I was always that child growing up. The one who even though was warned the flames would burn me and even though I could feel the heat as I approached and my brain registered that the heat would definitely burn me, would go right ahead and stick my hand in the flame just to make sure. And sometimes, I would go back for more. Again, just to know for sure that the first time hadn’t been a fluke.
It’s a pattern of behavior I’ve carried well into adulthood. And I want to say for the most part it’s served me well. I’ve taken chances where others have warned me (not out of mortal danger, but out of internalized fears and consistent messaging that people like me just don’t do those things) not to. I’ve colored outside of the lines my entire life knowing that it may get me a scolding from the teacher but feeling empowered by the freedom of non-conformity. And I’ve tested the painful flames of life and love without fear or trepidation and have retreated, singed or burned but stronger for having faced the flames. And, just as I have returned to the flame on the off-chance that it might have cooled even in the slightest bit, I’m a sucker for giving people second chances. I’m not naïve; I know that the chance of me getting burned and individual people not having changed at all are almost always 100%. But the difference between a flame and a human is the potential to change and the hope I have for them to do so.
I’m also a bit of a hopeless romantic. Combine that with the will for taking chances and you’ve got a perfect scenario for going up in flames.
When frightened tongues speak timidly of love turn sharply into blades and strike the fatal wound.
Today I’m nursing some pretty serious burns; burns that could have been avoided had I heeded not only the warnings of my inner circle of friends, but also my own internal instinct. But be it love or lust or hope; I could not for the life of me turn away from the flame. I saw the signs, I’d felt the heat more than once, I knew the potential…but I failed to see the firestorm coming and I put myself in its direct path. The worst thing and what I find myself futilely dressing my wounds with, is how much I wrapped my sense of self up in this persons perceptions and treatment of me. The signs that his own tragic past and “brokenness” would make him a challenging match as well as his potential for emotional manipulation showed up in the early stages of us getting to know each other over a year ago.
Again, friends warned me after I would share my frustrations with them over certain interactions with him. And yet, even though I was seemingly determined at the time to let him go I became pavlovian in my response to his texts and calls. I could not tell him no…and when he would reject me or turn me away anyway, I always blamed myself and made excuses for him. “He’s a good father.” “He has a successful job that he loves.” “He treats me so well when we are together.” “We have great conversations and enjoy the same things.” “I shouldn’t have said that in that way.” “I shouldn’t have asked him.” “He works so hard, he’s just tired.” “My expectations are too high.”
When he showed up places where he knew I’d be, with other women, I shook it off…”we aren’t exclusive.” “I see other people, too.”
Sound familiar? Worse yet, when he both actively and passively rejected me, I blamed myself. Questioning what it was about me…”he’s not attracted to me,” “he’s not ready for a relationship,” “I’m too [fill in the blank],” “I need to back off, expect less,” “what could I change about me that would change his mind, change the way he was treating me?”
When he’d call or text, I was happy. When he asked, I would go. When we spent time together, I was excited and looked forward to it…even though he’d often cancel at that last-minute or cause a fight that would lead me to not go.
Friends told me to stop with him. He didn’t deserve me. I was too good for him. I was a stronger woman than I was letting myself be with him…the list of reasons to not be with him grew and yet. It was a train wreck I couldn’t stop. I mean I could have, I should have…but I didn’t. And oh how I wish I would have. Because the pain not only from his actual manipulation and emotional abuse, but now from my self-doubt and bruised ego are nearly unbearable.
Last night was the final blow: shortly after he whispered words of love, I was essentially dismissed like, well…a common whore. That’s how I felt, belittled and insecure, and shattered. He told me to go…and I did. I didn’t stand my ground or defend myself. I could have, might have had it been anyone else…I don’t let people use me or talk to me like he did. Not usually. I was upset, but not because I was leaving, because he wasn’t coming after me…I felt humiliated.
I want to be angry. I do. And tomorrow I might be. I hope to be. Others are angry for me and I wish I could feel it too. I wish I could hate him. Instead of feeling heartbroken. But this is what emotional abuse and manipulation does to a person. I’m working on getting angry. I’ve blocked and deleted him from my phone. Because it may be a week or two or a month, but he will call or text. And if I saw his name, I’d pick up. I know how that sounds. But I’m being honest with you and myself.
I’m being honest with you, because I’m hoping to find some strength in the truth. By letting you know that although I consider myself a strong independent woman, I let someone get to me and use me in ways I would fight tooth and nail against for strangers even. I’m being honest, because you might know someone else who’s going through something similar and not understand why…and maybe this helps or maybe it doesn’t. I’m being honest, because I need to get it out of my head and I’m hoping to walk away and leave it here where it will either be read or not, but it is no longer inside tormenting me, continuing the abuse and manipulation. I’m being honest, because it’s helping to uncover the anger. And I’m counting on that anger to drive me far away from the flame. To help me learn this lesson and learn it well. To trust my instinct that the flame which is hot will indeed burn.