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#408: Old internet postings from a new dating partner.

Hi Captain,

I started dating a friend recently, someone I trust(ed) wholeheartedly. However, I found some old internet postings of his that seriously freaked me out (jokes about domestic violence, et al.) I asked him about it, and he explained that he isn’t that person anymore and isn’t proud of what he’d said. I accepted that- it’s a reasonable enough response. But I still feel weird about the whole thing. Added to the stress is the fact that he followed this conversation up with asking me how I felt about being intimate, a question I wasn’t really prepared to deal with under the circumstances. (I asked if I could get back to him, and he said yes.)

Captain, I don’t know what to do. I want to trust him, and I believe him when he says he’s not that person anymore, but I still feel unnerved. However, it doesn’t feel fair to him to condemn him for something that I believe he’s moved past. Should I try to push past my worries, or back away from dating him? I don’t know what to think.

Be Careful What You Search For

Dear Be Careful:

I want you to let go of the idea of fairness. There is no fair, here, there is only what you want.

In your heart of hearts, do you want to go out with this guy?

If he brought up sex at another time (because, wow, that was not the time), would you be excited to have sex with him?

Because if you are not excited to be with him, you don’t need a reason like old internet postings to split up. The reason is: “I’ve reconsidered this and I’ve decided that we should not date. Can we take a break and then hopefully go back to being friends?” If you say this to him, and he turns into an angry, sulking, jerk, you’ll know that you made the right choice.

On the side of fairness, people evolve in their thinking as they grow up, and the nature of the internet is that people do their evolving in public and the evidence of who they used to be sticks around forever. We also participate in communities that have their own culture and standards, and those can give a weird illusion of anonymity and being a closed conversation even though non-members can read them. While neither are awesome, I’d look differently at someone participating in the Day of 1,000 Offensive Jokes on their gaming forum than I would at someone who was a member of an MRA site.

For example, playing Cards Against Humanity with my girlfriends a few months ago, we all made many jokes that we would probably not want to follow us around for the rest of our lives, say, at job interviews. For a closer example, I used to use the word “crazy” a lot to describe a range of bad behaviors on this here blog. Then someone kindly pointed out to me that maybe that was not cool, and I (hopefully) dialed it back. But the old posts where I did that are still there for anyone to find, and someone could find those and decide something about what I think about the word crazy based on them, even though that’s not what I think anymore. And they’d be within their rights to do, as you are within your rights to side-eye this guy’s jokes, because nobody has to give me the benefit of the doubt. The benefit of the doubt is something that’s earned by shaping up and trying to be less of an asshole, but not all the time, and not from everyone.

To sum up:

You get to reject this guy if the old posts skeeve you out. Even if they were long ago, even if he’s changed. That’s because you get to to have the valueset that says “I don’t want to date someone who ever thought that was funny.” That is also because you get to reject this guy for any reason at all. Love is unfair.

It is quite possible he has changed in his thinking and is genuinely embarrassed about the jokes, which he cannot go back in time and erase from the internet. If they seem really out of character from everything else you know about him, and you do trust and like him and want to go forward with him, it’s okay if you want to accept his explanation and move on. You’re not ruining Feminism. We live in a culture where one can be bopping along pleasantly and then get totally blindsided by the terrible thing that comes out of the mouths of our trusted friends and lovers, or a favorite TV character or entertainer, or someone we’ve voted for, and have to make the choice: “Swallow shit, or ruin the afternoon?

Frankly, to me, you don’t sound all that excited to be with this guy. I don’t know what you saw, so I can’t make a judgment call about whether it’s bad enough to constitute a threat. However, you’re using words like “worried”, “seriously freaked out,” and “unnerved,” and you don’t have to swallow those feelings out of the idea of “fairness.” Maybe those worries are trying to protect you from badness. Maybe they are just part of having overall second thoughts about the relationship. What would be the worst thing that could happen if you listened to your feelings?

 

 

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About JenniferP

Chicago filmmaker, teacher, and blogger.

84 comments on “#408: Old internet postings from a new dating partner.

  1. I really really appreciate this post at this time.

    I needed to read it.

  2. Go with your gut, because it really does sound like your intuition is trying to tell you something. If you’re feeling creeped out, there must be a reason for it. I agree with Captain, you don’t sound very enthused about becoming intimate with this fellow…

  3. Is this guy really your friend? I don’t get the sense that you like spending time with him. You don’t have to be buddies with him just because he might want to.

    I don’t think there is any more your friend could say or do to show that he’s changed. I got the impression from your letter that he took responsibility for his actions and that now that he knows better, he does better. That’s really all he can do. It sounds like he’s grown as a person and that’s great. That doesn’t automatically make him Date Material for you, though. You’re entitled to your feelings and I don’t think there is anything wrong with explaining that while you appreciate his explanation, you’re not comfortable being intimate with someone who’s joked about domestic violence.

    A lot of us have written more or less stupid things online. Personally, I’m responsible for an online forum. As part of that, I can edit comments. Have I facepalmed while reading something I wrote years ago? You bet. Not the same as joking about domestic violence, perhaps, but god knows I’ve written some things I regret now
    Have I changed those comments? No, because they show my growth. Embarrassing as it may be. There is power in forgiving oneself. And others.

