I bought a new hair dryer recently and as I unraveled the endless packaging and stickers, I was struck by the warning labels. There were three. THREE! On a hair dryer.
Just like with mattresses and everything else I buy, I am guilty of rarely, probably never, reading the warning labels.
Which got me thinking.
Do we ‘read’ the relationship warning labels of the people in our lives?
You may call them red flags or crazy signals but I’m talking about the things that stand out when you are meeting someone.
How often have you seen the warning label and not read them?
I’m guilty. I dated someone who, within months of meeting him, showed me how deep his drinking problem was when his secretary called me telling me he was off drunk and missing again. Did I run? Nope…. I’m no quitter. I searched everywhere for him, sobered him up, got him a therapist and support and kept on ignoring the neon sign flashing at me. That neon sign read “Not in recovery and not ready to date”. And it was ignored like the obvious warning to not use a hair dryer while taking a bath. My warning label then was “Doesn’t have Clear Boundaries and May Suffer from ‘Fix You’ Syndrome”.
I had a friend tell me he ripped off a warning label without reading it when he was dating someone. He didn’t ask some key questions like…where do you see yourself next year, do you want kids, do you like your job. One night, he wandered down his boyfriend’s hallway and ran into his fully furnished children’s nursery which had not come up in conversation at all. No discussion of kids or wanting kids. Although when asked about the room he was relieved to find out his boyfriend wasn’t a psycho pretending to have a child but rather had just gotten word that his adoption had been approved and he was getting his child any day now. The adoption wasn’t the issue or even the desire to have children but he felt the warning label was “Does not communicate directly or share important details upfront”. He also realized he had a warning label “Makes assumptions and May Wander Around Your House”.
Warning labels can be “Has terrible temper”, “Is Married and You are Her Fourth Affair”, “ Is a Perpetual Bachelor” or “Wants Different Things in her Future than You”. Warning labels run the gamut and can be a general warning for all involved like “Can’t Keep a Job Because He Actually Hates Working and is Looking for a Sugar Mama” or can be specific for your connection “Chews Food Weirdly Which Will Eventually Make You Fantasize About Doing Horrible Things When You Eat a Meal Together”.
It is really crucial in attempting to partner happily to look at someone’s warning label(s). In fact, it is your responsibility. You will get that little instinct bubbling up, and you WILL pick up on a few things here and there. Some warnings you can ignore because they aren’t big ones, others you should ask about more to the person and seek an explanation/begin a conversation about and the big warning labels should let you know it isn’t a match. Maybe never or maybe just not right now.
I’ve done a series of funny dating stories in a different blog series called “Catch and Release” and if you’ve read them, you know, I don’t condemn the dating missteps and warning labels…we ALL have warning labels. Don’t think you don’t and don’t label someone as bad or horrible due to their warning labels. Every has a story. Is on their own journey. Some have more than a few. And sometimes the timing isn’t right, the fit doesn’t work or one or both people just aren’t ‘developed fully enough’ yet and need to be tossed back into the dating or self reflection pool until they grow a bit more (like fish!). You know, someone’s trash is another’s treasure.
Still, if you have a dating history, it most likely involves ignoring some warning signals you saw. What have you ignored? Sacrificed in yourself in order to be or stay with someone?
I’ve sacrificed life dreams, safety, self respect, fun, moving where I would like to live, and more. Some of my sacrifices were done with a good heart. Sometimes I resented the hell out of it. Some of my compromises reaped benefits and felt great and nurtured the relationship. Sometimes it felt like a piece of my soul was stomped on.
What patterns do you see in your life?
Of course relationships require sacrifices and compromises. Any true, meaningful and lasting ones at least. I think that is a beautiful part of being in a relationship. But how do you define the thin line between compromising and compromising yourself?
For me, I get signals when I am drying my hair. Sounds bizarre I know. (Wow, I had no idea hair drying would be such a factor in this article when I started it!). It can take forever to do my hair if I actually want it to look decent so I have some time on my hands. Anyone who has ever seen me in this process of straightening my curly hair can attest. Anyway… I get bored. My brain doesn’t like to be bored. So it occupies itself. Which usually leads to over thinking. Or brooding. Or worrying. I’ve told off more than one person in an imaginary conversation while drying my locks. I’ve worried over the certain impending death of a my teenager driving on the highway while straightening my hair. I think. I wonder. I wander. So I either occupy myself with a playlist or Netflix show on my computer or I tune into myself.
I’ve paid attention to a lot of those warning labels while holding that darn hair dryer. My body’s alert system shows itself to me most often then. Probably because I am relatively still. I also meditate but am so protective of that practice being positive that I don’t often tune into my warning system in that process. But hair drying…..
So when my mind goes to these red flags, I know there is something there. My next job is to discern what is over-active worrying, what is a clear warning sign and what is an area of compromise or just discomfort? I have done the work to know the difference between over worrying and my warning system being activated. It took years and a lot of courage and self reflection.
