Can you help me understand my break-up?
March 12, 2014 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me understand the dynamics of my breakup?

I am 32 and was recently broken up with by my 46 year old boyfriend. I have moved to a foreign country to be with him, and suddenly not having him as my partner anymore is truly messing with my mind. I'm also in a financial limbo now that we are no longer together, so that is very stressful. He was quite controlling, and in the weeks leading up to our split he seemed to be extremely concerned with my weight and food.

As a person who has had a long history of an eating disorder it feels really really strange to have someone try and control me in that way, and part of me feels like if I could have managed to not gain any weight that he would have loved me. A few weeks before our break up he started complaining about me eating peanut butter, he also didn't like if I ate cream cheese, and he started commenting that my portions were too big, or my smoothies too big.

I find this so baffling because I have gained some weight- maybe 6 pounds... I am 5'4 and weigh between 115-122 pounds. My clothes still fit just fine. I look really good. I have a very nice body. I got mad at him and asked him to stop trying to control my food...

He was also controlling in other ways, he wanted my hair to be styled a certain way, for me to wear heels all the time. Everything had to be done his way, he wanted no sticky spots on the cutting board, for the toothpaste to always be up straight, so many things. He always wanted to go to his parents house for the weekend and would get mad at me if I preferred to spend the night at home, even though I tried to compromise and say I would spend the night every other weekend. And we were due to move to a farm (no animals) in the near future and he challenged ALL of my ideas about furniture. When I expressed concern that I would be isolated on the farm and unable to keep my job, he got really upset at me and said that I was "being negative" and then that he wouldn't have gotten upset if I had phrased it in a positive way. But I remember so clearly that I had said it calmly and neutrally, and I told him that partners need to be able to share their concerns with one another. I started to feel like everything was on his terms. He wouldn't communicate with me about his plans, and I always felt like I was dripfed information that normal adults living together would share naturally. But I thought that he might have aspergers and just didn't know what he was acting like. But part of me feels like there were elements of abuse.

My friends say that he just wants a cardboard girlfriend or a barbie doll that does whatever he says and that because I stood up for myself I was too much trouble for him.

I still miss him a lot and yesterday I just wept at the train station because I suddenly felt so abandoned...

Our final split was because I wanted him to get in touch when we were apart. I felt like he was asking sooooooo much of me, expecting me to do all the work, and I was angry that he wouldn't do the simple things that I needed. He decided that the fact that he didn't want to do those things meant that he didn't love me and he also felt the spark wasn't strong enough. I feel like he ruined the spark through completely going through every single one of my flaws with a magnifying glass and stripping me of a voice.

I'd like to understand the dynamic more so that I can really internalize that this is for the best and stop wishing that he would come back. I know that a lot of his behavior was WRONG. But I don't understand it. I don't understand why he would choose to sabotage me. How could he ever stay in love with me if he was super focused on everything that was wrong with me? Can you all share your wisdom with me? Personal anecdotes from anyone who has been through something similar? Can you explain why moving to an isolated farm with someone like that would have been devastating? And what is going on with a person who acts like this?

I realize this is poorly written! I'm just overwhelmed at the moment.
posted by misspony to Human Relations (46 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Your friends are right. The dynamic is that this guy's a jerk. Try not to waste too much of your life thinking over precisely why and how he's a jerk -- but you might like to spend some time thinking about how to spot the signs and get out earlier if you find yourself meeting similar people.

Can you explain why moving to an isolated farm with someone like that would have been devastating?

Because it sounds like the setup for a horror movie.
posted by asperity at 11:20 AM on March 12, 2014 [25 favorites]

sounds like you were in a relationship with an abusive man.
posted by zdravo at 11:21 AM on March 12, 2014 [38 favorites]

Oh, honey, go back and read what you just wrote, and pretend your sister or best friend wrote it. You'd tell her what I will tell you: This is the best thing that ever happened to you. He sounds like an awful person - controlling and manipulative - and you are going to be so much better off without him. I realize it doesn't feel like that now.

