, resentful relationship.
posted by Ookseer at 2:12 AM on June 18, 2009

My wife and I love and trust each other, and we ask about each other's day, for small talk and because we care.

The trigger you should watch out for is not that he's asking you this; the trigger you should watch out for is how he responds when you tell him what you did all day. If you find yourself not wanting to tell him something you've done because you know he'll get angry or make you feel guilty -- that's a huge red flag, right?

So embrace these questions, because they are the gateway to conversations that will show you his potential for abuse and possessiveness (or lack thereof) much more clearly than your current level of speculation allows.
posted by davejay at 2:26 AM on June 18, 2009

"I disagree with the first couple of posters. Mostly because those phrases can be "trigger" phrases. It really depends on context, tone, body posture...and without those, we have no way of knowing what the poster is seeing/hearing."

I really have to disagree with this...I think it's entirely possible to get over-sensitized to certain triggers to the point where you can no longer rely on your instinct to be correct

Yes, it is possible. And it is ALSO possible that certain phrases trigger her because she senses something behind them. Just because you have an example of an unreasonable fear doesn't prove anything; a number of people could supply examples of reasonable fear. That, to me, was dejah420's point -- that more information is needed. Would she really hear alarm bells if she was asked that question by even the world's nicest and least possessive person? Even the most innocuous phrase said by a creepy person can cause alarm bells to ring. Is there something here that didn't get put into words? I'm not saying there is, but I'm saying it's possible. So rather than tell the questioner "don't worry! that's a harmless statement!" I'd encourage her to figure out what's really going on, as it sounds like she's already trying to do.
posted by salvia at 2:45 AM on June 18, 2009

I wouldn't be concerned about these particular phrases unless there's something else going on as well. That can be hard to tell, though, as we have no way of knowing from anything you've written if you're overly sensitive, or just sensitive enough to pick up on some subtle warning sign. Without knowing that, or anything else about your life, it seems wrong to advise you either way: if the innocuous phrases hide something that we cannot see in your limited description, you might end up in a bad relationship again; if the phrases are truly innocuous, but we advise you to follow your gut, you may have your oversensitivity confirmed, which might make it hard for you to have healthy relationships in the future. (Of course there may be more to the story, that we don't know, that would confirm one interpretation or the other.)

There is a way to slice this knot, however, as someone suggested above. You should talk with the guy about his phrasing and see what he says and if he changes. It can be a light hearted conversation that doesn't reference anything about your past. "Man, I like talking with you, but I've just always hated that phrase. Ask me some other way." His reactions to that small request will tell you much much more about this guy as a potential boyfriend.
posted by OmieWise at 4:47 AM on June 18, 2009

I don't think you're overanalyzing necessarily, but I think you should probably be doing this analysis with a trained professional. Getting out of abusive situations is not easy, and therapy will help you overcome your reactions to trigger phrases which, in healthy relationships, are simply small talk.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 5:28 AM on June 18, 2009

I think your instincts are telling you something about this man and the way he interacts with you. The fact that you're asking this question means he's messing with your boundaries.

You're right-- these questions CAN be coming from a desire for control. When it happens, it sounds and feels totally different from someone who is genuinely interested in you for your own sake. Few people think, "Oh god I am controlling...." especially when asking questions that a large portion of the populace finds normal-- maybe he even thinks it's a totally normal way to act. It's not normal, though. He is making you uncomfortable. You deserve to feel at-ease enough to let down your guard around your partner. This is not the guy.

If it feels like he's wringing you like a wet washcloth, even if you don't want to talk-- THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT PERSON FOR YOU. Even if he is nice in every other way, if you share a lot of interests, he's got a great future, this is not the right person for you as long as he makes you feel uncomfortable talking about yourself. At some point the questioning crosses over from getting to know you to obessively desiring information. Maybe it's to appease their own overactive jealousy, maybe it's a desire to control the relationship through pre-worrying out every potential conflict or problem.

You might find some comfort and healing from your past relationships through this book.
posted by Gable Oak at 7:10 AM on June 18, 2009

I think you're overanalyzing for sure. When most people ask you "what did you do all day," they aren't probing into your every activity. They don't want a rundown of literally all of your activities for the day. They usually expect an answer of something like, "Oh, went to work, then ate some dinner with friends. It was fun." They aren't trying to be nosy.
The only way in which this would be a red flag is if after giving a general answer, he got pushy for more info.
posted by ishotjr at 7:25 AM on June 18, 2009

Questions like these, on their own, are innocuous.

There's a saying that the military is always fighting the last war, and it's kind of like that with new relationships: there's always a tendency to act/react towards the new partner in ways that were appropriate to the previous one. This is true whether the previous relationship was abusive or healthy.

So your reactions are completely understandable, but unless there's something more going on here, they're also symptomatic of a broader pattern that you need to be aware of and try to keep in check.
posted by adamrice at 7:35 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

dejah420: "If you find it happening with multiple people, then perhaps you're misinterpreting signals, but if someone is setting off your radar, then I think you should listen to your inner alarm."

I'd disagree thanks to her history of prior abuse. Any alarm can be oversensitized, as any big-city resident tired of car alarms blasting at night can tell you. I'm not saying ignore the internal alarm, but acknowledge it may be wrong – don't give it sacrosanct status as you suggest, as that would be quite foolish.
posted by WCityMike at 7:42 AM on June 18, 2009

« Older Mounties - check. Beaver tails - check. Now what...   |   Oh, the oatmeal and the Crockpot will be friends..... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.