Dear Chump Lady,
I have read and re-read your posts innumerable times since I discovered your website. I just got out of a 9-month relationship. He was a wolf in sheep skin. He is a charmer, environmentalist, social entrepreneur…a do-gooder in society.
I met him soon after his divorce came through, I was the ‘special’ one he chose to bare his soul to, I couldn’t wait to feed my co-dependence and make his life perfect and happy. I made him the center of my universe, shopped for him, sorted his house, his maid, cooked for him, hosted parties with him. He was scared to commit, so I gave him all the space. He was running an organization, so had a lot of stress; I stopped demanding as that stressed him out. He lay the boundaries and I complied.
Then began the slow degrading of my self-esteem. He picked faults in me, my tendency to run from problems, to not be confrontational. I took each input and studied, absorbed and took it as an input from someone who loves me and wants me to grow as a person. Except each input broke my confidence, made me question myself at every level. He was so righteous, did the right things, said the rights things, was a good person who knew better than me. Rode his high-horse on the moral high-ground. I took it all at face value.
I found out through his best friend, maid, read a chat by chance and learned of his infidelity. I could not believe it. So everytime, he fought with me or pushed me away, he was making room to screw other women. I told him I knew, he denied it all, asked for proof, tried every emotion in the book and then when I finally told him, he got defensive and without an explanation or an apology he just vanished.
After his pleading and then me spilling the beans, I got a few defensive messages, I finally broke my silence and sent him a long email. I am reeling under the shock of the lies and the projections. He came off as a saint and it’s so hard to accept that the same man would do this to me. He has been so deceitful the entire time we have been together. I am in so much pain and there is so much anger. All I want to do is hurt him, make him feel the pain that he caused me. He has already moved on, already has 2-3 women he is not connected to, who are “special” and listening to his vows and the sob story of what a hard and dificult life he leads. My anger is turning inwards and destroying me. All I can think of is the time I never stood-up and took all his shit, I allowed him to question me my sanity, my weakness and I assumed it was all for my good.
Chump Lady, please help me…I need to navigate through this mess and I just can’t seem to do it. I am tired of complaining, I am tired of crying, I am sick of this feeling and unfairness of this whole thing.
I know the anger is towards me as well, for having been so stupid, for not listening to the warning signs, to all the people who warned me about him. I really thought he was goodie-two shoes, with whom infidelity would never be an issue and he was a liar at every level.
I’m sorry you got suckered, but hey, it was a bad 9-month investment. You got some major life lessons at a bargain rate. Many of us chumps learn these hard lessons after years, with sunk costs like marriage, children, and mortgages.
You wrote: All I can think of is the time I never stood-up and took all his shit, I allowed him to question me, my sanity, my weakness and I assumed it was all for my good.
He’s gone. It’s time to stop questioning your sanity and feeling weak. This crap is finite. You learn from it (painfully) and then you reclaim your life. Don’t give him more mental real estate to hurt you now that he’s out of your life. Take a good, unvarnished look at the situation and yourself, draw those painful lessons, and then let go and heave a sign of relief.
You got taken in by a man who pretended to be someone he wasn’t. Join the chump club! You liked the sparkly goodness that he projected, you miss being the consort to the Import Moral Leader. You spackled over his obvious faults, until you couldn’t any more. You’re mad at yourself. I get it.
So let me give you the Cliff’s Notes on What Not To Do in the future, okay? So you can put this sorry chapter behind you.
1. A good relationship is not like joining a cult, okay? It doesn’t require that you sublimate all sense of self and worship someone unquestioningly. There was no reason to serve him. Look! I’ll make myself indispensable and you’ll see my worth! Karishma, you HAVE WORTH. You don’t need to prove yourself so utterly to someone to make them love you. You needn’t shop for them and sort out their maid service. You’re a grown up, you have a life. He’s a grown up, he has a life. When you willingly took on that role as handmaiden to the Important Person you signaled to him that you were a chump who could be taken advantage of.