Can you go home, or back to where you lived before you moved to be with him? Not necessarily as a permanent move, but to give yourself some time and space while your emotions are so raw. Ask for help from the people who love you. But don't look back. No regrets, but no nostalgia either.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 11:22 AM on March 12, 2014 [11 favorites]

I don't understand why he would choose to sabotage me.

Because that's just what some people do.

I just had a situation where a guy totally effed with my head over a long period and then said "oh, by the way, I got married two weeks ago." People suck in this world. Lots of people. I'm so sorry.
posted by Melismata at 11:23 AM on March 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Holy crap. This guy did you a favor breaking up with you.

It sounds like your friends are are right: he wanted a cardboard cutout of a girlfriend and you were too much your own human being for him to handle.
posted by adamrice at 11:23 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

This type of behavior is so common that there are tons of websites listing red flags for it.

You can analyze why all day long, but people like this don't change, in fact, if you do what they want they find other things wrong with you until you have no self esteem and question your every thought or decision.

You should feel lucky that you got away from this guy before he got you isolated from the rest of the world and before things possibly turned to physical abuse, because that's the pattern.

If he ever comes back and apologizes, do yourself a huge favor and tell him to get lost. And next time someone tells you not to eat peanut butter and to wear high heels, put on your sneakers and RUN!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:25 AM on March 12, 2014 [7 favorites]

This sounds just like Leslie Morgan's story of how she entered an abusive relationship.
posted by Sophont at 11:25 AM on March 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

No joke, you just avoided a potential lifetime of hell.

There are many more qualified than I to talk about exactly how this is abuse, and how it mirrors a lot of unfortunate experiences of women world over. In a nutshell, though, his abusive behavior was about controlling you and not allowing you autonomy, nor equal standing in the relationship. He tried to coerce behavior in order to have power and control over you.

It is not a rare thing for those who are victimized to feel guilty somehow, or wondering what they could have done differently. Often, this is a combination of 1) personal history of someone where they were raised or made to think they were responsible for someone else's behavior (this is never true, by the way); and 2) this is simply what abusive behavior does to our psyche after awhile. It's part of the design of it. So although it feels pressing and important on you, you can shed yourself of it like a garment without guilt.

This is all difficult of course and emotionally complex to come to terms with, so please take good care of yourself and surround yourself with people who can support you, including a counselor, if you can. Can you go back home to a support group?
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:32 AM on March 12, 2014 [14 favorites]

Your boyfriend was CRAZY. I can't help you understand why he did what he did because he was an insane control freak.

You will be so much better off without that insanity in your life. Find a nice person like yourself, who WANTS to meet your needs and treats you like a human being, and you'll live an infinitely better life.
posted by cnc at 11:32 AM on March 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd like to understand the dynamic more so that I can really internalize that this is for the best and stop wishing that he would come back. I know that a lot of his behavior was WRONG. But I don't understand it. I don't understand why he would choose to sabotage me. How could he ever stay in love with me if he was super focused on everything that was wrong with me?

I know you know he's a jerk. And that you are better off without him. You have to remember that he is doing or saying all those things because he is a control-freak. There is no point at which you would do everything perfectly for him, no amount of weight you could have lost, no ideal arrangement of all the household objects. He would STILL find something to criticize you for, because he has an overwhelming need to try and control things in his life.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 11:33 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

To answer the moving question: I've chosen to stay here because I have a job and supportive network of friends.... I haven't lived in my original home in 8 years, and the job market in my last home country is terrible- it took me 8 months to find my last job. I would be sofa surfing there, and that just sounds awful! So here I am :-)
posted by misspony at 11:37 AM on March 12, 2014

Ugh. I don't know why he would choose to sabotage you, there are dozens of reasons people do this sort of thing. I do know that none of those reasons have anything to do with you, your looks, personality or anything else about you. It is all about him. He is a butthead. We don't know why but it doesn't matter because nothing excuses this type of behavior. This is not just being an inconsiderate butthead who forgets your birthday or forgets to call when he is going to be late getting home. This is the big time, world class, potentially dangerous type of butthead. You could change in every way he asked and he would still find another thing to be a butthead about. The only thing you can do to make this situation be right for you is not be in it. Unfortunately, understanding him is probably not in the cards. I am guessing you would never treat someone this way - it is going to be impossible for you to see this from his perspective for this reason.

