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WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND?

The Tell-Tale Ring

32 comments | November 28th, 2011

(story by Clarisse Thorn, a Chestist)

So, I have this ex.  I dated him for a long time, but we haven't really talked in ages.  I suspect that I hurt him pretty bad when he dated; he hurt me pretty bad, too.

I've written about him only a few times.  For instance, I wrote about him when I discussed my history of figuring out how to reach orgasm, because he … was not a good sexual partner.  He pressured me in a lot of unpleasant sex-related ways.  During one fight, he even shouted at me that he didn't care about my sexual satisfaction.

I know that he was manipulative.  I know that he ignored my needs.  And I know that he hurt me.  But I also believe that he loved me.  I know he understands me deeply, and respects me in a lot of ways.  I know I was important to him, and I know I wasn't always the most reasonable partner myself.

Where is the space for me to reconcile these things?

I once wrote a long post about him that got very different reactions from different readers.  A commenter on one feminist website informed me that he had abused me; she told me that I "should" admit that I am a victim of abuse.  Whereas a writer an an anti-feminist site wrote a whole post about me titled: "Another Sexually & Emotionally Defective Feminist."  The post described me as "histrionic" and "flawed" and "melodramatic".  This armchair psychoanalysis concluded that my sexual identity makes me "defective," and that the whole experience arose because of my own failure to understand myself.

It seems that from the outside, some observers will conclude that he was "at fault", and some will conclude that I was "at fault".  Obviously, I'd prefer to believe that he was "at fault".  But maybe "fault" isn't the most productive way to think about this?

I know he hurt me.  The relationship was incredibly problematic.  I see some of the things he said to me in descriptions of emotional abuse tactics such as gaslighting.  That post defines gaslighting like this:

For our discussion, I consider gaslighting to be a repeat, systematic series of lies that are designed to make the victim doubt her reality.

… Gaslighting can be intentional, such as … where a partner purposely moves or hides your stuff to make you feel forgetful and untethered to your memory.

Gaslighting can also be an unintentional side-effect, as a classic outcome of living with a narcissist, or with a partner who is trying to cover up their pattern of abuse, or with the addict trying to cover up their addiction. It is done in order to preserve the … [gaslighter’s] vision of himself as an honest and upstanding person without actually doing the things that would make it so.

For example: after the fight when my ex told me that he didn't care about my sexual satisfaction — after I walked out of the room, and walked around crying for hours before I finally had to come back because I was staying with him and had nowhere else to go — after that fight, he told me that he'd never said those words.

I know he said those words.  I even said, "You can't mean that," and he repeated them.  But I was so tired, after all the fighting and the crying, that I didn't push when he told me that he never said it.  All I felt was disjointed confusion and pain and … lack of words.

I let him create the reality between us — or he took control of that reality, with his subtle social violence.  And our sex life remained bad.  So bad that when I think of having sex with him today, all I can feel is shivering disgust.

Maybe he didn't mean to do it.  But it's important for me to understand that even if he didn't mean to mess with my head so much, he did it anyway.  It's important for me to understand that even if he didn't mean to hurt me so bad, he hurt me.  It's important for me to understand those things because it helps me trust myself; it helps me value my own emotions; it helps me protect myself.

Late in our relationship, he gave me a ring.  It was a valuable ring; an old heirloom.  After we broke up, I tried to give it back.  "No," he said, "it's yours, I gave it to you.  I want you to keep it."

I didn't especially want to keep it — but I kept it.  I didn't know what else to do.

Years later, I was leaving the country.  I found the ring as I was packing up my life.  I called him and told him I wanted to give it back.

I left the call to the last minute, because thinking about calling him made me so anxious.  We talked for a while about nothing important, and I remember thawing.  I remember thinking, oh, that's right, he's smart and funny and he knows me so well.  I liked him for good reasons.

It took me a while to bring up the ring; half an hour or so.  I said that I knew it was an heirloom, that someday he'd meet someone else who should have it.  I said that I didn't want to wear it.  That I didn't want to keep it at all.

It was late at night and I recall standing, stretching, listening to his voice on the other end of the line.

