You’d think after escaping one abusive marriage there’d be no way I’d get involved in a second abusive relationship. How could anyone not see the red flags? The truth of the matter is, those flags fly in so many different colors, it’s hard to see one type of abuse when you’re so busy looking for another. Not to mention women are generally conditioned from childhood to hold some responsibility for the abuse they suffer.
My marriage was my measuring stick for new relationships. I’d never date a man with addiction problems, a man who was unfaithful, or a physically or verbally abusive man. To my credit, I didn’t. Instead, I dated a sneaky abuser. He was the proverbial, cliched wolf in sheep’s clothing—the man who would charm me out of my own self-worth and never leave a mark. His abuse looked an awful lot like him being too much in love and overly interested when it began. By the time the relationship was over, I was left spinning like a top out of control looking for the reasons why, all the while feeling the deep pain of his relentless emotional abuse.
Never once did this man put his hands on me. He never called me vile names or told me he hated me. In fact, he was so smooth with his abuse and control, I’m not sure he even realizes he was an abuser.
When we first met, we were 14. We were fond of one another, but nothing ever came of our teenage love affair. 25 years later, we met again online. I hadn’t heard from him for 15 years, but the light still shined brightly above his head. I had been separated about 9 months from my first abuser. He’d been single for about 5 years. The whirlwind that encompassed me left me breathless. He was all I’d dreamed. His words were perfect for a woman like me—a woman who was still licking the wounds from the first battle I’d fought. Looking back, his words were too perfect. Everything I needed to hear came flowing eloquently from his lips.
“I’m not the jealous kind of guy who birddogs around checking up on girls.”
“I’d never ask you to put me before your kids.”
“You deserve to be happy and retain some independence.”
“I value you as a human being, and appreciate your talent and intelligence.”
Who could question those words? No one ever tells girls to beware of too many right answers. Our parents tell us to look out for guys with no job, no car, too many kids, prison records, and addictions. They just never tell us “The Charmer” can be equally as dangerous.
He made me feel magical. I’d never felt so cared for in my life. Although he lived 500 miles from me, we maintained constant contact. He texted and called every chance he got. We talked for hours on the phone. Within just a couple of months, he’d proposed. I was to move to be with him the following fall. It was like a Disney princess story. He told me how he could never picture himself with anyone else. He said I was the only woman who could ever make him happy. I was beautiful, intelligent, amazing, angelic, the light of his path, and the star of his night. What I really was becoming was a cake that’s had far too much icing slathered on. I was being smothered in too much sweetness. All the sugar coating he was doing was covering up his other side.
We’d been talking a few weeks when he first accused me of having another man in my house. My son had coughed, sending this man’s imagination into a spiral. I spent the better part of the night explaining that my home is small and my son was in the bathroom when he was coughing, and that there was certainly no other man in my home other than my sons. He wasn’t buying it. From that moment on, everything I did was suspect.
My Romeo then began to demand all my online login information, including my banking. I was to deactivate any social media accounts, or rather, let him deactivate them so he could change the login and email account information. This way, only he would have control over when they were reactivated. He would need all my phone records, the numbers of all my friends and family, and even needed to call some of my relatives just to make sure I wasn’t still seeing my ex-husband. Text messages were no longer fun, but a manner to keep track of me. I was to text him every 15 minutes, and if I was leaving my home, I was to text him who was going with me, and send pictures as proof.
I dismissed all this insanity as him “caring”. He was “too far away to see for himself”. He “loved me so much, he was afraid to lose me”. He wasn’t calling me horrible names or hitting me. How could caring be abuse?
What I never saw coming was his “caring” escalating into more horrendous allegations, and more in-depth monitoring of my life.
I was accused of giving him a sexually transmitted infection ( something he didn’t even have), of sleeping with my teenaged son’s friends, of developing relationships with people in another state in between us who I was supposedly seeing at the gas stations on my way to his home, and many other horrid things. Yet, I continued the relationship. Sure, all the things sounded like he pulled them straight off one of those TV crime shows, but hey, he was just so much in love with me, right?
