Read the fine print

Your what??

We had known each other for a year and a half when it happened. I’ll get to that in a second. This relationship, for lack of a better term, was going on exclusively online at that point, but we talked every day, sometimes for hours on end. Plans were being made, we would be meeting each other in person soon.

In the beginning, I had felt a certain reluctance in him in discussing and disclosing previous relationships. I had fairly recently gotten divorced, I was in very good terms with my first husband (as we are to this day), and disclosing that fact posed no issue for me personally. He, on the other hand, claimed to never having been married and talked very vaguely about any previous relationships. That should have been my first clue, and in fact, it was. I remember thinking it was odd that, at the age of 31, 32 at the time, he seemed to never had been in any significant relationships. Perhaps in sensing my slight discomfort over this, he eventually brought up someone he meant to get engaged to, but allegedly this person had let him down somehow and this never went forward. I’m not even sure this wasn’t made up, as strangely, he didn’t seem to remember her name.

Strange as it certainly was, it didn’t feel like a big enough deal at the time. I brushed it off, reasoning that maybe he preferred to keep his feelings more to himself or just simply didn’t see the point in talking about past relationships.

And then one evening, in the midst of a regular, inconsequential conversation, he made reference to an ex-wife, in such a blasé manner it could have potentially gone unnoticed. But, of course, it didn’t.

“Wait, did you just say ex-wife?”

Indeed. I sat there in disbelief as he started describing this marriage that couldn’t have possibly slipped his mind. Still in vague terms, mind you, with no defined time frames, as if he was unsure of how long he had been married for. “This was 10 years ago”, he explained.

Of course, apart from the still very odd description, there was still one big issue to be addressed: why am I hearing about this after a whole year and a half? And why wasn’t this disclosed from the beginning? Worse yet, why had he flat out lied about having been married at all?

All very valid questions, for sure. The explanation:

“I thought if you knew I was divorced, maybe this would be an issue for you. I wanted for you to get to know me first.”

Uhh… Ok, except I had disclosed my previous marriage, so even though the relationship continued after this fact, this brushed me the really wrong way.

But that was not all.

The description of the relationship and the explanation on its demise were a bit creepy. Allegedly, he had been the victim of a psychologically abusive and cheating partner, who had broken him in a significant way. And upon (again, allegedly) catching her on the cheating act without her knowledge, he had then gotten a gun and stood by the window with full intent on firing it at her. This was when her 7-year-old daughter came down the stairs and, in a moment of lucidity, he backed off. Good, he didn’t kill her, but they got a divorce.

Why this didn’t scream “run in the opposite direction as fast as you can” to me I’ll never fully understand. I guess, like many other things, the emphasis on him always being the victim who, in this case, “simply reacted irrationally to unimaginable hurt and heartbreak”, made it somehow sound less serious. Or maybe I thought something like this would never happen to me, I don’t cheat. I know, what was I thinking, right? I’ve asked myself the same question, don’t worry.

Also, the “alleged” part of this story became the central point of my thinking process: apart from the potentially violent, very descriptive outcome, the overwhelming majority of his account was this collection of vague, seemingly disconnected events that didn’t quite add up.

In hindsight…

…I recognize the only reason why the previous marriage was at all talked about was that the “meeting in person” chapter of our own story was nearing imminence. This, in our case, also meant I was going to meet his family. Finding out about this through someone else, under these circumstances, likely posed too big a risk to take while employing the true love bombing, as this would be the first time we had physical access to each other.

And he gauged this risk appropriately: as early as my second interaction with his (even more narcissistic) mother, the question was thrown right at me, ruthlessly: “Did he tell you he’s been married?”. On Christmas Eve, mind you. Yes, the myth that “narcissists ruin holidays” is very real.

But he had already covered his bases, I was already aware, so as inappropriate as I found it to be the time, this was nothing but a failed attempt to create conflict right before the roasted meat was served.

However, minding her own business wasn’t her strongest suit, so she went on to tell me more specifics of that situation – and now the story seemed increasingly off. Her account didn’t match his in more than one aspect.

