IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Had a Toxic On-Again Off-Again Relationship With a Man Who Turned Out to Be Married

I was dead set on healing him with my love, a characteristic that would later serve as my biggest weakness.
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Andrea Ilene Shapiro
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I was dead set on healing him with my love, a characteristic that would later serve as my biggest weakness.

According to Rav, we met my senior year of college at our mutual friend Lila’s house party off campus. I say "according to him" because I can’t recall it myself. I was blacked out at the time. I know this because Rav later told me that this encounter occurred after he had stumbled upon me and the guy I was currently seeing playing a game of chess. I had never played chess. But I had known my drunken doppelgänger at the time to be far more adventurous than sober me which explains why, after binge drinking as many Keystone Lights and Red Headed Sluts I could get my hands on, I thought it was an appropriate time to make heads or tails of bishops and rooks.

He would retroactively tell me that he found me cute and funny that night, that I had an ease about me. It's interesting to note this since, in my opinion, I feel like those years were punctuated by the dis-ease of alcoholism. But I guess beauty really does lie in the eye of the beer-holder.

A few years later, we had reconnected through Lila once again. Though we had momentarily seen each other out and about before this, it had always been under drunk contexts and while the other was involved with a significant other.

I was living at home on Long Island but had started a job in Manhattan, so I was in the city more frequently. One night, Lila invited me over to Rav’s place in Chelsea to smoke some weed. I accepted. 

I felt a spark between Rav and I, which Lila would inform me the next day was reciprocated on his end, too. So a few days later, I called him and told him we should go on a date, which entailed us getting super high and banging. 

I consoled myself with the rationalization that it was okay to sleep with him on the first date since we had already known each other, if only in blackouts.

That night as we lay in bed, he recalled the chess incident to me. I was really surprised to hear about his admiration. The next morning, Rav gave me a key to his apartment and told me I should bring some stuff over to keep there. Thus began our fucked-up, toxic, romantic entanglement.

Through living with Rav, I began to learn about his troubled childhood, usually vital information that is learned before cohabiting. His father Alim, originally from Egypt and a practicing Muslim, had a relationship with a woman from Puerto Rico, Rav’s mother. Eventually, the relationship disintegrated after Rav was born, and his father took him to Egypt soon after. 

They returned to New York while Rav was still young. His mother had gone back to Puerto Rico. Later, Rav’s father got into a relationship with a Jewish woman named Rebecca, who became close with Rav and wound up unofficially adopting him, even after Alim and Rebecca split. It’s my understanding that he still refers to her as “Mom” to this day. 

Rav told me about his family that he still had in Egypt. He would make frequent trips to visit his cousins and uncles in Alexandria. He very much identified as an Egyptian and a Muslim, though he only loosely practiced.

It always seemed there was a lot of confusion on Rav’s end in terms of how his childhood unfolded. He was a kid who was only getting information via his father. I could tell by their interactions that the uncertainty had put a severe strain on their relationship. They fought all the time. 

I felt compassion for Rav. I recognized what a turbulent life he had had up until that point, which is why I was dead set on healing him with my love, a characteristic that would later serve as my biggest weakness.

Our relationship was full of red flags. There were several times I suspected Rav of cheating on me. I even got him to admit once that a girl had given him a blowjob. Sadly, I didn’t break up with him over this because my self-esteem was so low at that point. And I was still in pursuit of fixing this poor little beaten junkyard dog.

One day, Rav showed me and a friend of his an old article that was published in a Puerto Rican tabloid. It was an interview with his mother during a custody hearing when Rav was 16 or 17 years old. It said that his mother claimed she didn’t know where he was for many years when he was a child, and that she always wanted to be apart of his life.

I asked Rav what he remembered from the case. He told me the judge had requested to see him and asked, “Do you want to meet your mother?”

Rav responded, “I already have a mother and her name is Rebecca.”

A week later, after I had gotten off from work, I came home to the apartment. Almost as soon as I walked in the door, Rav told me, “This isn’t working out. I think we should break up.”

I was so shocked that I became speechless. After standing there for a moment, I furiously began to get as many belongings as I could and ran out the door. I felt so betrayed.

Over the next year, Rav and I would get back together and break up more often than the Rolling Stones. This all coincided with my father’s health declining and my subsequent downward spiral into alcohol and drug addiction. 

I reached a new level of desperation during that time and wound up going to a support group for drug and alcohol addiction. I have not had a drink since.

My first year of sobriety was not Rav-free. I still slept with him periodically. I still secretly hoped we would get back together but pretended our encounters were just casual sex. Friends in recovery suggested I cut ties with him completely but I wasn’t willing to do that just yet. 

However, when I had been sober for a year, Rav cancelled a “sex-date” on me last minute. This hadn’t been the first time he had done that. He had always proven himself to be pretty unreliable. 

I decided in that moment that I was done. Through recovery, I had learned self-love and I wanted to live differently from then on. I deleted his number from my phone and began attending a support group geared towards sex and love addiction. Rav and I wouldn’t speak again for a year and a half.

