Here’s a story about a big, mean asshole who acted very badly towards an innocent, blushing maiden. The blameless little dove recounts her terrible relationship. Let’s have a look, shall we?
Emily Stone is a pseudonym.
I met my ex-boyfriend at sixth-form college. We sat opposite each other in history class, and we shared cans of Vimto during lectures on the Russian Revolution. One time, he was hauled out of class for surreptitiously eating olives from a Tupperware case — yes, the most middle class of all acts of rebellion.
Here we go. Chicks dig assholes. It doesn’t matter what the rules are, he broke them, and oh my! Emily was all over that.
Our teacher was livid. I was hooked.
Just before we started going out, he went on a solo trip around South-East Asia. I assumed, from his previous stories, that he would spend his days in the various embraces of women far more exotic and adventurous than I, on a beach at a full moon party in Thailand, in-between soaking up the sun and admiring some of the wonders of the world. Instead, he sent me long e-mails every day about how much he missed our conversations. When he came back, we made our relationship “Facebook official”, and the following year we would travel around Asia together.
His previous stories about what? Nailing women he planned on leaving the next morning? Wham, bam thank you ma’am?
Until he met the “right woman”, of course. The woman who will save him. Princess Emily with her soothing balms of salvation. It’s such an intoxicating story: angry, rough, injured man can only live when he is under the spell of a kind woman’s caress. It’s a magical story with a relentless villain and a heroic saviour, and it goes on and on and on and on forever.
The villain can’t be healed, of course. What would the Princess do with herself?
Women like Princess Emily operate on one principle: men are things that can be changed. Moulded, sculpted, chiselled, fashioned, arranged, manipulated into the form the woman desires.
Let’s see how that works out for her.
It sounds idyllic, right? Or at the very least, exactly what you want in your teenage years. Throughout university, he and I were inseparable. He cooked me fancy dinners in our grotty university halls of residence and we ate them in his tiny single bed, listening to Bob Dylan. We smoked joints out of my window and planned further trips abroad. We met each other’s families, and our parents went for coffees together.
Idyllic. Inseparable. He cooked. They got stoned. Their parents met. How charming.
His whole world revolved around the Princess and her needs. So far, so good.
Fast forward four years, to our break-up. It’s a crowded London street. It’s 11pm. It’s my birthday. A group of my horrified friends are looking on, as a passer-by holds my boyfriend back from taking another swing at me.
From idyll to carnage in four short years.
Unable to reach me with his hands, he spits repeatedly in my face. The words coming out of his mouth include “slut”, “bitch” and “c***”. The reason for them was that I wouldn’t leave my own birthday party early to have sex with him. All the more shamefully, this scene had been played out before, but in private — and what motivated me to break up with him in response to this was that it had now become a public matter, one that my friends wouldn’t forgive or forget in the way that I had so many times before.
Interesting, no? It’s the public ridicule that really gets to Emily. The open declaration that she has failed to tame this Beast. He was hers to form and she couldn’t do it. In private, where no one could witness her humiliation, she was content. But once the violent contours of her relationship became public, all bets were off.
It’s no secret that many women like drama in their relationships, but there is a caveat: they have to win these mini-conflicts. And they need to be able to triumph publicly. Very few women can physically force a man to supplicate, but emotionally, we tend to win hands down.
Bow to me, or face the consequences.
This dramatic final scene makes my ex sound like a monster, but for four years I was very much in love with him. I matched none of the stereotypes about battered women: I was well-educated and financially independent, my boyfriend was funny and self-effacing around others, had no anger issues in company, was a student at a prestigious university and came from a middle-class background. Most of my friends liked him and chose to spend their time with him. I didn’t see myself as a domestic abuse victim because I didn’t fit the patronising, all-pervasive stereotype of the battered woman.
Perhaps you didn’t see yourself as a battered woman because YOU WEREN’T? And perhaps there was just that little tiny bit of niggling awareness that you were participating fully in a fucked up relationship that required your “monster” to keep his claws sharp so you could play the victim, every day?
It’s called the Florence Nightingale Syndrome. Essentially, a caregiver (usually a woman) develops romantic feelings for the vulnerable person (usually a man) for whom she is caring. Her patient NEEDS her. His vulnerability defines who she is as a person. Without a patient, she cannot be a nurse. Without a sick man, she cannot play the healing woman.
The first glitch in our relationship was when he wanted us to move in together, straight from halls of residence; when I told him it was too soon, he launched into a tirade about how I was out to ruin his life. It was such a confused and emotional rant that I felt sorry for him, protective even. His father had beaten his mother before leaving when he was a young child. He told me that he was still dealing with the fallout from that; that he was “just trying to be a good man”, and sometimes got it wrong. During his childhood, he told me, his mother had more than once seriously threatened to kill him.
Again, not that unusual to see that wounded men suffered violence at the hands of women during childhood. His mother threatened to kill him, more than once.
The monster has become an object of pity. Emily feels sorry for him. Protective. The key word here is “object”. I’m putting the word in Emily’s mouth, but the idea is right there, on paper.
So when, a few arguments later, he held me against the wall so that I couldn’t move or leave the flat — while whining, “I love you” — I forgave it. When he didn’t want me to go out partying with my friends, I thought it was because he wanted to spend all his time with me. And when he suggested that we have each other’s passwords for social networks, I thought he was just clumsily expressing a desire for mutual trust. Finally, when he first spat at me (because I was wearing too much eyeliner), I told myself it was a one-off.
He loved you. He wanted to spend all his time with you. He wanted to trust you.
What is your self-concept here, exactly? You are so unbelievable wonderful, amazing, incredible, irreplaceable that this man can’t bear to be without you? You are the center of the universe. His universe.
You are the alpha and the omega, and he can’t live without you.
