When I was seventeen I began dating a man twenty years my senior. He came after me with everything he had, but once he had me he treated me terribly. I didn’t leave because I was convinced I was in love with him. I stayed and endured treatment no one would if they were feeling good about themselves. He lied to me and cheated on me, but was also controlling and possessive. He was emotionally distant and verbally abusive and he scheduled himself every waking moment of the day.
He was in pain, I have no doubt about that now, and he was running from it. But I didn’t have the understanding to recognize that, nor the tools to not take it personally. He leaned on me and wanted me to be there for him, but there were times he was incredibly cruel. We were still together for his 40th birthday and I planned a huge surprise party for him. By then we’d been together three years, and I was close to all of his friends and most of their girlfriends, although a few were hostile to me because of my age. I rented a pool hall and called a caterer. I ordered a cake and sent invitations to all his friends letting them know it was on the down low. I also made reservations at a restaurant I knew he wanted to try, and planned on heading to the pool hall after.
I’d saved money for months so I could afford to do all these things and I was excited like a kid on Christmas morning. Of course underneath all of it was the hope that maybe once I did this he’d really love me. Really see me. Really appreciate me. I wish I could go back and give my seventeen, eighteen, nineteen-year-old self a hug. Grab a tea and say, “You know what? Get the f&ck out of here. Amazing things are going to happen in your life and this man isn’t going to be a part of them.” Except he is part of them because he’s part of my story. A week before his birthday he confronted me in our kitchen. “I know about the party at the pool hall. Tell me who you invited so I can make sure you didn’t forget anyone.” He said this to me in a strange, angry manner, as if my efforts to surprise him with something special and sweet were somehow a betrayal. I burst into tears. He laughed. Maybe he was nervous, I don’t know. Maybe he felt unworthy underneath it all, but it was a nasty laugh and it broke me. He wouldn’t relent until I pulled the guest-list out of my purse and threw it on the kitchen counter. I hadn’t forgotten anyone. Then he asked me about the pool hall and what kind of food I’d ordered. He didn’t want to be embarrassed. I’d ordered sushi from his favorite restaurant and had a friend of his who was a pastry chef bake him his favorite cake. By the time he was done grilling me, testing me, laughing at me, I felt like I was made of bones. Like he’d stripped the heart right out of me and thrown it on the counter alongside the guest list. Like I could break into a million pieces and his housekeeper could come by and sweep me away. Like I was nothing. I told him everything, including the time of our reservations at the restaurant he’d been talking about for months. It had taken me months to get us in there. A few nights later, before the night of his party, he went to that restaurant with a friend of his who was a food critic. So the night we went, he’d already been there. He robbed me of any bit of joy and he was remorseless.
A few months later things got worse and I finally found the strength to leave. Not because I was in a healthier place, but because I knew if I stayed he would kill me. Not literally, but my spirit. My ability to open and grow and become myself. He was, in the end, so mean he left me no choice. Leaving was the hardest thing I’d done up to that point and I was shattered. I had played out some old history with him and it was as though every heartbreaking thing that had ever happened to me happened again. But little by little I started coming back to myself and eventually I landed in a yoga class. The rest is my history. I don’t regret the experience, but I do regret that I needed to learn the lessons in such a painful way.
Once I left, he begged me to come back. Said he realized what he’d lost. That he’d change. He said every single thing I’d hoped he would say when we were together, but it was too late. His words were like dust and my heart was a stone to him. We all make mistakes. Depending on the kind of pain we carry and our inclination to face it or run from it, we all have the potential to spill our pain all over the people closest to us. Even if they love us and would do anything for us. Even if they aren’t equipped to deal with all that pain. Sometimes the mess we make is so great, there’s simply no cleaning it up. There’s just the sad understanding of what has happened and the possibility to grow from the pain, or not. We always get to choose. Hurt people hurt people as the saying goes. If you’re in pain, you know it. Running from it doesn’t work, but it is a choice. Pushing it down or numbing it out doesn’t work, either, but those are still choices. Being accountable is a choice. Doing the work to heal yourself so you can love yourself well, and by extension, love the other people in your life well, too, is a choice. Whatever you choose, you will have to live with the result of those choices. Again and again and again I say, choose love.
Sending you some love right now,