  4. As someone with his own unfortunate internet history, I’m a little sympathetic to the cause. But let’s see if we can’t clear things up a bit:

    I asked him about it, and he explained that he isn’t that person anymore…

    See… the thing is… saying “I’m not that person anymore” shouldn’t be necessary. If you’re not that person, it should be obvious that you’re not that person by all the things you say and do, the ways you act, and the choices you make. When you’re friends with a person, you usually have a strong sense of who they are, because you see how they act. Part of dating someone is also discovering why they are based on what they say and how they act.

    When you are presented with evidence of behavior that is obviously, clearly contrary to what you know about someone, the emotional reactions are usually shock, or confusion, or surprise. The letter writer’s reactions are:

    …seriously freaked out… still feel weird about the whole thing… still feel unnerved…

    That doesn’t sound like a case of “I thought he was X, but then I discovered his past behavior of Y”.

    It sounds like “I’m afraid he is Y, and his past behavior was Y”.

    I look at the language of the letter, and that’s what I see.
    I want to trust him… he says he’s not that person… I believe him… I believe he’s moved past, it all says “there’s nothing he says or does now that is any different than the person who made that post years ago, and I only have his word (given only after being confronted with evidence of past bad behavior) that he’s changed.”

    • I totally agree with this. I had actually written a comment, then when I went back to re-read the original post I realized I had ignored the LW’s assertion that she believed her friend, as if she hadn’t even said it (!?! ). Since I try to take letter-writers at their word unless they’ve given me a reason to do otherwise, I decided my comment was off-target, and I killed it.

      On reconsideration (courtesy of your comment), I realize that I was ignoring the text because of the subtext! There IS reason to question her assertion that she believes. She might WANT to believe, but that’s not the same thing as believing.

      Likewise, “I’ve learned that it’s not cool to be that guy who makes jokes about domestic violence and I don’t do that anymore” is not the same as “Now that I’ve stepped outside the sheltered, privileged context of my upbringing and learned that domestic violence is real and so fucking awful that jokes about it are about as funny as jokes about rape and genocide (which is to say not funny at all), I am mortified to have ever opened my arrogant, ignorant trap and I only hope you can forgive me, though I have trouble forgiving myself!” And it sounds like the LW is hearing version 1 rather than version 2.

      I also agree with Sorcharei (below): IF you choose to explore this at all with him, LW, I would ask “OK, that’s who you were then; you say it’s not who you are now. How are you different and what brought about your epiphany? Or, if your change of heart was more gradual, tell me the story of how that happened.”

      But regardless of whether you do that, or what he says if you do, it’s entirely reasonable to conclude that you just aren’t feeling it anymore. It’s as if you went out to dinner and he joked that while you were in the restroom he sneezed on your entree. And then when you didn’t want to eat it anymore, he said “just kidding, I would never do that!” But by then the meal you had been looking forward to didn’t appeal anymore, because with his idiotic joke he had laid icky vibe all over it. Yeah, the jokes in this case are old, but appeal/disgust works on an instinctive level that a verbal retraction is not necessarily going to fix. It’s kind of like apologies. Yeah, they help — but they don’t erase the fact that someone said and/or did something in the first place, and that can change how you feel about them.

    • Yes this – it’s almost as if the internet history is a red herring, because it provides an issue to consider – is the LW being “fair”? Can someone be forgiven for this? Can someone change? Regardless, at the end of the day, the LW feels freaked out and uncomfortable – as Alphakitty says, she’s lost her appetite. That’s all that matters.

      I’d also say, I’ve kept a blog for eight years and have evolved a lot in that time. Some earlier posts I have removed because off the “Eek!” But if someone was looking for me, there’s enough of my current on-line presence around to show what I’m about now. It depends a great deal on who you are and where you’re hanging out, but from the way the LW puts it, it’s not in the long buried past. Otherwise, there’d probably be lots and lots of on-line evidence of this positive change, which she would have seen before she sore the bad stuff.

  5. Excellent advice, as per usual. The phrase I take away is, “I choose who I’m obligated to.”

  6. When I was in high school, I wrote a speech about ‘Reverse Discrimination’ and how affirmative action demeaned everyone involved with it. I won tons of awards with it, including state-wide and national awards. Do I have to tell you that I CRINGE today when I think of that speech?

    I was a white girl who thought racism and sexism were all over and done with. After all, we had the Civil Rights movement and Roe vs. Wade, and if the ERA couldn’t pass, we’ll, did it really matter anymore?

    Am I proud that I was that clueless when I was 15 years old? Not really, but I am grateful that there is no actual record of it, either. No one has to know how ignorant I was, unless I tell them.

    The thing is, I often tell them. I find that it helps when I call people on their privilege and the blinders that go with it to prove that all of us are works in progress.

    If I had a situation like you describe, I’d be tempted to go back and inquire about his process. What changed his mind about the things he expressed on the Internet awhile ago? I would be interested just for interest’s sake, but also to get a better handle on who this guy is.

    As to whether you should date him or not, it sounds like you are conflicted. You have the absolute right to stop dating him, for any reason, or for no reason. You also have the right to decide that the point of dating someone is to see what, if anything, develops. So you could date him a little longer, until the yes or the no gets strong enough for you to know what to do.

    It doesn’t have to be fair, but it’s best if it’s your authentic desires you act on. So listen to your interior voice and decide based on your best desires for yourself.

    • Yeah, I once gave a passionate anti-abortion speech in my debate class in high school. Oy. Thank goodness the internet didn’t really become a thing until I was in college.

