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.
Pop’s girlfriend: So, Annik, no boyfriend?
Me: Nah, no boyfriend.
PGF: Didn’t you have one last year?
Me: He turned out to be a lying fuck.
PGF: Oh.. my…
PGF: Well, I’m sure you’ll find one this year anyway.
Me: I’m just gonna go now.
me: how long did it take you to get home from the farm?
ex-boyfriend: well I stopped for an hour at the pub, so I got home two hours later than if I’d driven straight through.
me: no, you would have been one hour later than if you’d driven straight through.
ex-boyfriend: nah, two hours. One for the time I stopped, and one for the distance I would have traveled if I hadn’t stopped.
me: that’s completely illogical, you weren’t moving backwards at the pub.
ex-boyfriend: what would you know? Women can’t drive for shit.
Believe it or not, I once dated somebody with a questionable friendship circle. They were nice enough boys, but they had a habit of going to the pub on Friday night and waking up on Sunday morning.
One such Sunday morning, I was requested to pick up a few of the boys and transport them to a BBQ. And so I was happily driving along, enjoying the sunshine and attempting to ignore the smell of hangover in my backseat, when a certain gentleman named Daniel grabbed my arm. “PULL OVER” he said, opening the car door.
I sat in my car and waited while Daniel vomited profusely on somebody’s rose bushes and swore in between heaves. “Cunt.. Haaaggguuhh.. Fucking.. ggarrhgh.. Mother.. snergggh.” And then I waited while he turned on the nearby garden hose and held it over his head, washing off the spew that had splashed onto his face and shirt. “What a fucking yak!” he declared, chunks of vomit flying as he violently shook out his hair, not unlike some kind of wildebeest.
It was then that we both noticed the young couple and their children, sitting on their front porch and staring at the rose bushes, untouched bowls of cereal in front of them.
Copacabana, early 2003
boyfriend-at-the-time: Why are there bins in all the girls’ toilets?
me: So women can throw out their tampons and stuff.
boyfriend-at-the-time: But don’t they dissolve? Like inside you?
Last week I met up for drinks with an ex-boyfriend. He was very much an ex — by almost seven years — and I felt that enough time had elapsed to allow us to develop some kind of platonic relationship.
I picked him up from the shopping centre where he worked and we hugged tentatively, then I babbled about work and my new car as if nothing else of note had happened to me since grade 9. Fortunately, I require an embarrassingly small amount of alcohol on weeknights to become intoxicated. An hour, no dinner, and three beers later, I was chatting quite comfortably about everything in my life and throwing in some religious and political theories for good measure. The ex was in the middle of telling me about the hideous end of his latest romantic relationship, when he mentioned the fact that he was now seeing somebody new. I initially thought he was referring to me, and panicked, then realised he didn’t mean me, and immediately felt slighted. I took a large sip of my beer in an attempt to hide the fact that for some reason, I really didn’t want to be listening to this. Then I excused myself to use the bathroom, snuck through the beer garden and drove home.
The problem wasn’t that I planned to reinstate this guy as boyfriend one day. God knows, if I wanted to be fifteen again, I’d wear a USA hoodie, drink a six-pack of Strongbow and vomit onto a rosebush. No, the issue here is that I never want to think about my old boyfriends moving on. In my mind, I let them recover enough to get past the stalking stage, but after that I like to imagine each of my ex’s sitting in his living room, unshaven and pantless, drinking whisky and watching day-time television through eyes clouded by addiction and blurred with tears, for the remainder of his miserable, regret-filled, post-Annik life. Occasionally he rises to urinate, wanders aimlessly through the house, and pauses to kneel at the shrine of photos, flowers and candles that he has erected in my honour. Then he crawls into bed and drinks cask-wine straight from the goon-bag, attempting to achieve the alcohol-induced coma in which he sometimes dreams of my beautiful face…
But the truth is, I’m usually the dumpee. It’s hard to imagine somebody being depressed about losing you when they’re the one who initiated the break-up. You would think that being constantly rejected would damage my self esteem, but I have somehow managed to maintain a high level of morale. I am mentally unable to process the fact that I could be anything but the perfect girlfriend. Whenever a guy tells me he wants to end things, I quickly remind him, “But I’m amazing. And gorgeous and smart. Are you gay or just stupid?” If that doesn’t work, I change tactic: “Well you can’t have me anymore anyway, cockbag!” and flounce from the room. As I drive to the nearest bottle shop, crying hysterically and swerving dangerously within my lane, I imagine him back home, sitting with his head in his hands as the full extent of the huge mistake he has just made dawns upon his tiny idiotic brain. He took me for granted. He didn’t know what he had until it was gone. He will never love again.
In reality, they always love again. One boyfriend loved again in front of me at the pub every Friday night. Another called me each weekend after he had gotten laid and gave me a blow-by-blow (no pun intended) description of his shag, analysed her technique and then provided a helpful comparison on what was better or worse about my own abilities. And my latest boyfriend didn’t even bother breaking up with me before loving again.
I think that every relationship, no matter how trivial or traumatic, has something valuable to offer us if we look at things the right way. I wouldn’t want a break-up to affect any of my ex-boyfriends’ abilities to love, just as I don’t let any of them affect my own ability to love. In fact, I kind of want my old boyfriends taken off the market, just to erase any potential sexual tension that may crop up in future chance encounters. And, because I’m not a bitter or spiteful person, I want my ex’s to find somebody they can be in a relationship with, and I want them to be happy. I just don’t want to hear about it.