As cliche as it sounds, I can look back and see the precise moments when my thinking about something changed. Evolution throughout our life journeys often feels gradual, but I find the moment of actual change seems to in fact be quite abrupt; like illuminating a once-dark room with the flip of a switch.
In reviewing my relationship with Randall (something I’ve had to do a lot, both with my therapist and on my own, in order to extrapolate important lessons and heal wounds), there is one moment that stands out to me as the instant everything in my mind shifted. It wasn’t a particularly important moment as far as memories go; there weren’t clashes of thunder or a roaring argument to make it more memorable…and yet I can say, with absolute certainty, that it’s the moment when my heart finally had to accept what so many others had been trying to tell me about the man I loved. I didn’t end the relationship immediately after the fact, but I know as I look back there was a distinct shift in my mind forever after; like a kaleidoscope that showed me the world through an entirely new prism of colors.
Before I proceed any further, I need to admit that I’m a little sheepish about sharing this; it involves talking about a fairly sensitive topic. But when I first began to work with clients on their personal success, and first began writing in this space, I resolved to always be totally open and transparent. Have no secrets (Read: Free At Last). So I have pushed through my reservations in order to keep that promise to myself.
The topic in question is STDs. And yes, I’ve had them.
Only about six months into our relationship, Randall began to press and push me to agree to an open sexual relationship. It’s something we’d briefly touched on before getting back together in the first place; and when we originally discussed it, I’d not immediately shut it down because I’m modern enough and progressive enough to recognize sometimes sexual monogamy isn’t possible for certain people, and I’d rather at least know what was going on than be lied to. I loved him enough I was open to accepting it, in exchange for total honesty and transparency (since Round 1 of our relationship had ended with the revelation of a three-month long affair with Blanche, who I’ve talked about elsewhere on this blog).
But even as I said I was okay with the idea, I remember also very clearly saying I needed to establish a solid foundation for us first. Needed to ensure that the trust and love and security between us was sufficiently solid to make such a thing possible. At the time I said that, Randall readily agreed, even going so far as to say it wouldn’t be a problem because he wouldn’t even be interested in sex with anyone else for at least a year anyway. But naturally, like everything else involving him, his plans changed, and instead of a solid year or more of bonding and monogamy and trust-building, after barely six months he was pressing me on an almost daily basis. Even bringing it up in front of others, which was extra embarrassing for my extremely private personality.
I know now, thanks to research and education courtesy of my therapist, that this is quite common. Psychopaths, Sociopaths, and the like thrive on something called “triangulating”. This is where they dangle another person in front of you with the sole purpose of keeping you off balance and insecure. They want to appear desirable and in high demand, and want you to understand that they’ve got lots of “options” in order to make sure you feel like you need to constantly perform to the highest level to please them and convince them to stay. They want you uncomfortable. They want you looking/acting like a needy, clingy girlfriend, so that ultimately they can shame you for your behavior.
Of course he denied this any time I’d dare to speak up and say it was hurtful how often he talked about other women, or how openly he flirted with women in front of me; he’d insist I was just being insecure. I was extremely angry once when a young woman openly asked why he was even with me (being slightly overweight apparently made me totally unsuitable), and instead of jumping to my defense his reaction was to laugh, and then to get angry with me (to the point of threatening to leave me standing in a grocery store parking lot and driving off) when I chided him for not speaking up in my defense. And then he tied off that whole incident with the following statement: “Women are going to find me attractive, and you just have to accept that. I’m more attractive than you. Women are going to wonder why I’m with you. You’ve gotta be bigger than that, man. I can’t be with someone who’s needy and insecure.”
Charming, wasn’t he?
Well anyway, back to the original topic…he pushed and poked and prodded me into an open relationship at least six months earlier than I’d said I was even open to talking about it, and ultimately I gave in; mostly because I was sensing if I didn’t, he’d just start carrying on behind my back. I wanted to not ever be kept in the dark again, so I figured it was better to know what was happening than be lied to on a daily basis the way he had during his affair with Blanche. (No, not the best logic; what I should have thought was “Screw this, I’m breaking up with you if you can’t manage to keep it in your pants and be monogamous longer than six months”…but I wasn’t in the best frame of mind by that point. I was thoroughly ‘hooked’ on him, madly in love, and determined to be “good enough” for him to want to stay. So I broke all kinds of boundaries – discussed further here – in order to appease him and keep him happy.)
I’ll save all the details of how things unfolded for another day; for now let’s just say the open relationship experiment blew up spectacularly. First, my hopes for honesty and openness were completely dashed; just like every other area of our life together, he completely disregarded Every. Single. Rule. that I had put in place, including having sex with the same girl more than once, lying to me about what he was doing, having sex with others in our home/our bed, sleeping with people who I was also interacting with, and even worse, having sex sometimes without a condom. He even managed to break the holiest of all rules: absolutely no sex with Blanche, the original “other woman” in our relationship. They had sex at least once, during a moment when she flew up to Oregon and rented a cabin in the woods for them to have a little honeymoon weekend together (I was told he was camping with guy friends at the time).
