Once upon a time, his tenderness wrapped around you and his fingers traced the outline of your tattoo as his lips brushed against your ear. Most love stories begin with a kiss; this one begins with a well-constructed mask and premeditated murder. A first meeting where the conversation is sex itself; language becomes a weapon and a medicine, a healing balm for your wounds and a sick game of Russian roulette.
He ties his words around you like a corset, fashioning you into his soulmate. Fast-forwarding intimacy on all levels, he plays the victim, weaving a sad story about betrayal by his previous partner who you will later come to learn is also a victim. Faux innocence and an illusion of good-naturedness make for a stunning performance. He’s used to the applause and has many admirers lurking in the shadows, but he’ll introduce you to them later. The first act still has to proceed. He pretends he’s never felt like this before, and his pity ploy feasts on the first taste of your empathy. Your sympathy is delicious, prime for a dinner date; your compassion will make for good dessert.
The real kick is when he pretends to make you the center of his world in spite of his own self-centeredness, much like a predator does when hunting prey. Predators don’t take their eyes off of their prey and neither does a narcissist when preparing to devour his victim. You imbibe both the drinks and his masquerade, inebriated on his façade and the charisma which will later become contempt.
First dates quickly become fifth dates; months speed by as you spend weekends wrapped in his arms and the high of shared laughter, inside jokes, and exclusive worlds you’ve created. Worlds no one else is allowed entry to. You begin to lose touch with friends and family members. He seems to encourage this behavior and at times even demand it. Isolation and constant communication becomes the norm, but you are prompted to feel as if you desire this isolation at first: it’s a protected world, safe, loving, affectionate, at times overbearing. It cannot be tampered with. After years of living in a war zone, you enjoy what feels like a decade of peace, even if you know it is stifling.
Until the first blow, which comes like a gunshot in the dark as you’re sleeping. You try to waken from the nightmare only to realize you’re still in the midst of dreaming. A dream within a dream. The mask slips and hell becomes a little token of your reality. It’s the first jolt of betrayal, of something not being quite right. You rationalize it and minimize it, hoping it was just an off-color comment or a misunderstanding. You dismiss his rage as a “bad day.” He then begins to knit an intricate web filled with falsehoods, half-truths, the worst miseries from your past and the best insecurities from your present. New people as well as new forms of torment begin to show up; he introduces them into the sacred space of your relationship. He ignores you while he extols them; he demeans you while he praises them. He loves to see you squirm and he loves to play and win games.
He engineers a new false reality for you to live in, doubtful of your own inner voice. He begins to twist and turn your strengths into flaws, your talents into travesties, your compassion into naiveté. The blame for everything and anything become yours as he erodes your identity, your memory, and your self-esteem. His weaknesses suddenly become your weaknesses; there is no limit to what he will project on your mindscape as he rents space inside of your head and signs a new lease. He invites you to his playground of malice. This particular fun house hosts smoke, mirrors and distortions of your reality.
To the narcissist, romance isn’t romance until it’s like cocaine. A drug you begin to sniff daily hoping his intermittent kindness will numb the cruelty of the callous words and the actions that add up bit by bit to subtract from your daily joy. Defeat comes in the startled look you give him when he first brushes the proverbial blade across your skin; it comes in the form of a snide, insulting remark that ever so gently passes through his lips, as if testing your threshold and the precipice of a boundary you didn’t even know you had to draw in the first place.
This is followed by the remarks that make you question whether he ever even meant to be cruel or not. Where once you felt carefree, lighthearted and loving, you now feel as if you are being turned into a different person that resembles nothing like you once were. Being and feeling crazy, oversensitive and humorless are the portraits he paints to keep you on the edge of never knowing anything for certain. His true intentions are quickly hidden. His loving gentleness is often merged with condescending contempt which leaves you spinning.
It’s a potent cocktail of poison and remedy.
Each withdrawal from the drug leaves you reeling. His addiction is savagely evoking and witnessing your pain and your addiction is attempting to regain his validation. Wanting to recapture some of the fairytale bliss in the beginning which has slowly but surely become a nightmare.
Defeat becomes your daily routine as he tests you more and more; harsh words become condescending put-downs; sarcastic jabs become full-fledged attacks; molehills become mountains and partnership becomes a power play. It doesn’t matter how much you fight back, because your defeat settles in slyly onto the sadistic smirk on his face. Bit by bit the water reaches a boiling point and you become so accustomed to the heat that you are no longer aware that you are dying. Defeat is now a lithe dancer forced to dance to an impossible rhythm, hoping to escape herself.
Defeat comes rapidly when he begins to rip apart your wounds, slowly and carefully, piece by piece, instead of nursing them; rather than the gentle healer, he becomes the wretched surgeon that manufactures your madness all while sprinkling doubts about your ability to discern what is happening. Defeat replaces your anticipation of a happy ending and supplants the main storyline in your relationship: he rejoices in the gradual slump of your shoulders as he begins to feast on your pain. The virus has found a host; the leech has secured a new life source. The fairy tale has reached midnight but now your feet hurt too much to walk away barefoot from the illusion of the ball. Somehow, the glass slipper must fit. It just has to, even if it causes your feet to bleed.
The highs are worth the lows or so your heart says; your mind doesn’t listen, it’s too high on the novocain of sweet promises while your psyche is warped behind the prison bars of his projected pain. You become needy for approval, for any scrap of kindness, any leftovers of sincerity, any inkling for the dream he once constructed of meeting someone who truly saw you. Once you feasted on his homemade meals of support, understanding and comfort; now you’re malnourished, never enough.
He picks and prods at each flaw, each insecurity, each wound and when there are no more to be found, he creates new ones, blaming you for your own demise. He maims you with the truth of your own humanity. Once you binged on his affection and now you’re starving on his lack of praise. You attempt to restrain yourself from feasting on the love of others while pretending to be satisfied with crumbs.
Your body, once his shelter, now becomes a breeding ground for his lies. Flesh meets flesh in an attempt to find truth where there is nothing but falsehood. Sweet lovemaking becomes devaluing coercion. Silence and a callous smile becomes the response to your pleas.
Discrepancies begin to add up. Stories begin to self-destruct. Lies begin to love themselves, begetting more lies. The ending is packaged with the maximum amount of cruelty in the shortest amount of time in order to leave the biggest impact.
Closure is the only fairy tale, a myth, a legend. The only true closure can come from within. The truth becomes the only mirror you can trust and sometimes you are the only one who can look in it and find yourself again. This is a game he doesn’t have to win. This is a nightmare you may have to wake up from again and again, in order to realize you’re no longer dreaming.
This is a type of love story where the happy ending lies in not finding Prince Charming. Rather, it lies in the awakening that he never existed at all.