      People DO change, and I like your advice to ask this guy more about what/how he changed his mind, especially if the LW wants to keep dating him. It could be very telling.

      • I was a Christian when we did debate in high school and I got put on the team debating the negative of “Christianity is the one true religion.” Which was interesting at the time, but I got best speaker! Unfortunately my shameful past mistakes are not an amusing anecdote like that one – I love reading about science and how things came to be how they are now and in my early-mid teens I bought into some extremely racist bullshit evolutionary theory. The furious responses I got when I mentioned some of it online once and realising how it affected real people had a huge impact on me starting to be a lot more critical of my beliefs. (Which is also why I call shenanigans on tone policing. No, you do not have to be nice for people to listen.)

    • I, a fat person and fat acceptance advocate, once wrote a college paper about how fat people would be thin if they just made better decisions. Oh things we wish we could un write.

    • Oh, lordy, I sometimes (when I’m really looking for other things I wrote a long time ago) trip over a particularly awful Usenet post I made about how the Irish Were Discriminated Against Too. I’m horrified that out of the many things I wrote under that email address, that’s the thing I find again and again. Eeurrgh…

    • In HS, I was vehemently pro-life. (Like, frighteningly so.) In college, I was a firm proponent of the idea that America was a pure meritocracy. I’m proud of neither of these opinions, but going through those periods made me who I am — someone who knows what the other side looks like, and is never going back.

    • I wrote a paper once on how feminism has gone too far. And I was a good little bootstrap libertarian. >_<

      I'd really rather not remember my days of horrific internalized misogyny. I know it wasn't my *fault*, but I was so unhappy.

    • I met my “current ex” through an online forum, and one of the things that attracted me to him were his progressive (including feminist) politics. He admitted in his past he’d been a staunch right-winger; but that wasn’t who he was now, as I could see for myself, right? One day he linked to an old forum he’d belonged to, and I saw the kind of person he had been: not just his appalling politics, but some pretty ugly trollery towards his fellow-posters, attacking them for their grammar etc, and being just generally mean-spirited and vitriolic. But I was more than willing to give him the benefit of, some years later, having grown up and now knowing better. Now he was kind, generous of spirit, a champion of the down-trodden, as he pointed out to me….

      The thing is, after we’d been together and I’d had a chance to see how he behaved when things didn’t go well for him? His ideologies may have changed on the surface, but not the personal politics of his heart. And before I finally unfriended him on FB, he got into an argument with another friend of mine and showed he still could indulge in the same self-righteous trolly behavior (including the fact that -as I can recognize from this and other wonderful blogs- he’s a borderline MRA) I’d seen from his “regretted” online past.

      Some people truly grow up; others just learn to whistle a more appealing tune. If someone’s past behavior is raising a red flag for you, pay attention to it.

  7. I’ll second (or third, fourth, etc) the advice to go with your gut, LW. It sounds like your spidey senses are tingling in a bad way about this guy, and if that’s the case, you don’t need to rationalize them away. As the Captain said, I think we all fall into the trap of thinking we need a logical reason to form/dissolve relationships, when our discomfort with the person involved is reason enough.

    I also think it’s super weird that this guy brought up the possibility of greater intimacy right after you expressed your concerns. If I was in his position, and was truly embarrassed about old comments I’d made, my next step would be to go out of my way to reassure my prospective partner that really have changed, and, uh, that doesn’t seem quite the way to do it.

    • Super ditto to the second paragraph. I mean, maybe he felt awkward and desperate to change the subject, but that was what he jumped to? Really?

    • I really hope there’s more context that the LW had to leave out to keep the letter short. Because yeah, ew.

      I could see someone thinking that it wasn’t a significant thing to talk about (I’ve totally gotten over that, whatever) and then like half an hour later after talking about lots of different things, talking about sex, because he’s been Wishful Thinking Sexytimes. That could be a clumsy dumb move, and not necessarily a jerk move. But, like, right away?

      LW, go with what you want, no matter how unfair it might seem to anyone else. Do you want to date him again? Go ahead, if he’s still up for it. Do you not want to? Don’t. It might not work to try to be just friends, since that’s a thing that takes his cooperation, but you can offer it.

      Fairness matters in cake distribution and supreme court cases. It does not matter in dating.

  8. As previous people have said, eeeeek what was I on the internet years ago.

    Clueless was probably the best of it. “Cool”, violent “jokes” was the worst (thank you, gaming culture). And that isn’t even getting into things I said in REAL LIFE that probably hurt real people that when I think of them now, years later, I feel like curling up in shame. Racist things that I thought were “jokes”, sexist things that I thought were “just the way it was”, homophobic things that were really not cool and really came from my own insecurities and about my own suspected queerness.

    Thank goodness I lurked mostly. Good lord knows what it would have been like otherwise.

    I guess the question is from me is how did he react when you brought it up? If someone brought up some of my past comments I would blush in shame, and be VERY SORRY OMIGAWD, ad explain that I was stupid and obviously had a lot of growing to do. I would side eye anyone who acted like joking about domestic violence was “no big deal”.

    Perhaps, IF his reaction was more in line with what I would expect, I am a bit biased for him IF (a lot of Ifs here) he was entrenched on specific environments. If he was a gamer? Oh yeah, I could totally see him joking about domestic violence when younger thinking he was being cool, even when saying horrible horrible things, then realizing later that it really wasn’t funny. Gaming culture encourages the worst behavior in guys a lot of the time.