Eventually, he started to control the time I spent with my family. He let me know that even though he lived away, he could have someone watching me. He didn’t want me to perform certain hygienic procedure such as shaving, because that meant I was going out with someone. I was no longer allowed to wear makeup unless he deemed the occasion appropriate. He insisted I change my wardrobe. I was required to send photos from the classes I was taking so I could prove where I was and who I sat by. No part of my life belonged to me anymore. Even my showers were timed.
No matter what he did, though, I found an excuse. I absorbed the blame because I’d probably “done something to make him think bad things”. As crazy as that sounds, it’s what most women are programmed to believe.
“If we’d only be better, stronger women, men wouldn’t have to act so high handed with us.”
“If we were more capable of controlling our morals and emotions, men wouldn’t have to control us.”
“Other men wouldn’t try to have sex with us (even when it’s rape) if we’d just not act like whores.”
“It’s our jobs to make men happy, so when they’re not, we better figure out how to make things better.”
“Its men’s’ jobs to protect us from the world and ourselves.”
“If we didn’t make men so mad, they wouldn’t have to yell at us, hit us, etc.”
All those lies were what he tried to pin on me. I say “try” as if he wasn’t successful. He was. He made me feel like a piece of dirt. I carried around guilt for things I’d never done. I felt guilty for his own self-induced worry and pain. He never had to own his own paranoia and abusive behavior. I shouldered all that for him. It was my fault, of course, because he “just loved me so much it made him crazy”.
I can’t count the nights I was kept awake by him calling me, making accusations, breaking up with me, saying he wished he never met me, and leaving me in a crying heap trying to figure out why. Many holidays, weekends, and birthdays were ruined by his own paranoid delusions. I kept patting his back and rubbing his head telling him it was all okay and that I understood. I excused every horrible behavior he exhibited no matter the cost to my emotional well-being.
Meanwhile, my other personal relationships were falling apart. Friends were furious with me for allowing this. Family members threatened to confront him. No one could stand him but me. I was lost in a world of abuse sugar coated with the word “love”.
Our relationship eventually began to dissolve. The marriage couldn’t happen because we lived in two separate states, and seeing what my son had saw, he was no longer willing to move. 5 days following our one year anniversary, Prince-Not-So-Charming broke up with me for about the 12th time. I was devastated. He even found a way to make his desire to be single my fault because I couldn’t move until my son graduated, and I also didn’t make enough money to help him build his financial portfolio. He said I was driving him crazy, and so he was done.
No matter all the abuse, all I could feel was that I wasn’t good enough. I felt like if I’d been a perfect person he’d still love me. I’d cry for hours trying to prove to him I was faithful and loving. The key is that, even though he abused me, even though he was hurting me, I was apologizing. I was trying to make reparations for things I’d never done—never even dreamed of doing. He continued to manipulate me even though we were no longer together. All he had to do was text or call, and because of a year’s worth of conditioning, I was Ms. Hop To It.
It took almost 3 years for me to escape the emotional abuse he dealt out. He’d long since moved on by the time I did. Him finding another serious relationship was the best thing he could’ve done for me. His new relationship facilitated the end of our communication for several months. I then had time to heal, to reevaluate the situation, to mourn the loss of my dream, and to call him what he is: an abuser.
He still calls me from time to time. Sometimes I answer the phone–sometimes I don’t. I no longer feel a sense of obligation to this man. He’s simply an old friend, but I tread lightly. He had crawled up inside my brain, rotting away my sense of self like a worm into an apple. It took a good amount of time before I could cut away all the damage he’d caused, but I did it. I certainly won’t allow him the chance to infest my mind again. I don’t bother trying to psychoanalyze him. It’s not my problem what his problems are. I’m just happy to have my life back.
Looking back, I wish I’d known that “too nice” should be reason to worry. I wish I’d had the strength to say “Hell NO!” when he began accusing and controlling me. I wish I’d known that it’s not a woman’s job to be perfect. There are just so many myths I wish I could’ve seen past. Now, I just wish that some other woman, whose friends are warning her to “stay away from him”, will see past the “I love you” and face what she knows deep down inside: he’s an abuser. Don’t let his words excuse his actions. Abusers are the best manipulators. Your intuition is your armor. Stand strong. Be brave. Lose that Asshole!
If you need help escaping an abusive relationship call: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)