Editor’s note: The following story was submitted by a Lovefraud reader.
There was something odd about his intense gaze. Even though I felt funny about the way he stared at me the first time we met, I ignored my discomfort. I met my former boyfriend after I had been attending services at a Unitarian Universalist Church for several weeks. We engaged in small talk for a few minutes then swapped numbers. Even though I felt somewhat uncomfortable, I ignored my gut feeling and gave him my number anyway. I was very needy and desperate for friendship.
We went out to lunch after the services. Even though he was very charming and funny, something deep inside of me kept warning me to be careful. My date explained that he was breaking up with his wife because she had cheated on him. “Everything was her fault,” he said. Even though I did not believe that the relationship problems were all her fault, I made excuses for his unwillingness to accept any responsibility for his part in the relationship dynamic. After our lunch, we went for a walk. He repeatedly talked about all the places he wanted to go and all the things he wanted to do, but kept reminding me he needed someone to go with him.
When I got home, my answering machine was full of messages from him. Even though I felt uncomfortable being spammed with so many phone calls from a guy I hardly knew, I reasoned that he was probably just lonely and meant no harm. The next day I was spammed with emails full of plans. He wanted to go fishing and he was eager to cook for me. After reading the emails, I felt overwhelmed by all the attention and did not respond. He assumed that I had agreed to go on another date with him even though I did not respond. He later told his friends that I had stood him up. He continued to send emails. I agreed to go to a Doobie Brothers concert after he approached me repeatedly in church. Once again, I ignored my intuition and assumed he was just an overly enthusiastic suitor.
Starting to date
After our first date, I decided I was just being paranoid. I had a wonderful time and agreed to go on more dates with him, even though I still felt somewhat uneasy around him. We continued to attend church services together. We also went on hikes and enjoyed taking long walks together in the afternoon. After we dated for a few weeks, I introduced him to my mother and stepfather, who agreed that he was “strange but nice.”
About a month into dating, he began to buy presents for me. A friend warned me that I should not be so eager to accept expensive gifts. Even though the presents made me feel uncomfortable, I accepted them with gratitude. He obviously did not have a lot of money and did not keep any job for long. I questioned how he could afford to buy me presents. He was very evasive about his financial situation and had a post office address in another state. His utilities were listed in his ex-girlfriend’s name. Even though she had allegedly abused him, I later found out they were still sharing an apartment.
I continued to make excuses for what I perceived to be obsessive behavior. I kept telling myself that he was probably going through a phase. I became more alarmed when he started calling me at four o’clock in the morning to ask if I wanted to go for a walk. He also knocked on my door at four in the morning. The phone calls and visits became more frequent. I finally asked him to call before coming over. He became very angry and defensive and accused me of being paranoid. I was taking mood-stabilizing medications for depression. Whenever I tried to set boundaries with him, he accused me of not taking my medication.
I finally decided it was best for us not to date anymore, but conceded it would be okay for us to “just be friends.” Big mistake. He continued to show up on my back door. I tried to place distance between us by not answering the door. Once I hid my car in the parking lot across the street. He realized that I was home because he peeked in my windows and saw my pocketbook on the table. He immediately called my mother and convinced her something was wrong. I did eventually confess that I hid my car because I needed more space. He assured me that he would respect my wishes if I wanted to be left alone. After we talked, I felt a sense of relief. I thought perhaps his obsessive behavior was just a result of miscommunication. He did seem more than willing to respect my boundaries and even apologized repeatedly. He did back off for a few days. Then I was spammed with emails from friends who said they had received incoherent, obsessive emails from him claiming that I was out of my mind.
Accosted at a traffic light
One day as I was turning into the public parking lot near where I live, a car pulled up behind me and the motorist put on his lights. Initially, I didn’t recognize it was him. He followed me. When we got to the intersection, he jumped out and banged on my door. Bewildered, I pulled over into the Wendy’s parking lot and tried to regain my composure. He jumped out of his car and started talking rapidly about how we were both invited to participate in a New UU Class for new members of the church. Then he explained that he wasn’t following me but just happened to be on my side of town and was excited about the class.
After the traffic light incident, I asked him not to contact me anymore. He sent several angry letters, arguing that I had said we could be friends. Then he contacted the UU minister and some of my friends claiming that I was off my medication again. The minister contacted me and expressed concern that I was suicidal. I had previously been depressed and had experienced some suicidal ideation, but was not experiencing active suicidal thoughts. After talking to me, she seemed convinced that I was not an imminent threat to myself.
Several weeks after he chased me in traffic, I got an email from the Unitarian minister stating that she wanted me to postpone taking the New UU class. In her letter she referred to my behavior as odd and strange, and accused me of creating drama at church. She failed to mention that my ex boyfriend had participated in those conversations. She also failed to mention his part in any of the drama. The minister wanted to meet with me and wanted to have some information about my mental health records. I reluctantly met with her and agreed to give her permission to contact the mental health clinic if I was suicidal. The minister also was concerned that I was not taking my prescribed medications.
