I was on such a high on life from my cancer camp experience in Colorado that I embraced my free-spirited inner child completely. I went skydiving and got my motorcycle endorsement in late 2014. Thoroughly enjoyed such pursuits. At some point in 2016, thought it would be nice to enjoy adventuring with a partner. So, I opened the door to dating. My son was now a teenager with his own agenda and felt the time was right to the possibility of establishing a relationship. My son’s dad had left 12 years prior, and after a few missed and blink brief trials, it was time for this babe to put herself out there. Onto the proverbial dating site I went. I might have been there about 5 months encountering few interests, some definite no’s until the one guy popped into my inbox. “Hey, do you like sport bikes?” And that was the simple 5 worded question that took me off course.
We messaged back and forth briefly before meeting in person. Both in our forties, no time to waste at this precious stage of life! We hit it off immediately, I mean blast off! We had a great long first date, full of conversation and adventuring on motorcycle of course. We were just 8 months apart in age, both had older teen children (just one girl for him to offset my one boy), both foodies at heart, a love for the same movies and TV shows, and just as equally passionate about water and land adventures. And what we both didn’t enjoy was such a delight as well. We both are averse to hours in front of the TV or at a stadium on a weekend or any other day to watch balls get tossed around. This felt like a home run (pun intended).
But as all relationships go, the high eventually begins to wear off and the ones who make it are the ones who dig in and do the real work any lasting relationship takes. We didn’t make it. But here is where the off-course experience has its sweet sweet value.
Those 18 months felt like the best I’d ever had with a romantic partner. For you to understand, let me get into the history of my romantic pursuits.
At age 17, I had my first boyfriend. He was almost 23, HUGE RED FLAG RIGHT THERE!!! But there I was in the misery of feeling less than and unwanted thanks to my dad’s exit from my life at age 14. Normally, that thanks has a sarcastic tinge to it, but in this case, since I am writing with lots of wisdom of hindsight 30 years after the traumatic event, it is a grateful and relieving thanks. Anyway, back the story. That relationship went south after our 1st year but I endured 3 years dating that possessive, jealous, demeaning, controlling, emotionally and physically abusive vampire. I must have tried to break up with him at least 5-7 times, but the stalker would show up at my door. He was such a stalker he coordinated his work schedule so that he’d have time to get to my job, take me to college night classes which by the way were two train rides away (eye roll). Not only would he take me to school, on many occasions he would wait for me outside class to the point that one classmate started calling him my shadow. It was embarrassing, scary, suffocating, and inescapable. How did I get away you ask? After another traumatic life event that I’ll share at some future time. In any event, I had to leave the country. After 3 years of downward spiral, I made it to somewhere safe finally.
Cue 2nd relationship.
Having arrived in Colombia to be with family and finally have some respite, I meet my ex-husband just a few weeks after arriving. Yep, you might’ve guessed it if you already inferred that I had unprocessed buried years of trauma. I jumped into that relationship without healing or understanding where I went wrong. He was the opposite of my first boyfriend. He never put me down. On the contrary he felt proud of me, showed me off, never abused me, didn’t have a temper, the perfect antidote to all that toxic pain the vampire inflicted in me. I dated my ex-husband for 3 years, long distance I may add, to culminate in a marriage that lasted 6 years. Six years that had ups and downs, an 8-month split at age 27 followed by a permanent split at age 30. Yes, and this one like the first was full of red flags!!! Namely, alcoholism, LIKE.MY.FATHER.
So, 2004 he leaves, 2006 we’re divorced, and I grieve, and I grieve, and I grieve. My grieving felt like it lasted through 2008. I quit my job when he left and went back to college full time since my mom offered to help. During this time my soul got a much-deserved break. I was a full time mom, went back to school, found therapy in cooking and watching Food Network, and jogged about 6 days a week. I found these all fulfilling. My soul needed this “down time”. I healed from having defined myself through my relationship. He left and all I could think, or feel was “What now?”. I had no idea what to do, who I was, or where I should go, emotionally and mentally. Eventually, I found my footing.
