‘When we got engaged, he didn’t get down on one knee. There was no grand gesture. He just handed me a ring in the car without saying a word. ‘I wish to God I never met you.’

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“I met a man while going through a very vulnerable time in my life. I no longer wonder if he sensed my insecurity despite my efforts to outwardly project a self-sufficient, confident person. I don’t question whether my self-doubt or my own unrealistic idealized romantic fantasies somehow played a role in ‘our’ story. And, how it all unfolded.

It did.

This charming, seemingly sensitive man hid a rare and severe mental health diagnosis from me: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He came into my life without a warning label. He jested once that his ex-wife said he should come with one. She was and is correct. Full-disclosure and advanced notice to others of the push-pull misery they’ll endure if they choose to let him in should be a common courtesy.

In retrospect, I see how I became easy prey. How my innate nature sent a beacon into the sky alerting him to my exact location. Here I am. The missing component you need to maintain your existence: a supply; a new source for your ego.

I was a mere object. Similar to a patina chair he found at the flea market. I sparked instant joy and desire. He created a special nook for me. Rearranged all of his other belongings. They suddenly became meaningless. I was put on display. I was idolized intensely until he decided it was time to redecorate his life yet again. Part of me always wondered how it was so easy for him to discard everything and everyone else. I ignored the red flags.

I imagine coming home late at night, after he saw one of his girlfriends, he thought, ‘How could I have ever liked that chair?’ I eventually was discarded to the street. Someone else could take me. Once the novelty wore off, he just wanted me out of his sight.

He slowly took back everything he fictitiously gave in the beginning. Like sand through the hourglass, nothing could stop the loss until I realized I was alone on the other side of the apexes.

In our last conversation I asked permission to enter ‘his’ room. He exclaimed he never felt comfortable at the house. The house I found after he complained our last apartment was too small for him to feel welcomed. He continued to blame me for why he did not respect me, care about me, or love me despite modifications to my own behavior. He continues to search for that one object that makes him feel like he’s home. His search will never end. Nor will the psychological damage he does to people that let him into their safe haven because he chooses to ignore his personality disorder.

The reality that I was an object is something I have difficulty processing. I harbor resentment, and confusion. Yet, I continue to feel empathy for his childhood. Sorrow for his adult struggles. Worry for his financial problems. My mind can’t rest. It senselessly tries to organize the memories and place the glimmers of positive behavior and intimate moments into the unfinished jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces don’t fit. Others are missing. I need to finish putting it together. Yet, it will never be done.

Am I a bad person if I abandon him? Doesn’t the narcissist deserve, at least, on a human level, someone that will love him unconditionally, too? Did my childhood or Christian upbringing make me want to always see the good in people? My mind knows the answers, but my heart is a terribly strong opponent. The two continue battle over the subject. There may never be one victor.

Young, attorney, actor, dancer, small business owner, attractive, advanced degrees, world-traveler, writer- my list of accolades. That list began the cat and mouse game for the narcissist. It is impressive to others. Coupling with a narcissist seemingly functions as long as you remain that one-dimensional resume. Never want. Never communicate. Never grow. Never question. Never want anything in return. Always be giving. Don’t show or possess any flaws. What you are in the beginning, all of the things, traits, words, fantasies, that is all you are and ever will be. So long as the ‘N’ let’s you in his life. He’ll stick around so long as it’s fresh and new. He’ll shower you with affection as long as people are still reacting to his conquest. It all fills his ego.

Your achievements are what he uses to make himself appear grander. My partner is ‘x, y, and z.’ This partner is so much superior to my last one. But there will always be something better that comes along. The mere fact he ‘upgraded’ to you was a source of supply to boast his ego. The upgrading never stops. And, he might want his cake and eat it, too. A realization I discovered only after stepping back from the ‘monogamy.’

So, how did I get here?

I wasn’t happy with my job. I was open to change. I wanted to move to another city and had secured a great job offer. I was ready for a new chapter and to live a greater, fuller life. I was emotionally drained in my line of work, which requires me to ‘give’ to others for a living. Nothing was getting put back into my cup. I felt exhausted.

