‘Explain this.’ It was printed copies of every text I’d exchanged with my previous girlfriend.’: Single dad’s harrowing experience dating a narcissist, urges ‘even the strong can succumb to the cunningness of this evil’

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“Adjusting to life as a single father took a lot out of me. The pressures of establishing custody and a co-parenting agreement in family court, financially supporting two households, succeeding in my career, and being the best possible parent to my daughter were significant and consumed all my time and energy. I deprioritized myself, which included the pursuit of a romantic relationship. I was honest about my limitations. There were new life routines to inaugurate and trust issues to resolve before I could once again search for love.

It took more than 4 years to decide I was ready to date someone seriously. My first relationship was (semi) long distance so that probably made it more attractive and manageable. While it didn’t end up working out, I walked away with confidence that I was ready to dedicate my heart to someone. I could trust again and be vulnerable. I also realized long term romantic success would require dating someone local.

I had experimented with online dating and, while convenient, I never felt these were ideal circumstances to get to know someone. It just didn’t work for me. Not getting the results I had hoped for, I turned to Facebook, albeit hesitantly. I had been following a woman I didn’t know but shared a couple connections with. I saw things I liked: many pictures with her children and friends, always smiling, and sharing some inspirational posts that resonated with me. I had done my character vetting, I believed. After a few months of ‘following her,’ I asked her out.

Damon D’Arienzo/@singledadmagic

The initial chemistry was strong, and I was excited. A few dates passed and it appeared very promising. I was happy. Strangers often commented on our energy together. I was falling fast but I still recognized the need to be careful and smart about it, especially since I had my daughter’s feelings to consider too.

Not even six weeks in, there was a concerning incident. One night she did not call as planned and I got worried. When I approached her about these feelings of mine, she blew up on me and called me a narcissist. She chastised me for not being trusting and said I ‘must be guilty of something since I was accusing her of wrongdoing.’ She charged me with ‘gaslighting.’ But actually I wasn’t accusatory at all. I raised it very neutrally and was just looking to understand what happened as new couples are expected to do as they get to know each other.

In all honesty, and I am a little embarrassed by it, I didn’t even know what the word ‘narcissist’ really meant. I was pretty sure it was a negative term, which simply meant I had no room for it in my life. I don’t keep toxic people around, narcissists or other. And ‘gaslighting’? Never heard of it. But she gave me a verbal beating this day. In hindsight, the first red flag of many. But it was early, so I moved on from it.

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A few weeks later, she confronted me about the woman I dated before her. ‘Fair enough,’ I thought. But her line of questioning implied she already knew some key details. I was very confused. In exploring it further, I learned she received a Facebook message from someone saying they were involved in my past, but chose to disguise their identity. This person said I was still dating my previous girlfriend.

The truth is I had seen my previous girlfriend a couple times during the period of our first few dates and never mentioned it. There was zero intimacy and I had just begun to date again so that is how I rationalized not saying anything about it. I later realized that wasn’t the best decision. Yes, I made the mistake of sending the wrong message by not clearly ending this relationship, but my intentions were pure. A strong bond had formed between my daughter and her and I didn’t know how to cut that off. I just decided that we could stay friends and, at that time, thought I was doing what was best for my daughter.

My new girlfriend was furious and couldn’t let it go. She labeled this behavior as cheating. That is an important detail in this story.

Soon after, everything fell off the rails. More alarming Facebook messages from this unidentifiable person. We were trying to play detective to identify this informant. Nothing made sense! I hired a private investigator and computer forensics specialist to help determine the source of the privacy breach. No luck. My girlfriend ruthlessly pounded away at me with accusations of not being honest. It was torture. We would literally stay up all night arguing, the sun would rise, and I would go to work. A vicious cycle to say the least. She was obsessed with it.

She kept leveraging this ‘cheating’ against me and I kept feeling I had to earn her trust back. My words carried no value anymore in her mind. If I spoke up to make a point, it was dismissed because I cheated and therefore could not be trusted.

A couple months in, the degrading and humiliation accelerated. She would tell me, ‘you’re not a real man and could never be one.’ She would show me pictures and messages from men who were hitting on her and said, ‘I could be with this.’ That alone should be plenty for anyone to walk away, but it’s like I forgot how to protect and respect myself. She had brainwashed me to believe I needed to earn her trust back and her cold-hearted treatment of me was all my fault. She declared that, because she had been married, she knew way more about successful relationships than I. It crushes me to admit it now, but I bought into every single word. I kept thinking it would pass and these are regular obstacles as a couple evolves into their serious relationship.