"No," he said.  "It's for you.  I gave it to you.  If you don't want it, then you can sell it or give it away or bury it or throw it away.  I don't care what you do with it.  It's yours."

But he knew I'd never throw it away or give it away or sell it or bury it.  And as I stood holding my cell phone, I remember thinking that this was the last hold he had on me.  I recognized how I felt.  I was feeling disjointed confusion and pain and … lack of words.

I didn't want the ring.  I didn't want it.

But, "Okay," I finally said, and we said goodbye and hung up, and I still have the ring.

I don't especially stay in touch with him.  He contacts me sometimes and says we should hang out.  I always find excuses not to see him.  It's been years, but I'm still keeping my post-breakup distance.  And I know that hurts him.  Sometimes I feel smug that I came out of the whole affair with no desire to see him; sometimes I feel a little angry, sometimes I just feel sad.

I wonder if I'd feel more okay seeing him, if he hadn't convinced me to keep the ring.

Do you have anyone like that in your life — who still has a hold on you, no matter how long it's been?  Someone who knows how to push your buttons, who you're afraid to see again?  Is there someone in your past who hurt you, but maybe didn't mean to do it — but who you still need to protect yourself against?  Tell us about it in the comments.

(read more Clarisse here)

32 comments

  • Letia

    Posted on November 28, 2011

    in my life, it’s not a romantic relationship — sometimes I think it would be easier if it were — it’s my sister. 2 years older and forever jumping up and down on my buttons. I can love her and loathe her in equal parts. I never seem able to leave her. As you can probably imagine, Thanksgiving was great.

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  • Alexandra

    Posted on November 28, 2011

    My first boyfriend. Oh, Ben. You were my first – my first lover, my first romantic partner, the first man who ever harmed me sexually. Our first night together was, if I’m honest with myself, a rape. I wasn’t honest with myself about it for years, not until after we broke up. And we dated for two years. And it was never, ever okay, but sometimes it was even less okay than other times. I never felt able to open myself upr to him sexually, even after he begged and pleaded, because he had violated me and some part of me knew – knew! – deep down that he wasn’t trustworthy.

    But I loved him.

    And he loved me.

    And how we hurt each other, fighting constantly, desperately wrong for each other and trying to hold on because – why? I don’t even remember any more why he was hanging on. Maybe loneliness, fear of finding another.

    I’ve met his new girlfriend. They’ve been together for three years now, longer than I was with him. They seem well suited, I suppose. I don’t like her, but you’re not required to like your ex-lover’s lover, just to be polite to her at social events.

    I sometimes feel like I’ll never be normal because of Ben. But I still love him, the way you always love your lovers, even when you’re no longer with them.

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    • Me

      Posted on November 28, 2011

      Oh, Anonymous. Oh, oh, oh.

      You’ve said so much and yet the one question I can’t help but ask is why you think you’ll never be normal because of him? Is that a power you’re giving him or a power he’s taken from you?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on November 28, 2011

    Both my ex-boyfriends. I am glad to hear that you, too, still love your ex-lovers. I still have dreams about getting back with my first boyfriend, and I wake up sweating. I wouldn’t get back together with him if we were the last people alive, but in my dreams he begs me and I give in, which sort of happened at one point.

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  • Carla

    Posted on November 28, 2011

    My BFF (not) from college.
    She was really manipulative, slept with my BFs, lied to me, and then made me feel really guilty when I decided to not be friends any more.
    She talked trash about me to a lot of people.
    I hate that.
    I want people to know my truth!

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  • Skye

    Posted on November 28, 2011

    Its been nearly 14 months since I called the cops on my abusive ex. He was horribly abusive and, on that final morning, was angry enough to kill me. He also gaslit me on a regular basis, to the point where I began to feel like I was going crazy.

    He;s also manic depressive, among other issues, so I do believe that his gaslighting was unintentional. I loved him; I know he THOUGHT he loved me. I am sure that if you asked him, he would tell you he was only trying to help me and he would believe this with all his heart.

    Never would I go back to him, never will I trust him again-and never will I trust myself around him, either. I love and loathe him, both at once.

