It’s hard to not blame myself when I look back on the relationship.
People wonder why I stayed with the Narcissist, why I didn’t just tell him to fuck off.
I didn’t see how insane it all was while I was still in it. I was the proverbial frog in boiling water.
In the beginning, the water felt great. I didn’t notice the heat gradually increasing. I didn’t realize I was being groomed. I didn’t know what Narcissistic Personality Disorder was, and I had never heard of grooming someone for abuse.
Even now, when I think about our relationship I often doubt whether I’m remembering things accurately, whether he really was as awful as I recall. My mind is still clouded by the after-effects of trauma.
He had me completely convinced that I was horrible and treated him terribly. He made me believe my mind to be untrustworthy if I thought otherwise.
Breaking free of him and all he told me I was remains a challenge.
At those times when I need evidence of what my truth was, I revisit the chat I’m pasting below, and I remember how everything between us ended. When I do, all my doubts disappear.
When we were still together, I spent every night cooking and cleaning. Every night, he sat in the basement watching TV or playing video games.
I was his personal assistant, event planner, shopper, and chef. I have a full-time job but he didn’t consider it “real work” because I didn’t work as many hours or make as much as him.
(It didn’t occur to me until after the relationship ended that I made almost exactly 80 cents on the dollar to what he made, doing similar work in a similar field, which is about average for a white woman compared to a white male. Also, he spent more time at work because the nature of his job required he be present more than mine, but he frequently bragged that he played video games on his computer and phone nearly constantly. All of this is moot, though. Had I realized it sooner and brought it up he would have deflected somehow.)
My role to him was the homemaker, whether I wanted it to be or not. And nothing I ever did was good enough for him, so not only was I doing all the work, but I was constantly being told I was doing it wrong or not doing enough of it.
The worst was cooking for him. His dietary preferences were incredibly restrictive. No meat except fish, and then, only wild-caught fish. No casseroles. Nothing that might be good for leftovers; everything had to be cooked fresh that day. If I used the same theme a few days in a row, like a certain spice combination I was enjoying playing with, he would complain I had gotten stuck in a rut.
When cooking for myself, before meeting the Narcissist, I always made food in bulk so I could eat it several days in a row (now that I’m single again, I’ve gone back to this habit). I hate spending all my time in the kitchen and am completely fine with just heating something up and having dinner be done with as quickly as possible.
The daily routine of needing to think of something to make that might not offend, going to the store, cooking dinner, calling him up from the basement and spending about 5 minutes with him at the table while he gobbled down food before going back to his games, and then having to clean everything up, knowing I was going to have to do it again the next night, finally got to be too much for me.
Any time I tried to talk to him about it he would tell me I didn’t have to cook for him every night and he was completely capable of preparing his own dinners. And yet any time I suggested I needed a break and asked that he take care of his own dinner, it somehow didn’t work out. I hadn’t given him enough notice, or he needed my help figuring out what to make, plus he didn’t know where anything was in the kitchen so it was much harder for him than me… and couldn’t I just do it?
Ultimately, I had enough. We had a long, involved talk about meals and meal planning. I didn’t want to cook for him anymore. I wanted him to be responsible for his own food.
I had planned for this talk extensively, making sure to broach the topic at a time when I thought he would be receptive, preparing for weeks what I would say and how I would say it. I was terrified he would blow up at me, but honestly, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was exhausted and we were ordering take-out more and more frequently as a result.
I don’t even like seafood all that much! (Sidebar: I can barely look at fish anymore. Every so often I’ll crave sushi, but I’ve hardly eaten seafood at all since the breakup. The thought of it makes me feel rather ill.)
It seemed like we actually had a good conversation. It seemed he had heard my concerns and understood my absolute exhaustion in trying to satisfy his flavor and dietary preferences to his exacting standards. He said he was fine with me not preparing his meals anymore!
For the first time in a very long time, I felt truly seen and cared about. It made me feel some hope for our relationship. I felt loved for the first time in a very long time.
A week later, this online chat happened, and all those feelings of optimism disappeared.
Here is the online chat, copied and pasted in its entirety. Note that I was not working that day; I was prepping the house for my 40th birthday party, which was planned for the following night.
[My commentary is included in brackets throughout.]
Him: I’m thinking pizza for dinner. It’s Friday!
