How can I try to approach this (battered) woman?
December 21, 2013 10:15 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday I came back for holidays to the small town where I grew up. At my sister's home, she introduced me to a nice young woman (let's call her Mary) who lives next door from my sister. From my weekly phone calls to my sister, I knew that Mary and my sister had become quite close over the last couple of months. Mary seems to be a helpful and considerate person. On meeting personally yesterday, I found her attractive too. I knew she was living with the father of her two young children, so I had ruled out any attempts to get to know her. However, last night during dinner with my family, I learned from my sister and mother that a couple of weeks ago Mary had had her partner arrested on charges of domestic violence. I also learned that there was a history of incidents of spousal violence involving the couple, and that the man had since his release from prison been living in a different flat next to Mary and their children. According to my sister, Mary is planning to terminate the relationship soon.

I live in a large town, some 300 miles from Mary. I thought that she might conceivably be willing to explore the possibility of starting a new life with her children and maybe a new, more stable, supportive and decent partner in a more interesting city. She is currently limited to being a housewife, and not a very happy one from what I gather.
So the bottom line is that I would like to get to know her better, but I'm aware of the delicate nature of the situation. Any ideas on how to approach the topic relatively safely and tactfully? What possibilities and risks can you imagine stemming from moving ahead with the lets-get-to-know thing?
posted by kayrosianian to Human Relations (49 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't even zero to sixty, this launches straight into pure fantasy, my friend.

Maybe you should say hi before you mentally move five years down the road of a relationship that she may not even have any interest in. Much less uprooting her children from their dad, and everything they have ever known, so they can move in with a total stranger.

I would not even consider mentioning this idea. I'll let someone with more finesse explain why this entire line of reasoning is highly problematic from nearly every perspective except your own.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 10:31 PM on December 21, 2013 [75 favorites]

See also: White Knight Syndrome.
posted by Pallas Athena at 10:39 PM on December 21, 2013 [62 favorites]

There's plenty of other attractive people in the entire universe that you can "get to know better". I suggest you try them while she works to get out her abusive relationship and move to rebuild her life with her kids.

The last thing she needs is you. You can't save her. You can't save her family. Give up the fantasy and move on.
posted by inturnaround at 10:42 PM on December 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Dude, back off until she's single, at the very least.
posted by spunweb at 10:43 PM on December 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

This is inappropriate in more ways that I can count. You don't even know her -- and no, the fact that your sister has become close to her doesn't mean you know her by proxy -- and yet you think she should uproot her children and her own life and move 300 miles away to be with you, because you've concluded you can provide her a better life. I mean, she's not even single yet.

Back off, like 300 miles off.
posted by scody at 10:44 PM on December 21, 2013 [47 favorites]

Whoa boy. There's not a lot technically I know about being in a mentally and physically abusive romantic relationship, mostly I just know that women have a very very difficult time leaving partners like this. Even after arrests, incarcerations, and especially if children are involved.

Mary is not in a place to "get to know you."

Mary has a lot of hard work ahead of her, and legal troubles, too. She can't just "terminate the relationship" when there are custody and visitation rights involved.

Furthermore, her ex will likely become a dangerous jealous ex after they separate, and that's IF she leaves him for good.

I'm so so sorry. I know you mean well.

From the outside, your (inappropriate - sorry, but true) romantic interest in this woman bespeaks of a sort of hero complex on your part.

Sweet. Naive. But also somewhat fantasy driven. Mary undoubtedly suffers from PTSD, among other emotional issues. She's likely not going to be an equal partner for you, or anyone, for a long long time.


That said, I applaud your inspiration here. If as a (keep your distance!) friend of the family you can offer job or housing leads to Mary in your city, pass these on through your sister.

Although, that puts your sister at risk with Mary's partner, since they are all neighbors.

IDK. At the end of the day this sounds like a matter for the police and the courts.

Ultimately, I believe you should stay out of it and put your attention elsewhere.
posted by jbenben at 10:46 PM on December 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

Related question whose answers you might find helpful.

This isn't even zero to sixty, this launches straight into pure fantasy, my friend.

Seconding this. You have just met this woman. You know virtually nothing about her, yet are suggesting that she take her kids and move 300 miles away so you can rescue her from a bad relationship. She's unlikely to be in the same mental and emotional place you are for a long while.

