My counsellor’s office off of Finchley Road was decorated period-style – almost like when one entered it, you’d temporarily stepped back in time to somewhere that drifted between the 1920s and the mid 1930s. It was homely instead of clinical. Definitely not the stereotypical place to talk about one’s various issues.
For ages, we had been working on my Inner Feminine Fire. I’d felt so lacking in confidence or motivation at the beginning of the year and as a partial result of the sessions, I was beginning to feel like my old self again: ambitious, assured, capable and strong. We talked about issues that had prevented my feeling the way I felt it was natural for me to feel.
But I couldn’t understand why he kept trying to bring it back to my ex-fiance.
The break-up had shaken me, I explained. It was quite abrupt, and unfair in a way, and severely ate into my abandonment issues. After insisting on checking my phone, my fiance of the time had found texts between myself and a man I’d met through the theatre. A man I admired, wanted to work with and, admittedly, had a rather embarrassing secret crush on. I’d let the man know, but I couldn’t tell my fiance. He’d never understand. He’d have been angry that I was even talking to a man at all.
My counsellor sat forward, like he’d just heard the most interesting point, though it had been meant as a throwaway comment. “Talking to a man at all?” he repeated. “Why? Are you in training to be a nun?”
I laughed. Ridiculous comparison, designed to make me laugh. But his face stayed serious. I continued, talking about how my fiance, after finding the texts – non-sexual, gushing, arranging to meet the following day so I could try and convince him to give me a role in his theatre company – had hit himself in the head, cried, bundled me into the car and drove me for two hours to Birmingham to deposit me on this man’s doorstep. This man who I’d met once before.
My counsellor blinked. “Wow. That must have been terrifying.”
I shrugged. “I suppose. It was weird, though. I didn’t feel terrified at the time. Just kind of numb. And almost relieved, weirdly. Like I’d been waiting for something like that to happen. All the stuff happened after was kinda awful, but the event itself, I chatted to my mum on the phone to convince her I was okay when he made me phone her to tell her I was cheating on him. He cried and screamed and I just kind of sat there.”
He nodded sagely. “He’d lost control.”
Words tumbled out of my mouth to contradict him. No, no, no – my ex-fiance was not like that. He wasn’t controlling. He’d just been insecure.
He’d had some trauma in his youth he was recovering from to this day. His ex-wife had cheated on him. I mean, fair enough, he’d cheated on her many times, from what he’d told me… No, not controlling.
I came off Facebook of my own accord. He’d told me many times that Facebook was a drain on my time, when I should have been working. That I was a target on Facebook, because my exes, or men in general, would try and get to me, chat me up, and I was ‘too nice’, ‘not strong enough’ to be able to tell them where to go.
But that was me, not him. I mean, I’d developed social anxiety since I’d met him and he told me what people might think of me – how men generally regarded any woman who displayed any kind of sexuality as a person who must be a whore. And I’d handed over my passwords to all my online accounts willingly.
Me, not him. I’d stopped being a masseuse and taken a job I wasn’t all that confident in, because my massaging men made him worry. There’d been that awful time when he saw how much I would have been earning, and he left me in a part of town I didn’t really know, a park, by myself, because the fees were so high that it couldn’t have been massage work, I must have been being a hooker…
And all of a sudden, I’m crying. There’s these tears of frustration and anger and pain and a billion emotions all rolled into one that I have no first clue how to express, bursting out of my eyes before I can catch them, and my breath is almost heaving under the strain of it.
My counsellor sighed, a Mona Lisa smile on his face as he leans over with the tissues. “It wasn’t really a nice relationship, was it?”
It was. I tried to convince myself. Just like I’d convinced myself for the last few months of our relationship that, like my ex had said, the problems were all in my head. I was making mountains out of molehills and it was because I was fragile and precious, but he still cared about me. But then, he really had! In the beginning, he really had…
Our first six months together were a whirlwind dream. Our long distance Skype calls turned into bus trips and car journeys for hours just to see each other for the weekend. He’d broken up with his ex six weeks previously, as had I with mine. It was funny, but we always both seemed to attract nutcases.
Less than two months after meeting him, I moved in with him. He’d cried, telling me he couldn’t handle how far apart we were. I’d have been a monster to stick back living with my mum still, working at my local Boots, while he had a space waiting for me at his place. He loved me. We were soulmates. We wanted to spend all our time together. Six months after we’d met, in an extravagant and beautiful show, complete with singers and an audience, he proposed to me. I was so over the moon and so up on Cloud 9, I could barely keep myself upright.
Everything was perfect. Everything, apart from me.
The first thing that should have been a red flag came only a few days after I moved down. The park. My suggesting to him that I could take up my massage work again to help pay the bills. I’d earned decent money from it before, and had an agency, so could pretty much walk back into it. No. Not at all. He’d rather give me the money than I do that. Okay. Not great. Better cancel that appointment with my old client I was going to do to see if I still had the touch!
