Dark Ages 20: Bad Boy, a special case

Dark Ages is a series about my dating history. I left off six months ago, saying that Bad Boy would be getting his own post “soon”. Oops. But now, finally, here it is…

My relationship with Bad Boy was seriously fucked up, but there was also a level of complexity that I was unable to understand back then. From time to time over the years I’d look back, shake my head and wonder what the hell had happened. It took years, but I think I’ve unravelled it all.

During the relationship

We met, had a bit of a romp that night (but no sex), and started dating immediately. I vaguely recall that it seemed good at the beginning. I don’t know when it started to go bad — within a couple of months I suppose. Things soured gradually.

I had low self-esteem to begin with and it got lower while I was with him. I had gone from feeling like I needed to be in a relationship to feeling like I needed to be in a relationship with him, even though I wouldn’t have said that being with him made me happy — if I’d even thought to ask myself that question. (I don’t think I knew what happiness looked like. Either that or I didn’t think my happiness in a relationship was particularly relevant to anything.)

Once when I was feeling down on myself, I asked him if he thought I was pretty; he couldn’t answer the question without first referencing his own appearance and getting affirmation that I thought he was good looking. He pressured me for sex constantly, and, not allowing myself to be aware that I didn’t want it, I just gave it to him.

I’ve always been quiet, low-key, and low drama. This relationship turned me into a “half-dressed, shouting at each other in the middle of the street” crazy person. I didn’t recognize myself. There were times when I’d get upset about who knows what, he’d do or say something in response, and I’d end up vibrating with tension and frustration, ready to scream, wail, punch the wall, or all of the above.

The immediate aftermath

It wasn’t until I was well out of the relationship that I started being able to see what had happened. I’ve always been very honest, so it never occurred to me that he would lie to me, repeatedly, about trivial things. And I was naïve.

Here’s an example: his dad owned a small business (true); his dad went on a business trip to LA (maybe); he accompanied with his dad on that trip (probably not); he got driven around in a limo (ridiculous lie); he saw a major band at a concert (lie). At the time, I was a bit envious that he’d seen the band, since it was one that I quite liked.

And another: he had seen a modestly famous singer perform (probably a lie); he met and danced with her (ridiculous lie). But it made me jealous, which I suppose was his intention.

His lies taught me to be skeptical, cautious and closed off. Or rather, they reinforced my natural tendency to keep myself closed off. I had been badly hurt and I concluded that it was safer to keep my distance.

Much later

Over the years, I’d look him up the odd time in the phone book, and later on Facebook. I was very happy to have nothing to do with him, but I hadn’t been able to heal all the hurts and I was still wary. I kept an eye on him the way I’d keep an eye on a spider on the basement floor that was getting too close while I tended to the laundry.

Then out of nowhere, he tried to friend me on Facebook. I saw that he was still living in our hometown, while I had moved to another city. I ignored him. He pestered me, asking why I didn’t friend him. I explained that my friends list was small, I only connect with people I want to stay in touch with, and we hadn’t been in touch. He eventually huffed off, but not until he took a dig at me for “not being over him yet”. Whatever.

About a year later, he got in touch again and now wanted to meet up. Fuck. Wolf and I had just moved back to our hometown so I no longer had the convenient excuse of living in a different city to avoid a meetup. I suppose I could have lied or blown him off in some way, but my sense of integrity wouldn’t allow me to do anything but face the issue. So I messaged him; I successfully resisted the urge to tell him it was the worst goddamned relationship I’d ever had, and instead said simply that I didn’t understand why he wanted to meet up because “our relationship was not good”. Major litotes right there. Even so he completely flipped out. It was just bizarre. And his overreaction rattled me.

He wouldn’t let it go, but he did regain some composure. If I capitulated now, it might save further unpleasantness in the long run. I rarely find myself worried about my personal safety, but we lived in the same city now: if I thwarted him at this point, would he escalate and try to stalk me? [To my male readers: you may not be aware of it, but it’s a commonplace for a woman to perform a cost-benefit safety analysis regarding a personal interaction with a man. It’s most definitely A Thing. The options are often stroke the guy’s ego versus risk being harassed or attacked. A woman sacrificing her pride and authenticity on the altar of safety is nothing new.]

Eventually, I agreed to the meet, at a new restaurant where we had no history. I guess I was hoping for some kind of closure, and I admit I was a little curious. I had dressed up: I was going for devastatingly beautiful ice queen and it wasn’t hard to feel remote and emotionally distant. He had unintentionally taught me to be on my guard, and demonstrated how well I’d learned that lesson. I leaned back in my chair, creating physical distance. My responses were polite and never overly enthusiastic. I’ve had job interviews that were more warm and cuddly.

He looked different: he had gotten into body-building (quelle surprise) and had bulked up. His face looked a little different too, in a vaguely Mickey Rourke-ish way. Had he gotten into boxing? Botoxed his lips? I suppose it was just the years, and we had been so young. He managed to make himself reasonably pleasant, smiling and joking. He asked me if I was nervous, and then he admitted that he was. Except for some superficial changes in appearance, he seemed like the exact same person he had been ages ago; it was disconcerting.

And as we sat shooting the shit, the lies began again. What had I been up to in the intervening years? One interesting thing I’d done was to visit Thailand. Oh, he had been to Thailand too. Well, maybe; I could see him wanting to hang out at tourist beaches. I also spent a year in Japan. What a coincidence, he had ridden a motorcycle through Japan. Whereabouts? Ah, he couldn’t remember the names of the places. Like hell he’s been to Japan. I left it. We went our separate ways and thankfully I haven’t heard from him since.

I dub thee “Narcissist”

Soon after this meeting, a book* about narcissists caught my eye at the library. I didn’t really know anything about narcissism, but it piqued my interest and I wondered if it might describe him. I took out the book.

High but brittle self-esteem? Check. When didn’t get his way about the Facebook friend request, his “flipping out” looked a lot like a narcissistic rage, a sort of grown-up temper tantrum. When we were dating, he had wanted to feel good about himself and used the narcissist’s strategy of putting me down so he could feel that he was better than me. For the narcissist, facts are malleable: they exist to serve goals like looking impressive, hence his lies past and present about trivialities. Narcissists want you to think highly of them and be impressed. There’s a shallowness: they lack self-awareness and thus they don’t grow.

Narcissists have deep hurts from childhood, and as a result empathetic people want to help them. Beware: it’s a trap! A kind person will want to give a narcissist a hand up. The narcissist will take that hand and use it to pull you into the pit with them, then trample you down, stand on top of you and gloat.

Even though I hadn’t yet learned about narcissism when I met up with Bad Boy, my intuition guided me well. I had already figured out that he had lied to impress me and otherwise manipulate me, so when he began lying I took everything with a grain of salt and offered only polite reactions. No gushing. Like smothering a fire with a blanket so it can’t get oxygen, I deprived his ego of fuel and he simply fizzled out. Our meeting was civil and I haven’t heard from him since.

I was over him a long time ago, and now that I understand his narcissism, I’ve finally healed from the harm he caused me.

* Wendy T. Behary, Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2008).

Because I didn’t make note of the title at the time, I went back to the library to track the book down so I could footnote it here. While flipping through it, I found information about the sorts of people who tend to fall prey to narcissists. I suppose this spoke to me at least a little when I first read it, but now that I know myself so much better, I can see that young me would have been a narcissist’s favorite snack.