I've been the white knight in numerous relationships. It didn't turn out well for many reasons. Don't make the same mistake. Give her some breathing room and don't sweep in, trying to be her rescuer or savior. Let her deal with everything she is going through -- the abuse and everything else, without you. Especially since there are children involved.
posted by zarq at 10:47 PM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

You say you are aware of the "delicate nature of the situation" but you are seriously considering pursuing this woman who, in your own narrative, has yet to end her abusive relationship?
My suggestion would be to leave her and her family alone and ride your white horse back to your own home-alone. This is inappropriate and dangerous territory.
posted by notaninja at 10:48 PM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, believe it or not, but often the healthiest thing for someone (male of female) after they've left a relationship (any relationship, not just an abusive relationship) is to be single for awhile, and to decide for themselves what's best for them. You don't even know her, so you certainly don't know what's best for her or what she really needs. She might not even know that right now -- but she's the one who gets to be in charge of finding out, not you.
posted by scody at 10:49 PM on December 21, 2013 [35 favorites]

there isn't enough safety and tact in the world to make approaching this topic anything other than a really bad idea.
posted by bruce at 10:52 PM on December 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Please leave her alone, and do not attempt to date her or even get to know her better for a long time. Your intentions are misguided and inappropriate, and she deserves to be away from men who do not have her best interests at heart. You unfortunately fall under that category right now.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:58 PM on December 21, 2013 [23 favorites]

Rare unanimity here on the Green.

Don't do anything. Forget it. Find a more appropriate interest. This poor woman has enough problems without a fucking suitor at this point in her life.
posted by LarryC at 11:16 PM on December 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

I hate the negative press that the white knight thing gets. Because it's a natural impulse, because we're fed on love stories where somebody gets rescued and everybody lives happily ever after, all of us, men and women. It doesn't make you a bad person, to envision all this stuff. It just needs to be tempered with the reality that people in a bad position do not have the same freedom of choice, and that if you're putting somebody in a position where they might think that dating you is their best/only choice to help their children or have stability. Not that dating you is a good choice because you're a great guy. So, the fantasy, not really wrong, because in the fantasy she's basically okay and she likes you for you, I'm sure. The reality, she's not really okay, don't.
posted by Sequence at 11:22 PM on December 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

On the basis of meeting her in person once, and finding her physically attractive, what you are wondering is whether she 'might conceivably be willing to explore the possibility of starting a new life with her children' by moving 300 miles to be with you?! Not, 'Oh, I wonder if there's anything I could do for Mary, she seems like a lovely person. Maybe I should ask sis...give her some cash to take Mary out for lunch or something...'

Man, no offence, but I wish I knew Mary: I would tell her to run a mile.

She only got up the guts to report the father of her two young children for domestic violence two weeks ago. Please, leave her alone.
posted by Salamander at 11:39 PM on December 21, 2013 [22 favorites]

Passion and Love by Paul Laurence Dunbar seems relevant here.
posted by eviemath at 11:58 PM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

she is still in an relationship so she's not even available. you seem to want to jump into a new life with a woman that you don't even know. bad, bad idea man. the way to get to know a woman is to ask out a single woman on a date and see how that one date goes. if it goes well rinse and repeat. do not jump to living together or marriage or a new life with anyone. what this woman needs is a women's shelter not some random guy who wants to shack up. next time pick a healthy woman to date.
posted by wildflower at 1:33 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

According to my sister, Mary is planning to terminate the relationship soon.

But she hasn't yet, right? So there is no question here. She's not single. Look elsewhere.

I live in a large town, some 300 miles from Mary. I thought that she might conceivably be willing to explore the possibility of starting a new life with her children and maybe a new, more stable, supportive and decent partner in a more interesting city.

What the hell, man? You met her YESTERDAY.

Even if she wasn't in death throes of an abusive relationship, likely traumatised, and almost certainly need some space and time to herself, I don't know, maybe start with a casual chat over a cup of coffee?

TL:DR Date people who are available. You are not Prince Charming, you don't have a white horse. Don't propose to perfect strangers. Leave this poor woman alone.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:47 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

What possibilities and risks can you imagine stemming from moving ahead with the lets-get-to-know thing?

I don't know, getting involved with a woman in a relationship with a violent man who has just been released from prison? Murder. How is that for a risk?
posted by empath at 1:48 AM on December 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

It's not impossible that you may one day be in a position to get to know this woman romantically. Just not now. So step away, put this thing out of your mind, and revisit your feelings two or three years from now. If by then she's in a stable, happy, single situation and you're sure that you're interested in her for all the right (i.e. non-chivalrous) reasons, then by all means ask her on a date. Just a date.

