Editor’s Note: This letter to Lovefraud was submitted by Lovefraud reader whom we’ll call “Rhona.”
I’ve had no contact since April 21, 2013. My last direct contact was an email I sent him. In that letter, I stated what I knew to be true about our “relationship.” I didn’t send it to provoke future contact — in fact I said at the end I would not read another email from him — but instead sent it to acknowledge and assert my intelligence and my awareness that he had used my good nature against me, as well as to establish some agency of my own by openly regarding his constructed narrative about our experience as fictionalized and controlling.
Since sending that letter and ending contact, I’ve experienced wild emotional swings between regret and empowerment. While I felt strong the day I wrote it, I’ve since experienced surges of guilt (how could I be so mean when he told me so often how my goodness made him a changed man, a more honest man?).
Regret to re-grounding
This site has grounded me so many times. When I start thinking (as I often do) that he was honest, that I was the hurtful one, that I made him feel used, that my assertions about his hurtfulness were abusive, I return to the articles here to re-access my sanity and to see him clearly described in the heartbreaking stories of others. He is, in so many ways, the same as many other disordered men out there. But he also presents unique challenges to his targets, at least based on the experiences I’ve read about here and elsewhere. I’d like to put a piece of my experience with him out there, in case it resonates with someone who doubts the validity of her responses to pathology.
The source of much guilt
First let me say that I’m married to a good man. Our relationship isn’t perfect, but he’s no psychopath. He has faults. I have faults. But he loves me. He’s faithful to me. And with one exception, I’ve been faithful to him.
That exception has been the source of much guilt — regret my betrayal and deception. I regret turning off my intuition and loosely guarding my boundaries. I regret being vulnerable to flattery and false empathy and mind games. I’ve learned some important facts about myself and I’m happy to know them, but I often feel shame and often mourn concessions of dignity I made in efforts to stay relevant to the psychopath. I’m working through this in therapy. At one time, I had three therapists. Now I have one. I’m healing, but I’m not there yet. Here’s some of what happened.
My psychopath, my mentor
My married-with-children psychopath or narcissist or sociopath or dark triad (how sad that I know these terms and still can’t understand where he fits) is a professor. He promotes the idea of mentorship, which can be a beautiful concept in the hands of a caring, healthy, good-intentioned, integrity-privileging professional.
My psychopath exploits the concept, though, using it to establish trust and open communication, often for the purpose of testing the viability of more intimate, emotional connections with his mentees. I say often because those who aren’t his type (vulnerable? open? willing?) are able to grow as scholars as a result of his expertise and uncanny ability to transfer his knowledge effectively.While lots of people like him, describing him as animated and eccentric and energetic, others are turned off by what they describe as his aloofness and lack of social concern. These opposing perceptions of him I attribute to his desire or lack of desire to connect with a person based on that person’s potential for adulation, dependence, and praise.
At any rate, I craved his approval of my scholarly work, but I wasn’t the type to stop by his office. I didn’t have a crush on him. I was, however, a sucker for his positive feedback regarding my work and his constant encouragement to go to graduate school. This profession needs you, he would say. I wanted more than anything to be good at writing, at literary criticism, at thinking. He gave me that affirmation.
He researched grad schools for me, he invited me to dinner at his house with his family, he taught me about wine, taught me to make lasagna, introduced me to new foods (which is a passion of mine), gave me books, and offered to co-write a book with me (he’s already published).
My marriage was healthy in many ways, but it was missing any intellectual engagement, as well as any strong sense of mutual experimentation with food and wine. My psychopath was filling those gaps, but still I didn’t imagine romance. It felt good knowing that someone whose brains and personality I admired wanted to spend time with me, that he respected me. Somehow I was assigned to him as a graduate assistant.
We spent more and more time together, on campus and at off-campus events. He started walking me out to my car, hugging me, telling me he loved me. I was beginning to entertain the notion of romance, while at the same time thinking maybe he doesn’t mean it THAT way. I was flattered that he might be attracted to me. And I also started to lean on him more and more for emotional support. I was losing a good friend to cancer, my husband seemed disconnected from my mourning, and the psychopath filled in the gaps once again. He was also flirting with me; I was flirting back.
Confessions of love
Soon, he confessed that he was in love with me, that he knew we loved our spouses and wouldn’t leave them, but that he fantasized about me all the time, that he wished we could disappear together. I told him I loved him too. I agreed with his assessment.
He made this confession to me in his front yard; his wife was in the house reading to her children. I was so flattered and excited that I ignored the oddness of this moment. It signaled compulsion, at the very least. By this time, though, I’d heard about how she screamed at him, poked him in the eyes, physically assaulted him. By this time, I thought my marriage must be missing its core — where was the intellectual engagement, the common interests, the soft place to fall? Plus, there were real issues in my marriage, real problems going unaddressed.
After this day, my psychopath wanted to see me every day. It was so flattering. We’d meet on campus, meet for coffee, talk in his office. He told me he was ready to get a hotel room. I told him I didn’t want that. I told him I enjoyed the conversations and the hugs. He asked about my sex life at home. I told him that that part of my marriage had always been healthy. He said he hadn’t had sex in six months.
Long story shorter, he started this kind of push/pull, telling me he could never kiss me, asking me to invite his wife to outings with my friends, then talking about how much he wanted me and pressing himself against me during hugs. He acted as though he was making himself keep his hands off me. He started telling me about other women who’ve been interested in him, how one woman’s husband came to campus with a shotgun and the psychopath’s friends had to hide him. He would say so-and-so has big boobs, so-and-so was open to a relationship, but I wasn’t feeling it. I often felt as though he was comparing me to other women. He told me that even if no one else found me attractive, he didn’t care because he thought I was anyway. Eventually, I felt rejected, as though I wasn’t desirable enough.