Over the subsequent years, I would hear story after story, all devoid of sense in comparison to his vague statements. It got very old very quickly – in fact, during the first six months, I would wake up to her phone calls and hear about this previous marriage for hours on end (not an overstatement, 3-4 hours were the average), before I had a chance to wash my face and make coffee. So, while he, for the most part, refused to talk about said relationship, she bombarded me with information I hadn’t asked for and this quickly became an issue I had to ask him to address himself, as I didn’t want to be rude.

Ladies and gentleman, the smear campaign…

Over the course of my marriage to him, as issues arose and I found it difficult to make sense of his behaviors, I often thought about contacting his ex-wife. I’ve always felt that I had been told a one-sided, twisted-around version of that story and there had to be more to it. The reason I strongly suspected that was because I was experiencing it myself.

The image that family was developing of me, oftentimes didn’t quite match my experiences with him. Apart from the lies I knew he was telling them (sometimes at my expense, even) and then demanding I sustained, over time I started noticing they held wrong assumptions about my past, my previous marriage, my family, my upbringing. These assumptions were often projected into events related to the relationship, to explain my behaviors and decisions, not rarely creating big misunderstandings. No amount of explaining seemed to make a difference in how they saw me. In fact, it was more complicated even: his mother, in particular, was overbearing most of the time, but whenever I reached out to her for help with her son, she would step back and claim it was not her place to get involved. The sister, who I often tried getting closer to, to no avail, wasn’t much help either. She would listen, perhaps out of politeness or courtesy, but not engage.

The more things progressed into abusive nightmare status, especially after the birth of my son, the more distance there was between who I truly was, what I had done and said and what they seemed to believe. It became so dissonant that even many months before the discard I had a sense of being “ganged up on”, being accused of motives I didn’t have, behaviors put completely out of context and twisted around to make him sound like the victim. All of a sudden, the previously uninvolved family in the matters of that marriage, was trying to get me to see things his way, despite having ignored my calls for help and attempts to communicate the serious warning signs I was experiencing. This was especially true about his drinking that had gotten out of hand, after being diagnosed by an addiction specialist. I was screaming for help, I didn’t know who else to turn to, I was worried about him and the marriage that seemed to be going down a path of no return, and nobody seemed to care enough or want to get involved at all, not even for his sake.

This can be very confusing and isolating on its own, but little did I know that this was the smear campaign already being put in motion. Meanwhile, his claims got validated as, under the abusive circumstances at the time, I ended up having a sudden and severe weight drop, became chronically anxious and all the energy I had needed to be put towards taking care of my infant son. This was used to his advantage to claim a myriad of false ideas, including making me look like someone who wasn’t family oriented, didn’t care about others, had changed in significantly negative ways after the birth of my son and was dismissive and insensitive towards him and the family. I was portrayed as depressive, having some sort of emotional imbalance, being psychologically ill somehow. The fact that I was being emotionally and psychologically abused, either wasn’t in anybody’s radar, or they were all being enablers, I’m not sure which.

The truth will set you free and make you flee

Either way, watching this unfold was mind-bending. I felt crushed. Attacked. Invalidated. Alone. Increasingly afraid. And this was just the beginning. The full-blown smear campaign was built on top of these basic false premises. He created an unbearable set of circumstances that left me with no choice but to flee. When I fled, he was able to solidify his false claims about me. I was accused of having “hallucinated” the physical abuse, as if it had never happened, even though my own mother witnessed it.

But it wasn’t until after being kicked while I was down that I got to the stage of finally having no doubt that the story about his first marriage also had to be part of a smear campaign against her. And so, after years of just pondering it, I finally messaged her.

The reply would take about a year to come back. I was no longer expecting it, so it came as a shock. Less shocking, though, was to find out through the message exchanges, that my intuition had been right all along. Some kernels of truth in the stories I’d been told about her were there in her account as well, but that’s about how far their truth went. Just kernels. Yes, it had been a short marriage, yes, they had gotten divorced. Yes, she had a daughter and yes, him getting a DUI had become an issue between them. But everything else surrounding these facts was a drastically different story when told by them in comparison to when told by her. And hers, for once, at least finally made logical sense.

I had been living a lie. What they had told me about her were lies. What was being said about me were lies. The marriage itself was a lie. Having been able to listen to her side of the story was one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. It was the first sense of validation I received in many, many years. It was freeing and disturbing all at once.

