When I was in college, I was seeing a guy. I wanted more from our relationship, but his desire for the exact opposite and a lack of communication on my part kept us in the FWB category. I kept trying to spend more time with him and he would agree in the moment, but it would never happen. So the moments when I did get his attention, it felt great. I finally had him to myself. It wasn’t until after that I would feel so sad. Our physical relationship was good for him, but disappointing for me. Since we weren’t dating, I saw other men—something he hated. I felt like I was having the weight and restriction of a romantic relationship with none of the benefits. Before I graduated, I ended things between us so that I could start anew. We left off on somewhat good terms and managed to stay friendly. Or so I thought.
He started dating someone soon after we broke up. It rubbed me the wrong way initially because here he was, sharing photos of himself and his girlfriend, whom he was in a committed relationship with, on social media, something I had desperately wanted with him. But throughout their relationship, he kept trying to stay in touch with me. At first, it seemed friendly enough, even a bit annoying. But it soon became more and more frequent. He would respond to my stories and DM me. I wouldn’t encourage him, but I wouldn’t discourage him either since I wanted to keep things civil. However, all things must come to an end, and the next time he texted me, I had enough.
I still felt like I was trapped in that semi-but-not-real-relationship. I lashed out at him, and in response, he told me he was in a crisis. Suddenly, I felt like the bad guy. He asked if we could talk on the phone and I agreed, hoping that it would give us both some closure. He told me he and his girlfriend had broken up and he was struggling. But the conversation soon took a turn when I tried to talk about my terminally ill parent with him for the first time and he interjected, saying how turned on he was. I was crushed, but stayed on the phone, because deep down, I still wanted the attention that I had never gotten from him before.
I tried cutting ties after that, blocking him on social media before I finally caved and unblocked him, worried about his safety. We met up again in person a couple of weeks later. He told me that he was in a crisis again, and as someone with mental illness, I couldn’t bear to leave another person struggling alone. I felt like he didn’t really know me, and he said wanted to fix that. The next time we met up, however, it was more of the same: I tried to talk about things that I never brought up before because they were too hard for me to discuss, and he would switch the topic to himself or to wanting to rekindle our relationship. I tried to bring the conversation back to his health, but he would joke around and flirt with me instead. I spoke to his roommate, warning him of my ex’s mental state, and had my brother block him on all social media for me. I felt played with. Being an asshole is not okay, no matter if you deal with mental illness or not. I have a Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and I have never belittled, gaslit, or dragged someone along and then “played the mental illness card” to completely excuse behaviour without taking ownership. He had been misleading me and painting himself as a victim so that I wouldn’t leave him.
I found out a couple months later that he had been charged with sexually assaulting a classmate, and I began to come to terms with the fact that not everything we did was totally consensual—something I hadn’t been totally aware of at the time because I had been facing severe side effects and withdrawal coming off of medication, and because I had wanted his attention. It took me a while to accept that I was assaulted after he breached consent. Now, coming to terms with what happened, I know how much pain this “relationship” caused me, short-term and long-term. It seemed like every few months, I learned something new about him. From the details of rape to his objectification of others, I am slowly learning who he is, almost a year after ending things.
He texted me one last time to tell me he was going to respect my wish to not hear from him. I think the sheer idiocy of this moment made me finally lose it, and I chewed him out, standing up for myself in a way I hadn’t with him before. It was a big step for me, and, even though I occasionally get the desire to see him again, I remind myself of everything that happened. It took me until now to express myself to him because I was worried about how he’d react and whether he would retaliate.
So then why is seeing him with another woman so painful for me? I was scrolling through Instagram and was suggested a profile of an artist. I looked through her profile and spotted him: my ex was in a relationship with her. It crushed me. I wish I could say that I saw it coming and was able to move on, but in that moment, I felt like I was never going to be good enough for anyone. He had put me through so much, but could never bring himself to commit to me. What did she have that I didn’t? It’s taken time, but it has gotten easier to separate myself from him. Still, when something like this happens, those wounds seem to open so quickly. My feelings are also incredibly mixed—pain over what I never got, anger at the impact he still has and at what he did, and also a desire to reach out to his new girlfriend.
I want to tell her that he may seem so charming and sweet, that he may make you feel like the only person who matters, but that charm quickly turns into emotional withholding and gaslighting. And that if he were to do anything, he’ll pretend like nothing changed and you’ll have to start writing everything down to prove to yourself that it really happened. I want to clarify that I don’t want to break them up for my own benefit. I never want to be with him ever again. But knowing how he treated me, his previous ex, and his classmate, I want to warn her, because I wish someone had warned me. Could he really have changed so drastically in such a short time? If she’s reading this for some reason, feeling like she’s suddenly the cold-hearted villain even though her gut is telling her otherwise, I want her to pause for a moment. How do you feel after you spend time with him? Does he make it all about him? Do you have to lie down in the shower just to feel like yourself after he goes home?
Don’t make the mistake I did. Don’t waste all the time that I wasted on him. Because he’s never going to become who he claims to already be.
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