    And even then I think it’s perfectly ok to define what past you are ok with someone having when you let them into your life. I’m not cool with ever dating a past rapist, for instance. I don’t care if it was a one time thing of alcohol and stupidity and I totally believe that he regrets it and never has done or never will do it again, I just wouldn’t be cool with it ever. If I ever saw that a boyfriend of mine once joked about lynching our president and calling him the N word, I would probably break up with him no matter how much wiser he is now. And honestly? Depending on how horrifying what he wrote was, and/or what environment it was said in, I would not be cool with dating your boyfriend.

    We get to define what baggage we want to take up with our partner. You are not required to be ok with everyone’s past just because they are different now.

  9. Seconding all the advice to listen to your gut.

    If your gut was saying, “I really like this guy, and I am comfortable with him,” and you were wondering if you were morally required to dump because of his history, the answer would be, no, of course not. If your gut says this guy has changed and you’re happy with him, then you don’t owe Feminism (or whatever) a breakup, as the Captain says.

    BUT. It sounds more like your gut is saying “I am freaked out and edgy and this guy makes me uncomfortable.” And if that’s what your gut says, you don’t need to worry about fairness. We don’t date people to be fair to them (or at least, we shouldn’t); we date people because we are comfortable with them and like them.

  10. I am really uncomfortable with the subject change thing. It’s like he’s trying to get cleared for landing before you even know if there will be a storm that day.

    I suppose context would matter here a lot so I guess my concern is mostly ignorable. It is just that the one time I “pre cleared” someone for landing so to speak, I was not happy with the results.

    As much as some decisions about intimacy need to be made with a clear head, I think some of them also need to be made in the heat of the moment. You need to feel like you can change your mind, and having a whole conversation about the possibility of it when neither of you is kissing the other one seems more like trying to get around any mind changing later on.

    • Yeah — she’s like “I’m feeling a little weirded out about what may be lurking in your head,” and he’s like, “That’s all in the past! So anyway, we will be gettin’ it on at some point, right?” Ew. Sounds like he’s asking whether its worth sticking around with a woman whose standards he has just learned are higher than he thought.

      As in, “she’s hot, so it’s worth putting up with this feminist/politically correct crap if we’re going somewhere (i.e., still going to have sex) but otherwise fuck that shit, I’m outa here.”

      • Yeah, I think that’s exactly the vibe I was getting. “So I appreciate your concerns about me actually being a terrible person, but uhh what about my penis?”

  11. The rapid subject change to sex looks really dodgy. Seems to me that he thought he might get dumped and was trying to get some while he still had the chance.

  12. Two things.

    1) Never judge a person by their past (unless it is a very recent thing and they don’t show sorrow over it)

    2) Never trust anyone who isn’t a born again Christian (including yourself).

    I know from experience I always thought of myself as a ‘good person’ because I never raped, murdered or beat anyone who didn’t hit me first.

    But to be honest everyone has their own selfish motives. Only someone who loves God has any form of accountability to someone else when they aren’t around.

    So many of my friends used to mantra “what she doesn’t know wont hurt her” but they would never say that to their girl of course. Even really ‘nice’ guys would say this to me in confidence thinking I would think like them.

    I always knew it was wrong in my heart of course and promised I would never do such a thing. But in fact I did. I cheated on a girfriend of mine long ago and only felt slight shame when I was caught because I justified it to myself.

    God says “No fornicator has ANY inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven” that is ALL sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman.

    Another thing I found out AFTER I became born again is, many women wanted to be with me because of my loyalty and good nature, but none of them wanted to be that way themselves. My ex wife for example wanted me to be exclusive but she cheat on me several times.

    If you are not born again then repent and trust in Christ alone. Then ask for a God fearing man.

    • Kelly, I don’t know what gave you the impression that this was a site run by a born-again Christian (DON’T TRUST!) or that we would welcome these comments here.

      BANNED FOR JESUS-JACKING.

    • …troll?

      • Does it really matter? Either Kelly truly believes this stuff, or Kelly thinks it is fun to pretend to believe this stuff in the hope of winding people up. Either way, no inclination to get to know Kelly better.

    • I know from experience I always thought of myself as a ‘good person’ because I never raped, murdered or beat anyone who didn’t hit me first.

      Oh, I see! So you only raped, murdered, or beat the people who threw the first punch? WORDS TO LIVE BY, TRULY.

      I kid, I kid. But okay seriously. As one Christian to another: letting God into your heart will not magically make you a pure person! Whether or not someone has been born again does not actually affect whether or not they can do awful things. Who doesn’t know that feeling when you know that the right thing to do is, but you’re too angry or scared to do it? Who doesn’t know feeling too tired or put-upon to curb your anger and be loving? A born-again Christian still has the same human body, human brain, and human emotions as a hardcore atheist. We all struggle to do what is right and be good people.

      “God” didn’t say that about “fornicators”. St. Paul did. St Paul also said that, to keep him from being too conceited and certain of himself, Satan placed a “thorn in his flesh” that caused him misery and weakness; when he asked God to take it from him, God said, “No, because I work through imperfect people; I am big enough to encompass your screw-ups.” (2 Corinthians 12 7-9, Star Anise Vernacular Edition) So even if you really WANT God to cleanse all the impurities from your heart, all signs point to: God is going to let you be a flawed, imperfect human anyway. God is going to stand back and let you screw up. God alone knows WHY he’s given us the freedom to do deeply awful things to each other, but He has, and we can’t give it back.

