Some of you will know who was involved in the events below. Please do leave a comment and feel free to ask questions, but I would appreciate it if no names were mentioned, in order to protect the innocent (and the guilty.)
I was having drinks with an old friend when the subject of my particularly heinous ex came up.
“You need to be smarter,” he advised as I wrapped up the latest update.
“Fuck off,” I replied. “It’s not as if these guys come with a big tag saying DOUCHEBAG. You can’t pick them.”
“Yes, you can,” he insisted. “Well I can, anyway.”
All men think this. They have absolute faith in their ability to spot an arsehole, presumably because they’ve been one themselves at some stage.
“Go on,” I said.
“Okay. So if a guy has a popped collar – he’s a douchebag. And if he’s got the southern cross tattooed anywhere on his body, I won’t even speak to him. Also, bleached hair is a huge indicator of fuckwittage.”
“But my ex didn’t have any of that stuff,” I protested. “Then again, he wasn’t a conventional douchebag. He was actually…evil.”
“Yeah, yeah, all men are scum,” my friend said, and waved his hand dismissively.
I opened my mouth to argue, but found myself at a familiar loss. I’d already had this conversation with various people over the past few months – with both men and women – but I was still struggling to find a way to explain exactly what went on in my relationship.
In a nutshell: I chose to be with an emotionally abusive, lying, manipulative cunt, for nearly two years.
Did I know it at the time? Yes. Was I able to walk away from the relationship? No. How did it actually happen? I’m not sure.
I’m a reasonably well-balanced individual. I’m relatively smart. And ordinarily, I’ve got a pretty healthy sense of self-esteem. But over the years I was with this guy, he took all the parts of my brain that made me normal and systematically destroyed them. By the second year, I was a mess. I couldn’t concentrate at work, I didn’t sleep, I was 8kg below my normal weight, I took too many drugs, I drank too much, I had no interest in my friends, and I lived in a perpetual state of fear and intense anxiety.
It started slowly… A few comments about my weight, my make up, my dress sense. Some condescending remarks about my work or my writing or my professional reputation. Over time, that developed into plain insults, combined with accusations of cheating, irrational jealousy, and constant arguments. He made a habit of pointing out everything I did wrong (and I was always doing something wrong.) He told me that my friends were conspiring against me and I should cut them out of my life. He read my emails and went through my things. He joined forums to follow my online interactions. He forbade me from talking to some of my male friends. He ranted and raved and screamed until I learned not to complain about anything. He told me I was paranoid. He told me I was stupid. He told me I was inappropriate. He told me I was a slut. He yelled at me when I cried. He said he wanted to punch me in the face. He threatened to kill my family.
And he cheated. Oh yes, he cheated, a thousand times. And for an obscene period of time, he had two serious girlfriends concurrently.
“Why did you keep going back to him?” is the question everyone asks.
Quite simply, I was terrified of not having him because he had rebuilt every aspect of my life to revolve around him. There was just nothing left. I had alienated most of my friends, and my relationship with my parents had become strained because I was so agitated all the time or trying to hide the fact that I was fucked up. My work, my music, my writing, my social life, and everything else I enjoyed had somehow come to involve him to such a degree that I couldn’t do any of those things without him. He made my life miserable, but I needed him desperately because I had come to depend on him for almost everything. I had no coping skills left and having someone else control my life was somehow comforting, even if they were the one who made the mess in the first place. He would regularly orchestrate situations that he knew would devastate me, then swoop in at the last minute to fix things as I floundered. Eventually, he was all I had.
I suffered most of this in silence. I never really told anyone what was happening, because I knew what their answer would be, and I knew I couldn’t leave him. Plus, I was just plain embarrassed. There was simply no point in having that discussion.
But of course, it ended eventually. I uncovered a series of transgressions so major that even I couldn’t talk myself into believing his bullshit anymore. I arranged a meeting, and then I threw myself at him, kicking and screaming, hitting and biting. He didn’t feel it, but he left me alone after that.
Once the adrenaline of that final episode wore off, I fell into a bit of a slump. I was still reeling from everything that had happened, but everyone had already heard the story and was bored with it. I looked okay, so everyone assumed I was. My job kept me busy and functional during the day, but most nights I drank until I passed out. I felt completely traumatised. I’d always known my relationship contained some untruth, but discovering the scale of the lies was devastating. It felt like an episode of Scooby Doo, when the villain peels back his mask and you realise you had completely mistaken his identity altogether. I agonised over how I was supposed to prevent a situation like that from developing again, when I wasn’t really sure how I’d let it happen in the first place. And at the end of the day, I was simply floored by the fact that a human being could be so completely, purely, remorselessly awful. So I drank until I couldn’t maintain a string of logic, I turned off my phone, and I didn’t leave my house unless I absolutely had to. I simply needed to sit, alone, and try to remember who I was. Gradually the shock wore off and I remembered how to be a normal person, but the anger never really faded. I realised that up until that point in my life, I’d never actually hated anyone. I say that I hate things or people all the time, but this was red-hot and bigger than me. I was afraid it would make me do something terrible. I’m still afraid of that.
I think about him less now, but when I do, it’s always in fantasy: I see him drunk, stumbling around the city one night. He trips and staggers in front of a bus. It crushes him instantly. His body breaks and he’s thrown to the side of the road. He lies there, a tangle of gore and smashed limbs. He can’t speak, but he can hear. And he needs an ambulance, fast. I walk over, kneel next to him, and look into his eyes. “You worthless fuck,” I say and spit in his face, then walk away.