Dear Chump Lady,
At the outset I would like to thank you for your wonderful words. They have helped me make a very important decision in my life, for which my gratitude increases every passing day.
Me and my ex were together for over 5 years, since college. From what I have read online lately, it seems like he is a textbook narcissist (trust me I am not using the term lightly). We fell in love, it seemed like a once in a lifetime type of love, our parents approved, both of us got great jobs, had a brilliant social life, moved to a big city away from parents together. The last couple of years we entered what I realized was the devaluation phase. He suddenly started seeing everything wrong with me, started emphasizing on my weaknesses.
This was my first serious relationship and in India dating is still not as okay as it is elsewhere so I am sure I made a million mistakes too. But I was always ready to learn from them and grow, together.
Meanwhile, our parents spoke, arranged our wedding. That was a rough period where he was dead against everything me and my family proposed. My parents were understanding, went along with everything for my happiness.
So all in all, through good times and bad, we found ways to work it out.
The moment the wedding got fixed, he became excited about it like a little kid, planning everything from the holiday (greece and Spain just like I wanted), clothes and jewellery , everything I had ever dreamed of. All through this I kept feeling like something is off. Spoke to him about him, said we should postpone if he unsure, but he kept telling me it’s just pre-wedding jitters and I am the love of his life.
I took a long leave from work, to go home for some time before the wedding and right before I left, I find out (phone bills) that he and my close friend, roommate, office colleague had been having a full blown affair for a year. That is, they slept together for about 3 – 4 months, then stopped because they realized it was wrong !?! then in a bit started again talking and hanging out etc.
When I found out and confronted him, he broke down, cried, fell on his knees in front of his parents and begged me to give him another chance. But as you always point out, I paid more attention to his actions and not his words. That’s how I know my decision to walk away, call everything off and go no contact was correct.
I am otherwise a happy person and my ‘psycho’ phase for the last 1 or 2 years is all him! Gas lighting , blame shifting and the works.
Am doing okay considering it’s been a couple of months. My supposed wedding day is in 5 days.
It’s just that I have lost faith in people. I have always been surrounded by good, decent people with strong moral values and that is how the ex presented himself to be. To be betrayed by not one, but two people I was close to, so brutally, has just spent my inherent belief system into a tailspin and I don’t know how to recover from that.
I don’t want to become jaded and cynical. That’s why I wanted to ask you, whether romantic love is a real thing. I have nothing against the initial honeymoon phase dying down, but is it possible to fall in love again, stay in love and make it work with someone who may not be perfect, but is just willing to make it work.
Of all the things I have lost, I miss my faith and belief in the goodness of people the most. I have been taught if you do the right thing, Stand morally upright, that is how your life will be. I did everything right, but was introduced to such a creepy and trashy side of people that it breaks my heart.
I just want your take in romantic love. And please tell me the truth, even if it means tough love.
p.s. I realize that there are a lot of brave chumps here, and they inspire me with their words always.
Do I believe in romantic love? Yes. What you experienced was not romantic love, it was fraud. It’s like asking me if I believe in fine dining when you’ve only ever eaten salmonella-tainted chicken.
Sweetheart, let me give you hope. I am much older than you are, and (metaphorically), I ate a LOT of salmonella-tainted chicken. And today, I am very happily married. You’re much smarter than I was in my early 20s. Unlike you, I married the disordered person — and it was awful, and I divorced him (and became a young single mother). And then I failed again — at 38 I remarried the man who inspired this blog — a guy who turned out to be an abusive, serial cheating, con artist.
If anyone deserves to be cynical about love and human nature, it’s me. (Or I should be cynical about my picker.) I learned a lot of painful lessons from those failures, and I’m not ashamed of them. I was for a long time — because there are people who will sniff at you and second guess you, or imagine you’re somehow damaged goods because this happened. There must be many people like this in India, who value marriage regardless of what sort of marriage it is, whatever the personal cost. Who might think you brought this on yourself, or that you should’ve taken him back because he was “sorry.”