He’d say we were best friends, that we were helping each other with our marriages, that we had a very special kind of relationship. He’s been in therapy for over two decades. He said his therapist called us soul mates. Yeah right. Yes, I ignored lots of red flags. Lots. Soon, I was on a crazy rollercoaster, being drawn in as a person he loved, desired, and fantasized about, then pushed away under the guise of sublimation and best friend scenarios.
More physical, but no sex
Eventually, we moved into a more physical space. He said he couldn’t have sex with me, but he did kiss me, he touched me. He wanted me to see his body, but he didn’t want to be touched. He started sending me emails in the middle of the night, saying we’d reached through to his abyss, that he never wanted my husband to touch me again, that he wanted me to spend every night with my mom. He asked me to stop by his office the next morning after the first email of this nature. He told me to be smart. He told me I would repulse him, he would reject me, there would be someone else. He told me he was mentally ill. He told me to leave, to stay away from him.
On a pendulum, back and forth
I tried to walk away; then he accused me of pretending to be his friend, told me my walking away felt like a cheap shot. Then he said he didn’t mean any of the mean things he said, that he was only trying to protect us from the pain of loving each other but being committed to our marriages. Then more physical, more back and forth.
The day we came the closest to having sex, he left saying he was going home to make love to his wife, that I had helped him with that. Soon, I told him I felt like I was on a pendulum, that I needed some space. The next day, he cried and cried and cried, apologizing and giving me a pendulum as a gift, promising stability. The day of my friend’s funeral, I delivered the eulogy, my psychopath called me that evening and raged at me over the phone because I was spending the next day with my husband.
Soon he decided we needed to close down our physical space. Understand that decisions like this were always somehow presented as though they were our decisions, when really they were framed in such a way that I had to feign complicity in order to avoid coming across as evil and unfeeling. He always spoke of my goodness, my empathy for his wife and my regard for his own fears. He told me I made him feel safe, that no one had ever made him feel safe. He told me I was a hybrid of his first and second wife, sexy and smart, funny and sensual.
More push/pull. From friends to I want you and back again and again. He told me he had to tell his wife about us, that she was confessing so much to him about her past, his guilt was overwhelming. His guilt wasn’t so overwhelming that he felt the need to confess his liaisons with other women from back when he was engaged to her. They didn’t count. They didn’t mean anything to him the way I did.
He started talking all the time about how he thought we could be together one day, that I was his ideal, but that he felt he had to give his marriage a real try, then that he felt he was putting off a perfect relationship with me for the sake of his kids. He claimed to tell his wife about me, but swore she was okay with our friendship. I said that was impossible and again tried to bow out.
He went nuts. Every time I tried to pull away, he doubled his efforts to keep me in place. Every time I agreed and settled back into our space, he started acting distant and uncertain, talking about needing to refocus his energy to his marriage. Back. Forth. I started feeling needy and paranoid.
He disappeared one day, saying he had to work his way out of his marriage, that he needed to rage alone. Then he said he had to make his marriage a priority, that he couldn’t see me, that if he saw me he wanted me, that he had to stop wanting me for a while. A few days later, he called saying we should meet in a few days. I said no.
He soon started a large scale friendship campaign. But I was too hurt. I had too many questions about the way he treated me. At first, he tolerated my questions. Then he turned on me, screaming at me and raging at me, accusing me of lying to him. After lots of craziness, including an evening in his office, him exposing himself to me, demanding that I touch him and kiss him down there, I told him we had to end contact. I did soon feel horrible and asked about us being friends, only friends, with no more discussions about sex or desire. He agreed, only to soon suggest we couldn’t be friends, pointing to his wife’s hurt. He continued to be nice to me when others were watching, but privately he accused me of hallucinating, of not considering his wife’s feelings, of not being grateful for his protection of me.
I wanted to share this because there was never great sex as is so often associated with psychopathic experiences. There was no sex. There was no suggestion that he had to hide me from his wife. Instead he claimed to have told her (not everything — just that we had kissed). This creates an odd kind of uncertainty and disorientation, especially when you’re not sure what to believe.
After insisting for months that she was okay with our friendship, he used the marriage as the excuse to discard me after months and months of insanity, months during which I often tried to pull away, only to be persuaded back with much flattery and confessions of love and promises that we could maintain a safe, non-pendulum space. I’m not sure why I tolerated this. By that time, I loved him. I felt I needed him in my life. He broke my heart multiple times. He applied salve many times. Because he frames the discard in such a good-intentioned way (my wife is hurting and I have to stop hurting her), there is no room for accusation (without sounding like a heartless bitch).
Lest you think perhaps he’s just a misunderstood person who suffered for loving two women at once, I found out later about another woman he was jerking around at the same time of my extended pendulum ride. Her heart’s broken, too. She’s married, too.
It hurts to be right
He has so many similarities to the sociopaths mentioned on this site, but at the same time, he’s adopted a script and strategy that allows him to seem in the end like a good guy, that makes any woman who loses her voice and her dignity in the process seem heartless and selfish. It’s hard for me to believe I’m not that, and I can only imagine how hard it would be for someone else to believe.
Imagine the women who never saw through the ruse, who believed that, as much as he loved them, he couldn’t hurt his family like that in the end. I’m sure he’s gotten away with the narrative more often than not. The woman I just mentioned is proof. She had no idea until I told her about him. She thought he was trying to be a good man, that he respected her. It hurts to see through the veil. It hurts to accuse. It hurts to be right.