“My mother had me when she was 18. My father, from what I understand, was an abusive alcoholic, despite only being 21. He would go on to commit suicide when I was only 3 months old by shooting himself in the head. Despite never knowing him, I yearned and continue to yearn for answers in which I will never, in my lifetime, achieve. My feelings of rejection, abandonment, and too many others to list certainly affected so much in my life and undeniably my relationships with men in general.
Needless to say, I have been in and out of relationships with losers my whole life. Well, from 16 on anyways. Real losers… drug addicts, abusive men, you get the idea. No matter how successful I was in life, I always gravitated towards the bad boys, maybe because I never felt I deserved better. That’s a whole another story.
Anyways, in 2011, I was in my mid-twenties and living independently with a great job and my own fabulous apartment in the city. After a series of failed relationships, like millions of others, I decided to give online dating a chance. I set out to find a meaningful and worthwhile relationship. After a few awful dates, I finally met my Prince Charming or so I thought.
Jack, we will call him, was, at that moment, the best thing to ever happen to me. Little did I know, he would be the worst second only to losing my dad and grandmother.
Jack was an average-looking man who happened to be a State Trooper. I had always loved the idea of a badge and the feeling of protection that came with it, so I was immediately attracted. We immediately clicked and fell in love. I was on cloud nine. We couldn’t get enough of each other. Jack was unlike any of the men I dated in the past and I was proud to say he was mine. He was a country boy and was the most ‘manly man’ I have ever dated. He was an avid hunter, owned a 4-wheeler, drank beers, enjoyed campfires, and even owned a tractor.
About 4 months into the relationship, I packed my things, took a chance, and moved with him to his home in the country in the middle of nowhere, about an hour and a half from the city. I was still working remotely at the time so I was able to seamlessly make this transition. Aside from the isolation of living in the country and his crazy family, I was happy — happier than I ever been, in fact. I was in love, had a nice home, and was really excelling at work, winning awards and setting records within my company. Everything was perfect.
Three plus years into the relationship on the sandy beach of Cozumel, Mexico, Jack got down on one knee with a two-plus-carat princess diamond ring and asked me to marry him. Without hesitation and through my tears of happiness, my answer was YES! I immediately called my parents. They already knew. He went so far to ask my stepfather for permission, a grand gesture indeed. Upon returning home, the wedding planning started. Eventually, we decided on a destination wedding. Only close friends and family would be invited. Small, intimate and in paradise, right up our alley I couldn’t wait.
I spent countless hours planning the wedding and eventually hired a wedding planner. My stepfather was very generous and gave me a substantial amount of money to help with the costs. I spent thousands of nonrefundable dollars on this destination wedding. Throughout the process, one of the things I enjoyed doing was designing wedding invitations. I decided on a passport theme. It took hours finding the right pictures, font, colors, and I finally made the one we both loved. I hired a woman in New Jersey to print the invitations and she did a fabulous job. They took weeks to arrive and I was ecstatic to see the beautiful end result. The invitations looked AMAZING. I was so in love and I could not wait to get them out. This was it. No turning back!
On a cold Saturday morning in February of 2016 (right before Valentine’s Day, ironically enough), I sat in our home office making address labels for these custom invitations I had poured my heart, energy, and money into. We had just gotten back from a business trip on which Jack accompanied me. We had the best time socializing with my business acquaintances and painted the town red.
That morning, Jack was in the city, as he had taken his father to a very important doctor’s appointment regarding his Parkinson’s diagnosis. The house was quiet, snow-covered the ground, and I had a lot of work to do with labels. Jack and I had always had an open book relationship, or so I thought. We knew each other’s passwords for absolutely everything, from email to credit card accounts even each other’s SS numbers. Not once in the time we were together had I ever logged into anything of his. I never thought I had a reason to. Our relationship was secure. I was secure.
As I sat there doing the tedious task of making the labels for our wedding invitations on that snowy Saturday morning, I noticed his email was open. This was not uncommon. It was always right there and mine was too. To this day, I am still not sure what made me click on his open email or more specifically, his trash in his email. In any regard, I refer to it as some sort of divine intervention. I like to think it was my grandma looking down, trying to save me from what would be the worst mistake of my life. The truth is, I will never know or be able to explain it. Without reason, I clicked on it that day and what I saw would change the course of my life.
I will never be able to fully explain how I felt or what went through my head when I discovered what I found in his email that day and what it did to me emotionally. I found photos of him in women’s clothing with other men in women’s clothing in flamboyant gay clubs. In these photos, my ‘manly man’ had on a wig, earrings, heels, clip-on earrings — the whole kit and caboodle. As one could imagine, I was floored… I could NOT believe my eyes. My heart and trust were immediately broken, to say the least.