Moving to an isolated farm with someone like that would be devasating because it would make it even easier for him to demand more and more control and even harder for you to remove yourself from the situation once it became too much.
posted by domino at 11:38 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's no dynamic to understand, except to recognize crazy controlling behavior when you see it. And when you recognize it, remove yourself from the situation -- which is just what you did. You did the right thing, don't beat yourself up for it or try to figure out what's wrong with YOU. There's nothing wrong with you.

Isolating you from the rest of the world would make it more difficult for you to interact with others and get a reality check on his behavior.
posted by chowflap at 11:41 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

There are some terrible people in the world, and this guy sounds like one of them. He is a narcisist, and I'll go out on a limb and suggest that he may, in fact ,have NPD.

Read the diagnostic information and see if any of it is ringing any bells for you.

As the daughter of a narcisistic mother, I can tell you that the constant inability to meet impossible standards, the micro-management of food intake and appearance and the incredible need to control me...made want to please her more, and drove me right the fuck out of the house.

It's a very complex relationship and it sounds like you were in it for a LONG time.

I recommend counseling for a lot of people, but damn, a lot of us need it. So go to counseling, you may even find a counselor who specializes in eating disorders. Maybe even a group. You'll find that you are not alone.

Ultimately what you need to know is that you are 100% perfect and don't need to change a bit, not for this guy, or for anyone. The other thing you need to know is that there was never a way to please this man. Nothing you ever did would have been good enough.

So take some time to yourself, mourn the loss of your relationship. When you're ready, you'll see that this is such a blessing. You're just not there now.

To protect yourself, change your phone number, get off of social media (or block it like crazy) and move somewhere, either to your own small space or to a roommate situation.

What needs to happen is that this man is never able to contact you again.

He is not healthy, he is sick, and he is trying to make you sick too. I'm afraid that he infected you. The good news is, there is a cure.

Take good care of yourself!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:51 AM on March 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

If you research terms like "controlling behavior" and "emotional abuse" and "red flags for abusive relationships" you will see this pattern echoed over and over. Control + isolation in the context of a sometimes loving romantic relationship is a common pattern, so common that you'll see it presented over and over. He wasn't all that unusual, this is just a broken switchboard that some people have - quite a lot of them - and now that you know the signs you'll stay away from it.

This breakup is a reason to celebrate. You got out before he isolated you or broke down your self esteem or actually started hitting you. You have a job, your friends, you know you look good, and you know wrong behavior when you see it. Go have a drink with your friends and have dessert.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:51 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Can you all share your wisdom with me?
Not a day goes by that I regret the time I spent with my ex who was very, very similar to your ex. Very similar. Uncannily and eerily similar. I've just finally started being really truly honest about all the things that happened to me while I was with him, things that I hid not just from my friends and my therapist but things I hid from myself. I didn't want to really face the actual reality of the abuse so even when characterizing the way he treated me I would say things like "oh he liked me to wear tight clothes" and "my weight was very important to him" but now, 1.5 years out, I can say stuff like, "Yeah, he forcibly shoved my face up against a mirror and threatened to kill me when I calmly told him that I was worried about moving, because he was traveling when the move would occur and I didn't think that I could do all the work myself."

So, there was a point in the relationship with my abuser where he actually dumped me, before the mirror, before most of the actual day-to-day awful horror of the abuse started really happening. He left me because I went on vacation with a girlfriend of mine, and when I was gone, he tried to have sex with his ex-wife, and he told me, and I told him how hurt I was. His response was to go buy a shotgun, threaten to kill himself, and then break up with me.