At the end of that year and a half -- though my life had become very full as I was pursuing creative goals -- I was disheartened by a break up with another guy, and dealing with issues in my family surrounding my father’s health. 

I felt so trapped and depressed. One night, I called Rav. He picked up right away. We made plans to see each other the next night.

We went out for dinner. I was surprised by how different he seemed. He told me he had given up smoking pot and was thinking he might do the same with alcohol. He was feeding me all the right lines.

Who is this guy? I thought to myself.

“Maybe what the two of us needed was to be apart for a while and grow individually! Now we’re prepared to be back in each other’s lives,” I ignorantly suggested.

We started seeing each other again. Rav called me his girlfriend. It turned out that he hadn’t given up weed after all, but I stuck with him because it felt good to not be alone. 

My friends were skeptical of us getting back together. I ignored their warnings. I really felt like this time was going to be different. 

I made plans one night to meet up with Lila for dinner. I hadn’t told her that Rav and I had started up again, mostly out of consideration for her since I knew she was sick of hearing about our on-again-off-again relationship status. After we ordered, I decided to let her in on the news.

“I know this is going to sound crazy since it’s been a year and a half but... Rav and I are getting back together!”

She starred at me in complete shock. I felt so confused by her reaction. I didn't think this announcement warranted that much emotion.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” she finally said. “Rav is married.” 

I started to laugh. Obviously this was a joke. As Lila explained more to me, indeed it was not. Apparently Rav had been married to a woman in Egypt for at least a few years. The exact time period was unknown to Lila. She had only found out about this by a slip of a tongue of another mutual friend. It was kept a secret even from her for quite some time. 

Lila heard about it during the period of time that Rav and I were not speaking, so she made the decision that she wouldn’t tell me unless absolutely necessary. The version Lila was told was that the woman was a friend of the family and the marriage had been arranged, even in the works while Rav and I were living together. Moreover, plans were being made to bring her over to America. 

I was so enraged. It was the first time in nearly three years of sobriety that I wanted a drink. Instead, I had a big cookie.

After receiving this information, I decided I wouldn’t contact Rav. I stopped answering his phone calls and texts. I was sickened by the thought of seeing him. I leaned on my friends in recovery and stayed busy with my creative projects.

Two months later, as the winter holidays approached, I relayed the story to a friend while talking about toxic relationships. She recognized how much it was bothering me and suggested that getting some closure might help. I thought she was right. So later that night, I got up the nerve and called Rav.

He was confused and was curious if I was mad at him. I took a deep breath and simply said, “Well, I know the truth.”

“What do you know?” He asked.

“I know that you're married.” I disclosed. Silence. I heard him struggling.

“I am.”

We talked for the next hour. According to him, the whole marriage had been set up to help the woman’s family, who were friends with his father Alim. As he explained it, though somewhat antiquated by law but still prevalent in culture, a woman should be married in order to protect her stature in Egyptian society. Rav made it out to sound like it was a favor for his father. 

I told him I was dismayed with the fact that he never told me himself. He explained that he didn’t know how to and that he still had feelings for me. He told me it wasn’t about love and that he planned to divorce her.

I wish I could tell you that I hung up on him right there. I wish I could tell you that I didn’t get pulled back into Rav’s sob story and empty promises. I wish I could tell you that. But that’s not what happened.

On Christmas Eve, I invited Rav over and knowingly slept with a married man. I don’t know why I did it. Probably out of loneliness and familiarity. I didn’t even like it.

Afterwards, as we were laying there, a fearful question fell into my head. “Do you have children with this woman?” I blurted out.

“No.”

“How do I know you’re not lying about that, too?” I asked.

The question shocked Rav. It shocked me too.

What was I doing? This is not how I saw my life going.

I felt so stupid and embarrassed in that moment.

I’m a smart woman. Why am I allowing myself to be treated this way?

I asked him if he really planned on divorcing her. From when we had had our conversation on the phone until up to this point, the story had morphed so much that I didn’t know what was real or a lie any more.

“Am I wasting my time?” I asked.

He sighed. “Yes, you are.” It was the most honest thing I’d ever heard him say. 

“So get the fuck out,” I demanded.

I haven’t seen him since. That was nearly two years ago now.

Writing this piece was not an easy task. It forced me to look at a part of my life that I'm not proud of. I went back to Rav while I was attending support groups that were in place to help me combat my co-dependency, while I was in therapy looking at the bigger picture. 

At first, I was very critical of myself when these events transpired. I thought I had taken such a step back in my recovery. It’s only now that I recognize that this was exactly what needed to happen to shut the door completely on toxic people.

As my friend Abby said to me: “Sometimes when you’re not doing what’s best for you, the universe steps in.” I felt like the universe did step in in this case. And by finding out what I didn’t deserve, I was better able to identify what I did.

Today I’m in a healthy relationship with a really worthy partner. There are no red flags. There is a level of honesty and compassion. He accepts me for who I am. And I still don’t play chess.

* All the names in this piece have been changed.