Editor’s note: The following essay was submitted by a Lovefraud reader.
In our lifetime, we hope to capture the best moments of our lives in pictures. We keep albums of our family events, weddings, births, first dates, proposals, holidays, vacations, and so on. There is another kind of snapshot that keeps many of us longing for our sociopaths. These are the “snapshots” we hold in our minds. They are the ideal moments, the perfect words, the heightened romance that so many of us felt when we were being seduced by a sociopath.
Browsing through my mental album, I see a snapshot of myself and the Bad Man, as I call him, passionately kissing in Safeway next to the tortilla chips. It was romantic, it was silly, and I felt so in love. Never before had I done a thing like that! It was just a kiss but it was so ideal, so out of the movies. I recall during our first kiss, he embraced me as if he were Fabio on the cover of a Harlequin Romance novel. Who wouldn’t swoon for that?
Here’s another snapshot. This time, I am at Home Depot. Why all the retail?! On the radio, Dan Fogelberg’s Longer Than is playing and I start to weep tears of joy. Suddenly, I felt as if I had a deeper understanding of this song about lovers. I know, it’s c-o-r-n-y! This happened during a time that I have referred to as “the happiest two weeks of my life,” or like I said before, “Relationship Crack.”
Another snapshot I have in my mind is spending an hour choosing just the right birthday card for my budding new romance (and more weeping over drippy love songs being piped in over the sound system). God, I was a sap! I ended up with two cards. I saw this as “the first card I would ever give the love of my life” and it had to be perfect. So what’s more perfect than two?
Yet another. This time I am sitting next to my Captain as he skillfully pilots the craft and gives an enlightening spiel about the marine life over his microphone. The guests were rapt with attention as was I, goo-goo eyes and all. I always had a thing for islands, the water, the whales, which were out in full force that day, and of course, the Captain of the ship. Isn’t it perfect?!
I remember looking at the Bad Man with his tanned skin and his Indiana Jones hat. He looked exactly like Harrison Ford back when Harrison Ford still looked good. It was all too perfect. I was living in Hawaii, I had a hunk of a man for my new boyfriend and of course, he had already told me what a “quality woman” I was, asked me to be his exclusive girlfriend and told me he was “seriously considering” me as a “potential life partner” after only a few short weeks! Considering that my move to Hawaii was my idea of an “alternate” life plan since, at 35 years old, my marital dreams had not come true, you can imagine how ecstatic I was to have such a lucky break in love. I had only been on the island 10 days when I met the “man of my dreams.” It appeared to me that my dreams were coming true after all. I looked at him and thought to myself, “We are going to be one of those couples that everyone wants to be like!” and I was on top of the world. I thought I had beat the system by letting go of the quest-for-love and reaching for my dreams on my own… and BINGO! My prayers were answered.
Sadly, the signs of danger were already present but my ideal moments, my perfect “snapshots” were clouding my ability, or perhaps, my willingness, to see them. The Bad Man had already mentioned that he had been called a “cult leader” in the newspapers back in Seattle during his days as a Pastor for Assemblies of God. He had been “sort-of excommunicated” because he was an “out of the box thinker” and he had “thrown off the templates” of the traditional hard line thinking of his former Church. He was a “rebel” and a “hero.” He had a “permanent restraining order” against him and all women’s health clinics in the Seattle area. He was “honest” about the “B.S. restraining order” his ex-wife had against him. He told me mournfully that his ex “stole the children” (escaped under extreme duress, I am sure) and that the court would issue a restraining order to any woman that said she was afraid. “The court wouldn’t even question it” he told me, with indignation in his voice. He called her a “gossip” and talked at length about how couples should be able to work out their problems in private or go “up the food chain” for advice and not down. Now in my defense, this was confusing. That seemed like good advice coming from a former Minister. Perhaps his ex was a gossip. I mean I was keeping all our problems private, just like he told me to. Why couldn’t she? I know as I write this that it all sounds ridiculous but alas, the kiss… the kiss! Now, I say, “Alas… the red flags, the RED FLAGS!!!”
Never before had I been so taken in by someone, so consumed by a man. I thought this was the big love that I had been waiting for. I thought it was finally my time. These were the things I was telling myself in those brief moments of heightened romance. As I write this, I realize that my snapshots were just my thoughts. In fact, in some of the snapshots I describe, the Bad Man isn’t even present… just me and my thoughts of LOVE. I was in denial of what was really happening and I let a few highly romantic moments, snapshots, overpower the truth. My own thoughts about what this relationship was going to mean for my formerly-empty-before-him-life were seductive enough for me to all but ignore the truth before me.
In my mind, I have burned up these snapshots. I recognize them for what they are now. They are my own fantasies, and my own dreams that I pinned on someone else. Why are all my dreams riding on someone else? Now when I am asked, “What are your hopes and dreams?” I feel sad and empty. For some reason, I keep getting asked this question lately. I can’t think of anything. I have plans that are solid and based on reality. I am working toward some goals. I have named the steps to achieve my goals and I am ticking them off as I go. But there are no dreams.
When someone loves you, they don’t set out to destroy you. They consider your wellbeing and they consider how their actions affect others. This is what is normal. They don’t terrorize you until you feel like you are worthless. I knew this but I sort of forgot. I forgot because he said the magic words…“I am seriously considering you as a potential life partner.” I became a slave to those words and would do anything, endure anything, ignore anything, because of them. It’s like I was on Survivor. I formed an alliance with him! I bought in to his strategy to destroy me and I joined in the plan. Hey, in the end, I even voted myself off the island! I guess you could say, I escaped the Bad Man by leaving while he was at work, kind of like the way he described the day his ex left him with her 5 children in tow. God Bless her.
If it seems that I make light of my encounter with a sociopath, I do not. My story is lit up with red flags, more than I would like to admit. My lessons from the Bad Man cost me some money, some time, many tears, a few friendships, and maybe one thing that needed to go, like a baby tooth needs to go to make room for the emerging adult one. Perhaps my fantasies of love, and being in love, and what that would mean for my life, were a bit girlish. Now, I have a plan for my life beyond loving and devoting my life to someone else. Where was I in all that, anyway?
I have a real snapshot of myself from my time on Maui. It was taken by the Bad Man. When I saved it on my computer, I gave it the file name, “pretending to be happy.” It looks like I am having the time of my life but the truth is, I was sleepless, anxious, afraid, and miserable. I was being emotionally battered, manipulated, terrorized and stalked. I had been called a long list of names your Mother wouldn’t want to hear you say. I was never good enough, never knew what he wanted or didn’t want, could never guess how to make him happy, because it changed minute by minute, nor could I keep up with his ever changing relationship rules that always applied to me but never to him. I was crumbling under the stress of it all.
I guess it’s never too late to be truthful with yourself.
Author’s note: The concept for “Snapshots” was introduced to me by my friend, Susan Bradley, RN. Susan is a Relationship Coach, and author of “Irresistible Prescriptions for Love.” For more information, visit her website www.lovinguniversity.com.