Me: haha I’ll leave the pizza to you ☺
Me: I’m really trying to lose weight and get serious about it
Him: just wanted to give you an opportunity to get in on my fun
Me: haha thanks ☺
Him: I’ll do it with certain dinners too
Him: but I might also do the opposite and ask for your help the next 2 weeks
Him: I might not be getting home until 8p
Him: I don’t want to be a burden
but I also don’t want to eat at 9p
and the bar is way too easy
Me: no bar!
Him: I’m trying
Me: so what can I do to help?
I could have asked yesterday if you wanted me to defrost a piece of fish for you
I can definitely be better about that
Him: I don’t know what you’re willing to do
you basically just stopped cooking for me 100%
no transition [as we discussed and as I agreed to, but I’ve decided I don’t like it and it’s mean]
Me: I’m feeling a bit defensive now…
I feel attacked
Him: okay [I don’t mind that you feel attacked]
you definitely pulled the rug out from underneath me [you did something horrible] and now I’m reeling
trying to figure it out all [I’m your victim]
if you weren’t my partner, then it wouldn’t be a big deal. it would be on me and I’d take care of it [since you’re my partner, this is a huge deal]
Me: can we maybe not have this conversation via google hangouts?
I’m happy to talk with you about this but I don’t like this medium for this conversation.
why make this a big deal? [your feelings aren’t a big deal]
Me: I’ve stated my feelings, love. please respect that this is uncomfortable for me.
I’ll analyze why and try to figure that out so I can talk to you about it, though.
I’m afraid I don’t have those answers right now.
Him: fine, I’ll respect you, even though you won’t respect me
very 1-way… [I don’t respect you but expect you to respect me]
now as you’re figuring out your feelings, why don’t you relax and realize this isn’t a big deal [just do what I want and don’t argue]
just a conversation like “can you find me a house key” [I always ask you to be my servant and do everything for me, this isn’t any different]
Me: for some reason this conversation feels like a big deal to me. it’s about more than a one-time task.
can you explain how you feel I’m not respecting you?
I definitely mean no disrespect.
Him: you’re getting emotional and only care about your feelings [I don’t care about your feelings]
you’re no longer able to listen and hear my feelings and what I’m trying to say [you’re not doing exactly what I want you to do]
that’s disrespecting [you’re getting uppity and should know your place]
Me: I’m sorry you feel that way.
My intent is to request we have a conversation I find emotional using a medium more conducive to a good conversation,
so that we can both better understand and respect each other’s emotions.
I can’t read you well via IM.
I’m sorry you find that disrespectful, but it’s how I feel and it’s important to me.
Him: you’re still not listening. talking sideways again
that’s not what I said at all [I’m going to hurl accusations at you instead of hearing anything you say]
Me: alright, you accused me of only caring about my own feelings and being unable to hear your feelings and what you’re trying to say.
That’s fine. I’m sorry you feel that way. I accept that you feel that way and am not going to engage further on the topic via google hangouts.
This is not an appropriate medium for this conversation.
Him: love, you’re being far too emotional
hangouts is totally appropriate medium, because this isn’t an emotional conversation
just hug it out, it’s not a big deal [I’m accusing you of being hysterical rather than listening to you at all, and if you react negatively to not being listened to or respected, I’m going to tell you you’re off your rocker.]
Me: Baby, I’ve expressed in various ways 5 different times in this thread that this is emotional for me and I don’t want to do this via hangouts.
I’m not sure how I could be more clear about my feelings or my opinion here?
Him: and I’m telling you to get over it
it may not be the best response, but you need to calm down
take a couple minutes, cool off, and then come back and talk to me [stop thinking for yourself and just behave the way I want you to]
all you had to respond with was “I hear you, I’m sorry it’s hard. Let’s work together to make this better.” [here is the script I want my woman to follow and how dare you deviate from it]
and move on
from my side, I’m not going to hold onto this conversation all day so we can fight when I get home
you’re not going to ruin my day like that
I’m looking forward to having a very lovely Friday evening after a very shitty work week
so let’s knock this out (i.e. calm down and forget about it) and enjoy our days [if you don’t behave as I want you to I’m going to make sure we fight later, and anything that happens then will be your fault]
Me: Alright, I hear you. I’m going to go make some breakfast and knock out some to do items, and I’ll touch base with you in a bit.
