For the past year I’ve been involved in a long-distance relationship with a man in the UK. We met in California, quickly fell hard for each other, and when he returned to Britain we vowed to carry on the relationship and do everything possible to make it work. I was utterly besotted with him; he was devastatingly charming and intellectual, a brilliant writer, artist and musician. He was handsome, he always dressed smartly, and he had the most exquisite speaking voice I had ever heard. He was the most passionate, sensitive, and exciting lover I had ever had. And, of course, he was madly in love with me, the “most beautiful and inspiring” woman he had ever known, his “soul mate” and “wife of the soul.”
In the months that we were physically apart, and despite the eight-hour time difference and work obligations (my work obligations, I should say, as he didn’t really seem to have a regular job, being an artist, and all) we nonetheless managed to spend hours talking on the phone each evening, or via webcam or instant message. We wrote each other ardent love letters daily, and my life revolved around checking for his notes and his texts. We somehow never went more than a few hours without contact, even though one or the other of us was always sacrificing a night of much-needed sleep to do so. It was, of course, a sacrifice I was happy to make. He was my best friend and confidant in all things. I had never felt happier in my life.
Soon enough he proposed marriage to me and I joyfully accepted. We talked excitedly for hours about where we would marry (a 14th-century stone church in the countryside where generations of his kin had wed, of course) and what our children would be named (“Aubrey” for a boy and “Sophie” for a girl). At 37-years-old my fervent prayers for a loving husband and a beautiful family were finally being answered. We had yet to set a date but preparations for me to move to Britain to be with him at the start of next year were in full swing.
The only thing difficult in our relationship was the distance and the constant longing to be in his arms but it made our relationship bittersweet and, to my mind, that much more romantic. True, he had a troubling tendency to be jealous and controlling at times, but I regarded that as a normal part of the angst inherent in an LDR. He also seemed to be involved in ever more outlandish ventures and difficult crises with his family and colleagues (he was forever the victim of unjust attacks by siblings or associates who didn’t understand or appreciate him, he said), but I gave him unfailing support whenever he needed it, which was all the time. Yes, he would often become petulant and paranoid and rake me over the coals about insignificant things so that I started constantly to bite my tongue in order not to offend him. I didn’t like that feeling but I figured it was part of what one does to make a relationship work. For the most part, though, I felt supremely happy. He showered me with poetry and music written just for me. No man had ever treated me in such an adoring and romantic way and I was elated. I told him every day that he was the most beautiful and magnificent man I had ever known, that he was nothing less than the sun to me. I loved, needed and desired him as I had no other man and my life, and that I was his forever. Every word came straight from my heart.
Then one day, everything changed. We quarreled over something trifling matter one night and, the next day when I called him, he seemed like a totally different man. He berated me for the next couple of hours, calling me insensitive and saying that I habitually pushed him away. He said that he “intrinsically knew” that our relationship was “all wrong.” He would never feel “safe” with me again. He had given me everything but I had taken him for granted. He loved me but couldn’t think of one reason why the relationship should be salvaged. I cried and begged him not to end things with me. I told him that whatever I had done wrong I would fix but he spat back that my not knowing what I did wrong only reaffirmed to him that it just wasn’t working between us. I got off the phone completely shocked and wrote him a long, pleading letter to which he didn’t respond for a day. When he got back to me he was terse and cold. He maintained that he had seen nothing in my letter to change his mind. If I could give him one reason to stay, he said, he might be open to listening.
I spent the next month in hell, groveling on my knees to be forgiven, pleading for us to talk, if just for a moment, but he maintained, with sharp and cutting words, through email, that the damage was done. I felt ashamed to be reduced to the lowly state of a beggar but at that point I would have done anything to win back his love. Nothing seemed to move him. He barely communicated with me. When I finally, tearfully, wrote to him that I didn’t understand what was wrong, that I was totally heartbroken, but would let him be free if he was no longer happy with me, he suddenly changed his mind and suggested that we talk over the webcam the following night. I had been so battered by grief and desperation that this little tidbit of hope made me feel as though the sun had broken through the clouds at last. That night I went to bed for the first time in weeks without sobbing and without needing a valium to calm my frayed nerves. The next evening we did indeed chat and I cried and told him how deeply I loved him. He cut it short, though, saying he was exhausted by “the process of coming back to Us.” He promised we’d chat again the next day and I felt overwhelming relief that we’d finally had a breakthrough, that he was letting me back into his heart. But the next day came and went with no word from him. I became desperate all over again and sent him message after message asking if he was all right. Finally he wrote back that his father had been taken to the hospital and was dying.
For weeks I wrote to him every day, saying I loved and supported him and stood by him through all his trials. He wrote back that he was not able to communicate much at the moment, sorry. There was no trace of the loving language he had always used to address me in the past. This went on and on. When he did arrange to talk, he would invariably be absent at the appointed time, with no explanation. I asked him as lovingly and unobtrusively as I could to keep the door to communication open because I was sick with worry over him. Privately, I couldn’t understand why he didn’t see how distraught I was and feel at least a little bit sorry for me.