NE — fuck ’em. Forgive the vulgarity — but I cannot say it strongly enough — FUCK ‘EM. What you did — calling off that wedding, bailing on a terrible mistake (him) that would only bring you more sorrow — in the face of such family pressure and your own hopes and dreams — was INCREDIBLY BRAVE. You are an inspiration to everyone on this blog. I’m sure there are a hundred chumps reading this right now who wish they had done what you did — bailed at DDay, not gone through with the marriage, not wasted years of their youth with a person who did not cherish them, not had children with someone so profoundly unfit.
Can you avoid such heartache again? I certainly think you can improve your odds, improve your picker, learn to value good character over sparkles, and demand respectful treatment in all your relationships because you know your self worth. Is that a guarantee that if you order your life in such a way, that you will be immune from calamity? No. We just do the best we can do, NE.
Because what is the alternative? To put your heart on a shelf and never love again? To assume that everyone is a liar and a fraud and never trust? To deny yourself the joys of intimacy? I am not only referring to romantic love, I’m referring to everyone whose life path crosses yours.
Do not shut your heart to the world. The gift that comes after this sort of betrayal is that you SURVIVE it. And then you realize that you’re a tough motherfucker, and have strength you never knew possible. If you channel this anger right — the anger and grief of betrayal — it will fuel you toward many successes. What can the world throw at you now that you haven’t already survived worse? Smaller set backs pale in comparison.
So many people order their lives to avoid pain. They fear it, fear humiliation, fear rejection. NE — you’ve stared that beast in the face and conquered it. You triumphed. You said I will not submit to this injustice. You’re doing the hard work of grieving, without the comforts of doing the Expected Thing — accepting his “apology” and marrying him.
This skill of yours, this bravery, will serve you well. A tale that probably not often told in India, is the story of Abraham Lincoln, the U.S.’s greatest president. He endured 30 years of failure before he became president in 1860. He lost jobs, he ran for state legislature and failed, his sweetheart died, he lost more runs at political office, he could not attend law school and had to teach himself, he was defeated in a run for Senate — and then at last he was elected president.
So here’s the greatest success of his life and what happens? The country is plunged into Civil War. Do you think a narcissistic man, someone who felt entitled to his successes, some golden child could’ve lead a country in such a dark time? I don’t think so. His strength was forged from the humility of his failures — he had tenacity, and he had empathy. And he wasn’t afraid to do the hard things that might not make him popular (like freeing the slaves). These qualities are gifts.
Good grief, you’re thinking. I only wanted to know about romantic love, not Abraham Lincoln. My point is — you’ve got this. I don’t think you’re going to endure 30 years of NPD fiancés and duplicitous friends. But you are going to have challenges — and NE, you aren’t going to crumble. You’re going to dust yourself off and know your worth and forge ahead.
This is a different path than naivety and smugness. I’m a good person and everyone around me is good because they Do the Right Things and Get the Right Outcomes. I’m glad you lost that. It’s much better to go through life with an open heart and hard-earned wisdom. Yeah disordered people exist, and yeah, they might mug you. So, you’re going to watch what people say and what they do, and not be fooled by sparkles. You’re going to learn discernment, because you’re a lovely person and not just anyone deserves to be your friend. You’re going to be optimistic because you trust yourself — not just your ability to discern character better — but your ability to bounce back and reinvent.
If you want romantic love, you only need to find ONE person in a sea of millions. ONE. You’re not asking for the moon, you just want someone who “may not be perfect, but is just willing to make it work.” Such people exist. This site is full of them. The world is full of them. You might get rejected a few times trying to find one, but don’t crumble. Know your worth and keep going. It took me two failed marriages, before I found true love at age 43. You’re not the slow learner I was. Be hopeful.
It’s early days, NE. You need to take time to grieve. Be kind to yourself now. No one expects you to bounce back from such a betrayal quickly — find a good therapist, spend some time here, and read what you can on narcissists and disordered people. Knowing what the heck hit you helps a lot.
But don’t sit out on life for too long. The world is full of good people — potential friends and mates. Go introduce yourself.