Out of nowhere, this seemingly wonderful man appeared just in the nick of time. I felt I manifested what I was waiting for my whole life. Just as I was leaving town, my soul mate crossed my path to stop me from making a terrible mistake. What if we had never met?! His attentive brown eyes and quick wit convinced me to stay in the town I had wanted to leave since I arrived. Everyone seemed to love him. He opened up so quickly. I would be a fool to leave. We had everything in common. My interests were his interests. My friends were his friends. My enemies were his enemies. I was love bombed. I know now he was and is incapable of actual love.

I felt we connected on a pure, organic level. He was much older. Not exactly ‘my type.’ In photographs, we were an oddly matched pair. But everyone assumed it was true love. ‘I couldn’t imagine two nicer people finding each other,’ someone said. ‘You two remind me that true love is actually possible,’ said another.

In just a few short weeks, he became my knight in shining armor, my protector, and my partner in crime. I thought he was so giving. He made me smile. And, not that ‘pose for the camera’ type smile – a genuine, big teeth smile. Flowers were delivered on my doorstep. He took me to dinners. He was someone I just wanted to be around. I have to remind myself I was the only one in the relationship. He wasn’t real. Every day was an adventure, but not our adventure. It was a show for everyone else. Not mutual love, but lust he confused for romantic love. Narcissists are incapable of love. So, I’ve learned.

What a wonderful life I had to look forward to. What a wonderful life I thought I was living.

When we got engaged, he didn’t get down on one knee. There was no grand gesture. He just handed me a ring in the car without saying a word. I interpreted that the ring was a promise. A commitment. I knew how we felt about each other.

We eloped. We didn’t move when we came back as we had discussed. We stayed in the same town. There were unexpected pauses on my dreams to pursue others, which I thought we were building together. After spending the entire day together, I’d close my eyes and see him standing in my dreams again. It still felt like the right decision even though daily I was giving up pieces of myself.

I had plans to change my last name. What a priceless gift from marriage- someone’s family name and all the history that came before you. Right after we got back from our honeymoon, I began to notice a change. ‘If we get along next week, I’ll file the paperwork in our county,’ I said to myself. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Nearly two years went by. I never changed my name.

In the beginning, we always wanted five more minutes together. In the end, I was lucky if I got five minutes at all. Or, if we go be around each other five minutes without getting in a fight. The last fight was over me using his car gas.

My level of importance began to plummet in the months that followed. Major life events came and kept on coming with no respite for recuperation. I faced them alone with an occasional special appearance by my husband to keep up the facade of support. Instead of tragedies bringing us closer together, these events began to tear us apart. I started to have flaws for showing emotions. I expressed my devotion but could not keep my standing. I was trying to climb in a landslide. A cycle ensued where the stress of it all made him cancel plans more often than they were kept.

I began to make excuses for his empty seat at the table. I would tell friends he was working late. I got through these days living off of hope and distant happy memories. Slowly, my vibrant life began to wither as I starved daily for love and affection. Everyday became lonelier and harder. Married, but constantly alone. And, like all relationships, I was also at fault. I carry blame for some of our growing pains and the distance that developed over time. But I tried to make changes to mend those faults. I was the only one doing the work. In a normal relationship, my changes would have kept us together. This was not a normal relationship.

To that amazingly bright and sparkling man that I said ‘I do’ to and truly meant it when I did, ‘How did we get here? I’d want to hug him and say, ‘Let’s just stop. Why can’t we just love like we used to? And, spend time together. Put in some effort to keep us growing. I love you. This is rare and sacred.’

I vowed to love each version of my husband, whoever he became. The priest’s face changed in admiration when I uttered those vows. To always support him even if it was us against the world. I meant it. The words fell on my fiancé’s deaf ears.

I was in the dark. I trusted fully and completely. He made a conscious decision to avoid mental health services. Seek out other women for attention before and during our union. Got intimate in someone else’s bed. He entered contracts and made financial decisions without my consent. And, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Yet, the all too common behavior of a narcissist.

As time passed, my successes weren’t celebrated. If my flame was brighter, it sparked jealously. I’m not sure when my wins ignited a need for competition. Where the tinder came from. Why we both couldn’t be champions in our own vein. Instead of lifting me up, he stood on my shoulders. And, blamed me if I didn’t get him high enough to enjoy the view. The weight became unbearable. I had given too much of myself too early. And, then the ridicule and verbal abuse grew in frequency.