Our travels in Asia were a lot of fun when we were admiring the sunset at the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and he was holding my hand. But they weren’t so much fun when we were at a bar and a guy we’d met leant over to repeat something in my ear. My ex took that to be evidence of flirting and, as punishment for my crime, promptly picked up my passport, my credit cards, my keys, my money and my hotel card, and threw them into the shallows of the sea. Later, after I’d gone to the hotel room to escape from him, he would empty a bucket of water over my head to wake me up, all the while sobbing: “Why would you make me do this?”
Well, he sounds like a right proper asshole, but his question was actually rather good.
Why would you make him do this? What did you get out of it?
It was the unhinged way in which he conducted the abuse that made me forgive him. The everyday man was sweet, thoughtful, intelligent. He bought me presents “just because”, and he texted me throughout the day to tell me that he loved me. In classic abuser style, he constantly apologised for his actions, and because the violence was infrequent and low-level — hair-pulling, for instance, even when it was so hard it brought tears to my eyes — I always felt as though I would be overreacting to cast it as genuine abuse. Meanwhile, he told me that I was a disgrace if I drank alcohol when I was out with friends, but when we were alone, he encouraged me to get absolutely obliterated. One apocalyptic argument happened because he accused me of “not getting drunk enough when we’re alone together”. To placate him, I drank six pints on an empty stomach the next time he was there.
This is just bizarre. You’re actually going to blame him for you getting drunk? You drank six pints on an empty stomach and it’s his fault because…. What?!?!
He texts you constantly. Brings you presents. He’s sweet and thoughtful and intelligent and he gives you daily confirmation that you are the most precious gem ever formed in the history of the universe and you love it.
He pulls your hair and makes you feel…..what? Alive?
What made him turn into the person who flew into violent rages? He had become increasingly alcohol and drug dependent over the years — and would often use inebriation as an excuse — but I was never too convinced by the connection. He was cripplingly insecure, prone to cheating and therefore plagued with paranoia that I would do the same, oddly vulnerable, chronically lacking in positive childhood role models, weak. And, predictably, the excuses that he came up with for his actions centred around how unreasonable or manipulative I was. I “played mind games” that made him do things.
Drunk, stoned, paranoid, insecure, unfaithful, vulnerable….
That’s a lot of things that need fixing, isn’t it? He is broken and confused but not so much that he can’t see manipulation and mind-games.
I “wasn’t supportive”. I “acted weird”.
Oh, you’re supportive, all right. The further down the rabbit hole he goes, the more important you become.
I “didn’t understand” him. Meanwhile, in my mind, his actions were badly expressed declarations of passionate love, rather than abuse. He “couldn’t help himself”. He “didn’t know what he was doing”. He was “vulnerable”.
This is the most honest thing Emily writes. His actions were declarations of passionate love. Emily’s entire psychology requires that she be a person capable of eliciting passionate love. He must love her passionately, ardently, vehemently. He must be overwhelmed by love.
She needs that power. She cannot understand herself as anything but a woman who commands that power. And she will do what she must to feel powerful.
The truth is that many bullies are vulnerable. But they are on a mission to transfer that vulnerability to their victims, and abuse always escalates. My ex’s main technique of control would be to quietly whisper in my ear during a social situation that he wanted to leave now, and that if I wouldn’t leave with him, he would embarrass me in front of all of my friends. He threatened to tell people secrets that I had previously confided in him. He told me that he would tell my very best friends that I bitched about them, didn’t like them, wanted to steal their boyfriends. He spoke evangelically about a time in the future when we could “disappear”, emigrate to another country, live off the grid, never mix with anyone again.
And were those things true, dear? Curious that you don’t say. Did he have bitchy quotes from you to repeat? Did you want to steal your friend’s boyfriends? Could you keep him off-kilter by letting him know you would say the same things about him, given the chance?
Where does his fantasy about living with no one but you come from? You will literally become his whole world. My, that has a delightful ring to it, doesn’t it?
Although he cast these daydreams as romantic and idealistic, I now see them for what they really were: a future he saw as necessary to tighten his control over me; a situation where I was isolated and he was in charge.
Or, a situation in which he was isolated and you were in charge. And was it really the monster who cast these daydreams as romantic and idealistic?
I have my doubts.
Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. I’m left now with the confusing ruins of my relationship with him; a lot of my friends, having witnessed the final parting shot, now prefer to act as if I was never with my ex at all.
No one wants to see that the Beast could not be tamed. You didn’t have the power after all.
This has left me in limbo: on the one hand, I want to talk about the good times, as if I had had a real long-term relationship; on the other, his actions have almost entirely invalidated four years of my life. If I had known what I know now about the nature and the warning signs, I might have been able to avoid this strange fate by ending my association with that man a lot sooner.
There is not one chance you would have ended that relationship until he dared to show that you are not powerful in public. The Wizard was unmasked. The fraud could no longer be maintained. The four years ended because he exposed you.
The Empress has no clothes.
And after he spat in my face, that birthday night two years ago? He ran off into the night, then expected to see me again a few days later. He saw it as “just another argument”. I never saw him again. A year later, having heard about the success of my career as a writer, he left a drunken voicemail on my phone saying that he was going to “f***ing f*** [my] career up” if I ever mentioned him in the media. I changed my number, but I still believe that he reads every one of my articles.
You really are a peach, Emily. Despite the fact that the relationship is over, you still imagine yourself as the most compelling object of this man’s desire. He specifically asked you not to discuss him in the media and your response is that he must read all your articles?
Your vanity impresses.
So, if you’re reading — yes, I did decide to write about you after all. Because it’s been a long while now, and I’m not scared of you any more.
You were never scared. But you are scary.
Here’s some advice. Let the monster go. You have no power over him. You never will.
Lots of love,