      So the point that’s most relevant to the LW is: forgiveness and change is possible, but at the same time, by their fruit you shall know them. Perhaps you shouldn’t totally condemn someone for their past, but can you include it when you evaluate them? Yes. Someone’s intentions can only take them so far; their past gives you more information on what they’re capable of doing, experienced at, comfortable with, and prone to.

      None of it’s an automatic judgment–no easy answers, sorry. You can’t just let all your decisions end at “Has this person done the correct ritual with the correct deity?”. You have to use your brain and decide for yourself. (Please direct all complaints about this to God; it’s His fault. Also, I can’t believe that a Catholic just told a Protestant that you can’t let God just make all your decisions for you; something has gone deeply awry here…)

      • ” Also, I can’t believe that a Catholic just told a Protestant that you can’t let God just make all your decisions for you; something has gone deeply awry here…”

        Truly, these are the days of miracles and wonders. Or maybe just that whole Mayan Apocalypse thingy. ;)

      • All very smart – whereas I was just thinking, “Personally I don’t trust anyone who only does good stuff because they’re scared of eternal punishment.”

        • This!

          As an atheist (and one with a strong sense of ethics) I get really angry at the argument that only people who believe in God can have morals or do the right thing when no other people are looking. Guess what? I can do the right thing when no other people OR deities are watching! And I don’t just do the right thing because I’m scared of going to Hell.

      • “forgiveness and change is possible, but at the same time, by their fruit you shall know them”

        That right there ^

        Also, as a proud and devout heathen, can I tell you you are the kind of Christian who makes me really appreciate what you have to say about your beliefs : )?

    • I swear to god, this is the funniest comment ever left on any blog I’ve participated in. Huzzah!

  13. Interesting. My experience is that sometimes people say they have changed but they really haven’t and then other people really have changed. BUT: there are some things that people say, changed or not, that I just cannot accept because even to think or act in certain ways, is so far from my thinking process that the thinking or actions just don’t compute. And I cannot be with someone like this because the effort to overcome the cognitive dissonance that this causes me is too much.

  14. Should I try to push past my worries, or back away from dating him?

    So, I used to be a really anxious person. Like, I spent the first year of university huddled in my dorm room watching anime unless I had class, and the other people on my floor didn’t realize I was willing to talk to them until April. The one time someone asked me out as a teenager, I broke down into an awful sobbing mess.

    I missed out on a LOT of wonderful experiences because I was worried. I regret that I never had a goofy teenage romance, I didn’t join clubs, I didn’t go drinking… a lot of things. I missed out. When I finally went on SSRIs in my 20s and felt what it was like not to be anxious all the f’ing time, I seriously went into mourning for all the experiences I never had.

    But the thing is, though I regret missing those opportunities, I do NOT regret that I let them pass me by. I do NOT regret that I didn’t force myself to do them anyway. Because I wouldn’t have just been happy and carefree and having fun; I would have been constantly anxious, and surrounded by people. Drunk people. Some of whom wanted to bone me. It would have been hell.

    (So I stayed on the meds, got sane, learned to like myself, started a school program I loved, reconnected with old friends, made new ones, and sometimes had weeks so full of awesome people that I sometimes have to turn down invitations to hang out because I’m already booked, or get so busy I don’t have time to update my LiveJournal, none of which I could have imagined doing at 19)

    In pushing past your worries, LW, it doesn’t sound like you’d be giving yourself a joyful relationship with someone you really felt good about. You’re worried that you’d miss it–”after all, he’s PRACTICALLY an all right guy, and why should YOU throw a wrench in the works with your uptight scruples?” But right now if you go ahead with it, that isn’t what you’ll get. You’ll get a relationship where you feel like you’re not allowed to listen to your discomfort, your opinions on his past misdeeds don’t matter, and you’re obligated to be nice with him (maybe even have sex with him) when you don’t really want to. And in that light, do you really want to put yourself through that?

    My advice is, get ready for the future that you want to have, so you’ll be ready for it when it comes. That doesn’t always mean feeling perfectly safe, but it does mean doing things that feed your soul and make you feel awesome.

  15. I’m with the Captain on this one. Feel your feels, and follow them.

    When me and my partner first started hooking up, he posted some dumbshit anti-feminist comment on my LJ, basically to the effect that, if you’re not calling a woman a cunt then it’s not sexist to use that word to insult something else. It gave me some serious reservations about continuing my relationship with him. But he turned out to actually just be totally uneducated on these issues, and once me and my friends schooled him just a little bit on why that was just the dumbest thing ever, he immediately got the “thinking through the implications of my words and actions” bug and never turned back. I think he was just a super cool dude all along, with just way too much exposure to cultural assholery. But that’s just my experience with my dude. And it was informed by my gut feelings about him, which were always really positive. You have to check your own gut.

    • I’ll second this. My husband has said some stupid, stupid stuff but every time I’ve talked him about it, asked him why he said it or explained to him why it might be offensive, he’s listened, taken it on board and worked to correct it. He’s a good guy – I know that from my gut and from the general way in which he behaves – he’s just a white, middle-class, straight, cis guy who’s never had to look that hard at all the cultural nonsense he’s steeped in.

      If he skeeved me out in other ways, I’d be less tolerant of the nonsense. It sounds like you’re getting skeeved, LW, and it’s okay to listen to that feeling and act on it.

