When I look back on the past twelve months, I am reminded of a very recycled childhood story. You take a frog, place it in a pot of cold water, and slowly turn up the heat. In complacently adjusting to a changing environment, it becomes frog soup. But take a frog from an ambient temperature and drop it in a pot of boiling water, and it jumps out almost immediately. Now, I am no herpetologist, but I do very deeply connect with the soup frog. I have, for several months, been cooking in a pot of complacency, in a relationship that has gradually ripped me of every semblance of peace and calm. With the #metoo movement and the onus so heavily placed on physical and sexual abuse, emotional abuse doesn't garner as much attention. But girl, listen to me – your instincts never lie. If your gut tells you something is up with your man, SOMETHING IS UP WITH YOUR MAN.
Nine months before I met him, I had been ghosted by someone who assaulted me. No warning, no closure, and I had no viable proof. I already struggled with fears of rejection and abandonment and his Houdini act in the circumstance brought me to an emotional rock bottom. I put my bruised self through six months of therapy. When I began to feel wholesome again, I Bumble-swiped on this tall, good-looking, funny, intelligent, and former US Marine. He was the dream. The texts and calls flowed, I loved getting to know him, and he placed a value and effort on me no other man had done before. And that is why, before I begin to describe the cracks, I'd like to state two things: this is not intended to be a smear campaign, and I am going to appreciate him for everything good he once was. I am responsible for my shortcomings, but like a lot of women often do, I sold myself short in pursuit of something real and believing too soon that I had found it.
I saw the red flags and chose to ignore them in fear of being viewed as needy or uncompromising. But with dating, he seemed intentional. I used to date a different girl every day and I’d name them by the days of the week, he once told me. I am not that guy anymore. You’re the only girl I’m with. He always kept his word – I was never ghosted or stood up.
Our dates spanned several hours over one day in the weekend, and he'd refuse to split the restaurant bill. He’s driven down to see me many times, had long conversations with me, and has asked me a million questions. He could talk to any topic, from artificial intelligence to gravitational waves to politics. Whenever we would argue, he was calm, kind, and attentive, and would put his stance down in an easy-to-understand, lucid fashion. He told me every day how much he cared about me and liked me, and how he wanted us to develop a deeper connection. I’m a man, not a boy! He’d say, I would never ghost you! If he held my hand or hugged me, it'd be lethargic, almost forced. He took me around his neighborhood jaunts and his favorite drinking spots. I was ecstatic to find someone willing to pour into me for me! He even introduced me to a few of his friends. Everything has a positive, negative, and neutral side to it, he’d say. Choose positivity! It was perfect.
Perfect until what started out as small lapses in communication began to surface. Texts and calls that once easily flowed were on staccato every few days, and although we would still see each other for a few hours every weekend (he refused to stay over), his accessibility slowly grew inconsistent. I couldn’t put my finger on it and thought he was losing interest. The fear unearthed my anxiety. Now, I work a full-time job and I don’t expect texts throughout the day, but as a woman wanting to be pursued, good communication certainly helps. How someone who sweet-talked me for weeks could now go for days without a single text or call was confusing.
He disliked planning his free time and wasn’t one to care about small gestures, and I wanted him to care. The day before Valentine’s, I called to wish him. Thanks! he said. I joked about what he wanted or what he was going to get me, and he said - Nothing! I’m not a sucker like these other men who dance to a woman’s every tune. I laughed. Valentine’s Day is overrated, but when everybody around me got chocolates and flowers, I got nothing, and a small part of me was disappointed.
A few weeks later, after another unresponsive few days, I asked a mutual acquaintance if he was okay. He called me back around midnight that Friday and when I told him I contacted a friend to find out if he was safe, he said - You did what? Why would you do that? I can take care of myself. That was so unnecessary. Which wasn’t the point. I wasn’t trying to hold him back from doing what he wanted to do. I just wanted him to be accessible to me in what we were trying to build together.
When I first met him, he told me of a previous relationship that had lasted six years, how he loved her and had wanted to marry her, and how good he was with long-term commitments. “You are so lucky to be dating him because he is such a good guy!” his friend once told me. And into our seventh month we went.
In retrospect, I do understand that my reactions governed who I was and what I was willing to accept. Had I not viewed him through rose-colored glasses, I would have had the courage to walk away. My love for him clouded my judgement. Oh man, I am so f***ing good looking and intelligent! Look at this body, the body of a god! He’d joke, and I’d laugh. At other times, it was - I am the humblest, most radically honest, loyal person you will ever meet. If I questioned it, he’d say – Have we proven if I am a liar thus far? I stayed because I was so scared of losing him even though he continued to be less and less accessible.
