My humanity was eroded one scornful comment, one unpredictable rage, one withdrawal of affection at a time.
The erosion occurred through his deep-seated jealousy over other men that bled over into a host of control issues. The introduction of this side of him didn’t even begin slowly or appear months into our relationship. It was apparent immediately.
Before we had even met in person, when we were still just words on a screen to one another, there was an evening when I hadn’t texted him for a few hours. I finally sent him a text late in the night when I returned home from a night out. He responded by asking me if I’d been on a date. I didn’t see any reason to lie.
“Yes, I was,” I said.
“Well, stop going on dates with other guys!” he said.
I don’t know if I’d thought he was kidding around or if I’d just thought he was young and inexperienced, that he didn’t understand the formalities of dating and that it was a perfectly normal thing to do to go on a date with another man outside of an exclusive relationship with him or anyone else. I’d found it a little amusing, but told him he couldn’t tell me not to date others. He’d made some excuse about how he didn’t want me to find a boyfriend before he and I had even had a chance to meet. I brushed it off, ignoring it as a red flag.
But it was only a sign of what was to come. From beginning to end, he never stopped harassing me about other men.
And that’s what it was: harassment. That texting incident was fairly tame, but it was a form of harassment. His question was an invasive one to ask a woman he barely knew and his response to my answer was an inappropriate demand to make of a woman with whom he was not exclusive. Because I did not truly understand that this was a dark, festering pit inside of him that tortured him endlessly, I didn’t understand that it could eventually become my torture chamber too.
Sometimes his harassment was cruel, sometimes it was demeaning, sometimes it was completely inappropriate and showed a complete violation of my boundaries and a disrespect for me as a person.
He accused me of talking to, being attracted to, being around or engaging in physical activity with other men on a consistent basis; he made threats about what would happen if I did; he checked up on various aspects of my life to ensure I hadn’t; he set verbal and physical traps for me in which there was no way for me to ever come out looking anything other than guilty and confirming his beliefs; he stalked me and violated my privacy; he forbade me from engaging in activities that would put me in contact with other men; he made degrading comments if I did something he didn’t like even if it had nothing to do with men at all but aroused his suspicions; and he punished me by raging or cheating on me if I didn’t do as he thought I should.
I constantly tried to prove that I loved and wanted only him, while also trying to maintain some semblance of dignity. At first, I didn’t mind eliminating male friends from my life and it didn’t seem to matter if I removed or refused to add my male friends from high school to Facebook or ignored it if they made comments on my posts. But the more I gave him, the more he wanted from me. If I refused to answer a question because I found it degrading or disempowering, he used it as proof of my guilt rather than listening to my pleas to treat me with respect.
The whole arrangement between us on the subject was untenable because no matter what I did to try to prove I was faithful, it was never enough. I now know this is because he was projecting his own behavior onto me. He thought that since he was engaging in unscrupulous behavior and generally getting away with it, I must be too.
Over time, as he continued to betray me and as he continued to hurt me with his words, I stopped caring what he thought. If he was going to turn on me and belittle me anyway if he didn’t trust me anyway, then what difference did it make? What was the worst he could do—call me a whore? Oh, and he had—plenty of times. For offenses such as: going out with my friends and not responding to his texts for several hours; when he saw a man approach me; when he found out that I went on a date after we broke up while he was engaged and had a date set for the wedding. You know, normal behaviors or those I had no control over.
He had taught me how to use his own tactics against him. If he was going to call me a whore anyway no matter what I did and nothing I did was ever enough to show him how much I loved him, then why shouldn’t I just tell myself, fuck his stupid rules, and do what made me happy? If I wanted to spend all night with my friends, why should it make me anxious how long it took me to text him?
Even now, when I think back to all of the persecution and the constant badgering about whether I was cheating or who I was talking to or what I had been doing, I feel a sinking desperation in my chest and a flip-flop of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. My body is reacting to that sense of hopelessness as if bars have suddenly clamped around me. I know with the first glare or accusatory text that, no matter what I do, I won’t escape whatever I’m about to be up against.
My ability to breathe has slowly been restored by not having to answer questions that silence me in their impossible double binds and not having to face cruel underhanded comments or punishments for perceived slights. Now that he is no longer around to influence my perception of these events, however, I am coming to terms with a harsh reality. Not only had I not been allowed to be independent of him, with my own thoughts and feelings, I had not even been allowed to be human, with a normal range of responses and reactions to the world around me.
He hadn’t ever really seen me as a person and he never will.