For this post to make the most sense, you should probably read the ones that precede it – my journal entries about meeting and falling in love with Will, my ex-husband, in late 1998:
- My holiday letter, 1998
- 28 December 1998 | Throwback Thursday
- 28 December 1998 | Part Two
- 28 December 1998 | Part Three
I never wrote about what happened literally days after those entries. I was away with my family on a vacation. New Years Eve or Day, I can’t remember, I called Will to say hi. He was just weird on the phone; distant and not himself. He didn’t say anything was wrong, and I when I inquired about it, he said everything was fine.
But my gut told me something different. Sure enough, when I got home, he told me he didn’t want to be in a relationship anymore.
[Yeah, I guess I could call this “Ann St. Vincent Breakup Week!” Like shark week, just a lot sadder and less scary.]
I was completely stunned. I had given him my entire heart and soul and like that – poof – it was over. I no longer remember the details but I wrote a bit about my reaction in a post called I’m Being Tested.
I had never before been so heartbroken. I have never, ever, been the same.
The details are foggy now but I know I was destroyed. He’s not particularly comfortable with emotion. I showed a lot of it. We got back together. Many years later, he made a comment that blew me away – that had I not cried so much we would have stayed broken up. I wrote about it briefly here.
Here’s the thing. Ultimately, when I look back on our relationship, I should have walked away then. This isn’t about regret; I have an amazing son out of the union and wouldn’t change that for anything. But if I look at things completely dispassionately, I know that it was at that moment that my red flag radar should have been off the charts. Because here’s what I never allowed myself to see clearly:
He didn’t mean what he said
My ex rarely said what he meant, if he thought it would cause conflict. He would take a path of least resistance. However, it didn’t last, and he would later get angry when I acted on what he said / agreed etc. For example, he would say he would come with me to a family event. Then a week before we would say, seemingly out of the blue, “you know I don’t want to go to your family event. I can’t believe you are making me go.”
This happened with little things and big things. It was constant. It was so bad that I felt everything with him had to be translated, triangulated, to see what the truth was. It was exhausting. His whole family was like that.
So when I think back to our courtship, I’m pretty sure now that much of what he said, he didn’t mean. You are supposed to say that your place is their place. You are supposed to take things to the next level. Supposed to say you are in love with someone.
And isn’t that the worst thing of all…that now, in hindsight, I have no idea what was fiction, truth, or what he wanted to believe was true?
All the other shit
I started of writing big sections here and the reality is, there was a lot of stuff I saw but didn’t let myself really see it. Here’s a sampling:
He was anti-social. He had a few close friends but that was it. No interest in meeting new people and socializing – he once told me “I’m not taking any new friend applications”. It was always a challenge and we were not well matched at all in this regard. I let go of a lot of friendships which is one of my regrets.
Will would sometimes, in the middle of a night with friends at our house, get up and say “well, I’m going to bed” and just disappear. Dinner parties, which I love, were rare and only with a couple close friend couples. He could fake it if needed – we had an annual party and he was just fine – but it was the rare exception.
He was vicious when he was angry. I would be thinking everything was fine – mostly because he wouldn’t deal with the little stuff – and then all of a sudden he would explode with anger. Yelling, saying I was a total fucking selfish bitch. He called me a c*nt. He called me all sorts of things that honestly, I’ve just blocked out of my memory.
I would be stunned into submission and then he would be better – saying later “are you still mad at me?” – it would always take me a few days to move past what I had just experienced. I would shut down…and like a rechargeable battery, each time I came back up, I lost a little bit of my juice.
He was exceedingly controlling. “I’m not having this conversation” was an oft-used line. Although he didn’t shy away from conflict when he was angry, he had no mechanism for rational sorting through of issues, in advance, before they came huge problems. He got better at that over time, but it took ages.
Every red flag I saw, I rationalised away. I told myself that the “nice” guys I had met before were boring, and I wanted someone who would challenge me. I liked that he was intelligent. He had varied interests – in theory. While he said he liked everything from baseball to opera, whenever I would suggest we go out, he wouldn’t want to go. I shudder to think how many event and concert tickets I purchased over the years, only to go unused or passed off to friends or family in the last minute.
Two weeks before I got married, I sat at my mother’s kitchen table crying that I wasn’t sure he was the right man for me. I got married anyway.
I refuse to ignore my gut anymore. It’s a lesson that took a while to learn, but my gut hasn’t been wrong about any guy I’ve met in the last year. I also know that a portion of my heart is locked away, nice and safe. It got shattered once and I’d really like to avoid having history repeat itself. The trick is figuring out how…