My ex started out as pretty much a typical good catch: handsome, smart, intriguing, an image of success, a downtown area code.
Unfortunately for me, my biggest psychic litmus test for a romance factor has historically been, "Are you crazy about me?" -- "crazy" being the operative word.
My first visit to his home immediately assured me that something was amiss. Strange, alien-esque maps and designs were painted all over his walls and encyclopedias were stacked to the ceiling; a hoarder-like clutter and piles of wigs that looked like they were stolen off the bodies of women who were perhaps stuffed into his closet littered his floor and still-not-fully-put-together futon.
A light feeling of dread washed over me, which at the time I thought was intrigue. Today I recognize it as gut instinct telling me to quickly flee the scene and to not look back.
Messy pad or not, things started out relatively jovially. We had so much fun together. But he also spent time berating me and ordering me around, telling me, "I am in control," and, "Do everything I tell you to do." Bizarrely, these were the most productive years of my life. He introduced me to exciting people and took me to fun, sometimes even fancy, events.
Then one night, he took me to a housewarming. I admittedly got pretty drunk, and he lectured me for hours and told me how embarrassed he was. I felt horrible. I thought he'd break up with me, but that would have been way too easy. Instead, he began to systematically torture me and tear me apart.
He began showing me sexual videos of his exes, extensively documenting our conversations and telling me I looked like a worthless bimbo when I wore dresses or skirts. Shortly after, he was fired from his job, which sent him into a fury and rage the likes of which I've only ever seen in the movies.
One morning I awoke to hear him in the bathroom, snarling into the telephone.
"You'll never forget you messed with me," he muttered angrily. "I'm a loose cannon. Throats could get slit." Eventually his threats to his old employer landed him in jail.
Now, here is a sentence I never thought I'd ever have lived, much less be recounting aloud: After he got out of jail, we moved into a house in Long Island together.
It was a cute two-story that quickly became a den of trash and old encyclopedias, fuel for his "work." When the police showed up at our door, he had been arrested so many times before that he recognized the cop's voice outside. He mocked them and made them wait outside the door for almost 30 minutes while I consoled him.
The cops said, through the door, that they'd arrest me for getting in the way of their investigation. My boyfriend called me a loser and said that all losers should have their throats slit. I've lost track/blocked out the exact number of times he was arrested and all the details of when and why he went to jail.
When he wasn't in jail, he was out of it and trying to destroy me.
After working so hard to help me build my career as a painter, he attempted to dismantle it. He belittled me in front of friends, he constantly reminded me that I would be nothing without him; then he was gone for months at a time to his new home, Riker's Island.
Now, with my head more clear, I realize that I was knee-deep in a serious case of Stockholm syndrome.
I finally got a restraining order against him after years of this, hoping that would discourage him, but it did not. He broke the restraining order several times, for which I had him arrested.
He wrote, "The restraining order will end -- don't forget," in an email to me. I started carrying mace and a knife with me at all times. I started therapy and worked on finding a new apartment so he wouldn't know where I lived.
Now, he is in jail and he may be there for a while. I fear the day he gets out of jail, and I am signed up with VINE, a free service that tells abuse victims when their exes are free. He's unlike anyone else I've ever met -- in a bad way. I didn't even know that people like him existed when I moved to New York from Canada. I thought the bad man would be visibly obvious, but I was so very wrong.
Here is what you can do to prevent it happening to you:
1. PROTECT YOURSELF.
Do not engage in risky sexual behavior. I know this is hard because one-night stands are fun. But this is also a really great way to find crazy people. The men who will treat you well and love and care for you aren't hanging out on the internet at 2 AM looking for sex.
2. BUT I LIKE TO HAVE SEX WITH STRANGERS AND I'M A FEMINIST AND I HATE YOUR ADVICE.
That's okay. This is just what works for me. As Kevin Kline stated in "A Fish Called Wanda," pork away, pal. Just don't be surprised if that rando who fits perfectly into your vagina now later fits perfectly into the profile of an abusive sociopath. Take time to get to know people before becoming intimate with them. Look before you leap. You wouldn't go swimming in a body of water if you saw that it was infested with sharks, would you?
3. ASK FRIENDS TO INTRODUCE YOU TO THEIR AVAILABLE FRIENDS.
Ask friends to set you up with friends. Everyone knows good-looking single people. You don't have to look at it like it's a potential hook-up or a guaranteed thing or even a date at all. Try setting up a new internal dialogue: Where does this person come from? What makes them interesting and unique? What can I learn from meeting them?
4. TRUE LOVE CAN BE KIND OF BORING.
This is A-OK. Doctors say that routines are very good for our well-being -- waking up and going to bed at the same time, eating the same foods, working out for 30 minutes every day, meditating regularly, all that business. So, if you are in a relationship and you genuinely care for the other person and would like to continue, but you can't shake that annoying feeling of calm and peace, stir things up by finding a new passion. It's okay to let your soul scabs heal.
5. KEEP PEOPLE YOU DON'T KNOW AT A SAFE DISTANCE.
It's okay to make friends of all sexes and backgrounds, but feel free to keep people at arm's length. If someone is your friend, that doesn't mean you have to be available for them all the time -- or ever. Ideally, you're too busy to be available to spirit assailants and emotional vampires.
6. HAVE A FEW GIANT TOUGH FRIENDS WHO YOU CAN CALL ON IF YOU NEED TO.
I have a few big mean guy friends who will beat the shit out of a smarmy narcissist if he comes within spitting distance of me. It makes me sleep better at night.
7. MAKE SURE YOU AND YOUR HOME ARE SECURE.
Don't sleep with your door unlocked or keep roommates who repeatedly leave the doors unlocked. If you live on the ground floor, make sure the grates on your windows are secure or the windows are locked. The NYC court system offers many free resources for victims of abuse such as counseling, self-defense classes, relocation programs and more.
8. CARRY A PHOTO WITH YOU IF YOU HAVE A RESTRAINING ORDER ON SOMEONE OR EVEN IF YOU SIMPLY DON'T WANT THEM TO FOLLOW YOU AROUND.
Every club or restaurant I go to, I'll show the manager the photo of my ex. I'll say, "This guy is not allowed in here, and if you see him, please call the police immediately and let me know."
9. THROW YOURSELF INTO YOUR WORK.
Look -- you won't be able to avoid getting laid, finding love and romantic encounters. That will happen regardless. But if you find something you love and are passionate about, no matter what it is, especially if you can find a way to do your work that also helps others, you will find and surround yourself with good people. Those are natural side effects of being selfless and working hard. It's amazing how dramatically life can improve when putting energy toward helping others.
10. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS.
I can't say this enough. If you leave this story with nothing else, let it be this. If there is a voice inside your head that says, "Something is wrong, back off," it is there for a reason. The Chinese symbols for the word "chaos" are twofold; the first means danger, and the second means opportunity. In these situations, realize the danger -- if it exists -- and take the opportunity to get yourself the hell out of the way of that danger.
11. FORGIVE BUT NEVER FORGET.
This is a hard one, and I'm still grappling with it. Having compassion for those who would attempt to destroy you is noble. If you can understand where they come from and what made them how they are, it will help you in future situations. Knowledge is always power. It doesn't mean that anyone ever has permission to ever fuck with you ever again. Don't let them.