I suspect, however, that by then life will have moved on for both of you.
posted by pipeski at 2:00 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

No. Dear god, no. The very last thing she needs now as she tries to navigate herself and her children out of an abusive environment is the complication of someone trying to woo her.

According to my sister, Mary is planning to terminate the relationship soon.

I won't link to the stats but from personal experience... planning to terminate the relationship and actually terminating the relationship can take years. It's a mental thing. We don't stay in abusive relationships because we enjoy the physical and/or emotional violence. It's because we are damaged, our self esteem is battered, and once we do escape, we need time on our own, as someone said upthread, to figure out what's best for us and our kids.

I give you permission to track her down in 2018 and say, "I've always thought about you, how are you doing?". But not before.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:11 AM on December 22, 2013 [10 favorites]

Sorry the Green is being so harsh, though I do agree with the unity of advice that this is all very premature. The best thing you can do for Mary right now is be a friend. Anything more than that is inappropriate in all of the ways laid out above.

However, what I would add is that in the future if this remains something you want to pursue, it is important that you do not view Mary as "a (battered) woman" but rather as a woman -- don't treat her like a delicate, broken object or you'll nurture a relationship with completely fucked dynamics.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:48 AM on December 22, 2013 [16 favorites]

Nthing that this is ridiculously inappropriate and you should back off.

However, I'd also think about why you'd consider that who's not yet healed from abuse is the best you can do. Wouldn't you rather start a relationship with someone who's healed and recovered, and is choosing you just as fully as you're choosing her? You want a relationship with someone who is in her right mind and strong and able to choose you back. A woman who's just come from an abusive relationship is not capable of choosing you back yet - she is emotionally very weak.

don't you personally deserve someone who's emotionally stronger?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:03 AM on December 22, 2013 [9 favorites]

Perhaps a little average-wisdom-math may help to sort this out. Grieving a capsized partnership, that is, after it truly has capsized and after all the follow-up tangles have fully been untangled, takes years. The beautiful thing is that, if left alone in terms of partnership obligations, one might come out of the mess stronger and wiser than one was before. One thus might be just a tad better prepared to make more responsible choices about future partners.

So a, for Mary, positive development might for instance be if she, after the time it takes, would have healed enough and feel ready to go looking for a new partner of her own choice. In that scenario, where would you fit in?

Anyway, in short: Not Right Now.
posted by Namlit at 4:57 AM on December 22, 2013

I've never told this story to anyone but my therapist, but I think this is the right time and place.

When I left my abuser, I did it in an... well, an unethical way. I found another man to take care of me. Based on anecdotal information, this isn't exactly uncommon. Based on experience and anecdote, it really doesn't go well for anyone.

I met him on an online dating site. I gave him a fake name. I went on a few dates with him and felt wanted. I felt like I wasn't an ugly, no-good... well, I'll spare you the names my abuser called me. They weren't pretty. Anyhow, after two or three dates I called him up and confessed: "My name isn't Basketballaunt, it's Sockermom. I'm in an abusive relationship and I wanted to feel wanted. I'm so sorry I did this to you." He told me he still liked me and wanted to help me.

So, a few weeks later, when I left my abuser for the first (not last) time, I went straight to his house. I stayed there, off and on, for 4 months while I ended my struggle with my abuser - going back to him, the start of my healing, the PTSD, the search for a new apartment...

I felt similarly controlled by the new guy. Not because he was controlling but because I was used to saying "yes" to any request and didn't know how to assert myself very well. Things that were unreasonable seemed totally reasonable in comparison with my abuser. I had no idea how to be in a relationship. I still don't. I had enough wisdom to not move in with him. I didn't even move to the building a few blocks away. Now, let me say: he was not abusive. He was a nice guy. But he had real problems.

I think if I had been in my right mind I would have been able to spot that he had huge problems from a mile away. Because - and no offense to you, at all - what kind of person takes a fresh victim of abuse into their home and has sex with them?

He's not a bad guy. But he was desperate and I was the bottom of the barrel. No offense to me - I'm smart, funny, pretty, and kind - but I was in absolutely no shape to be in a romantic relationship with anyone. I'm still not, and I've been out a year. I needed friends and support, but I didn't need to feel like I was exchanging those things for my company and my presence in bed. And my relationship with that man was exactly that. He was nice. We liked one another. But it was a transactional relationship.