Him: can I call you?
It was during this chat that I started to see the light.
I had calmly stated boundaries and there was zero respect given to them. I suddenly saw the pattern. If I made attempts to honor myself and my needs, he saw it as me doing something terrible to him. He would be hurt and would manipulate me into making amends and taking care of his needs instead of my own.
Who I was, how I felt, what I wanted… none of it was relevant, and it never had been. The reasons I was always so tired and upset after trying to talk to him about my feelings wasn’t because I was saying things wrong or approaching him incorrectly, as he always claimed. It was because he made it clear during these conversations that I didn’t matter. To him, I was a prop, a side character, an employee. Not a real person.
I didn’t see his request for a phone call because I had walked away from the screen. I had told him I was going to go cook breakfast because I needed a pause. I desperately wanted to take a few deep breaths and think about what had just transpired and how clear everything about our dynamic was to me.
However, when the phone rang, I didn’t have the courage to not answer it.
I knew it would only make the situation worse if I ignored him. He had already told me if I didn’t behave how he wanted there would be a fight that night. I took a deep breath and did my best to have a calm conversation with him. He continued to not hear anything I had to say.
If I said anything other than “Yes, dear,” I was, to him, behaving in a way that bordered on unhinged, and he was completely freaked out by it.
I pretended to let him “calm me down” mostly because it seemed the only way to get the conversation to end without it erupting into a huge fight. I was frustrated to the point of tears but if I let him know that, he would use me being “emotional” to further discount any point I tried to make. I held it in.
I was still hoping we were going to have a productive conversation in person that evening. I assumed he didn’t want to be the person he was acting like. He just didn’t understand how his words were making me feel. Once we sat together, he certainly would listen to me and respect what I had to say. He loved me. He didn’t want to hurt me. Once he understood how much he was doing so I was sure he would feel terrible and would be eager to try to change.
He resumed the online chat almost immediately after the call ended.
what is your current state?
Me: I dunno, babe. Still kind of rattled. You?
Him: then I’ll wait
I’m heading out to the supermarket and the liquor store. Need anything?
crap, yes, but I can’t remember
Me: Haha you have a few minutes, I’m still in pajamas 😛
Him: but then I’d have to think about it [I’m too lazy to come up with a list, but I’m going to expect you to buy everything I want in the house anyway, without me telling you what it is.]
Me: *eye roll*
I’m so scared of you right now
I’m afraid that if I don’t get my order exactly right, you’ll get mad at me [I think you’re crazy.]
Me: My poor love
I’m only going to get mad at you if you attack me
I won’t get mad at you for a grocery list.
Him: we don’t have to talk about it
I’m just not going to add to your grocery list
Me: Alright. Up to you.
Him: please don’t get mad at me [I think you’re crazy.]
Me: I’m not mad at you, my love.
This was amazing to me. Somehow he was afraid of me? Expressing myself and having boundaries was something frightening? Not being obedient and having my own mind was scary to him? I was meant to think of him as mistreated and have sympathy for him?
When he got home that night, I tried to talk to him.
I attempted to unpack the exchange and share my feelings, talk about how so many of the things he had said felt so minimizing and disrespectful to me, to convey to him how I felt my boundaries had been repeatedly busted and how dismissed and unloved it made me feel to be treated this way.
He refused to hear a word I said. He only wanted to talk about me being “rude” to him. He shut me down at every turn and insisted he was owed an apology. Once again, I had done something wrong.
I was in the wrong. There was no conversation to be had about it. I was wrong and I should apologize.
I saw it so clearly, all of a sudden. I never had seen it before. I always had been confused. I always thought I actually had been in the wrong. This time I knew I wasn’t, though.
I kept my voice level, so he wouldn’t accuse me of being hysterical again, and told him that expressing myself and having boundaries is not something I should have to apologize for.
It got me nowhere. He was incapable of hearing me at all. He continued to insist that I’d been “over-emotional” and “out of control” with him in the online chat.
The conversation was completely circular and we were getting nowhere, and I realized how frequently I’d been in this conversation with him before.
He kept telling me I was remembering the exchange incorrectly, but when I reached for my phone to show him what had happened, he ordered me not to. He didn’t want to look at the conversation.
