A couple of years ago, I met someone who changed my life.
His name is Mike.
I have not written much about Mike before, except in the most oblique reference. I do not really talk about him except to my very closest friends. I try not to think about him and what happened.
But I think it’s time.
When I met Mike, I was in a sad and vulnerable place and he was like the sun I hadn’t felt in years. He was charming and funny and sexy and smart and interesting and informed. He had eyes I could look into for hours, a mouth I could kiss for days, and a body that was astonishingly flawless. We talked constantly and for hours on end and never grew tired of each other. When we were together, neither of us could keep a goofy smile off our face. I fell fast and I fell hard and I fell for real.
He did and said everything I had ever hoped for. He wanted to know everything about me and he loved everything he discovered. He loved my voice (“God, I could listen to you read the phone book,” he once told me); he loved my freckles (“You make them sexy.”); he loved my silly flannel pjs (“Doesn’t matter what you wear, you make everything look hot.”). And I loved everything about him; I honestly would not admit to a single thing I would have changed. We talked about how lucky we were to have found each other and how amazing life was going to be now that we had. He was everything I’d ever wanted. I thought I had found my soul mate, my one and only, my perfect match.
Boy, was I wrong.
When it ended with Mike I cried every day for weeks on end. I threw myself into dating with a kind of blind, frenetic energy that only resulted in a few poor choices and no salvation. I worried that I would never find someone who loved me like he had or for whom I had that same powerful connection. I seriously wondered if I would ever get over him.
And then one day, I discovered who he really was, and it left me breathless. I suddenly realized that the man with whom I’d been so desperately in love was a charlatan, a cad, a pretender. Everything he’d ever told me — about us, himself, or anything at all — suddenly was called into question. When my brain thought of something he’d told me, it was prefaced or followed by “allegedly.” I realized that I’d fallen completely and utterly in love with a truly terrible man.
It’s impossible to know how much of what Mike said to me was the truth and how much of it was a lie. There is some evidence to suggest that he actually did love me, at least at some point. There is also ample evidence to suggest that he is a pathological liar and that I was but one in a very long string of women that he deceived.
There were, to be sure, some warnings of his true nature. And we’re not talking little red flags, here. Oh no. We’re talking large, blinking neon signs. Plenty of indicators that this man was not worthy of my time or attention, but I rationalized them all away. Looking back, I realize clearly that his lack of integrity and compassion and sincerity was obvious, but I never saw it then. I was too busy being in love with him to trouble myself with such trifling issues.
When I met Mike, I knew immediately that he was going to open up a whole new world for me. Sadly, I didn’t realize that it would be a world in which I no longer have faith in myself or my decisions about men. Mike taught me a lot, to be sure, but they are lessons I could have happily lived without.
Mike taught me that some people are simply incapable of the kind of love that I want to give and receive. My therapist has helped me understand that some people are truly closed off in ways that I had never imagined. They have walls that they hide behind and have no intention of crawling over, for anyone, ever. I thought that everyone eventually wanted to be known and accepted, wholly and completely and without reservation. I thought that everyone eventually wanted intimacy and connection on a deep and significant level. It honestly never occurred to me that a man might actually want to be an island. Until Mike.
Mike taught me that I would not necessarily recognize an asshole when I met him. Or even when I fell in love with him. Before Mike, I had dated some guys who weren’t any good for me, to be sure, but they weren’t bad people. They were troubled or at a bad place in their life; they weren’t players who wanted to see how much they could get away with, without regard for anyone else’s feelings. When they hurt me, they actually felt bad about it. But Mike never seemed to feel bad about anything, and not just with me. He seemed to be able to shrug off anything and everything he did to anyone. I thought he was “easy-going”; now I realize he’s almost completely lacking in empathy or compassion. I didn’t realize that such a man could fool me. Until Mike.
Mike taught me that some people will say whatever is necessary to get what they want. When I think about how masterfully he manipulated me, it still leaves me kind of stunned. From our first conversation, to his first “I love you,” to his equivocal distancing later on, he adroitly moved the relationship exactly in the direction and at the pace that he wanted. Even as things were ending, he was shameless in his willingness to lie and distort or massage the truth. After months of telling me how much he loved me, he suddenly did an about-face and insisted that he’d never wanted anything serious, that I had invented it all in my head, that he’d been clear with me from the beginning. It was crazy-making. I spent too many nights second-guessing myself — had I misunderstood everything? Was I clinically neurotic? Was he really this great guy that I’d somehow messed everything up with? I didn’t realize that being smart wouldn’t protect me from being manipulated. Until Mike.
Mike taught me that some people will see my niceness and vulnerability as weaknesses and exploit them accordingly. Mike used to always tell me that one of things he loved best about me was how nice I am… how much and deeply I care for the people around me and how my friends value me. He used to say that he admired my “realness.” I had always figured that these attributes were things about me that people would like and value and protect if they cared about me. Until Mike.
I have long known — and have positive proof of it my own life — that one person can change another in profound and powerful ways, but I suppose I mostly thought about that in terms of good ways, not bad ones. To be sure, I have had men do rotten (even criminal) things to me, but none have left me as uncertain in my own good judgment as Mike has. None have made me question the motivations behind even the sweetest gestures as Mike has. None have created as much fear around relationships as Mike has. My friend Annie suggested today that perhaps dating at our age would necessarily involve more doubt and more hesitancy and less patience for perceived hurts and shortcomings. I believe she is absolutely right. After all, we all have more experiences — and those include more bad experiences — informing our behavior and our choices. We are bound to be a little less fearless, a little more cautious, a little more skeptical. And I think that I was pretty normal in that regard. Until Mike.
Mike left a bad legacy in his wake, but perhaps the most damaging was my lack of faith in my own judgment. I realized recently that my biggest fear around relationships is discovering that the man I am with is not at all who I thought he was. That kind of realization is like a baseball bat to the belly — spinning you around, leaving you breathless and dizzy and dazed and doubled over from the pain. I know that things sometimes don’t work out — most relationships do end — but being completely blindsided by your man as the relationship falls apart is a whole other story.
It’s odd to see what fear can do to you… to watch it from outside and see how it manipulates your reactions and your choices. To feel your confidence in your own judgment about men evaporate and discover an insecurity you never knew before. To see yourself behaving in ways that were never a part of who you were before him. I feel Mike’s lingering influence as an icy cold grip on my life, strangling my relationships. After him, I spent more than a year running away at the first hint of trouble in any relationship, until I was spent from running and sick of his ghost.
So now I do the only thing I can: I try and fight back. I try to push through my fears. I have ridiculous conversations with myself, reminders that the Mikes of this world are rare and I hadn’t encountered one before him and am unlikely to encounter another. I try to make conscious, deliberate decisions, so that I won’t slip unknowingly into that same dark place again. I try to remember what it was like — what I was like — before Mike. I try to see my reactions and fears for what they really are — just remnants of pain that I don’t have to embrace anymore. I try to remember that Mike didn’t force me to do anything; I was a willing participant in that relationship and I have the ability to avoid those situations.
And I do these things with varying degrees of success.
I think I am writing about this now to try and release it. To try and not give him any more of my life than he’s already taken. To try and quiet his echo. Once and for all. I don’t often use my blog in this fashion, but a friend recently told me that sometimes you have to announce your biggest fear as a means of overcoming it. So here I am. Doing it. I want it done. I don’t want to be afraid that every man I date will end up another Mike. I want to give each guy his own chance to prove himself or fail, all on his own merits. I want to shrug off the cynicism that Mike shouldered me with and re-discover just a little bit of the hopeless romantic he bruised. I want him gone. For good. I want to be free. Finally.
Once and for all.