My story begins many years before I actually met M. Like many people, when I was younger I both yearned to be in love and yet feared true intimacy. Internet romances were created just for people like me. In college I went through a period of developing crushes on just about any good-looking guy who paid me any attention online because in real life I was too afraid to take a real chance on anyone and too much of a fool to understand that a pretty face doesn’t equal a good person. At 21, I began a six-year long-distance relationship with a man I met through an online game. He was a good man who loved me but we were too different and by the time I was 27 I had discovered so much more of life that I wanted to experience, so I broke up with him.
A month after the end of that relationship I jumped into a semi-relationship with someone I met through a dating site. But again, I wasn’t happy with him. I just… stayed. For about 3 months. During that time I remained active on the dating website until I met M. He convinced me to meet up the very next evening. A part of me thought that was strangely pushy of him but at the same time I felt thrilled at the possibility that he was so irresistibly attracted to me that he couldn’t wait. So I agreed. He lived 35+ miles from me and he told me he would “make a mini vacation” out of it, so he got a hotel room. I picked him up at the hotel after dinner and to my naïve eyes, he seemed perfect. He was tall, handsome, wonderfully masculine yet vulnerable, and he smelled really good. We sat on a grassy field and talked for hours. He told me how he was working towards a degree in both psychology and psychiatry, about his PTSD (he was an army veteran), his verbally-abusive father, and the many women before me who didn’t treat him right. The more he told me about himself the more I wanted to be the one for him because I was going to take care of him and I was going to prove to him that I could love him right.
Eventually around midnight we decided to call it a night. I drove him back to the hotel and one thing led to another, as they say. I asked him to use a condom and he said yes, but when we actually had sex he didn’t stop to put it on. I paused a moment to be concerned about that but I told myself, “This felt so good. He obviously really liked me and I liked him. We’re going to be together. It’s okay.” And to be honest, I was a little afraid to say no, for many different reasons. But I believed I was finally and truly in love, so in my headiness I ignored all the warning signs and pushed aside all the reasons he wasn’t perfect.
Almost immediately he showed his true colors. The following week he flooded my phone with calls and texts because I didn’t answer him right away. When I responded, he berated me and accused me of not putting him first and suggested that I had someone else on the side. I felt concerned about it and wondered to myself if this was the start of abusive behavior. But again, I ignored the voices in my head because we had sex already and that meant we were together.
There were many ways he tried to manipulate, belittle, and isolate me during our time together. One time he insisted that if I cared about him I should drive to his place that night to help him with his school work. Never mind my job the next day; I could just call in sick, right? He was good at targeting my most vulnerable spots and then accuse me of not being able to take a joke if I got angry about what he said. He made me feel bad about myself and I felt on eggshells around him. If I dared to be myself and strong around him, I would be punished. I continued through it all, believing that this is what it meant to love someone. I had to take him as he was and sacrifice for him and do what I could for him. I excused most of his behavior on his PTSD and—even though I know I didn’t have the credentials to diagnose him—the borderline personality disorder I believed he had.
I began to seriously question my decisions about two months later. One of my best friends from college was getting married and M was my new, wonderful boyfriend, of course he was coming with me. I told him ahead of time that my friends were flying into town so we were going to have a reunion the night before the wedding. That afternoon he wanted to meet up, I said that was fine but that I would have to leave by 6. When I tried to leave he accused me of abandoning him, yet when I offered to forego being with my friends, he refused. I still met up with my friends but I felt uneasy about his behavior. At the wedding I tried my best to pretend my relationship was fine and that I was enjoying myself. He complained about an old foot injury from his army days that was bothering him because of the dress shoes he had to wear for the wedding. Eventually we excused ourselves from the festivities around 9 because I was afraid to inconvenience him much longer.
I remember feeling deeply unsettled once we left the venue. It was a twenty minute drive back to the hotel room and the whole way he lectured me in a subdued tone. I listened to him talk the whole way back, my stomach in knots. He’d told me once that a relationship had ended because he had hit her during a PTSD-induced episode—was he still capable of violence? Once we got back to the hotel room his words became more vitriolic and his tone more menacing. He never raised his voice at me but the threat I felt was palpable. At one point I was balled up on the bed crying as he threw my own clothes at me and verbally pelted his frustration and anger at me.
Eventually he left me in the hotel room and drove himself home. I spent a restless night alone, convinced that the relationship was beyond repair. And maybe that was for the best anyway because I couldn’t help him. I told him that much in texts that night but the next day he convinced me that this was just a fight and if I was ready to break up just because of a little fight then I didn’t really love him. I insisted that it was better for both of us to not be together. He then agreed with me but wanted to remain friends. We did get back together once very briefly after that before I truly woke up to the situation and ended all contact with him.
For another two years he tried a few different ways to get back in contact with me, even going as far as leaving an unsigned note on my doorstep to call him (I only realized it was him by comparing the phone number). I never responded to any of those messages and I have not heard from him for five years.