  16. At the beginning of college when everyone was just meeting each other, my now-husband told a joke that included the n-word. I learned about this several years later from a black friend who had been there to here it. She was not impressed, to put it mildly. But it also became clear to her fairly quickly that that was a horribly thoughtless, out of character comment for my husband, and they became good friends within the next few months. When she told me about it some years after the fact, my reaction was “He wha???” and her comment was “I know, right?” because it’s so unfathomable that he would have been that clueless. And I’m completely certain – as is our friend – that it was cluelessness and not maliciousness, because we’ve never seen anything that would make us think otherwise.

    So that’s what a past “You said WHAT?!” moment looks like. It makes me embarrassed on his behalf, and laugh because I remember saying some incredibly stupid things in my past too. It didn’t make me worried about him being a safe person.

    If you want to investigate your worries about this guy, I’d suggest taking the relationship slowly for a while. Get to know the guy better under low-pressure circumstances, like public coffee dates or hanging out with mutual friends. Your worries will either be put to rest – in which case, great! – or they’ll persist, in which case you’ll have your answer.

    Or if you decide that you’d rather just call it off now, that is also totally up to you. I’ve also started to get to know a couple of guys, then discovered their past anger and violent tendencies, and dropped them like a hot rock because I didn’t believe they were really past that. It’s up to you.

  17. LW, your words about it not feeling “fair” to condemn him struck a chord with me. They reminded me of a friend of mine who ends up in these relationships with men who try to make her feel crazy. She is a very thoughtful, logical person who makes every effort to communicate in good faith, and who assumes the same of everyone else. The problem is that oftentimes, the person she is talking to does not share her conversational goals: she is trying to communicate, but he is trying to manipulate her and make her feel crazy. Nothing she says will get through to him, because he is not there to be gotten through to. He is there to get whatever it is he wants, whether it’s sex or superiority or what have you. She also talks about being “fair” to people, but here’s the thing: I’m a teacher, so I have to be fair to my students. If one of them doesn’t turn in an assignment on time, for example, but they have a documented reason, I have to give them a chance to do the work and save their grade. But their grade is not about me; it’s about them. If I let my emotions enter into my decision, I’m not doing my job, and every student deserves a chance to succeed. The idea of being fair contains the idea of what people deserve, but nobody “deserves” access to your body or your heart. You don’t owe anyone a chance. The fact that you’re trying to rationalize this whole thing suggests to me that it really isn’t passing your smell test. “I don’t wanna” is reason enough to cut and run. “This guy is freaking me out” is a preponderance.

    TL/DR: Don’t let the idea of fairness cloud your vision. It’s a scam. If this guy needs you to push your emotions and judgment aside to be with him, that is a bad omen. Follow your gut.

  18. I have met, known, and been friendly internet acquaintances with entire web forums of people whom I would not date a hundred years of character development later, based solely on what they wrote back then. (Looking back now, I am one hundred percent sure several of the most well-known people on that forum were serial rapists. The dudebro side of Harry Potter fandom is not a place you want to visit.) You absolutely have the right to refuse people on the grounds of what they used to do or say, no matter how much they may or may not have changed. For what it’s worth, it doesn’t sound like this guy has changed all that much — and even if he has, you are not obligated or encouraged to date him.

    This doesn’t sound like a case of ‘am I obligated to not date him because he used to say bad stuff?’. This sounds more like a case of ‘he used to say some awful things that correlate frighteningly well with his current behavior, but I feel like I have to give him a chance even though he’s making me really uneasy’.

    • And really, with some things isn’t it better to be over-cautious? There is more than one person out there who can make you feel awesome. You don’t need to stay with someone who makes you feel uncomfortable.

      • Yes, Chris, thank you! I’ve gotten the hell away from people that skeeved me out, even though it ran entirely counter to my ‘but you have to be NIIIIIIICE!’ internal programming. I figured, in the get-away-from-me scenario, the worst that can happen is I’ll be labeled a ‘bitch’, or maybe owe someone an apology later if I was mistaken. Those are both perfectly fine options. Don’t second guess your gut, it’s trying to tell you *something* is hinky. Especially after the ‘..so, can we still have teh sex?’ gem that this dude comes up with when you’re trying to discuss a matter of importance.

  19. Hmm. It’s a tough one, and yes, only LW can really choose her path here. I would be inclined to *cautiously* give him a chance to prove himself – I know that, as someone who has kept the same blog for over ten years now, I look back on some things I said 5+ years ago and cringe at how stupid I was then – but like others here, that changing to subject to “when can I get some?” bothers me. Maybe he’s awkward and felt it would be a good segue – but maybe not. If you proceed at all, go very slowly and use extreme caution until he does prove himself.

  20. LW, I’ll say that if you do break it off with this guy, his reactions in the moment and down the road will tell you a great deal. If he shows even the slightest tendency towards actual domestic violence, it will show in his words and behavior. I didn’t want to go out with someone a second time once because I got the same vibe off of him, and he called me a ‘bitch’ and punched the wall as he walked away. That told me a great deal. FWIW, I would break things off now. Your gut is telling you something, and his non-apology and lack of awareness of how vile these jokes were and “I’ll throw her a bone so she’ll let me give her MY bone” remarks say even more.