I wish he had been kind and helpful without strings. No matter how attracted to me he was, I wish he had taken sex and romance and kissing and sleeping next to one another OUT of the equation entirely. I wasn't in a place where that was ok. He took advantage of that - I don't think he was doing it knowingly, exactly, but that was still the result.

We no longer speak, which is too bad. He's a nice guy and I care about him. We broke up after a very minor argument that ended with me locking myself in the bathroom screaming and trembling in fear and sobbing for hours because of my PTSD. I couldn't have a fight. I actually broke up with him. I felt so good about myself for doing it, too. And that's too bad: I really believe that if he had waited and let me be that we would have dated for real - not this weird, pseudo relationship that I felt like I needed to have in order to leave my abuser. It felt like my only option - now I know it wasn't, but at the time it was such an easy out of such a bad scene that of course I grabbed it and held on and did what he wanted so I could break free.

So, yeah. Don't do this. Offer kindness and support if you must, but Mary almost certainly needs some time off after being in an abusive relationship. She has a long road of recovery ahead and it could get well gummed-up if sex and romance gets mixed in.
posted by sockermom at 5:57 AM on December 22, 2013 [147 favorites]

This is an EXTREMELY bad idea. Everyone else has said it very well already, I can only add that as a person who left a physically abusive relationship, I know first hand just how collosaly bad I would have been as a partner for anyone else for at least (AT LEAST) a year afterward. I can guarantee that there are issues and complexities and sides to Mary's story that you couldn't even begin to imagine in your happily ever after fantasy. For you own sake and hers, don't go there. I'm sure you are a very kind person and its great that you want to help, but a better idea would be to donate to a woman's shelter.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:03 AM on December 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

If Mary has any sense she will not be dating for a long time. And when that time comes, if she has any sense, she won't bring her dates near her children until she's known them for a long time.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:27 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't judge you for your feelings. The white knighting, the fantasizing, it's all so normal and human. I also wouldn't be surprised if Mary was definitely sending you vibes - at this moment you may seem like a beautiful escape fantasy to her too.

I imagine this thread could feel pretty harsh right now. I agree with everything everyone has said. This is a bad idea for her and for you and I don't think it comes from a healthy place in you.

I think a fantastic outcome of this would be if you poured your energy now into empowering and helping yourself, therapy, exercise, etc, so that you can be as healthy as possible and internalize that you deserve to be with a woman who is a mutual hero to herself and to you, and if you poured your protective impulses into learning about the psychology of power-imbalanced and abusive relationships (the two are not exactly on a spectrum but neither are they completely unrelated). You could also financially and politically support your local resources for domestic violence, which would be a beautiful and generous way to channel the money, time, and urge you seem to have to help, but without the self interested agenda.

Please don't feel harshly judged. Your feelings are not evil, you are not evil. But acting on them is likely to cause more pain and harm to both of you, which I think is not at all your intention. I hope that this question you asked (and it's so great that you asked) can ultimately be part of a process of growth and affirmation for you.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:33 AM on December 22, 2013 [22 favorites]

Pallas Athena lives up to the wisdom of her namesake - this is the definition of white knighting. Everyone understands the emotional impulse, but it will not pan out, as others have eloquently described.

You also may wish to consider the assumptions behind "limited to being a housewife".
posted by Tanizaki at 8:46 AM on December 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I know it doesn't seem this way to you, but to many observers, what you're contemplating is basically preying on a vulnerable person. You're treating her status as an abuse victim as something you might be able to exploit in order to have a relationship with her.

And, for what it's worth, I've dealt with hundreds and hundreds of domestic violence victims over the last eight or nine years. It is surprisingly rare for them to leave their abuser permanently. Despite the abuse, there is a bond there that is really hard to break. Chances are, if you extended any generosity to her, you would end up a chump when she goes back (or sneaks back) to be with her abuser.
posted by jayder at 8:46 AM on December 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

"Hi so I understand you're emotionally traumatized by recent spousal abuse, you've had the guy arrested and thrown out, wanna go ride bikes?"