He wanted to be able to define my memory of what had occurred rather than look at facts. It was textbook gaslighting.
He had set up an argument, called me crazy for reacting, and then was trying to convince me I had done terrible things to him and needed to apologize.
My birthday party was the next night. I knew if I didn’t console him he would slam doors and give me the silent treatment for days. He would be sullen and angry while guests were in our house.
Normally, I would have done as I was told. Normally I would have trusted his recollection and believed him when he told me, “That’s not what happened. You’re remembering wrong.” I would have apologized profusely and begged him to forgive me. He would have refused to do so, would have said I didn’t really understand what I had done wrong and my apology was meaningless, and would have dragged out my misery for as long as possible.
This time felt so different to me, though.
This time, after years of not having specific examples and being told I had a poor memory, that I was crazy, that everything I thought happened was a figment of my imagination, I knew without a doubt what had taken place. I had hard evidence.
I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t even look at it.
In that moment, I still was in denial about him intentionally manipulating me. I didn’t know what was going on with him, but I couldn’t fathom that this man who I had been in love with for years was psychologically manipulative and abusive. My brain was not yet ready to accept this.
I said, “If you’d just let me show you…” and I reached for my phone.
His whole body tightened. His fists clenched. He glared at me as, through clenched teeth, obviously struggling to speak calmly, he warned me. “If you pick up that phone, so help me God…”
There had been times in the past when I was sure he was about to hit me, but he never actually did. With each incident, I’d later convinced myself any thought of him doing me harm had been entirely in my head. It had been a fiction of my imagination.
This time, he had definitely threatened me.
There was no denying it anymore. I suddenly realized my fear of him was very real. It wasn’t in my head. There was a reason I had become so meek and subservient with him over time.
I was afraid of my partner, and had been for a long while. In fact, I had been living in a state of constant fear for years.
My fear of him was not because I was crazy. It wasn’t my mind playing tricks on me. My fear of him was not something I imagined or projected onto him because of past relationships or my upbringing. It was not something I would be able to resolve in therapy or by “working on myself” as he often asked me to do.
I was afraid of him. And he had just proven I had reason to be.
In that moment, I stopped believing in him. I stopped believing in us. I stopped thinking anything in the relationship might ever change for the better.
I don’t remember how the conversation ultimately ended. I probably did what I had always done; realized the conversation was going nowhere and capitulated. I probably apologized profusely for having been so unkind and insensitive earlier.
Inside, I was quaking. I had no idea what I was going to do.
The next day, still reeling, I had to run errands and cook and clean for the birthday party I was throwing myself that night. In retrospect, I should have cancelled it, but doing so would have required explanation to the Narcissist. Plus, I think in that moment I needed to continue pretending to myself that everything was fine, nothing was a big deal, and I had plenty of time to figure out what was happening with my relationship and what I was going to do.
It was easily the most awkward and horrible party in history. I stayed as far from him as possible through most of the night.
When I eventually encountered him, he was obnoxiously drunk and being openly rude to our guests.
After everyone left, he denied any wrongdoing and, to make matters worse, tried to take ownership of the party (“I threw you a great party, didn’t I, babe?”).
Him taking credit for things I had accomplished was a huge pet peeve of mine, which he was aware of and thus very much enjoyed doing.
It was then that I lost my temper.
I told him again that he had been rude to our guests, he continued to insist I was wrong, and we got into a fight. I yelled at him and called him a socially inept freak. It was not my finest hour.
What he said next, though, gave me the courage I needed to carry me through the horrible months that followed: “Get out of my house.”
He ordered me out of our house. He confirmed what I was always, on some level, aware of. He did not see me as an equal partner in the relationship. He did not respect my contributions to our livelihood. He thought of the house we had purchased together as his and his alone.
I reminded him that I owned the house, too, that my name was alongside his on the deed and on the mortgage. He couldn’t order me out of my own home. He said he contributed more towards the down payment so the house belonged to him. I knew this to be false beyond a shadow of a doubt. It was a ridiculous idea.
I threw my head back and laughed. He had called me hysterical and crazy so many times when I hadn’t been either in any way, but at that moment, that’s exactly what I was. He had been awful to me before, during, and after my 40th birthday party, had refused to hear me when I tried to talk to him about it, and when I got frustrated at him, ordered me out of our home and tried to convince me I didn’t own it alongside him.