  21. In reading Captain’s response and all the comments, I have to say that it’s reassuring to see that so many people have come such a long way in their thinking. I’m another who thinks back on some of the things I’ve said or written and is absolutely mortified that I was such a dummy. Putting social justice principles into action is a learning curve, and I try to remember that so I’m not immediately judgmental of people who may be just ignorant rather than flat-out hateful. But I feel like I reserve that for people who don’t immediately set off alarm bells in my gut. The people who set off alarm bells don’t get the benefit of non-judgment. And neither of those things have anything to do with fairness, just about safely determining my level of engagement, which was an essential part of my social justice education (Gift of Fear, CBT, etc.).

    I’m hesitant to say whether or not the LW should give this guy a chance, because while I’d like to believe that he has changed and his behaviors mostly demonstrate that, I’ve also been involved with very manipulative guys who have very progressive ideologies that are just not aligned with their actual treatment of women. The fact that he brought up sex right after this confrontation could be just his own anxiety, or it could be a hint of the kind of manipulation she can expect if she stays with him. In that regard, staying with him but taking it slow could mean that he’ll show that he has really changed and she can breathe a sigh of relief that her fears were unfounded, or it could also buy him time to sharpen his strategy so that her instincts aren’t quite as keyed and she’ll barely notice the next time he tries something like that. With that in mind, I would step away. As other commenters have said, his subsequent behavior will let her know if getting back together or even remaining friends is actually a good idea.

    If you have mutual friends who are also social justice-minded, I would advise doing some recon, so you can be sure it’s not just an act if he does seek you out again.

    • I don’t understand why LW “should” give this guy a chance. Even if he has changed (spoilers: he hasn’t). That implies that LW owes him something, that unless she has a sufficiently Good Reason then it’s not OK for her just to decide to give it a pass this time.

  22. This whole discussion makes me think a lot about both a recent destructive relationship with a guy who totally manipulated me and an even more recent thing that I still haven’t figured out. It makes me write my first comment here, because at least from where I’m standing it seems so much more complicated than to just go with the gut feeling.

    Oh, how I wish I had listened to my gut with the first guy, though. He turned out to be a total Darth Vader and there were so many bad signs I chose to ignore because I WANTED IT TO BE GOOD and so instead of seeing that he pressured me into sex, touched me disrespectfully in public, was weird about his exes, didn’t seem to understand my previous abuse experience (that I like to tell partners early on so they get where I’m coming from) etc. I chose to see that we had so much in common and we would have such an amazing future together, a future that he painted most wonderfully. We were meant to be. I had never been more sure of it. It’s insane that I could be so selective about what I chose to see. Even when I completely lost my sexual attraction to this guy and decided we should probably be friends instead of partners he went to pieces and since I still felt that We Were Meant To Be I didn’t leave, but instead forced my attraction back. Many months of increasing badness ensued. Mixed in with good stuff, and he was all supportive of “my problems” while I started to think I was really crazy until I finally found out about a bunch of his lies.

    Well that was slightly OT, but there was also this instance of an image on the internet from many years ago with a sexist caption that bothered me and the way he addressed my concerns made me think he didn’t really think there was anything wrong with it, only it was immature and he had grown up now. It wasn’t in line with how he had presented himself in discussions, but when I look back it was in line with the way he didn’t respect my boundaries. I don’t know if this is helpful in any way, but maybe if you can look at his behaviour instead of his words and see how he really is?

    With the most recent guy it was different, I think. Let’s call him Questionmark, because I’m really confused about it all. From the start I had very mixed feelings, but from my position of recently having gotten out of this really bad relationship I really didn’t know what was what. Can I trust my gut? Am I freaking out about stuff because of what happened because the whole idea of being with a partner and trusting a partner are so scary or is it super strong spidey senses that pick up on signals, from having been through shit and not wanting to live through it again? I think I read somewhere that gut feeling only works when you’re in a good place in general. I’d say it would probably make it easier anyway. I don’t know how to judge this yet for myself, but if you feel like you’re in a good place in general I’d say like the rest: go with your gut!

    I have been wondering about this whole thing a lot actually. There are a bunch of things that that people think, feel and express scare me, that are red flags in my book, but I sometimes wonder if they are reasonable. I mean it’s reasonable to see anti-feminist-stuff as a big red flag, right, but what about other things that are not “universally bad”, like being casual about sex? That’s something that scares me because the people who have abused me have been like that and so other people who see sex that way may end up abusing me as well, says my fear. But when I talked to the couples therapist I went to with dear Vader a couple of times she only said something along the lines of “that’s the way most men are”, which both makes me wonder if I can ever trust a man again or trust a therapist. The general sentiment here seems to be that if something makes you feel uneasy that’s reason enough to not pursue a relationship with someone, but what about when almost all prospective partners have thoughts or feelings that, when I know them, trigger bad feelings? I mean there’s the helpful fear and the unhelpful fear, right? So difficult, the whole thing. It seems like the LW is at least a little less confused than I am. I think pushing past worries has made me more confused. If you do choose to stay a little longer and see how things feel, don’t do what I did and ask for what you want to hear and then choose to believe it. Don’t manipulate or let yourself be manipulated. Good luck!

    Sorry for the many words or any incoherences. It’s really late at light here, but I wanted to contribute right now. Oh, and thanks everyone for this great little corner of the internet!