    Maybe one day, I will have no desire to ever see him again. For now-I need to stay away until I finally believe, deep down, that he can never change.

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    • Razz

      Posted on November 29, 2011

      Sky, good for you, so good for you. It takes that introspection; not only about your ex, but about YOU. My ex is exactly the same: major gaslighter, completely confident in the idea that he was only trying to help me. When you deal with someone who can hurt you and not have a flicker of self doubt, it is so time to leave. With mine, even the rapes (Babe, I just can’t help myself!) to the jealous territorial behavior (I never get to see you enough, I want you all to myself! Besides, they don’t understand how things really are. We’re special!), he was utterly secure in his choices.

      Be safe. STAY safe. It takes awhile, but the stupid link does diminish.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted on November 29, 2011

      Skye,

      I feel like you are talking about my exe. I spent a year and a half with him gas lighting me on a regular basis. I loved him like I have never loved anyone before. But eventually his fits of rage in public places, and trying to convince me that everything that was me was wrong took its tole.

      I struggle on a regular basis to figure out if bi-polar was the cause or if he was just abusive. I always come up on the side of his just being abusive. I know many kind and just people suffering from this disorder and I think blaming it gives him a free pass.

      I definitely have no desire to see him again…the thought makes me anxious.

      Report this comment

  • AnonymouSona

    Posted on November 28, 2011

    I dated a man I call Neanderthal now. Not casually. Accurately.
    We dated 18 months. I know we used the word love, but it was a toxic love. He would talk down to me because I was finishing my undergrad in 5 years, while he was working on law school in 6 years. Constantly told me his alma mater was higher ranked than mine.
    He too had depression and was self-medicating with alcohol and weed and viagra (he was 28). The saddest part of it all was that I enjoyed our private sex life. I still won’t admit to myself I was raped anally, dozens of times. He would convince me to attend swingers parties with him where I was not allowed to sleep with men, only women. Even when not pimping myself around at events I had a dress code: dresses and skirts. His behavior when drunk was belligerent and wild-eyed. Once he pulled a butter knife on a fellow-diner patron because the guy wouldn’t bum Neanderthal a cigarette.
    My parents hated him and now I hate him too. The thought of someone playing me for a fool makes me furious. And that’s exactly how I felt after leaving him. It didn’t take me long to meet my new boyfriend. We’ll call him Macgee. Only after meeting Macgee do I understand what a true partnership is supposed to feel like. He even calls himself a memenist (male feminist). We debate and push each other mentally and many a-womens issue. We split checks and talk to each other like adults. Understanding that I’m queer, he has prove himself as the perfect man for me :)
    I still have so many secrets from that toxic relationship I don’t know where to put them. I’ve contemplated a blog.
    My issue is with his new girlfriend of maybe 3 months. A mutual friend of Neanderthal and mine’s said she seems very submissive which worries me a lot, because I was sassy and still dealt with bullshit. Should I facebook message her? I’m worried it’ll backfire in my face and she’ll tell Neanderthal instead of heeding my warnings. I don’t want to be a meddler.

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  • Marie

    Posted on November 28, 2011

    I dated this guy for 3 years. Things went south, much of which was my fault. I apologised. And apologised. And kept apologising. He would always say he forgave me, but when we’d argue, no matter what we’d argue about, it would always come back to how I had screwed up. I eventually reached a breaking point and said ‘if we HAVE to argue, can you not bring that up again?!’ next argument: ‘well, I’d bring it up, but if I do, you’ll say I’m bringing it up.’ This went on for several months… But he told me he loved me, and no one would ever love me as much as he did (which I think to this day he still genuinely believes).

    We broke up last September. We kept talking occasionally until the middle of November, when I realised that I was moving on with my life and he wasn’t. The only reason he wanted to stay friends was the hope that I might go back to him eventually. And besides, our conversations were along the lines of: ‘Hey.’ ‘Hi.’ ‘How are you?’ ‘Good, you?’ and that would be it. It became awkward. So I deleted him off Facebook, and thought that would be the end of it. Nope.

