Editor’s note: Lovefraud received this story from a reader whom we’ll call “Ellie.”
This is the story of how I allowed myself to become emotionally dismantled by the man to whom I chose to give my heart.
I loved him unconditionally. I accepted and forgave him without judgment. I empathized with stories of his childhood, when he felt unseen, unloved and insecure. I nurtured him through times of deep depression, drug abuse and alcoholism. I made excuse after excuse by rationalizing his behavior and convincing myself that I knew he could be more than what he was. I believed he could be the man I saw him to be, the man he wished he could be … I held on to hope that it would be ok, and that there wasn’t anything we couldn’t get through together.
At this point, I had already placed all of my cards on the table. I showed him my hand. I allowed any and all boundaries to simply be crossed. He knew by now that he had someone who was kind, loving, compassionate and genuine. Someone with so much empathy and forgiveness in her heart, who believed she could heal the wounded, fix the broken and restore the dark spirit of someone else’s pain … and believed all this was possible if she loved them and believed in them enough …
I was everything he wanted, and everything about me, was all that he could never be.
When we first met, he was larger than life. His sense of humor matched mine perfectly and his laugh was so loud and distinctive, it was absolutely contagious. He was so charismatic, intelligent and witty. We spoke about being divorced, experiences we had parenting, stories of our kids from babies to tweens, and especially about dating again at our age, and what relationships meant to us. We seemed to have so many similar insights and perspectives on life, spirituality, hopes, dreams and so on.
I saw the man who seemed so shy, and even a little awkward on our first date. The guy who’s plan to kiss me in the restaurant in front of a beautiful fire pit was foiled by a group of people standing there … So he awkwardly grabbed my hand in the parking lot and leaned in to kiss me. I’ll never forget that moment. It was snowing and everything was sparkling all around me. It felt like a scene from a movie. Then he took his hand to the side of my face and just looked at me, like he had never felt so grateful to have anything in his life. That feeling made me smile from the inside out. I smiled directly from my heart.
There was an incredible chemistry between us and the attraction was one that I’d never experienced on that level before. I was showered with flowers, and phone calls and texts; he made me feel so appreciated, so special and so deserving. Surprise trips with stretch limos and luxury suites to places I never thought I’d see, and never in such big way … I really believed this man was everything that I had ever dreamed of. We fit together in every possible way.
In the beginning, we often talked a lot about what we were looking for in a relationship, how unfulfilling the dating scene was, and how unbelievably difficult it was trying to find someone worthwhile. We shared stories about our online dating experiences, and shook our heads laughing at what we had settled for. He did tell me that he briefly dated one woman right after his divorce, but it just didn’t work out. He said she was slightly disabled and had difficulty walking on her own. He also said she had some cognitive impairments caused by the drugs she used to help manage her illness. He explained so sincerely, that he felt very weighed down by her, as she was very needy and dependent on him. He said he felt so embarrassed one time, because he unexpectedly had to push her in a wheelchair when her legs gave out. He just felt that it was too much responsibility for him to take on so soon after his divorce. (He was just about 1 year out of the divorce when I met him.)
We continued to talk and text multiple times every day. He would shower me with compliments, flowers at work, flowers at my home, anything and everything to show me how interested he was in pursuing a relationship with me. Honestly, I had never had anyone pursue me like that, nor did I ever have someone who made me feel that I deserved so much more than what I’d been settling for my whole life.
On our first Valentine’s Day, about a month or so into the relationship, we decided to get the kids together and go sledding. This would be the first or maybe second time they met each other. It was all still pretty new.
So anyway, I’m the type of woman who absolutely believes there is a higher power, and on that day, it showed itself to me.
It tried to stop me, dead in my tracks. While sledding down the hill with my middle daughter, we went airborne and I received a nice compression fracture to my lower back. I believe now, that it was the higher power forcing me to stop and give myself some time to slow down, retrieve my head out of my ass so I’d be able to see things more clearly. It sure did stop me, but it just gave me more time to fantasize about being romanced and love bombed …
While recovering from my injury, he mentioned an upcoming trip he had planned before we met. He went into great detail of how it was the first trip he was going to take since his divorce. It was going to be a diving trip, which was something he loved to do, something he found great peace in doing. This was going to help him not only emotionally, but spiritually as well. He told me that he was thinking of asking me to join him, although now that I was injured, it would be impossible for me to go, and he seemed genuinely disappointed because he would have loved for me to go on this adventure with him. (Notice the timing of that invitation to join him …)
I was very supportive of him taking the trip. I respected and admired his choice to take this journey alone, and believed it would awaken his soul. (Wishing now that I’d known he didn’t have one of those …)
The night before he left was the first time we made love.
Although awkward due to the fracture in my spine … it was emotional, funny and very, very intimate.
He left for the airport the next morning, sporting bilateral rug burns on his knees … (Not something I would normally blurt out publicly, however, it is an important precursor that will demonstrate his complete lack of having any moral compass, whatsoever.)