Is not a good way to start a relationship. Abused people need space and time to heal, not an immediate jump into another relationship. It would be best for everyone concerned if you forget about this yesterday, and perhaps look at meeting people who are in a somewhat more stable place in their lives. This woman's obligations are to herself and her children and getting them all through incredibly recent trauma and upheaval. I would be willing to bet cash money that a romantic entanglement is the very last thing on her mind right now.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:52 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

One other thing: your fantasy of asking her almost immediately to MOVE HERSELF AND HER CHILDREN 300 miles away is what is really troubling to me here. That's not in her best interest. That's a really paternalistic and presumptuous solution that likely would only benefit you. She is already with a man who has an agenda that does not include her happiness, safety, or the well being of her children. Her needs already do not come first.

Aside from the probability that you are not a physically abusive person, how are you any different than her current partner? You already have described her as a battered woman and a housewife (presuming that that is all she knows); those are two disrespectful viewpoints to have about someone you only know of largely through hearsay and gossip. You assume she will need rescuing for some time; again, inappropriate and disrespectful. Despite your good intentions, you are going down a path that to many may make you look like a predator who preys on women like this one, and that is not a healthy or productive way to begin a relationship at all.

Start looking at this scenario from that perspective, and then consider how good you'll actually feel to ask a woman who isn't even single yet if she wants to go on a date with you. Like she doesn't have enough going on already with getting herself and her children to safety.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:08 AM on December 22, 2013 [13 favorites]

There is only one distant scenario you could end up with her romantically. You'd need to became her friend without romantic expectations, wait a few years, support her with no strings attached and then start have romantic feelings for her. Obviously it is too late for that since you have started to consider her as a possible partner.

Having said that, as a law enforcement official who have dealt with many domestic violence victims, I strongly urge your sister to help her (you could help too -- ONLY if you wouldn't use it to leverage your 'cause' -- but you would, wouldn't you?). Most domestic violence victims need only one thing -- support in decision to leave the abuser. Money, place to live they can handle themselves -- they are surprisingly resourceful -- they have to be in order to survive daily abuse. Only one kind of victims are coming back to their abusers -- the one that didn't receive enough help. Some said above that it's dangerously to help victims of domestic abuse, because they are dangerous. Firstly it's not true -- almost all abusers are cowards -- they beat their partners because they can not have power over anyone else. There is no real danger, really. Secondly, not helping a domestic violence victim is akin to not helping a dying child which fainted on your doorstep. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. There are fates worse than death, being victim of domestic abuse is one of them. Normal death last a few minutes. Victim of domestic abuse dies many, many times and then suddenly realise that they are no longer alive. They breath, they eat, heart beats, but they are dead.

Let me reiterate. Your sister must help. You must not pursue her. Trust us.
posted by przepla at 9:34 AM on December 22, 2013 [14 favorites]

Another thing to consider is that she really needs her friends right now, and if you complicate her life, it will likely affect her friendship with your sister. Don't do that.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:42 AM on December 22, 2013 [9 favorites]

I'm giving the OP the most charitable reading possible and assuming that there are qualities about Mary that made you consider her as a mate her current abusive situation is the salient detail you'd like advice on. So, I'll speak against the chorus a little. Assume she's your soul mate. You both play the oboe! You yourself cannot have children! You know Mary's dream is to live in your town! Mary does velvet painting, your favorite kind of art! Let's say I believe you. And: for the sake of this comment, I want it to happen.

If she is your soul mate, she's going to still be there ONCE AND IF she survives her current relationship. If she wants leave, she NEEDS to start a new life. She needs money to go. The courts, the police, social service agencies... They suck. Shelters have to turn women and their kids away every night. There's no transitional housing available after the shelter so women become homeless (and lose their kids) or go back to their abusers. It really does come down to having the means to leave a lot of the time. That is what holds a lot of women back. She's probably isolated from other sources of financial support right now, perhaps because it's likely she's tried to leave before. Maybe consult with her caseworker or just a DV line about how to get the donation to her. If you can volunteer your place as crash space for her and kids, do so, but careful. Only make promises you can keep because she'll likely take you up on it! And you need to figure out all that entails. She'll be grateful forever. So will her kids. I was such a kid and I still remember the friend (I was 4). Ask your sister what else you can do. Don't tell your sister about your feelings; stay friends. I think it would make things weird. Mary needs to be able to accept this generosity. If you really care for her, you'll think of this before all else. Helping Her Get Free: A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women could be a good resource for both you and your sister.