    Come February, he finds out I’m casually dating someone new, and FREAKS. Hacks into my Facebook. Sends me probably about 200+ texts, calling me names and asking how I can forgive myself for what I’ve done, tells me that he’s glad we broke up, because it made him realise what an amazing person he is, and that I never deserved him (uhm…okay?). He sent emails to my friends and family, telling them I was a horrible person, detailing everything terrible I had done to him (it was basically like a massive email written to me. That he didn’t send to me). He then hacked into my Facebook AGAIN and wrote a note about how I was an awful person, a complete b*tch, and how I didn’t deserve to have any friends, which he proceeded to tag ALL my friends in. WTH?
    That went on for two weeks, including multiple emails to me, telling me he won’t leave me alone until I apologise. Uhm, what have I been doing for the past year? I basically say something along the lines of ‘hey, I’m sorry for what happened, but I really need you to leave me alone please.’ He sent one last email having the audacity to ask if we can still be friends after that (I said no), and that was the last I heard. Well, a girl can dream, right? Every month or two, he sends me a random text, or tries to call me (I recognise the number immediately), or sends me an email telling me that if he ever sees me around, he’ll make sure I regret it. It’s been over a year and he still won’t leave me alone.
    He lied about everything, to the point where I almost gave up on ever trusting anyone else (I’ve since met a wonderful man who reaffirmed my faith in the male gender). He constantly tried to make me feel bad because I wouldn’t get back with him after he told me he cut himself, amongst other things. I never want to see his face ever again. But if I do, I’ll just walk away. I have no more words for him.

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  • Andie

    Posted on November 29, 2011

    I had to cut my last boyfriend out of my life, because it was constantly off-and-on.. It wasn’t an abusive relationship, just ambivalent.. things went off like gangbusters, then he said he wasn’t ready for a ‘relationship’ and he wanted to be friends.. so we’d try being friends but end up together-but-not-together and etc etc etc.

    I ended up cutting him off because I couldn’t deal with being half-a-girlfriend. I worry all the time that he’s going to try and get in touch with me because I have absolutely no resolve when I am around him.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on November 29, 2011

    sell the ring

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on November 29, 2011

    ” Obviously, I’d prefer to believe that he was “at fault”. But maybe “fault” isn’t the most productive way to think about this?”

    I definitely want to think more about what you said here. Even though I aspire to be liberally open-minded about whatever life brings, but the reality is that my gut instinct is to blame someone.

    When I personally am angry, I don’t remember my exact words. But I would probably never categorically deny saying something, if it was congruent with my feelings.

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  • Junebug Jones

    Posted on November 29, 2011

    My ex is amazingly funny, charming, handsome and the only guy I’ve really been with. Somehow he convinced me to be in a threesome relationship with him with another woman I really loved and cared about. She loved me, too, but really, really loved him more. We were also in a band together. I can see now how he tipped us both out of sorts, manipulated us, passed information back and forth … that undermined the relationship. He played power games with the music, too. In the end, the only power I really had was to leave the relationship, the friendship and the band. Part of me feels haunted about it. I dream about them still. I feel bad that I’ve walked away so completely. But reading this post makes me feel better–maybe a bit validated that my “spidey-sense” tells me to stay far away. The two of them were huge in my life, forces of nature, beautiful in so many ways, but toxic. It makes me sad.

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  • sossajes

    Posted on November 29, 2011

    having been through something similar, i just wanted to say: please bury the ring. someday someone else will find it, and it will be fresh and new to them. but it is neither of those things to you.

    be well.

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  • Voluptueux

    Posted on November 29, 2011

    The ring:

    Mail it back to him.

    Sell it and give the proceeds to the charity of your choice (or keep it).

    But in the end, GET RID OF IT! It is still a tie to him. Him telling you to keep it when you don’t want it and then you keeping it is just another measure of his willingness (and apparent ability) to manipulate/control you.

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  • me

    Posted on November 29, 2011

    I know you didn’t ask, but I vote mailing him the ring, too.

    My former best friend. It became a situation of who could play the game better, but since I don’t do “games” I bowed out. It’s not worth the ups and downs and back-handed compliments and drama.

