College. A new beginning. The world at my fingertips. I always found it fairly easy to make friends, and being social was second nature to me. Around the time MySpace and Facebook hit the campus, I was actively social both online and off.
I met Paul on MySpace my sophomore year at a small private college in upstate New York. He was from New England and we quickly developed a relationship despite our long distance. At a time where social media exploded it was not rare to "friend" people on sites whom you didn't know -- I had hundreds of friends on MySpace I had never met.
But I didn't speak with anyone as often as I spoke to Paul, and it wasn't long before our relationship developed into something more serious. Paul and I talked until all hours of the night. There were times I missed class due to oversleeping after being on the telephone until 5 a.m. My grades started to slip, as did my relationships with my friends and roommates.
We talked about everything under the sun, from our likes and dislikes to planning our future together. Our distance didn't matter to me, I was convinced I was in love with this man and he was the one for me -- despite the many red flags I chose to ignore.
I hid my relationship with Paul from everybody, while at the same time it completely consumed my life. Nights were spent on the phone or chatting on the Internet, and days were spent exchanging thousands of text messages. During this time the charming man I had fallen for so many states away had started to change. His wooing slowly turned into putting me down -- I was fat, I was not funny, my personality needed to change, I was immature, things I liked were stupid. My entire life started revolving around trying to gain his acceptance; and every time I felt I almost reached that goal, the bar was raised higher and higher. It was a constant reaching for something I could never grasp.
I tried to leave, to date other people, to live a normal life without having the constant ding of a text message or ring of a phone control my entire life. Every time I thought I was finally over it, there was Paul, saying exactly what I needed to hear to get hooked back in. He promised he would change, that we could work things out. He promised he was going to move in with me and we would have no problems once we saw each other every day. He said he loved me, and I believed him.
Paul had a bad anger problem and a nasty temper; the smallest thing could set him off. There were times where he would scream at me so violently that I could swear the devil himself was on the other end of the phone. I was often called every filthy, degrading word in the book -- even more so if I ever decided to defend myself or dish it back to him.
My self-esteem diminished until it was nonexistent, which left me clinging to him more than ever. This man I never met knew so much personal information about me, including where I lived, which he often used against me -- he would threaten to show up to my house and do sexually explicit things to me that I told him I had no interest in trying because they seemed painful. He said that was part of why he wanted to do these things to me even more. I was afraid to sleep nights after he had a temper tantrum out of fear I'd wake up with him in my bedroom.
Despite all of this, my biggest fear was not having Paul in my life. Every time he would be semi decent to me and we made plans to meet, something would come up. He would cancel on me and then blame me, saying I did something wrong, and afterward he would not speak to me for sometimes weeks or months on end. After a while he'd come back as if nothing happened, and then after a few weeks he would go off the deep end AGAIN and threaten to get a restraining order on me. I was overcome with confusion and I was spent emotionally and mentally drained.
I sank into a severely deep depression and was prescribed three different medications. I couldn't turn to any friends or family for support since I'd never told anybody about my relationship with this mystery Internet man. I knew I should run. I knew I should seek out my own restraining order, but despite many trips to the police station, I couldn't bring myself follow through.
I thought deep down that I genuinely loved this man, and we would be able to work through our differences and have the life together we talked about in the beginning of our courtship. I began to research emotional abuse and finally realized that I was, in fact, in an abusive relationship with a man I never met. This epiphany depressed me even more.
On the outside, I tried my hardest to live a normal life, to surround myself with friends and family, to work, to smile, and to enjoy myself; but the social butterfly I once was ceased to exist. I was leading a double life, faking happy on the outside, dark and depressed on the inside.
I hit absolute rock bottom and there came a point where I contemplated suicide. Anything was better than the crippling darkness I felt inside every day. Often I was unable to get out of bed. I turned to alcohol and began drinking nightly; getting trashed and passing out was the only way I could sleep.
During this time, Paul would come and go in my life as he pleased, knowing just what to say to keep me hooked on his twisted game. He loved me one minute then hated me the next. He said he would meet me if only I would do/say/act like something he requested, then I would do whatever it was he wanted and he would change his mind or tell me that I did it wrong. I felt like I was not good enough for this man, and I was convinced that I was the ugly, terrible person he told me I was. I was determined to be something that he approved of. This vicious cycle, from beginning to end, lasted almost seven years.
Too embarrassed about how outlandish the situation was, I refused to seek professional help, and I desperately searched within myself for strength that I knew was somewhere inside me. Through journaling, meditation, and countless hours of research on emotional abuse recovery, I finally started to feel the light within me. I eventually began to gain back enough self-esteem to tell Paul that it was over between us, and after the countless times I had said the same thing in the past, I was able to stick to my word.
I carried a notebook with me everywhere I went, writing out my feelings whenever I felt myself slipping back into a "Paul state of mind," as I called it. Every night after work I went home and locked myself in my room and meditated, which began to slowly clear all the negative thoughts I had about myself, and replace them with positive ones. For the first time in years I began to love myself, know my worth, and understand why I allowed myself to remain in this secret abusive relationship for so many years. I was able to get off all medications I was prescribed and turned to spiritual guidance instead.
Since finding my strength, I have since moved, changed my phone number, email address, and blocked Paul from every social media site I am on. It has been over three years since I told Paul that it was over and I haven’t had any contact with him since. I am now happily married and have a career that I love. I still meditate daily.
I am at a point where I am grateful for my relationship with this man I never met, because it gave me the greatest gift I could have ever asked for; the gift of myself. I am spiritually aligned and clear for the first time in my life, and I know hitting that rock bottom place is what gave me the strength to get here.
I have no idea what Paul is doing or who Paul even really is. What I do know is that in this age of Internet dating and catfishing, stories like mine are probably more common than one would think.
There is a way out of inner darkness. If I can overcome Paul and the years of emotional torment I allowed myself to go through, I honestly believe I can overcome anything.