    • You know, I’ve always told people who asked for advice that if you’re freaking out that hard it really doesn’t matter whether he’s good or bad or somewhere in between. Inability to make heads or tails of a relationship generally means you shouldn’t be in it. Possibly you shouldn’t be in that relationship specifically, or possibly you shouldn’t be in one in general until you get your head on straight. Food for thought.

      • Yes, that’s probably pretty sound advice. It’s hard to avoid sometimes when they seem so glittery and nice, but yeah. Better to first be in a good place and then go for the glitter.

    • I agree with Arabella Flynn.

      And: I think, trusting your gut is easier when you’re not all messed up. When there is just a slight feeling of uneasiness and you can decide to chose to listen to it.
      In my experience, when there is more shit going on (inside and out, so to speak) it gets more difficult in that you feel on edge ALL the time. And you reason (I reasoned) that it can’t be as bad as you feel and decide you should probably dismiss it because it’s ‘not logical. But, as it turned out in my case: my situation really was that bad and fucked up and I didn’t only have a bad gut feeling, my whole body felt like shit for a reason. I needed to get out and when I got out, instantly felt the difference (physically).
      These feelings can be exacerbated by being in a bad state yourself (e.g. you coming out of a manipulative relationship). I’d say still go with your gut because: if you cannot be with any man right now, take that as I sign that you need time for yourself to heal*. Don’t worry, ‘unreasonable’ fears will fade as you grow more into yourself (fear never is unreasonable; your body wants to protect you from badness, sometimes long gone badness).
      Also: what won’t help your situation is being ‘reasonable’ about your feelings. Trust me, there is no away around your feelings, there is only the way through. If you push them aside now, they will hunt you later. As I said, your feelings are there to protect you. If you listen to them, the ones which built up in your old relationship(s) and are not needed any more will fade.

      *I don’t like the dismissive and gender-essentialist views of your therapist though.

      • Feelings by definition are not reasonable. They are the first things in your brain to ping off when you react to something – your logic and reasoning only happens afterwards. And if you only pay attention to reason, you’re missing a huge part of being human. Learn to love your feelings!

    • I absolutely agree with Arabella Flynn and zweisats. Also, with regard to your “unreasonable” fears – things don’t have to be universally bad to be bad for you at this stage in your life. If you have negative feelings towards casual sex then someone who is casual about sex is probably not going to be a good fit for you in a relationship and there’s nothing wrong with that. As zweisats said, unhelpful fears will fade if they cease to protect you and begin to hold you back, but it is always absolutely okay to get out of situations that make you uncomfortable. No one else gets to choose what’s “reasonable” for you. (And your therapist is straight up wrong about most men being that way.)

      Perhaps rather than thinking about it as listening to your gut, it might help to ask yourself “is this making me happy?” If not, it’s okay to get out. You don’t have to settle for less than you want. (And “I’m so confused I can’t even tell if I’m happy in this relationship” probably means you’re not all that happy, unless it’s an extremely temporary feeling).

      I spent a lot of time second guessing myself in high school, because even though I mostly knew what I wanted, I was really worried about wanting it for the wrong reasons. But now I think wanting something, or not wanting it, is enough.

  23. I am seriously side-eyeing that he thought that the follow-up to “So, you used to joke that beating your wife was cool?” should be “So, what about sex?” That would make me look for the nearest exit.

    It doesn’t sound like you want to keep seeing him. So don’t. He might not be “that guy” anymore, but you are under no obligation to find out the hard way.

  24. A thought about him saying he’s not that person anymore: maybe he thinks he isn’t. Maybe he thinks he’s all evolved, but hasn’t really gotten very far. Maybe he needs to understand more about it, maybe he needs a guide, a book, something, but he would probably need to realize this on his own and you absolutely don’t have to be that guide.

    I realized this about myself and racism recently. I was thinking I’m totally anti-racist, but when I was in a conversation with a couple of guys I didn’t know that well and the subject of racism came up I told them about the worst example I’d encountered, but in doing so I used the same separation of people as the racists, into natives and immigrants. I immediately sensed from their reaction I had said something wrong, but it took me a day to realize what. A contributing factor to my sensing something was wrong and then thinking about it until it dawned on me was the fact that one of the guys was attractive and I wanted to make a good impression on him and I had obviously failed. Double embarrassment. It lead me to questioning a lot and talking to a lot of people about racism in general and racism among people who would call themselves anti-racists. As unpleasant as these realizations are, they’re enabling growth. Yay!

  25. LW, coming a little late to the discussion here, but I feel very confident in saying that this guy is that person he used to be, or pretty darn close to it. Why? Because people who said horrible things once upon a time don’t glibly say “I’m not that person anymore, I’m not proud of that” and then immediately follow up with a statement that they want to bone.

    I mean, look at the thread: right here there are people slowly covering their eyes with their hands and saying, OMG, I said the stupidest shit when I was a teenager, can you believe how idiotic that was and how reprehensible those things were? They’re super embarrassed. They have no problem actually saying, yeah, that thing I said back then, so horrible and I’m glad I know better now.

    Whereas, a tepid, dismissive response like “I’m not that person” and “I’m not proud of that” strongly suggests a real lack of regret and understanding: Dude gets that he is going to get called on saying certain things blatantly, but he really isn’t someone who truly gets why those things are as bad as they truly are. Because, and I don’t think the Awkward Army can possibly repeat this enough, normal people who regret having been immature doucheclocks once don’t say “Yeah, not like that anymore, but how do you feel about sexytimes?”

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