Damon D’Arienzo/@singledadmagic

Meanwhile, she made me go through my Facebook and Instagram accounts with her to explain my relationship with every female friend I had. If they didn’t meet her criteria, they needed to be deleted. Basically, I could only keep married women who I had known since high school. Yet when I confronted her about doing the same, she, at the top of her lungs, would scream, ‘You’re the one who cheated on me!!’ I can still feel that rage in her tone down my spine.

She started to control my relationships and impose bizarre ‘boundaries.’ My best friend’s sibling is like a sister to me and I was ‘approved’ to continue this relationship. However, in order for me to understand how it would make my significant other feel, my girlfriend said she would start conversing with my friend’s husband, who she’d never met. She, without flinching, stated that I should have no problem with that. I was literally at a loss.

The thing is, I can be strong willed when something doesn’t seem right. I pushed back initially but she always countered with threats. We still had happy moments but stable conflict resolution with her was impossible. Eventually, I lost the strength to resolve these differences as she was so merciless. I started to let her ‘win’ to avoid the ridicule and patronizing words. I slowly became engulfed in this world.

I know. This makes me seem weak. I don’t disagree. I was exhausted, scared, and desperate, but still infatuated. And she knew it. She was unbelievably calculating. When she felt me wandering in panic, she would amplify her likeability.

It really started to affect my health and happiness. It kept me from enjoying myself on an annual vacation with my entire family. I spent hours that vacation week begging her via text message to forgive me. I would spend hours researching quotes to help express my feelings to hopefully get through to her so the pain would stop.

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When I returned from vacation, I found out she had spoken at length with my previous girlfriend about every single detail of that relationship. She obviously manipulated this previous girlfriend to tell her everything – then spun it in a way to use it against me. When I first saw her after my time away, she slammed down a stack of papers at my feet. It was printed copies of every email and text message I had exchanged with the previous girlfriend. The pages were covered with her notes. ‘Explain this.’ ‘You used the word love with her and not me.’  ‘You bought her X but only got me Y.’ If it couldn’t get any battier, I found out they went to a concert together. During the ensuing argument about it, I also asked her why there were pictures of her kissing the cheeks of other men at the show. But, she had a reasonable explanation, of course! It was one crazy thing after another!

Mind you, as my girlfriend and my previous girlfriend’s whacky friendship continued behind my back, my girlfriend was telling me to file a restraining order on her. Apparently, these two women were on a ‘mission’ to catch me in a lie and so my girlfriend was telling her to email me, then waiting to see if I would tell her. Madness! I finally put my foot down and said there is no reason she should be communicating with my previous girlfriend or this mystery Facebook person. ‘Nothing is relevant to our relationship,’ I told her. But there were always excuses of why she couldn’t comply. ‘I can’t figure out how to block them’ or ‘Facebook said they can’t do anything about it.’ I went back to the private investigator to help make some sense of this. I burned so much time and emotional energy trying to figure out what the hell was going on. She would lie straight to my face but always talk her way out of it. Most of the time I just gave up so my head wouldn’t explode.

There were so many other warning signs. She claimed her ex-husband was the worst person/father in the world, yet her high school daughters were living with him full time while their mom, my girlfriend, lived multiple towns away. She also never let me forget how much money he had. She claimed to be so close with her family and spoke to them every day, but I never saw any evidence of it; I didn’t even see them call while I was around or hear her say, ‘I’ll just call them later.’ There remained times where she wouldn’t call or meet me as planned but it was because ‘the police raided the bar and confiscated everyone’s cell phones for six hours.’ She would tell me something and I would reference in our discussion 20 minutes later. ‘I never said that,’ she would declare. If I challenged it, she would go berserk. She’d call me a cheater and pathetic, among other nasty, disparaging things. As you can imagine, I just stopped opposing her to spare me the ill-treatment (though I didn’t realize this was abuse until I ended the relationship and began the self-reflection process).

This pattern of control, lies, and manipulation never changed. She made me feel like the most awful person. I continued to think it would get better and time would help me get there. I finally found the courage to tell her I wouldn’t tolerate her calling me a cheater anymore. I had already owned my mistake – that is not completely cutting off contact with my previous girlfriend – which I later understood was pretty innocent, but she had twisted it so negatively. I told her she needed to drop it for good, or leave. She agreed to let it go but not even a week later I was dealing with the mystery Facebook person making another accusation. This was around the six-month mark and I finally had enough. I walked away. And how I wish the story ended here!

