I wonder if any of the baristas at my favorite Starbucks notice that I don’t come in anymore. I wonder if they’ve wondered why one of their most reliable regulars no longer spends hours in the corner on her laptop, sipping lattes and eating croissants.
I wonder if their co-worker -- the punk-rock barista with the dark eyes and artsy tattoos -- told them that we went on three dates. I wonder if he told them that when I ended it, I filed a police report and stopped sleeping at night and bought mace to protect myself from him.
Yeah, he probably didn’t.
The cute barista and I had been making eye contact for week; one of us would smile and look away shyly, like teenagers who hadn’t yet figured out how to flirt. Eventually, he started talking to me about my drink orders, concocting new combinations for me to try and slipping me espresso shots -- and finally, he slipped me his number.
In addition to being gorgeous, he was smart (a biologist!) and interesting (an amateur chef!). We hit it off quickly by text and phone, talking for hours at a time. Soon, I felt comfortable enough to tell him some of my dating history, including the fact that my ex-boyfriend had committed suicide -- and he, in turn, felt comfortable enough to reveal that he struggled with borderline personality disorder.
Though his confession elicited red flags, I thought that it would be hypocritical of me to run for the hills, given my own longtime advocacy on mental health issues. Besides, he assured me his condition was under control with therapy and medication. After sending me some materials about BPD, he explained how he manages his illness and how it sometimes manifests in his relationships. Wary but willing, I said I appreciated his transparency and maturity and that I still wanted to hang out.
Our first date was at a grilled cheese bar; the next day, we met for tacos for lunch, and a few days later, we had Thai for dinner. Each date was great, and I liked him a lot -- but it was moving too quickly for me, and I started to get concerned. I wasn’t sure whether it was related to his BPD or not, but I began to feel uneasy.
Amid casual conversation, he mentioned that he had a gun on layaway in case he decided he wanted to kill himself. He told me he was only happy when dating someone but that maybe I was the person he’d stayed alive for. Most tellingly, he said he wasn’t in contact with his ex-girlfriend because he’d “made her life hell” post-breakup. Specifically, he used the term “psychological warfare.”
In retrospect, it seems incredibly naïve that I saw any positive potential in him, but his other attributes -- charming, friendly, interesting -- were so appealing that I put my concerns on hold.
I shouldn’t have.
Soon, he wanted to hang out all the time. Once, when I said I needed a night to myself, he sent me a message demanding, “Which guys are you chatting with on Facebook?” Something was off. This guy was putting way too much value on a brand new non-relationship, and I needed to put an end to it.
I was worried about how to do it, though; I wanted to minimize confrontation and the likelihood of his getting emotional, so I sent him a polite text saying that while I had enjoyed our time together, I didn’t feel we were a good match.
He reacted calmly at first, saying he respected my opinion, but then his responses became measured. He tried to convince me I was misunderstanding my feelings and that I was acting out of a fear of commitment, reactions that reassured me I’d made the right decision. When I refused to change my mind, he told me he wished me well and backed off; I thought it was over. I was relieved to have cut ties with relatively little negative reaction from him.
Within an hour, though, he sent me a message saying he was going to pay off the layaway on his gun and that it would be my fault when he killed himself. Over the next two days, he called me a liar and a whore, saying he would “never get over this.” He sent me photos of his legs, crisscrossed with self-inflicted bloody cuts.
At one point, he sent me more than 70 texts in a row, reminding me how good he was at “psychological warfare” and promising that if I came back to his Starbucks, I could expect a “pleasant” encounter (which seemed more like a threat). And then he listed my car for sale on Craigslist so that I began receiving a barrage of texts from total strangers.
Did I mention that this guy knew where I lived?
I quickly blocked his phone number and locked my social media accounts. Then, I blocked him on Facebook, changed my URL so he couldn’t find me, began using a pseudonym, and uploaded an unidentifiable profile photo.
Next, I made a beeline to the police station, where the officer who took my report was not particularly receptive.
“We see this all the time,” he insisted. “He’s probably lying about the gun.” Still, he said he’d go to Starbucks to tell the barista to leave me alone.
I wasn’t convinced it would help -- and feared it could make things worse -- so I started taking measures to stay safe. I told my neighbor what was happening so she could call police if she saw him, and a friend ran his name through a state database to see if he had a history of violence or stalking. He didn’t, but I still dropped into to a local gun store to purchase a small canister of mace.
I couldn’t stop thinking of the phrase “psychological warfare,” certain more harassment was coming. My fear became so intense that I stopped sleeping and began having panic attacks; at night, I kept a baseball bat near the door and a knife on my nightstand. Every time I left home, I thought I saw him lurking around a corner. I was jittery, tearful, terrified -- exactly like he wanted me to be.
As harassment goes, I was lucky. Soon after the police visited him at work, the barista stopped contacting me. Now that it’s been a month since I’ve heard from him, I wonder: Did I overreact? Sometimes I feel like I did. But then I remember the photos of his bleeding thighs and of the text that said, “When I kill myself, it will be your fault,” and I know my reactions were warranted.
Above all else, this experience has taught me to trust myself: Going forward, I know I’ll listen to my instincts when I think someone is bad news, and I’ll never let a new guy know where I live until I fully trust him. Oh, and I’ll definitely never go back to that Starbucks.