If you help her like this, you're my hero. If a relationship evolves organically after her divorce and you are actually soul mates, all the better! I believe people can can have feelings for someone they don't act on and which don't poison their dynamic. BUT! If you don't want to be generous with no strings attached, then back all the way off and read that White Knight article a million times.
posted by sweltering at 11:37 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

You might ask yourself if you'd be willing to help her out of her horribly shitty situation if she were someone you found very unattractive. I'm sure you see the trouble with this way of thinking, right? No judgment; just something to think about.
posted by heyho at 12:06 PM on December 22, 2013 [11 favorites]

Please re-read sockermom's essay for a few reasons why you should back off. It may be possible for you to contribute to her welfare indirectly through your sister.

In any case, I strongly suggest that you put your romantic notions aside for now. Do not hover, do not insert yourself into her complicated life, especially by "acts of kindness" that are backed by the hope that she'll run to your open arms. She is vulnerable. Let her get her wits about her before moving into the picture. Your sister may perhaps mention to her how sympathetic you've been to her plight, and some months or even years from now, maybe you two can meet on new ground. She'll have her children and her emotional baggage in tow. You ought to get to know the kids before you start messing with the mom in any romantic way. If you pursue her, you also are going to get to know her ex in ways that you probably haven't thought about. He is the father of the children.

The significant drawback to the White Knight impulse is that it is one-sided. You want to help, you sense vulnerability. Behind the altruism are your own needs. Our needs often inform our judgment in back-handed ways that subvert our altruism. As you survey the situation, you'll notice that she isn't able to solve any of your problems right now--except for the ill-defined desire for companionship--and your romantic attentions won't solve any of hers. If you approach her now you could be just adding another chapter of turmoil to her life, and to yours. Your hopes for a working relationship with her have no foundation right now.
posted by mule98J at 2:36 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

This approach has the problem that you are asking a woman to engage in "survival sex". Leaving aside that she may not be in the right emotional head state for a relationship, her circumstances would have to be very dire to uproot everything 300 miles away to live with a stranger.

But functionally, trading love/sex for safety and care is a horrible, vulnerable place to put her. What assurance does she have that you aren't dangerous? I'm not saying you are but, in this environment she doesn't know that. She's not entering a relationship with you as an equal- she is being offered a chance to sell herself. Of course there's no tactful way to ask- it is like asking a homeless person to sign a contract of indenture.

Of course it probably doesn't feel that way- historically and in the narrative tradition of our fiction we have tons of stories of it being noble to marry penniless widows or getting awarded princesses for freeing them- but that comes from a place where historically women are nonentities with lesser legal standing.

It can be helpful during the leaving process of an abusive relationship to get soccermom's solution- but it's effective the way sex work is better than starving. Do you want her to use you, pragmatically, to escape? Or to value you beyond having 'Exit' stamped on your forehead?

Now, I'm not as gun shy about dating the wounded as some of this thread- but I also know the price of admission is that you can't expect 'rescue' to buy you anything and you can't fix the broken places or expect to be easy or comfortable- this is not a grand romance, this is messy and signing yourself up for the opposite of cozy romance.
posted by Phalene at 2:59 PM on December 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

I am a woman who left a relatively short-term, psychologically (but not physically) abusive relationship seven months ago, so I speak from experience. I only lived with my abuser for three months. We weren't married and neither of us had kids. So I would gauge my experience to have been less traumatic than Mary's.

Even so, I had PTSD, and needed several months of intense treatment for it. I went through many emotions, including missing my ex and fearing he would find me at the same time. It was confusing. I was sure that I would feel repelled by men in general for months to come, if not a year or more.

About a month after leaving my ex, I met a guy that I liked and was attracted to. I was freaked out by my feelings, and didn't want to act on them right away. Although I knew he probably wasn't abusive, a reactive part of myself that I couldn't control had a flinch reaction to simply being interested in someone. This continued for about six months as I got to know the guy on a purely platonic basis because of being in some activity groups together.

The guy was informed of my past, and though I could tell he was attracted to me, he kept a respectful and friendly distance. This triggered some feelings in me of being rejected, but I also knew that it wasn't the right time to try dating anyone. I had a chorus of support in staying single from the therapists I was seeing (one for domestic violence recovery, one for PTSD, and one for spiritual recovery). My mom and friends chimed in and kept telling me to wait as well.

Now that I'm seven months out, I'm just now feeling comfortable with thinking of the idea of talking to my friend about the possibility of being more than friends. I feel like I'm getting closer to that. But it took me this long to get comfortable with acting on my feelings.