Damon D’Arienzo/@singledadmagic

I had been confiding with a couple friends at work about what was going on. Upon news of the split, as any good friend might do, my buddy wanted to introduce me to someone he and his wife had been wanting to set me up with for a while. I begrudgingly agreed. The timing didn’t feel right, but this was always the way I had hoped to meet someone so I couldn’t pass it up. This was a bad decision. The woman was great. I was not. We spent 4-5 weeks seeing each other but I couldn’t get my ex out of my head. As crazy as it sounds, I missed her. So, I ended this short relationship and went back to her. I feel awful that I made a poor choice to start dating again when I wasn’t emotionally ready. But, to be honest, I had never been through an abusive relationship before and I didn’t understand what it would take to repair the wounds she created. We think moving on to someone else will fix it but that is rarely true. We must fix ourselves first.

Not surprisingly, her hurtful actions, excuses and blaming started almost immediately. This was around Christmas and she was (supposedly) away on a tropical vacation. She didn’t return my calls as she said she would. She told me she was staying in one hotel then another one the next day. When I expressed my confusion, she told me I didn’t hear her correctly and that, essentially, I should mind my own business because she was giving me a second chance.

Also, I wanted to do something nice for her and her family as she would be with them for Christmas following her vacation. I asked her daughter to send me the address of where her mom would be for the holiday and she didn’t even know she was going away. How can your child not even know your whereabouts for Christmas? It made no sense. Lies. I wanted so bad to walk away in this moment, but I was too weak.

Later that holiday season, I introduced her to my family. I still feel awful that I brought this abhorrent human deeper into my life. Looking back on it, we clearly see how she tried to manipulate my own family members to improve the strength of her control over me. She would do anything to protect revelation of her true self.

We went to a nearby ski resort for New Year’s Eve and Day. On the drive there, she confronted me about seeing someone when we weren’t together. It was none of her business but of course she had to use it to cause discourse. It was the same old stuff. But it made me wonder – how did she know? I went out with this woman maybe 5-6 times and only the co-worker who introduced us and two of my best friends knew about it. This really made me nervous and, frankly, a bit scared. I started to question my friends’ loyalty. Was she getting to them now? Was she somehow convincing everyone to be against me? It sure felt like it! I again started to become paranoid, though I had done nothing wrong.

I didn’t understand how this information was getting back to her. To this day, I still don’t know the definite origin or identity of these mystery Facebook sources – but I could make an educated guess! It had to be her. Essentially having conversations with herself posing as different people. Yes, it was that twisted.

While I was finally able to suppress anything to do with my previous love interests, she then turned her attention to my daughter’s mother. She came up often but not to the degree of the previous girlfriend. One time she told me that she wished my daughter and her mother were dead. I practically lost control of my car when these words came out of her mouth and was ready to leave her on the side of the road. She quickly clarified her comment to mean things would be better for us if they weren’t around, but you don’t look at someone the same way after such a careless comment.

Damon D’Arienzo/@singledadmagic

She would always tell me that she knows how a co-parenting relationship should work and everything I did was wrong. I was told that the only communication I could have with my daughter’s mother is that she would be allowed to text me if our daughter was hospitalized. Later that same New Year’s Eve she got so irate about it that she threatened to leave me unless I texted my daughter’s mother at 3 a.m. to tell her she was ‘a piece of sh**.’ I told her there was no way in hell I would ever do that. ‘Why would I jeopardize anything that has to do with my daughter?’ I tried to get her to understand. But, as I was learning, she had to get her way and nothing about my feelings mattered. [Classic narcissism I would later come to understand.] She was screaming louder than ever before. Hotel security came multiple times. Then, when I wasn’t looking, she snatched my phone and sent the text herself.

My daughter’s mother and her husband were rightfully upset. I claimed the text was meant for someone else and apologized but they knew it wasn’t the truth. They had already experienced how I had been affected in this relationship, and not for the better. All the progress we had made in our co-parenting relationship was gone in an instant. My girlfriend couldn’t care less – as long as my daughter’s mother was as far out of the picture as she could be. But you’ll never believe this. While I was exiled from any sort of co-parenting communication, she was talking regularly to my daughter’s mother behind my back. It is still hard for me to fathom this level of disloyalty. It makes me nauseous.