And oh, I begged for him to come back. And he did. And that's when it really got abusive, and because I felt so responsible for the shotgun incident, because I felt so awful about myself, because I thought all of it was my fault? I sat down and didn't fight anymore. I just let him abuse me from then on, and it got incredibly ugly.

So I guess what I am trying to say to you is this: he may have broken up with you partially in order to show you how much control he exerts over you. And if that is the case, he might want you back. Do not, do not, do not go back. Take it from a woman who did go back.

So, now, where to go from here. You're not going back, but you still have to heal and move on and grieve, because this kind of thing is just so, so sad.

My wisdom for the aftermath of abuse is this:
- Take care of yourself. Do things that are soothing that you love. Hot baths, comforting books, warm tea, ice cream, spend time with friends... do things that nurture you and help you feel calm and safe
- Call a women's shelter and see if they have support groups for women who were in controlling/abusive relationships
- Read some books about abuse. Lundy Bancroft is fantastic. Patricia Evans.
- Try to get some therapy so that you can work through some of these things with someone you trust who is objective.
- Keep busy. Try to find hobbies or activities or social things to do. Make yourself do them. Force yourself to get out and to distract yourself from thinking about your ex.
- Volunteer somewhere. Help other people. That helps me a LOT.
- Get a pet if you can because a pet is a source of unconditional love and appreciation and you deserve both.

Personal anecdotes from anyone who has been through something similar?
Read my comment history if you'd like some personal anecdotes from someone who stayed with an abusive guy for almost three years. After he left me he took me back - but oh god, oh god, oh god, I wish he hadn't. Oh I wish he hadn't. The agony of being with him, of staying with him, and the agony and fear of being the person who left him, and for being responsible for the aftermath? I wouldn't wish that on anyone. I think, though, that if he had left me it would have been so unbelievably devastating, too. Being with a guy like that is just going to be devastating and damaging. There's no way around that. I'm so sorry that you got tangled up with this man. I'm sorry.

Can you explain why moving to an isolated farm with someone like that would have been devastating?
Because in an isolated environment like that, with few neighbors and few options to go anywhere outside of the home, you are trapped. You have nowhere to go if it gets worse. And that dread that is just a low hum when you're around an abuser, that little hum gets very, very loud when it's the only thing you can hear. My abuser got worse when we moved (moving is change, change was scary, and the time we moved was absolutely devastating in terms of how much moving itself ramped up the abuse) - and aside from the move, the end result is being stuck on a farm with him. Every time you left the house he would want to know where you were going. It'd be worse if you were on an isolated farm because he might be able to, say, always accompany you to town (just makes sense for both of us to go because it's so far away!) Moving to an isolated place with an abusive person will ramp up the abuse, and part of you knows and knew it. That's why you resisted.

And what is going on with a person who acts like this?
Nobody knows. Something does not work. I personally believe my abuser is mentally ill. He has some kind of mental illness, not sure what (I'm not a doctor and won't pretend to even try to diagnose him) but there is something wrong with a guy who buys a shotgun when he's angry that his girlfriend went on a three-day vacation with her gal pal and threatens to shoot himself with said shotgun. Something is wrong with a person who thinks it's absolutely OK to tell someone else to wear high heels in their own home (I had to do my hair a certain way and wear a push-up bra at all times because my breasts were, as he described them, "gross to see without a bra holding them up.") I don't know what it is, what is actually wrong, my guess is some kind of brain chemistry fuck-up, but it doesn't matter what's wrong with these people. All that matters is that something is wrong and it is no one's job but their own to fix it, and they will continue to drag people down and act in ways that are incredibly damaging and hurtful to the people who love them until they figure it out on their own.

I'm so sorry that this happened to you. I know that I'm throwing around a lot of scary words like abuse. It's really hard sometimes to see a relationship not for what we wish it was but for what it actually was. I know - believe me, I know - that it wasn't all bad. There were things you loved about him and about the relationship. Trust me - I understand how that feels. It's confusing and sad. And it's a loss, even though it will - I promise - prove to be the best loss of your life? It is still a loss and that is still hard. Be kind to yourself. Take care of yourself. Memail me if you'd like. Be kind to yourself right now; you deserve kindness.
posted by sockermom at 11:52 AM on March 12, 2014 [53 favorites]

Sounds like he wanted a little brainless wifey to stay at home and look perfect for him. Arm candy. Trophy wife. There to be seen, not heard.

