Dear Chump Lady,
I’m interested in getting your take on the phenomenon of “poofing.”
I was with the same man for 11 years. Lived together for 10. Engaged for 7. We were students and dirt poor, so we decided to hold off on our wedding until one of us had a solid job. We figured we’d waited so long, we might as well wait and do it the way we really wanted to without too much compromise. But we had many of the entanglements of married couples: joint accounts, insurance policies, furniture/household stuff, paying into a college fund in case we had children, pets, property, investments, etc. etc.
Fast forward to this past year and he finally got a high-paying job. We moved, found a place, began filling it with furniture, started talking about children…. and began planning the wedding. We booked a venue, I bought a dress, we ordered the flowers and invitations. Family bought plane tickets.
I got a job in his new office, but it didn’t start for a few months. In the meantime, I had an offer for a short-term contract out of state that would look great on my resume. We decided I should take it and that we could handle the separation. In fact, we thought it would give him a chance to really buckle down at his new job and work some overtime.
We did fine for the first few months. Talked everyday, saw each other during long weekends. In fact it was kind of fun to meet in new cities at hotel rooms, order in and catch up.
I knew he had made a new friend in his office and was spending some time with her on weekends going shopping and that sort of thing, but I had no reason to doubt him. But I started to notice that she was texting him late at night, and he began talking about her a lot when I’d see him. I’d talk to him about boundaries and that some of time he was spending with her seemed a little excessive. My family picked up on it, too, and my mother started warning me that I needed to tell him to stop talking to her. I’d defend him and say that he was allowed to have a friend (after all, I had male friends and he had nothing to worry about).
After awhile, I did start to notice that sometimes I would have trouble getting him on his phone. He didn’t immediately answer phone calls and texts late at night. I kept getting notices that he went over his coverage for our phone plan. When I’d get ahold of him, he’d be hysterically crying, telling me how hard it was for him to be alone. I was so trusting, I wasn’t putting two and two together. In fact, I felt sorry for him!
About two weeks before I was coming “home”, he started telling me he wanted a prenup. I told him he was crazy. After all of this time? Something didn’t add up. We couldn’t afford the lawyers anyway. Long story short, his arguments for the prenup were so bad, he had to come clean. He had been cheating on me for about two months. Started the relationship the weekend after we had signed the final contract for the wedding, in fact.
At first, he seemed like he was sorry. He insisted the woman didn’t mean anything to him. He broke it off with her. Went into therapy. He still wanted to get married. Offered to leave his job to come to me to “show his commitment.”
But after a few difficult conversations, he started shutting down. Started saying some things that were really hurtful about me and our relationship. Told me she was easier to talk to. Made it sound like he had harbored a lot of resentments. He even lashed out at me and said some really cruel things. Told me he didn’t want me moving back into our place if I came out there for the new job. I had to get a sublet and we’d see where our relationship goes. I also got the “I love you a lot, but…” speech.
To see this change in him was equal parts scary and, frankly, pathetic.
Once he started with his blaming and verbal abuse, I told him to tell his family to stop booking their flights for the wedding and to ship me my things. I stopped calling or texting. I’d get the occasional “I miss you” sad sap email or phone call from him. But soon enough, he just stopped calling or texting.
Finally, after a couple of weeks, I had to make a decision about the new job. We talked and he told me, basically, that he wanted out. And at first he tried to lie about it, but I got him to admit that he had continued to see her/sleep with her. I immediately told him I was going to quit the job. And I told him I didn’t want to see or hear from him for at least a couple of months.
Perhaps it was predictable, but I haven’t heard from him since. Not even on our would-be wedding day. Oh, but some woman I’d never met called me that day to ask me why we broke up and if I knew where he was because she kept texting him and he wasn’t responding. She was worried he was “with her.” I hung up on her and ignored her subsequent phone calls, texts and friend requests. I don’t know what’s going on out there now, but it reinforced for me that I did the right thing by walking away.
Oh and, yes, he’s lying to people about why we broke up. Mutual friends don’t buy it and have more or less sided with me. It doesn’t matter what he’s telling people at his new job.
I’ve been coming out of my fog, got a new place, new job, have been taking care of myself, seeing a therapist, continuing not to speak to him and moving on… but I guess I’m still perplexed that he could walk away after all of this time together. We honestly did have a nice and easy relationship all of these years. Supported and loved each other. Hardly ever fought. Shared the same hobbies and career interests. I thought for sure I would eventually hear from him. I thought maybe an apology to me, my family and our friends for walking out on us (he stopped talking to them, too) and sticking me with the non-refundable wedding bills? Or at least some attempt to smooth things over with me for the sake of his career? With the way he left me, there was no question I was going to let everyone know what he did. Why wouldn’t he at least try to make nice with me so I wouldn’t ruin his reputation?
Oh, and by the way, there have been some rumors circulating that this other woman may have had a baby. Seeing as he was so emphatic about being “free” when we broke up—I got a good chuckle out of that, if it’s true. Serves him right.