There was a point that, if my friend had made a move on me, I would have jumped in before being ready, on the rebound. I probably would have gotten hurt, and hurt him. It would have had repercussions on friends and family, because like with Mary, it was a family member of mine that introduced me to this guy. They have a business relationship.

I'm glad that my guy friend is in my life, and that he was sensitive enough to my situation to show his attraction but not act on it. He showed wisdom, and that's one reason I'm still interested in him. I needed friends after I left my abuser. I needed men in my life who were kind, and who would refrain from trying to get into a relationship with me when I was vulnerable to someone who might appear as a white knight.

Seven months of therapy as a single woman has given me time to process many of my issues, but I am still not done. I see another few months of healing as necessary. Currently I need a lot of alone time to read and think. I may not be ready to date for several more months. By then I will have been a year out. My relationship lasted two years, but was on a casual basis until the last few months of it. If we're talking recovery time proportional to relationship time, mine looks like about half the length of the relationship should be devoted to intensive recovery work.

Mary is in an even more complicated situation. I'm sure her relationship lasted longer than mine, and was more committed. She's not even out of it yet, and it is difficult to extricate oneself from such a situation. Also, consider your personal safety. Abusive men often murder new boyfriends. Please be careful!

The upshot of all this is that I think you should read the book recommended about helping abuse victims, and take a platonic, but distant approach to being a supportive male in Mary's life. Please do not cultivate any expectations or attachment to the outcome.
posted by Rainflower at 4:47 AM on December 23, 2013 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I thought of that Woody Allen's insight: "This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, 'Doc, my brother's crazy, he thinks he's a chicken.' And the doctor says, 'Well why don't you turn him in?' and the guy says, 'I would, but I need the eggs.' Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships. They're totally irrational and crazy and absurd, but I guess we keep going through it because most of us need the eggs."
Whether people like to accept it or not, relationships are largely transactional. You don´t develop an intimate relationship with another person motivated by altruism. You are attracted to that person because of what you get from them (sex, companionship, support, financial security, etc.). Hopefully, both parts give and take, whatever it is that they have and need, in a roughly proportionate manner.
I had a chorus of support in staying single from the therapists I was seeing (one for domestic violence recovery, one for PTSD, and one for spiritual recovery). My mom and friends chimed in and kept telling me to wait as well.
Unfortunately, for many victims of domestic violence here in the third world, that sort of support network does not exist. They have to try to get by with whatever they have at hand.
I have a hard time accepting the idea that one should avoid battered women at least until they are completely recovered from their trauma. I know that supportive relationships (romantic or otherwise) may be life-affirming and can play an important role in helping one to get back on one's feet.
There being a violent (ex) partner in the scene does complicate things significantly. Many men would choose to look elsewhere for someone to date, as possible complications might not be worth the risk. I see their point. However, missing what might conceivably be a chance for a mutually enriching relationship because of the whims of a psychotic woman beater seems unacceptable.
Mary sent me a fb friend request two days ago. I would like to start with some very light exchanges to get to know her a little bit, one step at a time. She may be unresponsive, she may be interested. I may like what I hear, I may not, I may not hear anything and let this go.
There is only one way to learn how feasible or unlikely this is.
posted by kayrosianian at 10:57 AM on December 26, 2013

Whether people like to accept it or not, relationships are largely transactional. You don´t develop an intimate relationship with another person motivated by altruism.

Setting aside the maelstrom of argument you are about to get on this point, let me ask you this - if you do honestly believe that relationships are indeed transactional, then consider that what she needs now is mental, emotional, and financial support only while she heals, and then also consider at she will most libel end that transaction once healing is completed (you don't keep visiting your orthopedist once your broken foot is healed, after all). Are you prepared to enter into a transaction that would be that one-sided and that temporary?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:11 AM on December 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a hard time accepting the idea that one should avoid battered women at least until they are completely recovered from their trauma

I guess that's not the main point of what the message here should be. Which is, instead, that it's much less important what you accept, it should all about what she decides that needs to happen. Nor is it interesting what other men would be doing in your position. "I see their point"? Those men don't even exist. You. Are. Inventing. Stuff.

You know what seems unacceptable: to unilaterally re-write this scenario, which must be one of the shittiest situations this woman has ever been in, into a proto-romantic plot, just to suit your hopes.
posted by Namlit at 11:32 AM on December 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

Mod note: OP, please do not threadsit.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:26 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is only one way to learn how feasible or unlikely this is.