These two relationships gave me insight on abuse and dysfunction from the perspective of a partner as opposed to a daughter which is how I lived it growing up. These experiences provided growth in knowing what I wanted but most importantly what I didn’t want.
Here I am, 2016, 4 years out of cancer, feeling great about life, and I am now ready to seek what I had taken a long break from, to fully give of myself to a companion and hoping to find one who fully gave of himself to me.
So, this guy comes along, and it seemed he checked off many of the boxes! Red flags, um yeah, I eventually started seeing them, but my brain was so high on the "love hormone" oxytocin (which screws us women over royally), that I quickly dismissed them to him having a hard childhood, which I did too, right?!? And, to his PTSD after serving 3 tours of duty. I mean, poor guy, he gives so much affection and seemed ok in so many aspects of his life, that to me it just offset whatever red flags I perceived. Thing is, I was justifying them because I still had low self-worth. Ding ding ding!!! Aahhh, dear sweet life lessons…
After 3 months of dating, I decided to move in with him. After marriage and subsequent divorce, I walked away with the certainty that to really know someone and to know if it will work, it’s crucial to cohabitate with them. How do you adjust to sharing a space together, what are the idiosyncrasies, can you navigate them, but most importantly how do you resolve bumps in the road? Because it is through these experiences that you’ll know if there really is a partnership going on. The best way to know, is to bunk up and see if you are both willing to hunker down and do the work!
Since most of our time was about having fun and adventuring, there were no major situations to work through. We never had blown out arguments, I had left that long behind with my first boyfriend. We had couple of tiffs, but nothing major. I did sense that he overreacted a couple of times, like the level of upset didn’t match the “crime”. When I finally got around to grieving the breakup, I fully understood and accepted that part of this was tied to red flag no. 1, he was a steroid junkie! Of course, his over reaction to things triggered my history and “No one’s gonna mess with me” mode! BAM, recipe for disaster!
I couldn’t really wrap my head around it for a while. But it was watching the R. Kelly interview with Gayle King that offered the clarity I needed. I was in an 18-month relationship with a narcissist. Some of the behaviors confused me, and I always attributed them to his service or hard childhood, which likely are also contributing factors, but doing this led me to minimize the inappropriateness of his reactions. What a lesson. Narcissism is a truly scary and potentially dangerous mental illness. The worst thing is the person doesn’t even know they are ill. That is because they avoid by every means possible to do the work to heal their emotional wounds. And these wounds or trauma is what led to them developing the narcissistic behaviors and personality. My ex never had outbursts like R. Kelly, but seeing the interview, I saw that the potential was there. He just fought them back hard. That combined with the medications he was on helped keep things under wraps. But everything makes so much sense now. He would interrupt me in the middle of conversations and completely start his own topic, my plans most times somehow turned into his, I noticed envy for others good lives, needing lots of attention, jumping from one relationship to another, I even realized at the end he was a pathological liar. No, this is not the type of relationship I would aim for if I were ok.
Looking back, I understand that we were both still wounded souls that had a lot of individual healing to do. We triggered each other’s PTSD wounds. A coming together of two individuals with this nature and level of unresolved internal turmoil just can never get far. I know he was a soul mate, a temporary one. He cracked open a window for me to view myself, to realize what still wasn’t fully healed in me. Because you see, to end up with someone who is toxic means we are toxic ourselves. At the end of the day it is us who choose to open the door to our heart, space, lives, and homes, to others. The signs are there if someone is genuine or not. We choose to downgrade or completely ignore red flags, and that’s only because of our own emotional and mental limitations. It is because we have self-limiting beliefs about the kind of relationship we deserve. And we all deserve an honest, supporting, and healthy relationships that both nurtures individuality as well as partnership. This relationship is only possible when we are in a complete space of self-worth. Because otherwise, we compromise our individuality, our dreams, our potential.
I am thankful for the time with him. And I pray he finds healing. I saw his light, as I always try to in others. But in the end, he chooses to feed the bad wolf, as the Native American teaching speaks of
Someone shared this poem with me called A Narcissist’s prayer :