Anyway, I know I’m not the first person to be blindsided by a psychopath who “poofs.” In some ways it’s a blessing. It’s been much easier to move on without him as a presence in my life. At this point I wouldn’t want to hear from him. I’m sad that I’m not going to have the future that I had hoped for—but I’m also excited that I have this opportunity to start fresh. I anticipate that it might be hard to meet someone again at my age with the trust issues that I’ll probably have now, but I’d rather be alone than stuck to the person he turned out to be!
But, as I say, as a phenomenon of cheating, I wonder what you have to say about poofing.
You wonder why you don’t hear from him? Because he owes you half a wedding hall, dress, and flight expenses, that’s why. I hope you at least got to pawn the engagement ring. He’s a coward who jilted you. The fact that you don’t hear from him is a GOOD thing. Keep that jerk out of your life. Being stiffed with the bill is galling. If you co-signed on these expenses, you could go to small claims court (up to $10,000), but I’m guessing you’re a chump and if you paid for these things solo, yeah, you’re probably fucked. But as the saying goes — some money is just too expensive. Trying to recoup your expenses would mean staying entangled with him, and that’s probably not worth your mental health.
I could look at your situation two ways. The first is he had an exit affair. He got cold feet about the wedding and created drama to blow up the relationship for him. He’s immature and gutless. The more cynical take on your relationship is that he may have cheated before and he was never as into you as you thought. The clue there is the fact that there appears to be more than one OW. (She knew who you were? She had your number?) Which means he was cheating on you, and the OW, with another OW. That’s generally not the MO of your first time cheater, IMO. That’s a guy who enjoys the smorgasbord.
The most telling part of this story is a seven-year engagement. What, was he deployed overseas fighting in a foreign land? Were you locked in a tower? Being a poor student is no excuse to not get married. The world is full of poor students having modest weddings. And you lived with him three entire years before he ever proposed! The guy just wasn’t that into you, SP. I’m so sorry. That doesn’t mean you aren’t a person worthy of love and commitment. It means you’re a person who will put up with someone’s lukewarm interest in you. You’re a chump. Work on that.
I once heard Bill Maher (a comedian famous for his disinterest in marriage) discuss men and commitment. He gave his women friends this advice — if you don’t have a commitment after 18 months, bail. Men, he said, know within a year if they truly want to marry you. Anything longer than 18 months is stringing you along.
Perhaps 18 months is a bit short, but in my experience, and every successful marriage I know of, that’s held true. There’s a window. If someone moves too fast, like moving in with you or proposing before 6 months, that’s a red flag. But if the romance continues for a couple years with no talk of commitment or Where This Is Headed, that’s a red flag too. People tend to do the things they want to do. If the guy wants to be married, he’ll seal the deal. A seven-year engagement sounds about as romantic as a UAW sit down strike. We’ll all just congregate on the picket line until management comes to it senses.
Sure, you can spackle and say it was careers and finances. But if a man truly loved you, he’d go to a courthouse and give you a pop-top lid for a ring. He wouldn’t wait for the monogramed cocktail napkins. Please re-examine your values if having the big country club wedding with the poofy white dress was more important than the commitment.
It just sounds like he sold you a bill of goods. He was happy to let you fantasize for years about your dream wedding. You thought you were Working Toward Something together. He, on the other hand, was just buying time.
What did all those years mean? You were of use to him, a good-enough relationship until he achieved the status and position he wanted in life. Enjoying that meant being free of his entanglements with you. An honest person would have had an honest conversation with you (like 9 years ago).
Poofing, on the other hand, is what narcissists do. They poof on their children. They poof on their creditors. They poof on their employers. They’re Very Special People who deserve Special Considerations. But they don’t poof until they’ve extracted some value from you. Career help. Raising their family. Taking care of the aging parents. Things get sticky when chumps have needs. When children become teenagers and cease to give kibbles. When bills come due and credit is no longer extended. When people demand accountability from them.
You wanted a wedding. He dragged it out as long as he could, and when gosh darn it, you were going to have that wedding — he poofed. I think your job situation is irrelevant. Convenient for fucking around, but beside the point. A loving relationship can stand a few months apart (with what sounds like frequent visits in between). The bigger issue IMO is that you wanted accountability from him. You wanted a commitment.
You can say, oh he wanted that too! But his actions say quite clearly that he did not. You had a seven-year engagement. You had flimsy excuses. You had fake remorse — he never ended his affair. Oh, and the offer to quit his job is one of those crazy things wing nuts do — I’ll make a dramatic gesture you will never take me up on! His actions tell the story — he was checked out and not one bit sorry for cheating on you, or stringing you along. Sorry would be not just paying you back half, sorry would be paying for the ENTIRE loss, because this was HIS mistake.
Consider yourself fortunate you didn’t have a life with this man and it ended before the wedding. It’s sounds like you’re off to a great start and didn’t prolong the agony with more chumpiness. If you were a student 11 years ago — you’re YOUNG. Please don’t worry about never loving or trusting again. Learn from this and go have an awesome cheater-free existence. Make sure the next guy who loves you is congruent in word and deed. It’s okay to have needs, and it’s okay to bail honestly if they’re not met. No more seven-year engagements, SP. You deserve someone totally into you.