By O.N. Ward
Every week, a chapter of my book, “Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned” (available via Amazon.com, just click on the title or book cover) will be published here on Lovefraud. To read prior chapters, please see the links at the bottom of the post.
Chapter 5: Make Your Own Damn Sandwich!
I did not extrapolate or act upon these seemingly small moments of dissonance, but I had a friend who did exactly that in one of her relationships. Her decision to trust her instincts and to generalize from one small selfish act to what married life with her fiancé would be like may have saved her from a disastrous marriage, perhaps to a sociopath, and the resulting emotional and financial carnage. Carol called off her marriage to “Mr. Right” because of a sandwich.
Carol was getting her PhD in psychology at Yale when I met her at the squash courts. We became squash partners and fast friends. Carol was smart, motivated, kind, outgoing, upbeat, and gorgeous. She was so gorgeous, in fact, that one day when we finished playing squash, we walked off the court and saw a man staring at us—actually, at Carol. Carol asked him why he was looking at her, and he replied that he had to find out if she was really as beautiful as his friend said she was.
“Well?” Carol asked in her strong, sexy, confident southern accent.
“You are,” the stranger replied, and then turned and left.
Carol was clearly a “catch,” and she had come very close to marrying handsome, rich, well-connected “Mr. Right”—the son of a congressman from an established, wealthy Texas family.
One day, before she came to Yale, Carol was not feeling well and was lying on the couch, amidst sniffles, cough drops, and tissues. Her fiancé chose that moment to ask her to make him a sandwich.
“If someone’s going to expect me to make him a sandwich when I’m the one who’s sick, and he just wants to be waited on, well, that’s that,” Carol told me. In that moment, she knew she was going to end the engagement, and she did.
I remember being shocked by the story. Ending an engagement over who was going to make a sandwich? Maybe he wasn’t feeling well. Maybe he didn’t realize how sick she was. Maybe he just forgot she was sick. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. But maybe not. Maybe Carol was right. Maybe there was no excuse for her fiancé asking her to make him a sandwich when she was the one who was ill. None! It was a red flag, signaling inherent selfishness, entitlement, and perhaps a lack of empathy. It was a sociopath math moment—a rare gift, a deal breaker. Despite the lost money and dashed egos resulting from bringing plans for a big Texas wedding to a screeching halt, Carol ended their engagement, and she had no regrets.
At the time Carol told me the story, I was so thoroughly committed to making excuses for this kind of selfish behavior that I was sympathetic to her fiancé’s point of view. I thought that perhaps she was a bit narcissistic and selfish or didn’t have the big picture in mind. There are two sides to every story, right? Wrong. Carol was right; I was naïve. Carol was wise. She went on to marry someone else, because she knew that even who makes a sandwich is important. I went on to have a horrible, twenty-year marriage to a sociopath that almost destroyed me.
With Paul, I brushed off the “Could you make me a sandwich?” moments, excused them away, and then forged ahead. In fact, I even patted myself on the back for being understanding, flexible, and giving Paul the benefit of the doubt—things my family had always encouraged me to do for people when I was growing up.
Paul and I got the flu over the Christmas break. He got it first, so he was starting to feel better by the time New Year’s Eve rolled around. I was still exhausted, so we decided to stay in and have a quiet evening, punctuating the New Year with a champagne toast. Even when I am feeling well, I am not a night owl, so by 10:30, I was fighting sleep and losing badly. I knew I could not stay awake until midnight. I was sure Paul would understand.
“I can’t believe it,” Paul said, making no attempt to camouflage his cutting tone. Then, shifting to his velvety voice, which distracted me from the content of his words, he continued, “Who can’t stay up ‘til midnight on New Year’s? I love New Year’s Eve. It’s soooo romantic. Why don’t you just make some coffee? I really want to ring in the New Year together.”
“Paul,” I said, “I’m so tired.”
“Onna,” Paul replied in a caring, gentle tone, eyes in full “puppy dog” mode, “a few weeks ago, Brian invited us to a New Year’s party. I know I told you. Anyway, I told him the other day we couldn’t come, because you might still be sick. If you really were too sick to stay up, it would’ve been nice for you to let me know. At least I could’ve gone to Brian’s.”
I have a very good memory for concepts (like being invited to a party), although not for details (like the address of the party), and I had no memory of Paul telling me that we were invited to Brian’s party, much less that he might want to go. Brian and Paul were hardly close friends. It seemed odd, but I assumed Paul’s story was correct. Why wouldn’t it be? Perhaps I had not committed the invitation to memory or could not recall it in my foggy state.
In all likelihood, Paul’s story about Brian’s party was not true. More likely, the story contained a kernel of truth—that Paul had heard Brian was having a party—but that we had not been invited or that Paul had not wanted to go. What was true was that Paul had just “gaslighted” me.
Named after the Oscar-winning 1944 film Gaslight, about a sociopath’s nearly successful attempt to drive his young wife mad in order to gain control of her estate, gaslighting is a technique used to cause the target to question her memories, her perceptions, and her grip on reality. As a result, the gaslighted person loses self-confidence, feels vulnerable, and even feels guilty about doing things she never did. This guilt puts the victim in the gaslighter’s “debt.” If gaslighted consistently over time, the victim’s confidence wanes, and she relinquishes increasing control over her life as she relies more and more on her trusted partner—the sociopath who is purposely manipulating and eroding her sense of self. It is brilliant, because it works. If you have never watched the movie Gaslight, now would be a perfect time to do so.
Caught off-guard and exhausted, at first I did not know what to think about Paul’s apparent selfishness. But my need to be nice, to eliminate conflict, and to understand the other person’s point of view (all wonderful qualities when dealing with normal people but profound vulnerabilities when dealing with a sociopath) told me exactly what to do—make excuses for Paul. Maybe he was looking forward to sharing our first New Year’s Eve together so much that he was just disappointed. Maybe he did not realize how tired I actually was. Maybe he loved me so much that he could not imagine celebrating New Year’s Eve without me. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Feeling guilty (as he must have intended), I made coffee, struggled to stay awake, and shared a New Year’s champagne toast with Paul before collapsing into bed.
In actuality, this was something else altogether: a red flag, although a subtle one. Paul’s behavior reflected a complete lack of empathy for me. Even though I was physically and emotionally spent, Paul demanded that I prop myself up with caffeine so as not to disappoint him. He didn’t even offer to make the coffee! Someone who really cared about me would have been sympathetic to how I felt and maybe offered to make me a cup of chamomile tea and tuck me in with a gentle kiss on my forehead. Paul did exactly the opposite. Paul’s trivial need to have me with him as the clock struck twelve on New Year’s Eve trumped my health and fatigue. Sociopath math—remember.
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Identifying names, places, events, characteristics, etc. that I discuss here and in my book have been altered to protect the identity of everyone involved.