Dating a sociopath
October hits me like a brick wall, no matter how much I prepare myself for it, and I find myself thrown into all pumpkin related festivities and extensive costume planning. I think because Halloween was the one day he wasn’t around. And it was the last time I enjoyed myself uninhibited with my friends at college before he changed everything.
While I’ve written about pieces of this before, I’ve never written it out in its entirety, but I think I need to.
I don’t know for certain if he was a sociopath. Though I’ve had two separate mental health professionals suggest he may have been. In a way it never really mattered, but to me it helps to think of him as one. It gives me a reason for what he did, and why I didn’t see it.
Let’s call him Al. That wasn’t his name, but I do respect him as a human being enough to not publicize him. But rest assured I have healed enough that I can say his name –he no longer holds that kind of power over me.
I don’t remember when we first hung out. It wasn’t remarkable. Not even journal worthy. It would have been late September or early October. By October we were in the swing of things, spending all kinds of time together.
I considered Al a friend, and I assumed he felt the same. He confided in me. He told me about his dreams. About his altruistic hopes for the future. How he wanted to write children’s books. And somehow I sensed no doubts in him of his ability to achieve all he desired, despite the less than subtle suggestions of modesty.
He also told me about his past. He flattered me as being the only one who knew about his regrets and his shame. In a matter of days I was convinced of our closeness. After all, we shared secrets, didn’t we?
It didn’t matter that he had no inkling of my own hopes and dreams or regrets. He had so much to say in so little time, it felt as though we shared an unbreakable bond of mutual trust. It happened so fast I didn’t even realize how one sided it was. And honestly even if I had, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. It would have been too easy to blame that on myself.
One night he came over and we watched a movie. This is when he made his first romantic move, something I had not realized was coming. We hadn’t even been spending time together for a whole week, and had never been on an official date. But he reached for my hand while we sat side by side on the couch, and in that moment sealed my fate. He had me and he knew it.
I knew something was off, I wasn’t so naive as to jump into a romantic relationship without so much a shared dinner. The next time we saw each other he leaned in for a kiss, and I stopped him and asked what this was. I told him I wouldn’t kiss him without a real date.
He never did ask me out on one.
Instead he played a sophisticated game of cat and mouse. He spent so much time with me I rarely saw any of my other friends. I was isolated with him. He continued to fill each moment with deep and personal conversation. He shared more secrets, and I think I thought he was the most sensitive and feeling man in the world. He would come in close to me, close enough to kiss, and stare in my eyes. Until I turned away. It was like chicken, and I always lost.
Al had a way with words, and he used them expertly on me. Through our walks and talks together he painted himself as so desirable, and me as so average, I forgot he was the one pursuing me. I was convinced a relationship with him was all I had wanted from the very beginning.
So by time I finally let him kiss me for the first time, I was begging for a boyfriend, while he was reluctantly committing.
It was humiliating. But only in retrospect.
His reluctance was self-deprecating. He connected it perfectly to his past mistakes –the ones “only” I knew about. He turned himself into the ultimate fixer-upper, a poor victim of youthful indiscretions who was wary to trust himself. And I became determined to show him his worth.
And so the match was set exactly as he intended, and the days of our short relationship were spent in painful manipulation.
This is when the emotional abuse began.
Al finally took me on a real date to a restaurant, at my insistence. He spent the entire time explaining to me his ideal woman, how he usually goes for “tens,” and how I was nothing like his normal type. He told me I was a sort of experiment, to see if he had better luck with girls when he reached under his league instead of over. He told me I was curvier than his usual type. He looked at old pictures of me, a younger high school me, and told me which ones he’d prefer I look like again.
And all while he said those things, I felt oh so grateful he even gave me the time of day. He’d always been so genuine and honest after all, so what he said about me must be true.
He subtly hinted at his superiority the entire time we were together, and I believed every word.
He pretended to almost break up with me a few times, and then would reluctantly give in to my pleadings for him to stay. And always, every single time, he had a wonderfully believable explanation to why it was my fault.
I’m embarrassed by this. I know so many of you reading this are wondering how I didn’t see it. Why I even wanted to stay with him. But you don’t know how good a salesman he was. I’ve met a lot of salesman, but Al was the best.
He made me believe I needed him. That he was the best deal around. That I’d never get anyone better. And he did it in a matter of weeks.
By Halloween I was broken. Al spent the holiday away from campus, and I enjoyed a small party with my roommates. I wish I had known then to really enjoy every moment of that party, but instead I spent it wondering about Al, what he was doing and if my costume was cute enough.
Three days later he would assault me. Then tell me it was my fault.
Three days after that he was done with me. The game was over.
He told me he never really liked me. He thought I was fat and ugly. I was an experiment, a game to him. He was ashamed of me. That he didn’t tell anyone we were dating, not his roommates, his family, his friends. He made up excuses for why he was spending time with me. He said that first time he reached for my hand, he just wanted to see if he could. To see if he could win me over. He said all of this with zero emotion, while he watched me sob on the floor. By the way, I was only 19.
When I asked him to leave, he looked at me and casually said, “I hope we can still be friends. Can I hug you?”
I told him no.
Later I wrote him a letter that I had my roommate deliver to his apartment for me. I told him how hurtful he had been, and everything wrong with his conduct.
The last correspondence I ever had with him was a text message he sent in response to my letter, saying he didn’t feel he did anything wrong.
By then it was November, and I had completely forgotten about the assault. But that didn’t stop it from effecting me. I started skipping classes. I later switched majors (Al was also an English major, that’s how we knew each other in the first place). I stopped writing. I would randomly burst into tears when people came over to our apartment. I was thrown into what I know now to have been a mixed episode –which is mania and depression simultaneously.
He took something from me. He didn’t just assault me physically, he assaulted my mind. He found his way in, took advantage of my compassion and empathy, and took something precious away.
He took my self worth.
And he did it expertly and deliberately. I can see that now. I now recognize all the signs. The rushed relationship, the manipulation, the false trust. The way he was always in control.
But not anymore.
Because he didn’t realize that what he took cannot be permanently taken. It is me who gets the last word, and I chose to rebuild myself even stronger than I was before. And I’ll finish my English degree. And I’ll publish a novel. Because whether he cares or not, that’s my dream.
October may still be hard for me. PTSD doesn’t go away that easily, and trauma anniversaries are particularly difficult. But I have Halloween. Halloween will always be mine.