    Still not sure about my Ex. Maintaining distance for my sanity sake. But I feel a lot of how you felt with regards to “fault”

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  • Clarisse Thorn

    Posted on November 29, 2011

    I’ve thought about sending it back. It’s awkward because I’m nervous that he’d just return the package or something and I don’t want to get into a weird situation where we’re going back and forth? I thought about sending it to his mom, but that also seems awkward. Mostly, of course, I’m nervous about it getting lost in the mail. I could buy a lot of insurance, I suppose, but that’s not a guarantee. I don’t have a good way of sending it to him through an intermediary I trust.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted on November 29, 2011

      maybe letting it get lost in the mail is the healthiest thing for the both of you. is it possible to send it to his mom, with an explanation of how you don’t think it is appropriate that you hang on to it anymore?

      Report this comment

    • pillowinhell

      Posted on December 1, 2011

      Clarrisse, I had a ring like that. My suggestion, have a small ceremony, honor what was good, and then bury your past. He’s found a way to manipulate you, but only if you let that ring haunt you. So throw it a wake and then move on.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on November 29, 2011

    The ring is not just him, it’s a part of your own personal history. It’s certainly ok (I think) to send it back, lose it in the mail or throw it into the deep blue sea. It’s also ok to find it in a drawer of junk twelve years later and wonder how weird life can be.

    When my last ill fitting relationship ended awhile ago I burned a lovely painting of the two of us, which turned out to be a good and beneficial, to me at least.

    I read an article once about a bridge in Reno from which people who had quick weddings threw their rings after the marriages failed. I like the concept of that ritual. Give it back to the water.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on November 29, 2011

    Sell it, and give the money away. If you keep the money, whatever you buy will take its place. To send it to him or contact his mother about it will, without doubt, bring you into his orbit again, one way or another. Regardless of its monetary value, what is its hold on you?

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  • Razz

    Posted on November 30, 2011

    I completely agree with selling the ring. As I’ve been able to afford it, I’ve slowly replaced things that were deeply imbued by my ex: the bed we slept in that he held me down in while I cried and pleaded, the jewelry he bought me as apologies for a new episode of rage/gaslighting, etc.

    I still have items to replace. The sight of some object shouldn’t reasonably trigger regret/pain/fear/anxiety, but they do.

    Let it go as much as you can as quickly as you can, Clarisse. As badly behaved as my ex was (is), I know that as much as he understands the feeling, he loved me and still has hopes of reconciliation. The truth is, you can’t give him what he wants, and he can’t give you what you want. The disappointment of not living up to each other’s expectation is exhausting and will be a constant thorn. I may wish that my psychopathic ex would morph completely into the man he liked to project in polite company, but the mechanics – the basic neurology of how he works – is never going to be.

    Holding on to an illusion is something that doesn’t fill a gap, it only keeps us from embracing real substance.

    Get rid of the ring in whatever way you are most comfortable with. Baggage is baggage.

    All my best wishes for you.

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  • Skye

    Posted on November 30, 2011

    Razz and Anonymous, thank you for your support. It has been quite the journey. And it seems insane to think I could miss a man who nearly killed me out of his own selfishness…yes, I;ve concluded his abuse had nothing to do with his manic depression. I think his illness made his control issues worse-but they did NOT create his control issues. No excuses there.

    As for the ring: I like the idea of selling it and using the money for something that has a positive meaning for YOU. Maybe its an experience, maybe its to give to your favourite charity. But make it about you, and create a new memory around the ring.

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  • OOC

    Posted on December 1, 2011

    Thanks to all of you, and Clarisse of course, for sharing so candidly, freely, of yourselves and for each other. This is exactly why we’ve created Off Our Chests, and we’re so glad you’re here. Thanks…OOC

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on December 1, 2011

    I would also mail the ring back, to his mother with a note about why. Without insurance; if it goes astray, so be it. If she gives it to him and he mails it back to you, refuse it. Better if you don’t put a return address on it and he doesn’t know where you live. If he tries to get it back to you, you know that he’s trying to use it as leverage to control you and you get to practice saying no.