Soon, texts that were on a timeline began to go unanswered. I was working, he’d say. I’d book tickets for us to watch a movie together and two minutes before it began he’d be at a bar downing his second beer. I need to finish another beer too! If you so badly want to go for the movie, you go alone. I've entered theaters thirty-five minutes late. If I held his shoulder during the movie and something suddenly scared me, he’d roughly throw my hand to the other side. Flirting with the waitresses in front of me was another common activity. He’d never ask the men their names but would make sure he knew every woman’s name, where she was from, and what the elephant locket on her chain signified. Ah, so many women in this restaurant! I’m never the jealous girlfriend, and so I’d ignore it. All I cared about was his communication.
Not free this weekend. My stripper friends want me to help them set up a tent for their event. And still the fact that he was with me was better than being alone. Have confidence in my integrity!
If I did not plan a date for the weekend, no date happened. I loved seeing him and made that effort a priority, and I assume he got complacent knowing I would do it anyway. On my birthday, I received no text or call (he had wished me the previous night only because I called him, and I had because I was scared he wouldn't call to wish me at all). I didn't want to be mean to you on the day of, he said later. If I hear your voice, I feel like being mean. Two days later, he called me back. You did not say it was urgent. Important is not urgent.
His birthday was one of the days he broke his no-kiss rule. He cajoled me at the movies to be intimate and kissing me was his kindness moment. He said it was the best birthday ever. The following week, the kisses stopped, and I went without being kissed for months.
Every time else I'd want to open up to him, he’d say – You only talk about yourself. You never say anything positive. I teach you so much and you teach me nothing. You’re never grateful. You’ve lived a life of such privilege and you still complain. Only people who see negative in everything and come from privilege need therapy. I began reading more books to engage him in better conversation and bought myself a gratitude journal. If nothing about me interests you anymore, why are you still with me? I asked again. I choose to be, he’d say. Don’t test me. If you want to leave, leave.
After months of hurt and heartache, one Sunday, I texted asking him if we could please talk about our communication because I was not being met in the middle, that five days not hearing from him was disrespectful, and maybe we should see other people. We’re done, he responded. Don’t threaten me. I responded saying I did not mean to threaten him, I only wanted us to be happy and understand each other and see eye to eye. I don’t know what I want to do. I’ll text you later in the week. The next Friday, I texted him again. You’re important to me. I want us to be happy and meet in the middle.
I don’t want to be with you. Please don’t call/text anymore.
One year of investing in this person, trying to change myself to be more desirable, discuss ideas, be better at conversation, and he still broke up with me via two small texts. I'm not going to lie, but my initial reaction was not of shock or grief. A wave of relief washed over me. He had done for us what I had no courage to do for myself. I had prayed for weeks for God to either make us work or show me a way out, and one way or another I now had my answer.
This was not the man I thought he was. I started out not wanting to be ghosted but I’ve come out knowing that there is so much more that goes into a relationship. Even though I’ve grumbled and been stressed this year, I have had successes – both the visas I require went through, I’ve started learning salsa dancing, I've begun painting, I’m continuing to study Spanish, I try to read two books a month and review them, and I’m completing an OSHA safety course. I choose to not let the depression one man caused me affect the way I see myself or how I deserve to be loved. I may have a lot of flaws, but I give it my everything when I love someone, and I can - in the clearest conscience- say that I have loved well. I entered this relationship with minimal requirements. I chose to make myself small so I could place him on a pedestal and in turn endured disrespect, anger, mockery, name-calling, lack of care or concern, gas-lighting, and verbal and emotional abuse. After he broke up with me, I texted my closest friends asking them to give me five positives about my personality. I received more than fifty responses. Their words are now the wallpaper on my phone and on post-its stuck on my whiteboard at work. Every time I look up from my computer, I hope to see value in who I am.
The Vice President of my company walked into my office yesterday for his customary quarterly hug and saw my whiteboard with a lot of non-work related material. What’s the story behind this? he asked. Going through a breakup, I said. He took a post-it from my stash, wrote the word ‘Gorgeous,’ and pasted it on my board. If I had a better handwriting, I’d fill the empty slots. You are so worthy. I hope you know this is his loss. Also, word of advice – a breakup is much cheaper than a divorce.