I know it doesn't feel like it at the moment, but you're so much better off. Control freaks, like this guy, slowly isolate you (so your friends/family can't point out his absurd behavior and encourage you to leave) and strategically chip away at your self esteem until they've got you under their thumb.

Isolating you on a farm would've made all of this so much easier - you'd have no friends, no family and no means to get away. Your only interactions would be with him (since you said no animals), which he controls. You'd have been a prisoner in your own home, IMHO.
posted by stubbehtail at 11:56 AM on March 12, 2014

Wow, congratulations on getting out of this horror story of a relationship and on all the possibilities ahead of you! It can be scary to be on your own again after being in a relationship and now facing the daunting task of re-imagining your future and supporting yourself (hence the weeping at the train station). But you don't miss this guy, you miss the sense of security you had. It's normal to be sad or overwhelmed during a big transition, but work toward letting go of the past and look for opportunities to forge a new future for yourself, even if it scares you.

And what is going on with a person who acts like this?
They are messed up in the head and the heart, it is likely impossible for you or us to understand why he would treat you like he did. You could not have done anything to "fix" him or make things turn out differently. Having your own voice, standing up for yourself, having the strength to overcome body image and eating disorders, knowing how you want to be treated and asking for that: all these are incredible qualities to have and a partner worthy of your love would be excited to be with a smart, capable person like you and would nuture, not control and criticize.
posted by dahliachewswell at 11:58 AM on March 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

After one relationship I ended, I was plagued by trying to figure out what had gone wrong, what even had actually happened ("is this abuse?"), trying to find names and reasons for behaviors, etc. This kind of nitpicking kept me in that toxic relationship for far too long, because I didn't want to leave until I was sure I was "right" to (whatever that means, but I was very low on agency over my own life at the time).

I now know that I was grasping at straws, trying to find a way for my relationship (and my life) to seem ok, even though it was a total disaster by the end. I was also having some serious cognitive dissonance , because the person who was treating me like shit was also someone I once loved dearly, and had had an equal, loving partnership with, once. When someone changes for the worse over time, it is REALLY hard to accept that that's your same loved one.

The only thing that worked for me, and enabled me to leave, was broadening my perspective and the language I mentally applied to my situation. It came down to a semantic point that may sound silly, but was so helpful at the time: although I could not quite think of my partner as being an abuser, I could see that our relationship had grown abusive. That was enough to get me out, and I was able to gradually sort things out after that.

I don't know if this will be useful to you (although I hope so, and please feel free to private message me for any reason) - but might it help to let go, for now, of trying to understand the breakup, and focus instead on "That relationship was not good for me. I'm better off now."

Change can be scary and saddening, even when it's change for the better. It is normal to miss your ex, even if he's the worst guy in the world. But you will get stronger, eventually figure out what happened, and one day you won't be able to believe you ever wanted him back.
posted by jessicapierce at 12:04 PM on March 12, 2014 [15 favorites]

My friends say that he just wants a cardboard girlfriend or a barbie doll that does whatever he says and that because I stood up for myself I was too much trouble for him.

Your friends are absolutely correct. He didn't want a wife/girlfriend/partner, he wanted an accessory.

This abusive controlling asshole did you an enormous favour: you now know what red flags to look for.

I understand what it's like to be pining after someone. I still miss my ex, terribly. Some people just get under your skin.

It may help you to create some sort of concrete ritual, a way of saying This Is Over. Burn a photo of him while saying goodbye, something like that.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:04 PM on March 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Figuring out other people's motives is the biggest waste of energy in many people's lives, I've come to believe. You know this behavior was wrong, and you know it made you unhappy, but you want to understand it, because that's human nature. We want to adjust our ideas about how the world works so that we won't be surprised next time.