I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever heard.
I laughed at him. I laughed at the whole situation. I laughed in shock and I laughed because I was more than a bit crazed. I was overwrought with emotion at that moment.
He had shown his cards. I knew where I stood. There was no going back.
When it was clear I wasn’t going to leave, he stormed out of the house. It was late at night. I knew he had nowhere to go, but I wasn’t worried about him and didn’t consider him my problem. He’s a white man who was wandering around a very safe neighborhood. He’d be just fine.
I called a friend for support. I was freaking out. He had tried to kick me out of our house. I needed to make plans and figure out what I was doing with the rest of my life. What he did or where he had gone after storming out was the least of my problems.
An hour later he messaged me and asked if he could come home… as if I had kicked him out. It was incredibly odd. I told him he could. He then said he didn’t know if he would be able to catch the last train. Huh? He had stormed out and gotten on the train, and now wanted to come home and wasn’t sure if he could do so by train?
I didn’t see his bizarre behavior as my problem or something I had to resolve. He was a big boy, he could figure out how to grab a Lyft or a taxi if he really needed to. I went to bed and didn’t respond.
The next morning, I woke up alone. I assumed he hadn’t made it home and had either crashed with a friend or gotten a hotel room downtown. I stayed in bed most of the day, talking to friends and family who are lawyers and doing research to make sure I understood my rights.
When I went down to the basement late in the afternoon to feed the cats and clean the litter box, I found him on the couch down there. He had been there the whole previous night and through the day. He hadn’t eaten or used the bathroom. He had just stayed there, on the couch, without moving.
He curled up in a ball and lay down with his back to me. He told me to stay on the opposite side of the room and not come near him. He sulked and tried to punish and guilt me in all the ways he usually did when I didn’t behave as he wanted me to.
He clearly didn’t care at all about his own role in the prior evening’s events. And he didn’t at all realize that he’d crossed the final line.
I told him I was done with the relationship. It just shouldn’t be this hard, I said. I don’t want to do this anymore.
He immediately sat up, totally jovial, completely fine, and asked what I wanted to do about the house. There was no reaction to our relationship ending. There was no conversation about how horribly he had been treating me. There was no emotion from him at all, whereas a second earlier he had been in the fetal position and in the depths of despair. It was terrifying.
I didn’t have an answer about the house. I was devastated that our relationship was ending and couldn’t believe he didn’t have any feelings at all about it.
Ultimately, it took over six months to finalize an agreement about the house. He would not negotiate with me in good faith or concede that I was an equal owner, and legal action was required in order to get my fair share of our property.
We were still living together the entire time. Thank goodness it was a big enough house that we could stay in bedrooms on different floors and be out of each other’s way. Most days I didn’t even see him.
Even so, by the end, things were so bad between us that I was terrified of him and what he might do to my cats or the home’s property value if he were left alone for any length of time.
I was in a constant state of stomach-churning anxiety about my physical safety, my financial future, and the safety of my furbabies.
When I finally moved out, I did so in secret, while he was at work. I didn’t trust him to manage the situation appropriately and allow me to leave peacefully with all my possessions.
But in a relationship like that, once you see it for what it is, you wind up being glad to just get out safely. The lack of closure is something you simply have to live with.
Still, I would have given anything for us to have been able to part ways differently, to get one last hug and be able to say a decent goodbye.
And now? Now I am angry with myself for not figuring it all out sooner. At least I ended the relationship as soon as I woke up to what he was, though. I feel a fair bit of pride about that.
He tried for a bit to get me to change my mind. He wanted me to talk to him and tried to get me to do so, and when that didn’t work, told me he was respecting me and giving me space to work out my issues.
He started dating someone new almost immediately after realizing his attempts to hoover me weren’t working. For all I know, they had already been seeing each other before he and I broke up.
I’m quite confident she’s been told I was horrible to him and he suffered dreadful abuse from me. I’m sure his stories are very believable and he seems incredibly sympathetic when he tells them.
I’m also sure she’ll learn the truth about me in time. I ultimately did about the exes he complained to me about.
For her sake, though, I hope she wakes up and realizes the water is getting hotter far sooner than I did.