This is a man I dated on and off for several years after my 20-year marriage. The one whom I refer to as The Narcissist. The one who tried to convince me through thousands of texts and emails and IMs and phone calls and fake crocodile tears that I was the woman he’d been waiting for all his life, while presenting to the rest of the world an image of a happily married man with a beautiful family.
This is the man who, once he got divorced, begged me to give him a chance because, even though he’d cheated his way through his 10-year marriage with well over 15 women, he was ready to be a “good man.” In fact, he confessed that he’d never been faithful to any woman in his life. But somehow he was sure I would inspire him to be different.
This is the man I said yes to (because I naively believed that such men can change) and subsequently entered into an emotionally abusive hell that would last for several months before I finally kicked, scratched and clawed my way out.
This is the man who I thought would haunt me for the rest of my life.
Then last week happened. I saw pictures of him and her and the ring and their glowing faces beaming at his iPhone camera, and I felt nothing. I. Felt. Nothing. Except gratitude. Thank God I got out. Thank God that’s not me. Thank God his life no longer touches mine.
Three years ago, it would have been a different story. Images like these would have left me emotionally devastated, curled up in a crumpled, sobbing heap on my living room floor.
Never mind the fact that The Narcissist hurt me deeper than anyone ever has.
Never mind that he criticized me often (“you used to be sexy and now you walk like you’re old and hunched over”), punished me with The Silent Treatment for being bad (“I can’t talk to you, you’re so fucked up”), and raged at me until I believed I was nothing but damaged goods.
Never mind the fact that he made it abundantly clear that I’d never be enough to satisfy him sexually. That he would always need porn stars to help him get off.
Never mind that he’d complain about the cost of taking me out, then drop a fuck-ton of money to trick out his Scion for car shows. “People say cars shouldn’t come before women,” he told me, “but this is just who I am.”
I could give you 50 shades of other “never minds,” but my point is, regardless of how toxic he was in my life, I was deeply committed to our painful relationship and madly in love with who I wanted him to be. It’s a small miracle that I was relieved to see him with another woman–one, I’m sure, who believes that she’s the one he’s been waiting for all his life.
I’ve only briefly mentioned the term Narcissistic Personality Disorder on this blog, but this is a disorder that goes way beyond stopping to look twice in a mirror. Bonafide narcissists have a black hole where their sense of self should be, usually because some childhood trauma kept them from developing into healthy adults. They go through life with a false image – wearing a mask, so to speak – and they use everyone around them in order to survive. They put others down to elevate themselves. Seek constant affirmation in order to feel worthy and lovable. Lie if it suits them. Cheat without remorse. And if you call them on their shit, they will either try to destroy you or eliminate you from their life. Nothing is ever their fault.
Ultimately, they spin reality in order to make themselves the victims, and the people they hurt the “abusers.”
That’s what The Narcissist told me in the end – that I was his abuser. And I didn’t know how to love him.
Do you know what I did the last day I saw him? I was desperate to hang on and convinced that if I could just be better (because all our problems were my fault), we would have a healthy relationship. I wasn’t sure I wanted him, but I was absolutely sure I couldn’t live without him. So I drove an hour from my house to his in nothing but black heels and a black trench coat. I showed up on his doorstep practically naked, and told him, “I’m yours for the day.”
In the end, the only good thing we had left was sex. Even that had begun to leave me feeling empty and used, but if he needed a porn star, then so be it. I would give up my last shred of dignity to be who I needed to be in order to make him happy. I was, after all, the girl he’d been waiting for all his life. Right?
Later that evening – my last one with The Narcissist – he told me this: “You don’t know how to love me and you never have. Maybe we’re just transition people on our way to the ones we’re meant to be with.”
“You’re the girl of my dreams,” he’d told me in the beginning. And now I had become a transition? That’s the last time I saw him. I drove away and I never looked back.
I knew that detaching from him would be another form of hell because he had become my drug. I knew that letting go would take months, if not years. And that I would need to be alone for some time in order to fix the broken parts of me that had held me in such sludge and toxicity.
But I also knew that I didn’t have a choice. Staying with him would have meant death. Maybe not physically, but in every other way that mattered.
Recovering from a narcissitic relationship like this is not easy, but it’s possible. For almost two years, I was fiercely single with no dating, men or sex. I was adamantly committed to my own spiritual and emotional health. And ultimately, I grew into a woman I began to respect, love and care for. It took millions of tears, painful soul-searching and humble pleas for help from both friends and strangers. But I did it, and I am stronger, wiser and more compassionate because of it.
Today, I barely recognize the woman who showed up naked on a man’s doorstep, begging him to love her. Thank God.
Thank God I got out. Thank God that’s not me. Thank God his life no longer touches mine.
If any of this sounds familiar, I want you to know: You are not alone, and you can get help. My journey began with a website called A Path Forward. This is a place where you can learn more about personality disorders, specifically NPD, how to recognize emotional abuse, break free and then heal. Please go there if you’re struggling in a toxic relationship, or message me so I can put you in touch with people who can help.
It took me too long to realize I deserve a relationship with mutual love, respect, care and adoration. But now I will never settle for anything less.
Don’t you either.