It never went away. One time after dropping off my daughter at our halfway meeting point, I waved goodbye to her, and my girlfriend thought I was waving to my daughter’s mother. She began screaming at the top of her lungs. This continued for almost 18 hours. It ended when I finally said, ‘Okay, you’re right,’ just because I had zero left to give and had to be done. This was the routine. Pummel me until I gave up. These arguments were easily the hardest and worst moments I have ever experienced in my life. My heart usually felt like it was going to explode out of my chest, I couldn’t breathe, and I would literally pull hairs out of my head in frustration and disgust. Was I really going insane? I had crippling anxiety around the clock. My actions didn’t come naturally anymore. I questioned everything I did. These were the very lowest moments of my life.

Damon D’Arienzo/@singledadmagic

I eventually convinced myself that part of the reason we were struggling is because we lived in separate homes and needed to be together so we could work on our trust. Another flawed decision. But we set the process in place for her to move in. I remember one night telling my mom on the phone that this was happening and she just told me to make sure it was right for me. My girlfriend must have been eavesdropping because she loudly reprimanded me right after, saying my mother’s opinions are unneeded and I shouldn’t talk about my relationship to anyone else from now on.

She moved in around the year anniversary of our first date. It didn’t take long for me to see right through the lies. One day she told me she spent the whole afternoon with her daughter shopping. Later that night we got in a fight about an ex-girlfriend listed as a suggested friend of mine on Snapchat. I had never noticed it before so obviously someone (or she) was hacking my account to connect me to people she would be upset about so she could use it against me. Unreal. But I exposed a flaw in her argument. In quick defense, she called her daughter to explain the friending features of Snapchat. After that topic was through, she asked her daughter how her day was. This was the same daughter she just told me she just spent the past five hours with!

Over time, I was building confidence and planned to end the relationship. As you can imagine, this had the potential to be pretty messy, so I was trying to determine a way to manage it with as little friction as possible.

Then there was an incident that finally convinced me this needed to end immediately. Around our anniversary, I made surprise dinner plans and told her to meet me at this fictional alumni event. I asked her to text me as soon as she got out of class, so I had enough time to get to the restaurant and be ready. I knew it would take her at least 30 minutes to get there from where she was. Not ten minutes later, she told me she had arrived. Of course, I suspected something. Like many times before, it didn’t add up. I told her previously that when things happen that cause me to be skeptical, I would politely raise it with her. So, when I got to her, that is what I did. She instantly lost her cool and began to belittle me. I couldn’t get a word in. We fought for 3 hours in the car right outside the very restaurant where we had our first date and were about to celebrate our one-year anniversary. How sad!

Instead of a joyous evening, I took it on the chin like I had been for months. This time, however, I stood my ground more than I had in the past and mainly in the form of not reacting to her cruelty. Then (and I still can’t believe another human could say this), she told me that the only way I could make this night up to her was to prove to her that she was the most important person in my life by intentionally ruining my daughter’s upcoming 8th birthday. I heard this, started the car, and headed home. I was done.

She knew it, so she amped up the verbal abuse; the only methods she knew. She chose some of the most hurtful things you can say to someone. One of my adjacent apartments was vacant so I went there and locked myself in. I was becoming furious and had to escape the situation. She pounded on the door and screamed at me for what felt like hours. It started to get late and I was worried about the neighbors hearing the ruckus and calling the police, so I let her in. She got inches away from my face screaming atrocities at me. I looked away and didn’t say a word. I repeatedly asked her politely to leave. It just kept building. ‘I’ve wasted all this time on you.’ ‘You’re worthless.’ ‘I could have any other man.’ Then, suddenly, I snapped. I jumped out of the bed, and lunged at her.

Then, all in a split second, it just hit me. I was at my lowest possible point. I had lost myself. What the heck was I doing? I stopped myself in the act of getting physical and walked out of the house. This was the last time I ever saw her. I wandered around for the night crying and scared while I gathered my thoughts. When I finally returned to the house, I for some reason took notice of her luggage still in the back hall from a recent girls trip to Florida. I noticed the baggage tags said Texas. With that, I slammed the door shut!