Things I enjoyed or that made me happy became an easy put down. Things I did keep my lonely heart occupied we’re ‘childish’ wastes of time. Sharing my life became a reason to pull away. He disliked everything I did.

We both took up writing and became published authors. Words on paper became more important than words to each other. We shared our thoughts with the world. Got our affection from the strangers. Replaced the partnership with online followers.

The real problems started when it stopped being a marriage between two people. Involving a friend here during a spat. Seeking a relative’s place to stay for a few days there. A co-worker’s confirmation of who was at fault. Emotional affairs. Shaming. Family discord. Outside influences by his invitation broke the sanctity that was once husband and wife.

I thought, ‘When did it became O.K. to be the only one participating in this ‘in name only’ marriage?

I had a vision of my grown-up life. How freeing it would be. When I grew up, I’d never experience a ‘time-out’ as punishment. Withholding everything from time to affection became a form of punishment. When a romantic partner loves you less than you love them and, more importantly, routinely forgets that they love you when they’re mad, that love becomes conditional. Conditional on you not wanting more than you’re given. Love conditional on not voicing your opinions and conditional on doing or not doing something. There was no limit on the time-outs. And, they could not be predicted. The time just passed endlessly.

A narcissist’s conditional love is based on only you changing. Love is used as a reward. And, it is taking it away as a punishment.

All that remained was hope for a very long time. Hope of getting through the week to the weekend to make new memories. That hope was crushed with slammed doors and car engines. Leaving became the only reliable thing he did. In that moment, I’m not a person to this man. The man doesn’t view this as his home or family. Every sweet thing or sacrifice or happy memory fades as the red takes over his vision. As always, I comfort myself. Alone. He always came back.

Everything wrong in his life was my fault. Pick a life stress and I’m the cancer eating away at his flesh. I was to blame for his health, his weight, his lack of sleep, and his debt. I’m constantly put in ‘time-out’ when he leaves for what I’ve done to his life. He doesn’t need me the way I need him.

For me, I love unconditionally. I did not know there was conditional love before this toxic relationship. I started to give up more of my self-worth and myself so a one-sided relationship could function with dysfunction.

Yet, I continue to hold space for him. How easy life must be for someone who can turn off and on devotion as well as basic respect. And, how easy it must be to choose to love conditionally. To know you lack empathy and to continue to bring people into your chaos with no regard because it makes you feel better.

When the photos together stopped, eventually I began to delete the past. With each photo I removed from frames or deleted from social media, I regrettably felt more love than anger. Every time overwhelming sadness to have attend yet another funeral. An endless cycle of grief for that memory of those two people who did not exist anymore. A death I’ve embodied time and time again.

I felt the universe would manifest events to bring us back together when we are in fights. Litmus tests to see if he was still my family – flat tire; getting laid off; death; a sprained ankle; or a broken wall heater. Maybe those events where really the universe’s way to highlight he wasn’t there. I was not living a shared life. I was on my own. I lived in a coma, a twilight state where I was aware, but not conscious, waiting for those moments in hope. And, when he did show up, the security was back. The pain was numbed temporarily. But, when you’re loved conditionally, it’s only a matter of time until you do or say or want something that makes him say ‘I never want to see you the rest of my life.’ Or, ‘I wish to God I never met you.’ I learned to wear shoes because of the broken glass.

The whole point of marriage is to want to see each other the rest of your life. To be there for the person that loves you unconditionally in the same way that you love them. Their behavior should remind you to be better. Marriage should not be a tallied list of wrongs or a show for the outside world. Why did I spend three years of my life with this person? I don’t have the answer. I continue to love this person despite knowing they’ll never love anyone, let alone me, because they cannot love themselves. Only now I know they are incapable of it. I dislike their behavior and conscious choice to pursue others and not seek mental health services. My love was great for this man.

But love shouldn’t hurt.”

Courtesy Lindsay Peak

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lindsay Peak of California. Follow her journey on Instagram here.  Do you have a similar experience? Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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