The crux of the matter

There’s quite a bit on information in this story, but let’s not lose sight of the most crucial element it boils down to. As I always suspected, she wasn’t a cheating wife. Therefore, whatever homicidal ideations he may have nurtured towards her, suddenly became unexplained. And the crux question arises:

Why tell me he had been, at one point, at the brink of shooting his first wife at all, when this could have sent me running in the opposite direction?

The answer is: control through fear.

Remember, he waited a year and a half to tell me this. He got me hooked first and, as he said himself, he wanted for me to get to know him first. Surprisingly, this was an honest statement, though not for the reasons I rationalized at the time.

He needed the mask put in place first. He took his time establishing an image of a kind, harmless person. Once that would no longer be questioned, then he used a true fact (being previously married) to put in place a fear-instilling event that may or may not have happened, under the explanation of having been so unfairly treated and abused, he ended up considering something completely “out of character”. Most people can potentially relate to considering something out of character when pushed far enough, especially in an unfair manner. So, this maneuver wasn’t enough to push me away, but it raised a lingering, persistent doubt about how far he could potentially go if pushed close enough to the edge. And this was the level of uncertainty he needed to be instilled in me.

Because, at the end of that relationship, my fleeing was what he needed for his agenda. That’s how he posed as victim. This became particularly important when I finally started speaking out, leaking his abusive ways. I knew too much. I was no longer supply. I could potentially expose him. The only way to invalidate anything I could possibly say was to resort to that initial fear-instilling seed about being capable of murder, threaten me, physically hurt me and, therefore, force me to run like only a “heartless, guilty person would”. Except for the fact that no one knew (or believed), he was threatening me.

So, the lesson I want to leave you with is this:

Narcissists plan the end from the beginning.

Don’t underestimate this!! They may not have the entire unfolding figured out, but they know their relationships don’t last, so they create safety nets for themselves to fall on when that time comes. Anything that is said, especially about past relationships, is done to pave the control route. Trust your intuition. If something feels off, it probably is off. If more than one thing feels off, don’t fool yourself. Don’t justify it, don’t sugar coat it, don’t brush things off. I know it’s easier said than done, the love bombing can be blinding beyond logic comprehension, but you don’t want to lose objectivity.

Pay close attention to what a love interest is saying to you. I don’t mean we all need to walk around feeling paranoid about everybody’s motives and intentions, but rather become healthily attentive. And aware that there are people out there who live under a predatory mindset and the only way to tell them apart, if we’re lucky, is to remain objective. The narcissist’s powers lie in how much control over our feelings and emotions we allow them to have. That’s it, that’s all. The love bombing is a smoke and mirrors trick designed to intentionally cause loss of objectivity, under feelings of elation. To blind victims from the truth that will come in the form of seeds planted to be harvested later. Whether it’s done through future faking, reasonable-doubt-instilling comments or manipulative tests, these things are all there for a purpose. We miss them because we’re too busy falling in love.

If you allow yourself to have your objectivity obfuscated by how the narcissist makes you feel in the love bombing stage, you have fallen prey. With narcissists, those things that feel off, in the beginning, will be magnified and feel like a nightmare later.

To wrap this up:

Before asking me to marry him, my ex-narc asked me (true story) to offer him a guarantee that the relationship would never end and I would never leave. I was quite puzzled by the statement and rather unsure of what he meant exactly by “guarantee”, but I knew I couldn’t possibly offer that. I spoke about commitment, loyalty, support, companionship, and an honest intent to make it work. Things that anyone in a committed relationship would expect to give and receive. But beyond that, it actually made me feel like a product that came attached to some sort of lifetime warranty, as means to attest its quality.

Ironically, the narcissist is the only one ever in the position to offer a guarantee: that the relationship will turn into a nightmare and, eventually, come crashing down destroying everything in its path. So, if you’re reading this and find yourself in the early stages of a relationship that is starting to feel off, I urge you to read the fine print. All you need to know will come marked with a red flag. Don’t sign this contract. Don’t sign up for anything with red flags in the fine print, as these are the very terms that will bind and enslave you. Being single beats being in an abusive relationship any day.

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