Editor’s note: This post was written by M.L. Gallagher, who was romantically involved with, and almost destroyed by, a sociopath. She has written a book about her experience called, The Dandelion Spirit: A True Life Fairytale of Love, Lies and Letting Go. Lovefraud recommends the book for anyone who is trying to understand how sociopaths manipulate their victims. M.L. Gallagher will be posting regularly to Lovefraud.
Jack and I have been friends since high school. Last fall when his marriage of twenty-two years dissolved, he arrived on my doorstep, emotionally drained, bruised and fragile. As he tried to make sense of what had happened to his life, our friendship deepened.
Recently, Jack has been angling towards taking our relationship to a new level. At first I was ambivalent. And then I was intrigued. After three and a half years of avoiding dating altogether (an encounter with a sociopath can sour you on just about anything!), I wondered if perhaps this was a good time to test the relationship waters. Jack is a man I trust, respect and adore. Why not tread a little more deeply into the unknown between us?
We agreed to spend a day together preparing the meal for Canadian Thanksgiving. “We can take the pooch for a walk, go to the market, and spend the day as a couple,” he said.
I took a breath. “Good idea.”
Thanksgiving Day arrived and so did Jack. The sky was clear blue. The autumn leaves beckoned. We headed to a park at the edge of the city and walked and talked as the pooch raced through the long prairie grasses that lined the trail. On the way home, we stopped at the market to pick up last minute goodies.
“I promised a friend I’d go to an auction with her,” Jack informed me as we carried our purchases into the house. “It’ll only take an hour. Would you like to come?”
I pushed down the fissure of anger that seared through my mind. “I don’t think so,” I said, wondering if he could detect the acerbic undertone of my response at his mention of another woman.
“I’ll be back in an hour,” he blithely replied as left me with a quick hug and a wave good-bye.
Seething, I started preparations for dinner as my mind raced into overdrive. How dare he! Not only had he not kept his commitment, he had taken off to spend time with another woman. Three hours later, when he still had not reappeared, I phoned him. Apologetically, he told me that a malingering back pain had turned into a full-blown back attack and he was uncertain whether or not he would even be able to turn up for dinner.
Upon hearing Jack’s excuse, I replied, “Let me know what you decide,” and hung up. Quickly. Abruptly.
The tears spilled from my eyes. I tried to push them back. They kept coming.
I stepped out onto my patio and let the warmth of the afternoon sun fall onto my face. I took a breath.
The tapes were spinning in my head. See. Men are jerks. He’s an ass. Typical. Are you stupid M.L.? Trust a man and see what happens?
I took another breath.
I’m not stupid. And not all men are jerks. But in this instance, Jack’s behaviour was not acceptable. However, my response was not sitting well with me. Hanging up was a knee jerk reaction. I had to turn up and be honest.
I picked up the phone and called him back.
“I need to tell you how I feel right now,” I quickly said as he answered with a cheerful, ‘Hello, this is Jack.’ “I am angry. We discussed spending today together and you took off to spend time with another woman. I appreciate your back is sore but your behaviour is unacceptable.”
Finally, he spoke. “I apologize,” he said. “You’re right. I’ve been very confused about my relationship with you and I did not think before I acted. I’ll be right there.”
“Your apology is accepted,” I replied. “Your confusion does not give you an excuse to use me as the vehicle through which you bulldoze your way to understanding. I don’t want you to come over right now. I’m angry. I want my anger to dissipate, and spending time with you might help you feel less guilty, but it won’t help me find my peace of mind.”
He didn’t come for Thanksgiving dinner. But I did find my peace of mind.
Now, one of the elements of the sociopath relationship was that he had a continual string of health crises that left me feeling insecure about voicing my own needs. I mean, how could I tell a man who was supposedly dying of a rare heart disease that I was upset with him for constantly not turning up when he said he would? What if the last words he heard from me were angry words of condemnation? So, I held my tongue and lost my way.
In hearing Jack’s excuse of a back pain keeping him from dinner, the trigger was pulled. With the possibility of another woman brought into the mix, memory leapt into action as I felt the pain and horror of that time. Jack’s behaviour was unacceptable. But my tears were not about his behaviour. They were about pain deeply buried within me and the feelings they evoked of being less than, unimportant and unworthy.
I am not ‘less than’ and I am important, to me and those who love me. I am worthy. No one can take that from me, unless I let them.
It was a powerful trigger. In pulling it, I found my voice when I turned up, paid attention and spoke my truth without fear of the outcome.
Do I forgive my friend? Yes. He is acting out his own fears, confusion and needs. Will I step further into a relationship with him? No. Because once the trigger was pulled I saw where my desire to move into closeness with him came from. It did not come from a place of wanting him as more than just a friend. It came from my place of fear.
I have always loved the thrill of being pursued. It was one of the aspects of my personality that left me at risk with the sociopath. For me, the dark side of the pursuit game is the come hither/go away dance it awakens within me. He chased me. I awoke. He withdrew. I took up the chase. Eventually, I was in pursuit of a mirage that led me into the death zone of self-annihilation while he stood dancing on the sidelines watching me self-destruct as my need to stay connected to him drove me deeper into the arms of his abuse.
When Jack and I first discussed dating, he mentioned his interest in another woman. My ‘huntress’ awoke as I circled that sore spot within me where in the yin/yang of male/female relationship, I want to be in control. My response to his desire to have a relationship came not from wanting to be in a relationship with him, but from my fear of his losing interest in me.
The sociopath relationship left many scars. They are healing, but some wounds run deep. Sometimes, I can’t feel a wound rip open until I hear the trigger pulled. When I let the pain flow, when I courageously face memory’s pull, I grow beyond the terror of that time into the beauty of my life today.
Thanksgiving dinner arrived. My home was filled with good friends, good food, wine and laughter. It was a beautiful evening and I was filled with the joy of being surrounded by family and friends I love and whom I know love me.