What? How dare I go behind his back. How much will you lose for not doing it? You earn how much?! …Followed by silence as we sat in the park on his lunch break, him looking everywhere except at me. “I just wanna die,” he muttered, and got up to go back to work.
I waited for him for hours, telling him I was still around the corner so we could talk when we got out. He went out to the cinema by himself straight from work instead, and I made my way miserably back home. When he finally returned, we talked. Rather, he talked at me. I’d made him very upset, and he couldn’t cope with secrecy or lies. That would have to stop. And I apologised to him.
And ‘sorry’ was a big thing for him. As in, he refused to say it. The one time he did say it, I had woken up to him straddling and having his way with me early in the morning. When he was finished, he said he was sorry if it was a little animalistic for me.
Not about the down-talking I’d had the night before. Nor about the things he’d said that hurt me. Not about brushing me off when I had a major stress about the new job I had coming up, that I wasn’t sure I could do. Nor for giving me the silent treatment for various things that didn’t deserve it for hours and hours and hours at a time…
Sex was a thing too. He’d confessed to me he essentially had withheld it from the ex before me for weeks and months at a time, because he’d decided he didn’t want her around any more and was trying to break up with her. Sex became a thing for us too. I was a sex pest. I wanted it too much, and was far too demanding.
It had to be when he was ready, on his terms. He was very prolific sexually, but this did just make me hope we’d have it more. Instead, as things went on, we had it less and less, and every time I suggested it and he wasn’t in the mood, I was quietly punished for it; whether it be a word that might hurt, or a comment about my own sexual past. Despite our age gap, I’d had more partners than him. This set his paranoia off. But it was okay, because he’d coo at me with: “I love you, and we’re going to be together forever… Unless you cheat on me.”
He’d cheated on all his exes. Both of his ex wives, numerous times, it seemed. And he was paranoid I would too. I talked about my exes in the beginning. Too much, he told me. They had no place in my life – our life – and when we walked down the aisle, he didn’t want an army of my ex-boyfriends in the congregation.
He also didn’t want anyone who I’d been involved with in any way. That guy I’d snogged a few weeks before we met? Nope. Block him. The guy I’d spent the night with the night before he and I had met? Get rid of him – nowhere near us. Despite my protestations, it began to become clear to me that I was a serial cheater. I was something of a whore. I had to make sure my behaviour was better with him, or I’d lose him for good.
It sounds all so terrible, but at the time, it only vaguely felt it. For every time there was an upset, there were several happy moments, where I’d share my work with him, or we’d imagine our future together, or he’d teach me to cook or drive, or we’d take his kids out, or we’d discuss something we’d seen together.
And I had no idea that all these negative moments that I pushed to one side because of all the happy ones I could focus on instead, were my training. His silent and stealthy training of me to make me into the perfect partner: a trophy for others to see, someone to massage his ego, someone for him to blame when things didn’t go his way. It was all training I just didn’t realise I was undergoing. This was the correct way. That was not. I was impressionable, and much younger, and he knew better than me. He didn’t need to say these things – it was implied.
But, I brought back to my counsellor – I wasn’t like that. I’m not weak. I’ve always been a strong woman. I bend over backwards for people when I shouldn’t do, that is true, but… if it was all true, and my ex had actually been the dreaded word he supposed and that at first, I almost couldn’t say – ‘a sociopath’ – what did that say about me?
It took me over a year to realize what it meant about me. It took another counsellor. It took ongoing membership of a Sociopath Survivor’s Group. It took me telling my story for verification to shocked people who’d met my ex-fiance. It took meditation and blocking him and his new girlfriend on Facebook, going no contact.
It took phone conversations into the night asking: “But WAS it all me? Was it all perfectly reasonable, and I’m the one at fault?” And it eventually took my best friend and manager sitting down with me and saying: “I know. I understand it, because pretty much the same thing happened to me too,” for me to realize.
There was nothing wrong with me, save insecurity. And this made me the perfect target. Perfect to mold and shape into His version of Perfect. An unobtainable ideal that even the most amazing woman in the world would struggle desperately to attain and yet keep any fragment of herself remaining.
A few weeks ago, my bestie started on his quest to kick my career up a level further, meaning that because of work we’d done together, we needed to get in touch with Him. “Do you want to talk to him?”
And I remembered how small that man had made me feel. That I was a cheating whore.
That I was stupid and inconsiderate and that everybody in our shared circle of friends probably knew all of these things, because he would have told them so; told them of our breakup and how it happened. HIS version, anyway. How he’d asked me to never contact him again because I’d tried to tell my side of the story, when he realised he couldn’t control me. And I said: “No. I’m happy for you to do that. Have fun.”
And my best friend was okay with that. He too had suffered the burden of a sociopathic ex, and he knew where I was at.
Where I am right now, and always have been, is realizing that there really is nothing wrong with me. That I’m perfect. Much more perfect now I realize than him.