I received (daily) emails with lots of details about his dives, what fish he saw, how beautiful and serene the island was, and how he couldn’t wait to get back and see me … because he realized he was really “falling” for me. He said that he couldn’t stop thinking about me, and would catch himself smiling about the night we spent together. He was counting down the days till he would be home.
When he did get back, we became pretty much inseparable. He wanted to see me every chance he could. At the time, I was living about 45 mins from him, in the next state over. I would be the one who would drive to his place every chance I got, just to be with him. (He said he felt more comfortable in his own home and he loved it when I was there with him.) So, I did the commute. I mean, he made feel like there wasn’t a woman before me who had ever known how to make him feel the way I did. And, he actually said that to me, numerous times, occasionally changing it up to “and there will never be another after you.”
We finally decided it was time to plan a weekend getaway with the kids and really have some fun! It was a great time! His daughter (7 yrs old) and my twin boys (8 yrs old) got along like the three musketeers. I took so many photos that weekend! It felt amazing to capture every minute of the budding new relationships between our kids, as well as our own …
Then, we dropped the kids off to our ex’s and returned home (to his place.) I couldn’t wait to download all of the pictures and asked if I could plug into his desktop and relive all the memories we just made.
He said sure, absolutely! (In hindsight, I’m glad he was dumb enough to let me do that, or I may have never found out … Although clearly I was too far in and it didn’t matter.)
That was the day I made my first mistake by choosing to believe in him.
The second mistake was that I didn’t run.
As I plugged in the camera cable, his photo folder popped up and on the screen in front of me were the photos from his trip. That “finding his inner peace dive trip.” The one he was so disappointed that I was unable to go on with him …
He was not alone on that trip. It was not a spiritual journey, at least not in the sense I believed it was.
It was a trip with another woman, in fact, it was THE woman whom he described as having the disability, which had caused him to feel so burdened! She was younger woman, fairly attractive, looking blissfully happy and tanned as they sipped champagne from each other’s glasses. They fed each other chocolate covered strawberries in the honeymoon suite that overlooked the white sand beach and turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.
And let’s not forget the cute photo of the note from the hotel that welcomed them as Mr & Mrs!
There were several professional photos of them posing together, kissing, laughing and looking very much in love. Quite a far cry from counting down the days ’til he was home so we could be together.
There were candid photos of her, sitting posed on the bed, looking up at him as if she had finally found what she’d dreamed of her whole life … She had the look of absolute joy and happiness shining through every part of her face. (That’s a look I know very well, I can feel what she felt because he made me feel that way too.)
After a few minutes of being upstairs, while I’m trying to comprehend what I was seeing and how he could have done this, I heard him come into the room. Finally I was able to form words and make them come out of my mouth. I asked why? Why lie? Why not just say you were seeing someone? Why go through so many lies and in such detail, to make me believe that you were available? How could you email me from this trip, every single day you were gone? What the hell was this that I was looking at? Did you propose to this woman? Or worse, did you marry this woman? Where is she now? How could you involve our children, letting them get to know each other, letting them be excited about our relationship? Letting them act like siblings for an entire weekend? Who does that? And what the hell was she thinking about the rug burns on your knees! Are you kidding me?
I was shaking so uncontrollably. The tears welled up in my eyes. He hung his head for a minute, then he shook it, as if he was in total disbelief over his own actions (or that he got caught.) Then he looks up at me with tears running down his cheek. He resembled a wounded animal that you see in the ASPCA commercials. (Probably ran down and peeled an onion real quick, when he realized that his photos would pop up and that I would more than likely see them.)
The excuse and reasoning he chose to provide was weak. It was weak then and its even weaker now that I am able to look back on it.
He said that things were not working out between them and he didn’t know how to get out of it since they had already planned the trip. He insisted that everything he told me about her was true, with the exception of how long they were actually together. He admitted that it went on longer than he first implied, taking it from briefly dating to a relationship lasting a little over a year. At one point he made a comment that his friends joked with him that she believed he was going to propose to her on that trip. He laughed and balked at how anyone would think he’d do such a thing, especially with her. He said as soon as they returned he told her he met someone else (me), and that it was time to move on. He assured me that it was over and that he never intended to hurt me.
So I just sat there, trembling and sobbing. Then I calmly asked if there was anything else, anything at all that could potentially destroy this relationship that he wanted to come clean with. He reassured me how grateful he was to have finally found me, and that he was absolutely ready to begin a committed relationship with me.
I sat for a bit and thought. I thought about some of the stupid mistakes that I made in my own life.
I thought that I wouldn’t want someone to judge me based on any of my decisions. I thought about how sometimes when faced with a difficult situation, it’s fairly common that we end up doing the wrong things, for the all the right reasons.
I chose to accept his explanation and actually empathized with him for feeling obligated to stay in the relationship, because she had no one else to rely on. I believed that what he did was wrong, but that his intentions were good.