The minister mentioned that my ex wanted to have a mediation meeting. She explained that he was concerned I was going to accuse him of stalking. After sending me several angry emails, my ex sent an apologetic email, begging me to agree to the mediation meeting. I finally agreed, hoping that the meeting would clarify our issues. I still wanted to be a part of the church, even though I felt that the minister’s treatment of me was intrusive and insensitive.
The mediation meeting did not improve the situation, but it did give the minister an opportunity to listen to both of us and observe the way we interacted. When I explained that I needed my space, my ex kept interrupting. The minister suggested that I use a signal whenever I wanted him to back off. She also firmly told him that he was not listening to me. For the first time, I at least felt somewhat validated. I was relieved that someone understood that I wasn’t just being paranoid, but simply wanted him to respect me and respect my boundaries. The minister also told him that it was okay for me not to want to be friends.
Needless to say, the signal did not work. Once again, I made the mistake of agreeing to be friends. The next Sunday in church he sat right next to me and talked during the whole sermon. I tried to listen to the sermon and hurried out to my car after it was over. I eventually quit attending the services. When I quit going to church, he started leaving presents on my doorstep again. I tried ignoring him for several weeks. Then he sent an angry email delineating every present he had bought me and accusing me of using him. I went ballistic and told him never to contact me again. Even though he quit leaving gifts on my doorstep, he continued to contact my mother and the minister. He also contacted my therapist alleging that I was not being compliant with my medications.
On a positive note, I could tell that people were starting not to believe him. Even the minister advised him to leave me alone and my therapist agreed not to discuss my case with him. But my ex continued to harass me by sending me instant messages. My stepfather’s employee saw him parked across the street from my house writing on a yellow pad. Several of my neighbors expressed concerns about someone parking in my driveway at night.
After my mailbox was vandalized on my birthday, I decided to file a police report. The police were somewhat helpful and advised me to report any attempts he made to contact me. I blocked my driveway with my car to discourage him from parking there at night. I also enlisted the help of my neighbors.
Fortunately, he finally moved away and quickly got fixated on someone else. I have not heard from him since I changed my number. I have also left the church and have terminated contact with everyone who knows him.
After I broke up with him I read The Gift of Fear, by Galvin Debecker. I realized the biggest mistake I made was not trusting my intuition. The second biggest mistake I made was not setting clear boundaries and cutting off all contact. Every time I agreed to have a meeting with him, I made the situation worse.
Sometimes I still question whether or not my ex-boyfriend is just a maladjusted individual with poor boundaries, or a sociopath. In the beginning of our relationship, I did not set clear boundaries; however, he did continue to contact me after I made it clear I did not want any further contact with him. In addition to harassing me, he did exhibit other sociopathic tendencies. For example, he had numerous somatic complaints. When he went to the emergency room complaining about stomach pain, the doctors did not find anything wrong with him. On several occasions he gave out a fake social security number to avoid having to pay several emergency room visits. Even though he did not have health insurance, he could have qualified for indigent patient assistance. My ex, however, seemed to revel in deceiving the hospital and insisted that he shouldn’t have to pay for services or apply for assistance.
On many occasions he expressed the opinion that the rules didn’t apply to him. One evening when we were walking at the graveyard across the street, the police stopped us and asked us to leave, as it is against the rules to be there after dark. I was willing to leave, but my ex argued with the police, insisting that he knew the people who owned the cemetery. He did admit to me that he had been arrested once for vandalism.
My ex also had a pattern of dating women who were handicapped in some way. All of his previous girlfriends were deaf, and I’m diagnosed with bipolar disorder. A mutual acquaintance informed me that he married a woman from Indonesia so she could get her green card. It sounds as though he is repeating his pattern of dating a woman who is needy.
He also seemed to revel in hurting people who offended or slighted him in any way. He claimed he wanted to make one of our acquaintances cry simply because he perceived that she had slighted him. I am still baffled by his behavior and have a difficult time accepting that he operates under a different set of rules than do most people. A friend of mine, who is a counselor, said he would probably have to experience psychosis before he can even understand what love is.
I still question the difference between being a pest and a stalker; moreover, stalking behavior, in and of itself, in my view, doesn’t make one a sociopath. I believe my ex clearly stepped over that line when he continued to engage in a pattern of obsessive behavior.
But after reading the website at Lovefraud, I concluded that I had indeed been in a relationship with a sociopath. I noticed he had a lot of the characteristics of a sociopath. Even though he was indeed very charming, he did not seem to have any regard for the rights of others. Whenever someone complained about my ex’s behavior or would try to hold him accountable, my ex would quickly play the victim role. He threatened suicide after we broke up.
What I have learned from this situation and The Gift of Fear has changed who I am in good and bad ways. I will always have difficulties trusting people. I have not dated again since this incident, but I am confident that what I have learned will help me in the future. I want to share my experience because it will help me to be more empathetic towards others who are healing from similar situations. I also hope that by sharing my story, someone else will learn something from my situation. Most important of all, I’ve learned to listen to the beautiful gift of fear.