Healthy relationships have reciprocity. You do for him. He does for you. The currency of reciprocity is not sparkles. I’ll do your shopping and you let me associate with your fabulousness! No. Good people want to return the favor. They take honest pleasure in doing for you. You want relationships that are reciprocal, not lopsided.
When you accept lopsided, you’re saying to the other person that you have a handicap, that you have to work especially hard to be lovable. It’s a sad kind of control chumps do — love as currency exchange (narcissists love a lopsided exchange rate). No, love is a gift. We don’t earn it. We have to be good partners, absolutely, but people who love us grace us with their love. They see the worth in us. They don’t make us jump through flaming hoops to prove it.
2. The early days are the honeymoon. It’s not enough for him to tell you you’re special. He has to treat you special. Not making time for you, tearing you down, belittling you — this isn’t romance, Karishma. Courtship is as good as it gets — this is when someone is putting forward their best self to win you. If the best he’s got is manage my dust bunnies and I’m working late? Fuck him.
3. Don’t put someone else in charge of your sense of worth. You are the master of your fate, the captain of your soul (to borrow from Invictus). Don’t give your identity to another person. It’s natural to care what the people closest to us think of us. When you love someone, you have a tremendous power to hurt them with your words and your unflattering assessments. It’s hard to hear criticism. But loving people do this lovingly. They bolster as well as critique. And hopefully the ratio is 10:1 bolstering over criticizing.
Here’s a bolster/critique conversation I might have with my husband — who has the real (and acknowledged) flaw of dressing like an unkempt teenager instead of a 50-year-old lawyer.
You’re such a handsome man, and you look so great in a pressed shirt. Blue really suits you! I think at age 50, you have to stop shopping at Old Navy and wearing t-shirts and camo shorts to work. I know you want to be comfortable, so can we look at some comfortable options that are a bit more… um, age appropriate? I mean, you’re really fortunate that people think you’re much younger than you are, but I think at 50 you need the gravitas that comes with wearing a button-down shirt, okay?
Another term for this is the Oreo critique. Nice thing. Critical thing. Nice thing. All in a cookie sandwich. The chocolate wafers help the harsh go down.
I’m also couching my language with “I think” statements. It’s just me. This is my opinion. I’m not pronouncing the gospel.
Mr. Moral there just told you who you were. Full stop. No wonder you’re mad. This is a common tactic with abusive people. He needs to put you in your place, define you, tell you your ample deficiencies, and then cloak it in righteousness — this is for your Own Good. So it’s hard to feel defensive, because you feel guilty for not accepting the criticism (or the “joke”) in the spirit it was “intended” — your self improvement.
When you have a strong sense of who you are, you can weigh other’s criticisms fairly. It won’t hurt you to admit your flaws. And you can bite back if you think the criticism goes too far. But if you’re in a lopsided investment — when you look to others too much to validate you — you take abuse to heart. Yes, that is who I am. I am who you tell me I am.
Know yourself. Know your worth. That’s the best protection we have against being abused. Some idiots might try it, but if you know your worth, you aren’t going to sit around and take it for very long.
4. Never write a long letter to someone who doesn’t give a shit. Common chump mistake. Sending a long, imploring letter is just feeding kibbles to the narcissist. He will ignore the substance of what you said and only see centrality. If you must write it — spew it out and put it in a folder. Send it to a friend. Send it here. But don’t send it to the person who doesn’t give a shit. A letter will not make him give a shit. Letters are not magic.
5. When other people tell you who someone is — believe them. Sounds like you had a lot of warnings that he sucked, and more than one verification that he was cheating. Believe those people, believe the evidence. Let go of who you hoped he was, and how it felt to be associated with one so sparkly. People tend not to have bad reputations unless they’ve earned them.
6. He’s going to chump other people. That’s who he is. Pay no attention to whomever he’s directing his sales pitch to now. That’s not your problem. If you fear they’re going to get some of his precious attention, you’re not trusting that he sucks. He sucks, Karishma, he SUCKS.
Please be kind to yourself and work through this broken heart. You were given a precious opportunity to get these lessons understood without a deeper investment. That’s a gift, Karishma. When you internalize that, you’ll stop being mad at yourself.