I now know that my task is to READ the warning labels that the other person provided and that my body told me to read. Then my role is to put all of that into action. Start a conversation, end the relationship, create boundaries, ask questions, change my own behavior….whatever it takes. But I don’t ignore the little voice inside me that says something is off. I also have done the work to know that sometimes my inner voice is alerting me that I AM THE ONE that is off and I need to do some self reflection and get my act together.
Which gets me thinking further….
How would YOUR warning label read if we came with visible ones?
I have several…. “Tends to Overthink and Talk too Much”, “Bottles Up Resentment Then Lets It Out with a Flurry”, and probably “Can Find a Link to Everything in Life to Sex and Sexuality and Talks About it All the Time”. There are tons more. Some are big tags, others are smaller ones.
WE ALL HAVE THEM. Do you know what yours are?
This goes in our sex lives too….have you ever thought what you bring to the table sexually to your partners? What are your sexual warning labels?
What we bring to our sexual partners varies depending on the depth of the partnership and the meaning and intent of the sexual behavior and connection. Some sexual warning labels are only relevant to long term lovers and some are relevant to everyone you engage in sexual behaviors with. Know the differences in your own life.
“Penis is Soft Unless I am Thrusting Vigorously”, “Will Freeze if You Pin My Arm Down”, “Screams Loudly During Orgasm and Wakes Neighbors”, “Only Want to Have Sex in the Morning”.
So here is where the phrase “warning label” feels a little off. There is an inference that there is something wrong or bad and I don’t necessarily think that is the case. Of course if your sexual warning label is “I’ve Raped 3 Women” that is severely bad and well past a warning label but a soft penis warning isn’t giving information about something bad, it is about giving information that helps better inform your sexual partner on how to navigate sexual behavior with you without stepping on land mines he or she are unaware of and couldn’t guess.
In looking at ourselves, the first step is having the courage to self reflect. Honestly. Again, we all have sexual stuff that are triggers or pockets of shame or discomfort. Sometimes what we think is a warning label is actually an unfounded fear “I Take Forever to Reach Orgasm” or “My Labia Looks Weird” and just takes a compassionate partner, education, validation and an listening ear.
Other parts of our self reflection take maturity. To own it. To name it. To be okay with our history and our differences. If you fear penetration because you often tear and bleed or if you were sexually assaulted and frequently zone out during sex, these are deeper matters that you need to do the work individually (but with professionals) and to make a plan on how to communicate this to partners who are safe and supportive. No matter where your ‘thing’ falls on the continuum, honest self reflection and fearless self examination is a pivotal starting point.
Next is to communicate what you’ve figured out about yourself.. We rarely communicate this upfront. And often if we do communicate it is through defensiveness and irritability. Sometimes even blame. Most often it is through shame. If we are fully educated about our ‘warning label’ and have done the work to remove shame and fear, we can communicate lovingly to our partners. Lovingly towards ourselves and towards them. This is key.
I always recommend to communicate with what you want and need in the midst of problem solving too instead of what you don’t want. If it is particularly sensitive, make sure the conversation starts at a time where you have privacy and time to talk it through. If you need them to be particularly attentive or sensitive, let them know this is hard for you and you are hoping both can be sensitive to the topic.
If it isn’t sensitive, you can start here….say your thing is that you only like sex in the morning….
- Approach your partner saying how much you love having sex with him/her and that you want to be fully present for them when you are connecting. You’ve found you bring it best in the morning and you want to be the best lover you can be. Would they be okay with having sex primarily in the morning?
- Ask if that works for them and if they have different needs than yours. Perhaps your partner would want the ability for both to brush your teeth beforehand or would want the shades drawn so it isn’t so bright. Or maybe your partner would ask for 3 times in morning but at least once a week at night or at his/her choosing.
- You LISTEN. This isn’t your way or the highway….this is a partnership. Ears open, mouth shut, heart expanded.
- After you listen, you offer some solutions (that you already thought of before you brought it up) and ask for additional solutions from your partner.
- Decide if you have a solution that you both like and agree to and if not, figure out a time when you can revisit it to talk more about it. Perhaps your partner needs time to digest or to do more research.
- Revisit it no matter what. Try the new practice or talk after having sex with the new information out there. Keep communicating that it is something you are working on together and on one’s one need supersedes the others. Thank your partner if they listened and put the changes into action. Show your appreciation and when your partner asks for a similar discussion, bring it and deliver all of this to him/her.
I generally recommend that you keep one issue on the table at once and not get into a ‘Me too’ unless they are small issues. If your partner has an issue to bring up, don’t shut him or her down but validate it as important and so important that you think you should set up another time to talk about it. And then follow through. FOLLOW THROUGH is so important.
Remember you both want to have pleasure with and give pleasure to one another. Remember we ALL have sexual warning labels/ things/issues/weirdness that actually isn’t weirdness after all.
Remember you are on the same side.
Remember self reflection, education and courage or cornerstones to making warning labels turn into endearing pleasure points.
So…. what is your endearing pleasure point(s) that may come off as a sexual warning label?
Let’s continue the conversation in FB and my website. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.
Xoxoxo, Dr. Juliana