Sometimes during the course of those long, hellish weeks he would dangle a tidbit of affection before me, other times he said he didn’t have the energy or "heart space" to communicate. He told me he needed my patience and understanding and I said of course, I completely understood, and would wait as long as was necessary until things were on a better footing for him. But the gulf grew wider and wider and the weeks stretched on, with my being almost completely cut off from him. I felt everything slipping away all over again and was panicked one moment, inconsolable the next. Throughout this time I was virtually in the dark as to what was going on with him.
Finally, after not hearing from him for days on end, I wrote him a loving note saying that I would always be with him in spirit, but that I needed to go away for a while to work out my sadness without laying any burden on him. He quickly wrote back that he’d had a terrible day tending to his sick father, that he felt like a changed man, that he needed very much to talk to me TOMORROW, that he loved and appreciated me. “Of course, Sweetheart,” I responded, “I’m here for you whenever you need me!” I didn’t hear from him again for two weeks.
In frustration and worried sick about him, I phoned him (something I hadn’t done in a while since he’d made me feel so unwelcome to do so). I rang several times over the course of the evening but only got his voicemail. A short time later, I logged onto my email to write him a note and saw there a letter from him. It had been so long since I’d seen his name in my inbox that my heart leapt into my throat. I opened it and was greeted with a torrent of the foulest, cruelest abuse I had ever received in my life. I was told not to call him anymore; he’d had a near-fatal heart attack over the weekend and had required major surgery and didn’t need my bullshit while he was trying to recover. He told me that I was a needy, manipulative, selfish bitch. He was sick of my “head games.” He had finally “had it.” Our relationship was over and would I kindly “fuck off and die.” I rang him back in disbelief and he screamed “Fuck you!” and hung up. For several days I tried without success to reach him. I wrote numerous letters and waited for a response. I was greeted with total silence.
Completely beside myself, I called up my good friend in whom I’d been confiding and, sobbing and out of my mind, told her what had just happened. She sighed bitterly and said, “Sweetie, it sounds like you’ve been preyed on by a pathological narcissist.”
I spent all of that night online reading about NPD and, needless to say, the description of the pathology fit him down to the letter. It was all there: the instant idealization, whiplash-inducing devaluation, tortuous manipulation, painful punishment, and final discarding of me like so much trash.
The next day I sat down to write him one last letter. I told him I had figured out that he was a sociopathic predator who had manipulated me for his own gain. I told him I at once loathed and pitied him. I told him that I realized that part of his cruelty was to offer me no closure and that I was writing this letter more for me as I knew it would mean nothing to him anyway. I told him I was moving on and would not look back. In short, I told him to go fuck himself.
After writing him that final letter I shut down my email account, took two steps away from my computer and collapsed on the floor, screaming. I went about deleting all of his contact information and burning or destroying whatever few tokens and gifts from him that I had in my possession.
Everyone is telling me that I need to maintain No Contact with him for the rest of my life, but I don’t know how to get through the next hour, let alone eternity, without the man of my dreams. They tell me that I’m lucky that I got out when I did, but I feel the furthest thing from blessed. My life, which only a few months ago seemed so overflowing with endless possibility and joy, now appears to me utterly bleak, empty, and gray. Everything is in ruins. I’ve been calling in sick to my job and I wonder how I can start, much less finish, my final term in grad school when it begins next week. All that I was doing with my life I did with US and OUR future in mind. Now all I want is to sleep my life away. Sometimes I even entertain terrible thoughts of ending it all, but I know I have to carry on for the sake of my family and friends.
I know I am supposed to accept that he is an empty shell without a conscience, that everything I believed of him was only a mirage, but I can’t reconcile that definition of him with the memory of the beautiful and brilliant man that I loved with all of my heart and soul. I sometimes wonder if I am wrong – maybe he is just a sensitive man whose love and trust I lost through my own foolish and weak behavior. Maybe I can find a way to bring him back to me if I change. Maybe I can show him that I am a better and stronger woman now, maybe I can reclaim his love and respect. Maybe in time he will miss me. Maybe he misses me now but is too hurt to reach out. I repeat all these maybes to myself in a vain ritual that I know, deep inside, will yield nothing.
All of my hopes and dreams lie shattered and life seems meaningless to me now. I veer wildly between rage and grief and can’t concentrate on anything but my pain. I cannot wrap my mind around what has happened to me. And, worst of all, in the depths of night, I find myself longing for him with a sorrow that chokes me and leaves me barely able to breathe. I ask the universe how it is possible that my “beautiful man” was just an illusion perpetrated by a soulless predator. I wonder, hoping against hope, if I can save him, somehow. I dream of him blissfully holding me, promising to love me forever, only to wake up to a cold and empty world without him.
In my heart of hearts I know that he is gone forever. I understand that he never existed in the first place. And I know that I do not exist for him at all. I never did.