This is after everyone here, including actual people who have been in actual abusive relationships, has been telling you it's a bad idea?

You weren't here to ask a question, you were here to gain validation for what you had already decided to do.

Be this woman's friend and not one thing more until she is stable and healthier.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:26 PM on December 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have a hard time accepting the idea that one should avoid battered women at least until they are completely recovered from their trauma. I know that supportive relationships (romantic or otherwise) may be life-affirming and can play an important role in helping one to get back on one's feet.

There's a HUGE difference between (1) life bringing the two of you together somewhat randomly, and she happens to be a domestic abuse victim, but you never had any advance knowledge of her situation from a third party, and you slowly get to know each other, through an organic and respectful and well-paced process; and (2) you specifically targeting her because you have info from a third party that she is a domestic abuse victim and thus, you think, likely to be especially receptive to your overtures, to which you have devoted considerable thought and planning on how to present to her so that she is most likely to accept your offer.

It seems likely to me that you are relatively inexperienced in romance, and perhaps you have been frustrated in your dating attempts, and this track record is leading you to believe you may be able to get "damaged goods" (her) at a "considerable discount" (without putting in the work that would be required to woo and earn the trust of a more emotionally and materially secure woman to the point that she would move in with you). I urge you to devote considerable reflection to whether this is the case.
posted by jayder at 5:11 PM on December 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

The point of my story was to illustrate that no matter how nice you are, no matter how caring and sweet and good you are to her, she is not ready. She will eventually leave you even if you save her - especially if you save her. You will be inexorably linked to the worst thing that has ever happened to her in her life, and she will want to break free of you to sever that bond. You will inspire shame in her.

I don't even speak to my "white knight's" friends anymore, let alone him. It's just too much. I am ashamed that I traded sex for my freedom. So, so ashamed. No one I know now knows this about me, and I never want them to know what I did to get out.

Leaving an abuser is frightening. It's painful. It's the most difficult thing I have ever done. I couldn't have done it without the man that helped me, but I wish that hasn't been the case. I wish it with my entire being. So, of course I broke up with him. Of course I didn't want him anymore, after I got strong enough.

Don't go down this path. It will not end well. She will almost certainly leave you, and she will not have fond memories of your relationship.
posted by sockermom at 7:03 PM on December 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

ps - I'm not fully recovered - I never will be. That is not possible. But there is a tremendously wide gulf between "fresh victim of abuse" and "fully healed" and to conflate the two is to do a large disservice to us survivors. You would be preying on a victim if you pursued a relationship with her at this time.
posted by sockermom at 7:11 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow. I was trying to be charitable OP by assuming you were a nice person inspired by a true desire to help. But that scenario doesn't jibe with a person who asks a question like this and PERSISTS despite an overwhelming response presenting concrete evidence that this is a really bad idea.

I can relate to every word Soccermom describes in her story. And going through the system I saw many other women do the same thing, get away from the abuser and flee to anyone who seemed to offer safety. Abusers are smart, they pick people with shaky support systems. My family couldn't care less what was happening to me when I left. I went to a court ordered therapy session and broke down sobbing when I heard that I was eligible for some money to help me relocate to a new apartment where my abuser wouldn't know my address. Without that help I was afraid for my life everytime I opened my door. If some guy would hace offered to trade me sex for safety I would no doubt have taken him up on it . I would have felt disgusted at myself and eventually have hated the guy for taking advantage of me when I was down.

I find your response to our answers misguided at best, skin crawlingly creepy at worst. I hope you reconsider
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:20 AM on December 27, 2013 [12 favorites]

You are using the same kind of logic and justifications that a predator would. I urge you to reconsider your decision to pursue this woman. She deserves better -- do not abuse her further by forcing yourself on her, even if you think it's going to be gradual and consensual. You are taking advantage of someone who needs friends and support, not someone who ultimately wants to replace the already lousy man in her life.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:28 AM on January 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

You are using the same kind of logic and justifications that a predator would.

Let's not mince words here. You are being a predator. What other word is there for someone who sees another person's desperation and crisis, and thinks "hmm, here's my opportunity to use them for my own gratification"? You didn't come here asking whether this is a good idea -- I just realized that! -- you just wanted help with the logistics.
posted by jayder at 9:20 AM on January 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

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