As I explained in my last post, I finally have complete psychological freedom from E. If this were a movie, I’d have left him in a darkened forest, surrounded by gnarly old trees, twisting vines and grasping roots and, goblin like, he’d be shouting at my disappearing form that he’s still important, still relevant, can still make me hurt, whilst I’m striding boldly towards a golden sunrise, the leaves, roots and vines that entangled me in the forest left in a trail behind me, and smiling at the potential the future now holds.
It’s like E was a bad dream but now I’m awake and happy for the day ahead.
But something else has come hand in hand with this awakening. I’ve finally understood something, something so obvious that’s been staring me on the face for years. But finally seeing it has made my freedom taste so much sweeter.
Bear with me on this, but what I’ve finally realised is that E is just a really nasty person.
Now, I know I probably should have sussed this at least 15 years ago when I found out about the first affair, or at some point between then and now – I wasn’t short of clues after all – but I genuinely hadn’t actually considered this as a possibility before.
Don’t get me wrong. I knew the things he was doing were really fucking horrible. I knew that the way he acted towards the kids and I was truly terrible. I could see that he was spoilt, egotistical and monumentally selfish. I knew that things that he’d said about friends, family and colleagues that trusted him were unpleasant and out of order. I understood that the way he behaved was not how someone decent should behave. But I always put it down to the circumstances at the time. I saw it as the action not the person. I didn’t think anyone could really be fundamentally ‘bad.’ So it never occurred to me that he did what he did because he was just an irredeemably awful human being.
Oldest Son, of course, understood this long before me. That summer day in 2020, when he told me just how bad his mental health struggle was, and I tried to reassure him that his dad loved him, he said something along the lines of: ‘you keep saying that, but he knew what he was doing to us, to his kids, and you can’t do that without an ill intent’. Oldest Son could clearly see what I was unable to even begin to comprehend. The reasons for E’s actions were irrelevant, the behaviour itself, and the consequences of it, were what mattered and should provide the lens through which he should be viewed.
I’ve realised that, in the six years since asking him to leave (and, if I’m honest, probably the whole 25 years of our relationship), my tendency to try and see the best in people has meant I’ve been making excuses for E. I’ve inadvertently vindicated his behaviour and even assumed the responsibility and guilt for it. For example, I genuinely thought that he withheld child maintenance for a year and defaulted on the mortgage because he was financially desperate and needed to sell the house that (in his view) I was stalling on selling. Obviously, the consequences of that were terrible for the kids, but I didn’t think that was his intention. I thought (and I am partially right on this), that the only person he was thinking of was himself, that he was trying to hurt me and that he didn’t consider the way this would impact on the kids. Of course this was mostly complete and utter rubbish. As Oldest Son pointed out – of course he knew how this would affect his kids. He knew, but he didn’t care. He did what he did because he’s despicable.
I appreciate that it’s taken me an exceptionally long time to realise this, and, as someone who likes to think of herself as intelligent, I must admit to being slightly mortified at how long it took, but, in my defence, I think I’d probably been being manipulated for years.
For over 30 years, I shouldered a huge amount, possibly all, of the responsibility for our relationship. I don’t think E ever made much effort. When the relationship failed, I thought it was my fault. I believed he’d had affairs because something was wrong with the relationship and that those things were my fault. I didn’t ever excuse the affairs themselves (I’m not completely mad), but I did think that they’d happened because I’d not been enough, because I’d done something wrong, because I’d failed to make him happy. I felt that if I’d done things better, been better, none it would have happened.
This, of course, was his narrative. His version of events. In the tale he tells of us, I’m always the bad guy. I’m the obdurate, inconsiderate, woman blind to his needs when in the relationship and the crazy, demanding, spiteful ex when out of it.
This, I know now, is the classic narrative of the narcissist. Since I started this blog, so many people have made this connection, and whilst I understood what they meant, I didn’t see the extent to which I’d been manipulated into blaming myself, so I didn’t think that it applied to me. Now the scales have fallen from my eyes, I’m rather embarrassed that it took me so long.
The last connection I have (reluctantly) made is one that my kids made long ago. If he doesn’t love and care for his kids now, then, well, it’s obvious what he didn’t feel before. This is an awful thing for the kids to come to terms with, but it makes his choice to not see them at all for over two, almost three, years make grim sense.
In fact, so much more makes sense now I’ve accepted that E was the same person when he was in a relationship with me as he has been since he has split up with me. If he’s not a nice person now, he wasn’t a nice person then. If he gaslit me when the relationship ship ended, that’s exactly what he was doing during the relationship itself.
It’s funny, now I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it, and I can’t believe how long it took me to spot it. I spent a lot of time frustrated and hurt at how unfair and unkind E was and hoping for some kind of ‘justice’ or a fair ending. I’ve read too many books, watched too many films, where the protagonist gets a just reward, or where the antagonist either realises the error of their ways, or receives a suitable punishment. Of course that will never happen, and I’m ok with that. I’ve always known that E will never change, but finally losing my misconception of him as fundamentally decent has completely changed my understanding of what he’s not changing from. He is what he is and (aside from supporting the kids when they’re hurt by him), he’s not my problem anymore.
So, I’ll keep striding towards that sunrise, trailing the misconceptions that bound me, secure in my new knowledge that E can’t hurt me, or manipulate me ever again, that he can do nothing to affect me or my life. He can stay in the darkness of the forest, with the goblins, where he belongs, whilst I feel the new morning sun on my face.