Not only did I just acknowledge that there was still potential for a relationship between us, but I demonstrated my ability of wanting to understand, and more importantly I gave him hope. Hope that I could possibly forgive him. I handed him my vulnerability on a silver platter. That was the day he knew how much control he had over me, and he made the conscious decision to take full advantage of my capacity to love and accept him.
For the next seven years, I was the cat in his twisted little cat and mouse game. I let him dangle my dreams in front of me, and jump as high as I could to embrace them. I let him use my deepest regrets, my most vulnerable insecurities and my most terrifying fears against me, taunting me, judging me and reminding me of my failures and shortcomings on a daily basis. The embarrassment I felt not only for having to relive the shame of my past mistakes, but more so, the reality of having it done to me by the person who I trusted and loved the most. I almost couldn’t breathe. It hurt that much.
Yes, I saw the signs. I saw the flags. I felt my intuition trying to jump start my brain. I can also say that I made the mistake of ignoring it, rationalizing his behavior so it wouldn’t hurt me so much. Making excuse after excuse and holding on to a shred of hope that he would one day he would magically become the man I thought he could be.
I lost my friends. I lost the respect of my children. I lost a business I started with my best friend. I lost every single person who tried to make me see him for who he really was. I continued to choose him over everyone and everything that ever mattered to me. It breaks my heart now when I look back because, the truth is, I was so lonely, so vulnerable, and so insecure. I felt such a desperate need to feel acceptance and love from him. I strived to please him and I sought his approval; but no matter what I did, it would never be good enough, and that only made me try harder.
I completely isolated myself from all who refused to see him as I did.
I pushed everyone away because I believed him when he told me these people were jealous of us.
I believed him when he told me that my friends and even my own children did not have my best interests at heart, and that they have all said awful and hurtful things about me behind my back.
I believed him when he told me that other women resented me because he had chosen me.
I believed him when he told me that other women were flirtatious with him and they would try to entice him into cheating.
I believed he lead certain people to question his happiness with me, thus giving the impression that he could still be obtainable.
I believed him when he said that I was a jealous and insecure woman; and believed that I needed to compete for his love and affection or I could lose him.
I believed him when he told me that I was incompetent of managing my finances. I believed him when he said that my job was insignificant and that my earnings would never exceed all of the hard work I put forth.
I believed I was unappreciated.
I believed I wasn’t as intelligent as I thought I was.
I believed that he would replace me with someone more successful.
I believed that my thoughts, opinions and feelings regarding just about anything were ridiculous and didn’t make sense.
I believed that my entire thought process was faulty and I began to doubt everything about myself.
I felt him mocking me, I felt him belittle me in every way imaginable. I felt him ignore me. I felt how he resented me. I felt his anger and I became the outlet for all of his rage. I saw the utter and absolute disgust he felt because of the commitment he had made to me. I felt useless. I felt completely insignificant. I felt more alone at this point than when I actually was alone. I felt as if he sucked out everything that was good in me, so he could use it to make himself feel like a better person. I felt so empty, completely worthless. I felt the pain of his lies. I felt the torment of that sinking feeling in my gut because I could feel him cheating on me.
Of all the things I chose to believe, the thing that disturbs me the most is that I believed once we were married, all of those things would stop, and that I’d never have to worry about any of it, ever again.
But as soon as we returned from our honeymoon, and the reality of our marriage began to set in, I began to see some of the most horrific and cruel behavior that I’ve ever witnessed or experienced in my life. I was in a constant state of tug of war. One day I was treated like a princess, and he wanted to give me the world, but as soon as he gave me any form of happiness he would do whatever he could to take it from me, leading me to believe that I never deserved it in the first place. I never knew who he would be from one day to the next. I managed to exist in my marriage to him for just shy of a year by clinging to the hope he would one day change.
It’s been several months since I left. The divorce was just finalized and he is all about showing off my replacement and his new committed relationship.
I don’t think these were mistakes on my part (perhaps in the very beginning, when I chose the benefit of the doubt route), but I firmly believe that once you commit to repeating the same mistake over and over again, it should no longer be referred to as a mistake. It needs to be recognized for what it truly is, a decision. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, on some level it became easier to convince myself that staying in that fantasy land and pushing myself to believe that I knew him better than anyone, that no one understood the man on the levels that I did, and that somehow I saw myself as a better person for persevering through all of this heartache. I continued to wait for the day that I could say to everyone; “See, I told you he was a good man, I knew he would change and show you all of the amazing qualities that I had seen in him all along, I knew he loved me, and that now that I hung in there and stood by him, we will finally get to live happily ever after.” That was my decision. As pathetic as it sounds, it’s a thousand times more pathetic to me, being the maker of that decision.
Although, with each new day I find it much easier to forgive myself for the choices that have led me down this path, when I choose to acknowledge and accept them as decisions, rather than placing blame on myself for the mistakes I’ve made.