I thought I had things under control. I was so naíve back then. So innocent.
But still … I saw signs of trouble. There was the incident where he told me to stop going out with other guys before we’d even met in person. I’d found it mostly amusing. Surely, he couldn’t have been serious. It was like a joke. Like, why should he even care if a woman he barely knows and hasn’t even met yet is having a date? No one is jealous like that in real life. Right?
There were also the early days when we’d go to dinner, and he’d ask me what I was thinking of ordering.
“Probably this salad right here,” I’d say, pointing at the menu.
He would scrunch up his nose and frown. “Ah, baby, you don’t want that.”
I’d raise my eyebrows at him, again, amused. Also, there was something about his response that was a little intriguing. Was he serious? I mean, I’m an independent woman. Men don’t tell me what to do. But instead of getting indignant, I sort of laughed. “You can’t tell me what to order.” And he’d back down.
It was like a game we played. What were the edges beyond which I would not let him play?
Then there were all those funny things he used to say after we became a couple. He would look hard into my mirror, flexing, and say, “Baby, you’re lucky to have such a sexy boyfriend.” And I’d laugh. No one says things like that seriously. What a sense of humor.
Then later in the relationship, things weren’t so funny. He didn’t like it when I stayed out late.
“Are you home?” he texted me one night while I was still out with my friends.
“No not yet.”
“Clubs close at three,” he responded, as if he thought he was catching me doing something scandalous.
“This one closes at four.” It was a new place I was at for the first time that night where they had live shows.
“I want you home by four-thirty.” Oh really?
And again, me calmly just explaining fundamental principles, this one happening to be about basic respect over another person’s autonomy. “You can’t tell me what to do. As long as I’m not out cheating on you, you can’t tell me I can’t be out like that.”
“Fine. You do you and I’ll do me.”
It was the first of what would be many threats to come over the years when I stood up for myself and asserted my basic rights over my own life. If I didn’t do as he said just because it was what he wanted and for no other reason, he was going to … (leave it to your imagination). But I could bet it would be something that would extend beyond merely spending his time as he pleased unhassled.
Still, even then, I’d thought I had it all under control. I had no idea what I was dealing with.
I thought he said and did these things because he was innocent, because he didn’t have experience or know how to behave in relationships and his insecurities were getting the best of him.
All I was really doing was projecting my own innocence onto him.
In time, he finally figured out that if he wanted my compliance, trying to dominate me was never going to work. Instead, all he had to do was pry my heart open with his own and I would willingly comply by myself and beyond his wildest dreams.
He had it all under control.