    Alternatively, donate it to goodwill or go to a shelter and give it away.

    If you are into things like purifying by fire, you could have it melted down and recast into something else.

    I have the feeling that if you do anything with it other than keep it, and he finds out, he will be angry because you gave away/sold/burned this *heirloom* *important* thing, even though he’s saying “it’s yours, do what you want.” By acknowledging the value of this important thing, and by keeping it, you’re allowing him that hold.

    If you sell it, he may demand the money, or even more because you sold it for a quarter of what it was worth, how could you. Although I personally would not be comfortable selling it, because I would not be comfortable having the money from such a thing even if I turned around and gave the money away a minute later. I also wouldn’t want to know how much money I could sell it for.

    Other ideas: bury it somewhere. Find a hole in a wall and stick it through; someone might find it in fifty years when they remodel. Give it to a friend to dispose of (I do this a lot).

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  • Voluptueux

    Posted on December 5, 2011

    There are many charity boxes and other places that you could anonymously donate and it sure would be appreciated during this holiday season. I have personal reasons for not donating to Salvation Army (they are too anti-gay for my taste) but their donation buckets are ubiquitous at this time of year. I still think you should get rid of it. I still believe that, for him, it’s a control issue.

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  • Velcro

    Posted on December 14, 2011

    My manipulative ex has contacted me once a year since I broke up with him. The entire relationship was awful – he never did anything I didn’t agree to, but I was 15 and in my first relationship and he made me feel so guilty that I never felt like I was able to say no. To anything, even small, stupid things. He HAD to be with me at all times, HAD to have visible claim over me, HAD to call me every night. If I objected it became a huge, messy fight where he told me he was worried that I didn’t love him (I never said I did!). He was 18, too, and I figured he knew better what relationships were like or something. There are a lot of subtle, emotional reasons I never felt capable of standing up for myself.

    Breaking up with him took me two months. Months in which he restricted me from visiting any mutual friends (it hurts too much!), where he bawled openly while looking straight into my eyes, wrote me letters, told me about his suicide attempts. I was lucky to have other people in my life telling me emphatically to ignore him, and that I listened.

    He made me feel like I was at fault, but all I could ever manage to do was what he wanted. I felt guilty because he never forced anything on me – just, the alternative was tears and texts and jealousy.

    It wasn’t resolved well. He stopped going to school, but graduated, and we didn’t speak. I was glad to have him out of my life. Then, a year later, he says a friendly “hi” – I don’t think I can reasonably tell him to leave me alone, so we chat. He asks me out. I say no, but it’s a meandering no. He leaves me alone.

    And yesterday, a year after that last message, he sends me another “hello”. It makes me anxious, my head spins reading his name in my inbox. I regather my senses and tell him firmly that if he had any interest in being nice, he’d respect that I don’t want to talk to him. I’m proud of myself for remaining firm and curt. He implies that I was as cruel as he was, and backs off.

    I have a wonderful, supportive, feminist partner and while my life isn’t awesome, it’s a hell of a lot better than it was, and I’m a lot more confident than I used to be. Still, it bothers me – it frightened me – that he can insert himself into my life and make me anxious, make me remember him.

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  • darkangelonyourshoulder

    Posted on December 24, 2011

    I just want to say thank you for sharing your experiences. It helps those of us who’ve been through similar know that we aren’t crazy, that happened, we were manipulated, and while we aren’t without responsibility, it wasn’t our “fault”. Some people are manipulative bastards, and sneaky ones at that. And if they weren’t so damned good at it, we would’t have fallen for it.

    I’m sorry your posts about this relationships haven’t been received well before. I hate it when people are so afraid of being victimized that tuey delude some themselves into thinking that anyone who ever has been really had control and could have changed things if they weren’t so weak, broken, and stupid. *rolls eyes* because blame-the-victim mentality is so very helpful.

    Truth is, it happened. You left. Huzzah for you! Now other people in the same place can see that it’s possible and hopefully be inspired. Meanwhile, you are free.

    I recommend finding a bridge over a large body of water and dropping in the ring. Can you really think of a good reason not to?

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