It was a tricky couple of months managing who was using the house and when so we didn’t cross paths. I would stay in my vacant apartment or with friends or rent nearby. I didn’t care what it took, but I would do everything to never see her again. Communication was kept to matters involving her moving out. It was an incredibly difficult and emotional couple months.

I was a mess. I knew I was making the right decision but it didn’t change that fact that I was heartbroken. I had fallen in love with her. But even now knowing it was all a sham, that didn’t necessarily ease my pain. The love I felt was real. I was scared too. ‘What could someone as evil as this be capable of,’ I thought. Would she seek revenge? Was it really over? Will I be able to trust again? There were moments I felt like I would never recover.

It was tough to explain the breakup to my daughter, but I needed to start there. My daughter was sad when I told her, but I explained it truthfully in an age appropriate way. I said she wasn’t good to me and that’s all she needed to know. I apologized for causing her pain but explained that life will undoubtedly include difficult moments like these. I’m sure it affected my daughter in ways I don’t understand – and that fills me with guilt.

Damon D’Arienzo/@singledadmagic

What really helped me cope and heal was education. I will never forget the moment I read an online article titled ‘20 Signs That You Are Being Gaslighted.’ Wow. Every single one applied in my situation. I finally had my authentic epiphany where I realized it wasn’t my fault. I had become so out of touch with reality and was close to being convinced I just wasn’t a good person. This one article brought me back to my world. I then read as many articles and books on narcissists and sociopathic behavior as I could. This simple understanding returned so much peace and I am grateful for the plethora of literature and resources out there to help one’s recovery from something so emotionally devastating. I also attended a few Co-Dependents Anonymous meetings and received individual therapy which was restorative too.

But, ultimately, it was the self-learning that helped me the most. Once I better understood what it meant to be narcissistic, I was able to deal with my victimization more constructively and discover my own personal ways to heal and grow from this life changing experience. Empathy, compromise and rational behavior, I learned, are threats to the narcissist. I read their victims have the good qualities they emulate so I use that to find serenity. And, after all this, it finally made sense for why she uncaringly kept calling me a narcissist from the start of our relationship. It was her lying, cheating, and manipulating! She was deflecting the attention on her by preemptively accusing me of being who she actually was! Twisted.

Another thing I have come to understand about narcissists as part of my healing is that they are very effective at creating ‘desperate love.’ This feeling of not being able to go on without them in your life is incredibly powerful. These malevolent people twist everything you say and use crazy methods like gaslighting and ‘word salad’ to manipulate you and make you submissive. Why would I continue to be with someone that constantly made me feel like I was going insane? Well, I’ll tell you. Because outside of the abuse, she was everything I desired in a partner. I was manipulated to believe that these ‘hard times’ were just a tradeoff of having such intense love. She manufactured everything to appeal to my desires and prey on my insecurities.

Thankfully, I am out from under the cloud now and can truthfully say that with a clear conscience. I am a victim of psychological and emotional abuse at the hands of a vicious narcissist and I am not afraid to admit it. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone – women AND men. Even the happiest people can be manipulated into a dark place. Even the good and the strong can succumb to the cunningness of this evil.

There was a lot of destruction. This experience left me practically broken and dangerously separated from my values and dreams. I had become detached from my intuition and goodness. Finding the courage to break away from the relationship and overcome the pain was maybe the hardest thing I have had to do in my life.

I’ve taken care of me and I apologized to those I hurt through this experience. I have learned to securely love myself and truly believe in my virtue so I can prevent others from penetrating my core in predatory ways. I now realize that the love I both give and receive from my daughter, family and friends is the only reason I survived.

What I will need to consciously defend against in the future is being nervous and overly protective of my feelings, because that doesn’t work for love. For example, when will I stop thinking someone is spying on me? I’ve changed my passwords several times – but is that enough? Is this person still out there to get me? How can I trust after what I’ve endured? I try not to let it paralyze me. One day at a time, I have to remind myself. It’s likely going to be a healing process that never ends, but my hope is that this prepares me for a kind of love I wouldn’t have been able to achieve otherwise.”

Damon D’Arienzo/@singledadmagic

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Damon D’Arienzo of Massachusetts. You can follow his journey as a single father on his website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read Damon’s powerful backstory of becoming a single dad:

‘I had to leave, I had to be a single dad, to be a better father for my daughter.’: Single dad explains his relationship was ‘vulnerable, beyond repair,’ despite being determined to have a ‘strong co-parenting relationship’

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