How could I have missed this? I really beat myself up. I traveled a bit for work but not once in our 4 years did I suspect anything like this, and I consider myself a pretty smart individual with a keen sense for BS. As one could imagine, I was devastated at this but also wanted to know what else he could be hiding. Let me be clear, as I have plenty of LGBT friends, it wasn’t the fact he was doing this. It was the fact he was doing it unbeknownst to me and going through extreme measures to hide it. Something like this should be disclosed to someone you are about to marry. This was the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
Through all of this, I also learned he had multiple affairs with multiple women and men. I found decoy emails, phone numbers. I found a few of his craigslist ads, his KIK conversations, back page ads — the list goes on and on. One in particular sticks out to this day and still is the most confusing out of all of the scenarios to me. I found out he cheated on me with a woman off of the internet, not even two weeks after proposing to me. He lied to her based on the conversation I read about his profession, his whereabouts, and even his name! Needless to say, I saw and learned enough about my ‘future husband.’
Upon confronting him, he continued to deny it, despite the pictures and conversations in my hand. He actually wanted us to work it out. Naturally, I refused. He never offered any explanation but more importantly, he never offered an apology. Our love story turned into a horror story within a matter of seconds, certainly worthy of a story on the ID channel.
As any sane person would do, I immediately called off the wedding. I have never been so devastated in my whole life, up until that point, anyway. Going through the process of canceling a booked wedding was exhausting and costly but having to explain to my friends, family, and coworkers over and over again was not only beyond exhausting. It was humiliating, to say the least. I felt our close family and friends deserved an explanation and I was brutally honest. That being said, the worst part of all was seeing my mother and stepfather’s grief. They loved him like a son, my dad (now deceased) actually cried. He died before he could see me get married, walk me down the aisle, and dance with me. Jack robbed us of that.
I moved my things out of his house immediately, in the dead of winter, snow on the ground, and in an absolute, sloppy hurry. My entire life went into a storage unit and I moved in with my mother until I figured out my next move. Irreplaceable things were damaged that day, including my soul. What followed was weeks of not eating (I lost 40 pounds in 2 months), borderline abuse of prescription pills, absence from work, a shingles outbreak, costly psychiatrist visits, and a diagnosis of severe depression and PTSD. I cannot even get life insurance now because of what this did to me mentally. There are moments of my life during this time my mind has literally blocked from my memory because of the trauma.
A couple of months later, I got my own apartment in the city and began to rebuild my life as best as I could. Within weeks, I began dating again. Through all the pain and heartache and essentially having my life turned upside down, I was willing to try anything (within reason) to take my mind off of what had happened. I went on some dates with some really nice guys, but the dates usually ended with me drinking too much and crying. I quickly learned most men aren’t into that, but I really didn’t care.
One night, I decided I would go out with a random man after chatting for a few days. My main motivation at that point boredom and loneliness. I agreed to meet him at a pub about a mile from my new apartment. The pub was crowded, relatively small, and loud. I have never been there or knew it existed. We proceeded to sit at the bar to have a drink and order some food.
The date was absolutely dreadful. He was very arrogant and was also openly texting other women the entire time. He even Facetimed one while I was next to him. I didn’t care. I ordered another drink. Clearly, there was no match and he suggested we leave. He offered to drive me home and I declined, telling him I would take an Uber. My night wasn’t over, as I didn’t want to return home to my cold, lonely apartment.
I continued to drink my gin and tonic when I noticed beside me was this older man with a strange, yet sophisticated hat laying in front of him on the bar. Of course, after one too many, I asked him if I could try on his hat and take a selfie. He had no other option, as I grabbed the hat, put it on, and proceeded to take drunk selfies. He didn’t mind. He thought I was cute, he would later tell me. Upon conversating, I did happen to notice he had the most beautiful and kind eyes I had ever seen and an amazing sense of humor. Turns out, that man’s name is Jerry.
That night was one of the best nights of my life. I will never forget it. It was a few months after my heartbreak and the first time I believe someone actually made me laugh, truly laugh — so hard I cried, in a good way for the first time in a long time. We left the pub at closing time together and danced together in the streets while snow fell all around us like we were in a snow globe. It was very cinematic.
What followed was nothing easy for Jerry, to say the least. I was not an easy person to love and still am not, at times. I am the first to admit it. He has seen me cry more than anyone should ever see anyone cry and has seen me at my absolute worst. Yet, he has never faltered. He built me back up from the ground and has supported me, stuck by me more than anyone ever has, and loves me unconditionally. We have certainly been through a lot in our time together, good and bad.
This year, we will celebrate our 5-year anniversary. While the years haven’t been easy, they have been worth it, and we have the greatest gift ever to show from our love: our daughter, Reagan. During this time, I have learned what true love means. Jerry is true love in the purest form. Our daughter just turned 3. I am happy to say when we have an occasional date night, we walk a block from our house to that little pub, sit in the same seats we met in, and make a toast to how far we have come and what the future holds. Cheers.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ashley Smith. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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