Well…I thought I was losing my mind for about four months; sensing something was going on, but unable to find any proof of it. And he went out of his way to humiliate me and shame me to keep me silent and put me in my place; even going so far as to drag me down in front of other guys, making me look at them and them at me, and saying things like: “See? Tell her! Weren’t you all telling me just this morning how I’ve got a fucking shadow? Weren’t you all saying how she’s needy and being stupid? I’m not even doing anything yet, man! What the fuck?!”
Humiliating. Absolutely humiliating. And of course also absolutely untrue.
In the end I was proved correct. I still don’t know just how many young women he slept with, but so far the number is north of ten. And the reason ultimately that it all came to light was because of a positive STD test.
I’ll just say it: ultimately because of his ‘activities’, and his inability to respect even basic safe sex rules, never mind the rules I’d set to respect our relationship, Randall gave me Chlamydia, HPV, Genital Warts and, worst of all, Herpes. Yes, I’ve got Herpes. For the rest of my life. Because of a choice he made.
So fast forward to long, long after I first learned about everything (because yes, I was still trying to forgive him and move forward after he fell all over himself to apologize and swear he’d never do it again). Fast forward to the moment I first mentioned, with the sentence that ultimately flipped the switch in my mind.
We were getting dinner; picking up Japanese take out for ourselves and a few others back at home (I was constantly feeding other people thanks to him). One of his friends, Jimmy, was along for the ride as we waited, and Randall was in a particularly assholish mood that evening. Going on and on about other women he wanted to fuck; talking about girls sending him messages (the phrase commonly used is “in my inbox”) on Facebook who were “thirsty” and commenting on which ones had a fat enough ass or he’d heard from others had a tight enough you-know-what to tempt him. In public. Right in front of me. Waiting for food. After everything else that had already happened.
I was fast reaching my boiling point, the look on my face turning darker by the minute, and while Randall seemed to have no sense of self preservation, Jimmy did; because there came a moment when I saw him look at me with a worried glance before whispering to Randall that I looked pretty upset. He said it loud enough I caught the general gist of what he was saying. And Randall’s reply was definitely loud enough for me to hear every word. After Jimmy tried to get him to mellow out a bit for my sake, Randall fired back with: “So what? I can say what I want. She has Herpes, man. She’s not going anywhere.”
That sentence was like a key, unlocking something within me even as I was flooded with a mixture of pain and shame. I felt the embarrassment rising up into the back of my throat, nearly choking me; felt a sense of worthlessness and overall hopelessness that had become a normal part of my existence as his statement resonated within me. Feeling dirty and ugly and useless on all levels.
But then the switch flipped, and standing there in the middle of the restaurant I mentally gave myself a slap to get it together. For the first time, I started doing the math. Adding up every single thing Randall had done to me since we’d been together. I started realizing that there wasn’t a single boundary of mine, since day one, that he hadn’t almost deliberately blown apart along the way; that in fact the more I made a big deal out of something, the more determined he seemed to shatter that boundary into a thousand pieces.
A cold ball formed in the pit of my stomach and started to spread throughout my body as the thought came unbidden to my mind: This man does not, and never will, care about you.
He had given me Herpes. Given me an STD that I didn’t deserve, after lying to me and sleeping with so many girls he literally hadn’t been able to keep track. It was something that should have left him feeling desperate to make it up to me somehow, but instead there he was bragging about the fact that he’d apparently “ruined” me enough that no other man would want me. Therefore he could treat me however he damn well pleased.
No…this man did not care about me. And never had. The thought echoed in my mind, and I felt lost. Adrift. Unsure what to do with that new certainty as I collected the food and started walking back to the townhouse where we lived. He continued bantering with Jimmy while I numbly followed, not sure if I wanted to cry or hit something at that point. He was totally oblivious to my mood, or if he was aware he clearly didn’t care, which only emphasized the point even more.
I remember that moment clearly, not because it was an inappropriate, hurtful thing to say, but because that was the day everything started to change. That was the sentence that unlocked the door of the mental prison I’d built for myself. And while unfortunately it took an additional few months to actually walk through that now-open door, it at least made walking away possible.
If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, or feel ashamed of how you’ve been treated or what you’ve been through, please stop. Please know it’s not your fault. Please know it’s okay; just be proud you got out of it, and if you haven’t left yet, be proud that you’re contemplating leaving and taking your power back. That’s all you can do. I share stories like this one so you won’t feel so alone. I’m learning to accept the memories, rather than hiding from them out of shame.
It will be okay. Day by day, it gets better. That’s certainly been the case for me.
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