When I met my ex, I saw him across a crowded table in the college dining hall and was hooked. Three days later, he said he loved me, and that he wanted to marry me. I was young and dumb, had been through some unpleasant/pointless/jerky/nice enough but not really “it” boyfriends that freshman year, and I fell for it.
After all, I come from a long line of people who fell in love at first sight, and who went on to have lifelong, genuinely happy marriages. I didn’t think too much about the fact that he was talking about marriage, right away. It was a little quirky, but not outside the range of the normal I knew.
But there were warnings. Some were warning signs provided by his behavior, and some were the words of friends of this new, charismatic boyfriend who would quietly pull me aside and tell me I should not get involved with him. Did I listen? Of course not. If I had, I wouldn’t be writing this, 28 years and one divorce later.
Throughout our dating, there were things I saw, or almost saw, but didn’t really understand. I didn’t know what they meant, so I brushed them aside, and chose to listen to his words, instead of to what my heart was saying.
When we’d been dating just a few weeks, he told me he had some things he had to tell me, before we kept going out—that he’d tried cocaine, and that he didn’t use cocaine or other drugs or drink heavily anymore because he’d found Jesus. I didn’t know much about born-again people, but I figured that he was no longer using drugs, and if his religion helped with that it was a good thing, so I ignored it, thinking of it as a solution he’d found to a problem he no longer had. By the time he was pressuring me to convert, I was used to accepting things he said, and accepting that he had God on his side. I turned my brain off and went along.
As we dated, and had expressed to each other that we were intending to marry, he insisted we avoid sex. It was sinful. It could wait for marriage. I didn’t agree, but I went along. After all, he was acting on his religious conviction, and the very fact that he was trying “so hard” to avoid sex with me meant that he respected me, right?
He’d push to “go too far,” for a few seconds, and then break things off with me for a few days, before “taking me back” because he loved me so much and I was trying so hard not to be a temptation. After a few cycles of almost having sex and being dumped, over and over, I became convinced that I was every bit as sinful as he said, and that I had to just do whatever I could to be good enough for this pious, moral man. I didn’t realize he was training me to distrust my own judgment and to get used to going without affection and physical expressions of love.
He’d tell me that I would never really understand him as well as the men in his bible study group, or be as close a friend to him as those men, because I was not a man.
He’d take me places where we’d “accidentally” run into women he’d known before, and sorta-almost-not quite introduce me to them. He’d say, “This is Mary,” and Mary and I would stand there thinking, “Who is this person? Why are we being introduced? Is he going to tell Mary that I am Georgia, and that we’ve been dating?” The other women always looked confused, at best, or furious, at worst. I had no idea what was going on, and if I asked any questions, he’d act like I was being very nosy. Now that we’re divorced, he’s doing the same thing–we’ll have to go to the bank for some post-divorce paperwork, and some woman will show up with him. “This is Lori,” he’ll say, without introducing me, and without telling me who Lori is or why I should know her. Triangulation like that is a great way to confuse two people at the same time.
He’d tell me about his, “crazy, possessive, mentally ill, slutty, cheating” girlfriends. Horrible people, who he’d then tell me he was going to see for lunch, because he needed to calm them down. I got used to him having a bunch of women who both acted like they hated him and acted like they hated me, for taking their place. They were jealous and crazy, and it was my job to be calm and accepting. A doormat, you might say. But I thought it was making me “wife material.”
He’d take me to religious functions and drop me off, and then enter the building a few minutes later, so that people wouldn’t know that we had arrived together. He told me it was because he didn’t want them judging us, since I had only recently converted and he was such a respected leader in the church. But the upshot was, he spent those evenings talking to other people, while I stood off to the side, wondering how long it would take him to introduce me as the person he’d been promising to marry, for months.
If we went to parties away from his Christian friends, he’d always have a woman on his lap. Some other woman, not me. He always said they insisted, and that he didn’t want to be rude, but that it meant nothing. I got used to seeing him with a lot of women, but of course he wasn’t having sex with me, so I figured he was telling me the truth. Looking back, I think he just wanted me and everyone else to think he was….
a womanizer. When we were dating, six different people approached me to tell me he was a womanizer who would “love and leave” me. but, hey, again, since he wasn’t having sex with me and was obviously consumed with guilt if we even came close, I was sure that was just silly.
His roommate, just before our wedding, asked me, “Are you sure you want to marry him? He’s very…demanding. He insists our room be kept a certain way.” I heard that, and thought, “He’s clean! He’s organized! He takes good care of his potted plants!” and had no idea what his roommate really meant: That he was demanding perfection of others, but not really contributing to achieving that perfection.
By the time he and my mother were planning our big, fancy wedding, I would have done just about anything to make him happy, and prove I was good enough for him.
Georgia Lynne Pine is a writer and editor in Maryland. She is happily divorced from her gay husband, and rebuilding her life as a woman who can trust her own judgment, again, at last. Georgia will be a regular contributor to the blog, writing about her experiences as a straight spouse–and as a free woman in the aftermath of divorce from a closeted, gay narcissist in denial.
By Georgia Lynn Pine