Randall used to often brag to me about how he wasn’t bothered by such things as sad memories weighing him down; he was genuinely confused when I’d talk about my memories, and then insist he simply didn’t have them…not in the way I described, at any rate. Insisting he forgot the faces of those around him within months of the last time he saw them (even his own mother), and swearing that he didn’t “miss” people because unless they were directly in front of him, he in a sense forgot they even existed.
It meant he had very few regrets, because he couldn’t really remember the most painful times in his life, and he insisted it also meant things that normally might traumatize others (an abusive childhood, six years in prison) had no affect on him because he didn’t dwell on it. Couldn’t dwell on it even if he wanted to.
And…it meant when a relationship ended for him, there wasn’t even a pause before he bounced on to the next girl. In fact, he usually had a new one lined up before the old one was even out the door (certainly was the case with me…he was practically living with Blanche before he even told me she existed the first time, and then during our second round together boldly admitted that he refused to completely cut her loose because he refused to not have a “backup plan”).
I’ve thought about this a lot since I ended things with him…sometimes with a touch of envy. Wishing I could excise certain memories pertaining to him; both the joyful and the painful ones. The happier memories only serve to confuse my senses and create a sense of longing and heartache I don’t need, and all the painful memories manage to do is rip out my heart and stomp on it all over again.
Generally speaking I move through the day without being too haunted by things at this point; I’m able to keep unwanted thoughts to the side while I’m working on other projects. But I’ve not yet come up with a solution for what happens at night; it seems I lose all control of what my mind does once the sun goes down.
Many times I’ve woken suddenly from haunting, realistic dreams where I can practically touch his face; and while sometimes those dreams are filled with fear of what actually is, other times they’re filled with a longing that leaves me aching for the man I originally fell in love with…the man who doesn’t actually exist.
That’s the trouble with falling in love with an abuser of any kind, but especially those on the spectrum of Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Psychopaths: you fall in love with someone who doesn’t exist. A fantasy. A perfect specimen who seems created just for you. And that’s precisely what they want you to think; because that’s how they cement such an incredible bond that is then supposed to hold even as everything turns ugly.
Here’s a technical breakdown of how it works, as explained by my therapist and the articles written by experts in the field: after identifying a target, the first thing they do is learn everything they can about you – your likes and dislikes, your fears and hopes and dreams – and then start mirroring it back to you. Showing you what they want you to see; a perfect version of a partner who is everything you’ve ever dreamed of. And then they follow up the mirroring with something experts call Love Bombing, and if that’s a term you chuckle at, well…don’t. It’s effective, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.
Imagine your perfect man – your Prince Charming – waltzing into your life, and then pursuing you to the ends of the earth. Acting like only you matter. Saying the most romantic things. Whispering in your ear that they’ve never loved anyone the way they love you. Telling you they’ve waited their whole life just to meet you. Holding you close at night and telling you how beautiful you are…how sexy…how smart…how precious…over and over again, until your heart swells nearly to bursting with love for this “miracle” you feel has walked into your life.
It seems too good to be true……and unfortunately, as it turns out that’s because it is. And if this initial phase is done successfully, you are now madly, deeply, passionately in love with a man who doesn’t exist. A ghost who will slowly fade, and who you’ll spend the rest of the relationship chasing and trying to find buried somewhere in the abusive monster that slowly emerges in its’ place.
Randall was that for me; my prince charming. A brilliant intellectual who could have long discussions about my favorite subjects – science, philosophy, history, religion, politics – and actually keep up with me the way only my father could. A man who actually said “I love you” first, and then said it often ever after, whether on the phone or in a text or as a whispered endearment in my ear. He’d call me and text me ‘just to say hi’ all times of the day and night. Let me know how much he missed me. Tell me how he couldn’t wait to see me. And then when we’d see each other, it was like an epically romantic reunion every single time.
It was pure magic. And I was hooked.
But that man – that Randall – wasn’t real. And he wouldn’t last forever. My love for him did…but the man I loved faded away, leaving me puzzled and alone and trying to decide what I did wrong to cause him to change. A thought that was helped along by his ever-increasingly vocal criticisms of me, telling me how I’d changed…that I wasn’t who he thought I was…that I was more insecure than I used to be…more needy…more clingy…less independent…less capable…less sexy…not as beautiful…not as attractive…
It went on and on. Always about how I had changed, the implication being any shifts in his treatment of me was directly related to my changes. Therefore it was my fault. See how that works? Somehow I was suddenly the one being accused of luring him in under false pretenses…being told I must have lied to him about who I was, and about what my life was like, in order to lure him away from his life with Blanche and get him to come back to me instead.
He whispered this over and over again, and because all his friends and supporters echoed the sentiment, I started to think maybe it was true. To the point where I was even telling my parents that clearly I wasn’t as nice or as loving or as selfless or as honest as they’d always thought I was; arguing that clearly they just didn’t know me very well. (An argument that left my father looking stunned and my mother determined to find a way to tear me out of the abusive relationship in which I was ensnared.)
And in the midst of all this turmoil and drama, I was missing the truth because he’d carefully hidden it away: I hadn’t changed, he had. I’d fallen in love with a man who didn’t exist; a man who I’d only get glimpses of from time to time (and I suspect that was in moments when he needed to reel me back in a bit because I was starting to look for the nearest emergency exit).
So how do you reconcile that in your mind? Very, very slowly…and with a lot of pain. It’s a unique kind of torture, because while the man himself was never real, the love in your heart is as real and pure and genuine as any love ever was. You ache for your loved one. You pine for him. And you also feel the hopeless realization that you’ll never again meet someone like him, or feel the way you did in the early stages of that relationship, because really it was too perfectly scripted…and no “real man” is like that. So then you think everything is over, and you don’t even want to try…because nothing again will ever measure up.
It’s a painful process…and one that only resolves itself with time and patience. Just this morning, I woke up to a vivid memory of Randall walking toward me during Christmas three years ago, smiling at me with his green eyes dancing as he teasingly and lovingly unwrapped me from my layers of scarves and hats and gloves and jackets to tumble me down onto the bed in his arms and feather my face with kisses.
That is the man I fell in love with. Kind and warm and playful and generous. And that is the man I miss. The man I yearn for. The man I grieve.
So I tell myself that man died. That he’s never coming back. That it’s okay to remember the good times, but to view it as someone who is dead and gone; no more now than a memory. Because to do anything else cracks the door back open to grant him power over me again.
It’s a delicate dance…and a painful one. One I wish at times I didn’t have to deal with. One whose memories I wish I could just excise from my mind forevermore. But that’s not how life works; and while at times I envied Randall’s ability to ‘not remember’…ultimately I also recognize that’s what made me different. What made me human. The memories…the real pain…and the real love.
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. To learn more or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.
**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities