(Just) F•R•I•E•N•D•S

So no one told me life was gonna be this way.

In October I met a guy. He was charming, funny, handsome.. all of the things I like about men wrapped in one well dressed package.

Maybe my judgement was cloudy because I was lonely. Maybe we had actual chemistry. But what happened next was something that will take me a long time to get over. This is the story of how he came crashing in (and out of) my life. The whole, ugly, painful, screwed up story of how I trusted someone I shouldn’t have and came out on the other side a little bit more battered and bruised, but smarter. And about how sometimes the apology you deserve just isn’t the one you’re ever going to get.

I met him at Starbucks. I was drinking my pink drink with matcha and he sat down beside me. We instantly connected. I’ll spare you the details because I don’t want to focus on those or I may just cry. Let’s focus on what went wrong.

He had quite a reputation around town that I was unaware of. People tried really hard to get me to stay away from him, but he totally had me fooled. He had a response for every single thing people said. I believed every word, thinking that this guy couldn’t possibly be the monster people said he was. We even laughed and joked when I put him in my phone as “Dangerously Hot B”.

There were plenty of red flags, but I ignored them. He broke plans with me all the time. My friends were so exhausted hearing about him standing me up yet again and making up some ridiculous excuse for why he didn’t show up. We texted daily, sometimes all day. We talked about life and it was good.

But Q. She loved him from day 1. He was larger than life to her and she thought he hung the moon and stars. Seeing someone interact with my child that way was magical and I got sucked in. “Mr Bri Bri”, as she called him, started coming around more and more. She took to him. They laughed together. Took turns dragging me. Snap chatted good mornings and good nights to each other.

He wanted to keep our relationship “private” (red flag). He used his children as a reason, as a way to protect them from small town gossip. When people would approach me at work or church and ask if we were dating I was told by him to tell them that we were “just friends”. He would get irrationally angry whenever I was approached by anyone. He was very concerned with what the people in town thought about him. I was not. I was happy. We had fun together. We laughed a lot.

As the months went on, he would pull me in and then push me away, citing “gossips”. I just thought he wanted to be a super private person, so I went on the defensive just like he did. We talked every day. Our lives became more and more intertwined and out of town trips, late nights out, sleepovers, and hiding out at my house became a thing. At church, I was expected to walk right by him like I didn’t know him. He talked to me about telling Q that him staying at our house was private. I did all of these things, in the name of his privacy.

I pushed people away. People with genuine concern for my mental, emotional, and financial well being expressed concern and I got my feathers ruffled and told them to mind their own business. My association with him alienated me from people who had my best interests at heart. I wouldn’t listen to anyone. I was too far in.

I wasn’t allowed to meet his children. I was told that no one he dated did. This was after him spending entire weekends with me and my child. I sit literal feet away from his son at church and saying “hi” was just not something I was allowed to do. His children have no idea who I am. He wanted it that way.

In fact, no one had any idea who I was. I was the secret. The good time girl. The fun one. The one he could talk to all day long and tell his problems to and laugh with and call and I would drop everything to go out with him and stay out all night. But to everyone that asked, we were “just friends”.

I cannot begin to tell you the mental and emotional stress that comes from living a lie. He blamed it on not being able to be what Q and I needed (although I never asked him for a single thing), the pressure of dating a widow after the death of her well loved husband, his previous relationships.. he called it everything but what it was- he was completely comfortable with me being his secret.

I began to feel used completely up. He was draining me in every way possible and I felt like I was giving so much to someone who was just taking and taking and taking. He would tell me to post a picture of us and I would be so excited to finally feel validation in our relationship, only to have him freak out and tell me to take it down when I actually did. He began to dodge selfies (red flag). When we were in Europe for Christmas, he stayed at our house and sent cute selfies and called us on Christmas Day. When we flew back from Europe, he met us at Waffle House at 3am when Q was so jetlagged she couldn’t sleep and he came home with us and spent the weekend. And the next one. And the next one.

I suspected he was seeing someone else and gave him every opportunity to tell me that he was. He denied it. His stories didn’t line up. Seeing him became more sporadic. He claimed he was “focusing on his family”. It would’ve been the perfect opportunity to back off. At one point I even tried to break it off with him but he refused to listen to what I had to say and said he couldn’t “take that” right now. I know now that his motives for that had a lot to do with money. I poured every bit of my energy into helping him get his own life together. We went to Atlanta one last time in late February. I didn’t know it was going to be the last time. If I knew, I would’ve taken more pictures. This is the only one I took that weekend.

That day when we left the hotel in 2 different cars because we were going 2 different directions, he called me right after. He said “are you ok?”’and I said “yes, why wouldn’t I be?”

And that was the last time I’ve laid eyes on him. Over the course of the last month he started making excuses for why he couldn’t see me, blaming me for his problems, repeatedly telling me that we’re “just friends”. This has been the most confusing thing ever because it was completely contradictory from what he told me during the hot times. But he was ice cold. I needed a clean break and he wouldn’t give me that. He would say one thing and do another. It made no sense.

I have beat myself up for a month trying to figure out what I did wrong, how I could fix it, why he was still texting me like nothing ever happened, and how I could shake some sense into him so he would just act normal again, whatever our normal was. I begged. I pleaded. I bargained. I was willing to reduce myself down to the ridiculous relationship that he wanted with all of his rules about privacy just not to lose what we had.

When school was cancelled for coronavirus quarantine, Q and I had to cancel our trip to NYC. I knew that there was no way I could stay anywhere near him so I found us a place at the beach and we went camping. I spent 3 days crying. Q would go to sleep and I would just fall apart. Losing him felt like a death all over again, except he’s still walking around like nothing happened.

While I was at the beach I found out he’s also been dating someone else since November. To say that I’m devastated is an understatement. At any given moment he could’ve told me and I would have so much more respect for him than I do now. All of the things he wouldn’t allow me, spending time with his kids, actual dates in the town where I work and go to church, he did with her. He maintained to everyone that I was “just a friend”.

He has yet to be honest about what he has done. Through therapy, I now know that what I’ve been dealing with is classic narcissistic abuse. Our lives were intertwined on his terms as a form of control. He had me. I didn’t see it. I have clarity now.

Right down to the car I drive and how I pay my bills, he had all the control and I had none. I am giving him the opportunity to make it right in that way, but am otherwise not hoping that anything but closure comes out of this for me.

The thing that hurt the most was his manipulation of my daughter. He said he was coming to her birthday party, then 2 days ahead of time said he was not. She cried for 2 whole days. I will never forgive myself for inviting someone into my life that hurt her. She loved him. I loved who I thought he was, but I see now that who I thought he was and who he actually is are two very different things.

The discard phase almost killed me. His manipulation of me took me from a confident, able bodied person to a puddle of emotion. I’m working on healing from that.

He maintains we were “just friends” to anyone who asks, but I know the truth and so does he. I also know that I deserve much more out of life than someone who doesn’t think I’m good enough for his family when I spent months pouring all of my energy into making his life better. I had never dealt with anyone like him before, and now that I’m on the other side of it I see the signs I missed before.

I want to believe people are good and have good intentions, but I believe that my vulnerability as a fresh widow and my own empathetic personality put a target on my back.

I have shrunk to conform to the crazy rules he made for our “relationship”, but I’m slowly coming out of the fog. And I’m taking back what’s mine and walking away ok with never dating again, because I am strong, independent, and my eyes are wide open after being had by a liar.

He’s a Gaslighter. And I’m not in the dark anymore.

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