But the opacity of other people's motives is, in itself, part of how the world works. You will never really know why. He will probably never know why unless he spends a couple of years in therapy.

The good news is that this isn't something you have to figure out; his behavior is not a problem you have to solve. You don't have to justify for yourself why you were right to leave, why you shouldn't want him back, why it's not your job to make space for things he does that hurt you. You don't have to litigate inside your head whether it is, strictly speaking, his fault that he was this way. Maybe he's just controlling. Maybe it's family stuff. Maybe it's old relationship stuff. Maybe he has a personality disorder. The result is the same. When your house is on fire, it may or may not be worthwhile or even possible to figure out exactly how the fire started -- you gotta go. You're better off outside than inside, and that may be all you're ever going to know.

The only thing you have to be confident of is that you want something different. Maybe someone somewhere is okay with this kind of behavior (I would venture to say most of us are not), but regardless, you are not. You have seen what he is offering you (not to mention what it would cost you), and you want something different. All you have to do to be doing the right thing for yourself is look at him, look around, and say, "I want something different." Why the thing you have isn't the thing you want is something you may or may not ever feel like you understand; you have already done the diagnosis, even without knowing the root cause.

It wasn't right (and as a side note, he does indeed sound abusive, not that we have to establish that for you to know you're unhappy), and it's over. And it's sad, and you shouldn't feel guilty about missing him, and you shouldn't feel bad about crying, and you shouldn't feel judged for having loved him or still loving him. Ask for help. Get support. But -- eyes forward, you know? It'll settle.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:10 PM on March 12, 2014 [9 favorites]

Sorry, up there I said "not a day goes by that I regret the time spent with my ex" and I really, really meant the exact opposite: not a day goes by that I DON'T regret it. Worst mistake of my life. Sorry I missed the edit window, but I just couldn't let the comment stand uncorrected!
posted by sockermom at 12:29 PM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I want to second the comments by both jessicapierce and Linda_Holmes and add that I believe that you miss him a lot, and not necessarily just the relationship or sense of security or whatever. It is entirely possible that you loved and miss the parts of him that were not controlling, and it's hard to reconcile the parts you loved with the other parts. There's nothing wrong with missing someone that you loved, and probably still love in some ways. The important thing to keep in mind is that those controlling parts were also who he was--it's not as though only the parts you loved were the "real him" and the other parts were not. I just don't want you to feel like you are wrong or weak for grieving the end of the relationship.

Along the same lines, it's possible it isn't helpful for you to hear him described as an asshole or a jerk. Maybe it is--I have no idea--but maybe those words are making you feel defensive on his behalf. He sounds like a controlling, abusive jerk to me from your description, and I am completely positive that you dodged a bullet here and are much better off without him. But if you are grieving, if you miss him, if you still feel in love with him, none of those things mean that there is something wrong with you or that you should go back to him. Abusive relationships happen because people have their good points, too, and as jessicapierce says, it can be hard to reconcile the person you knew or thought you knew and loved with this new reality. Don't worry too much about labeling the relationship or him if you don't find doing so helpful. The breakup is for the best, and you are going to be okay, and it might take longer than people tell you it will, but you will be okay again.
posted by tiger tiger at 12:35 PM on March 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you watch Sleeping with the Enemy, you'll see your ex in his true light, and you'll see a model of getting away and being happy.

I'm chiming in with Congratulations to you for escaping a lifetime of undeserved misery.
posted by Capri at 12:43 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

In my line of work (the emergency department), I see a lot of people behaving badly (and I see the results of how people behaving badly can hurt others).

I see women who are beaten by men, children who neglect their parents until they are starving, parents who neglect their children until they are starving. I see people who have been raped, and people who have been murdered.

One of the really difficult parts about my job is, that I not only care for the victims of abuse and neglect, I care for the abusers and perpetrators, too. I have to give both types of patients the same level of medical care. I have to take care of both the shooter and the one who got shot. I take care of rapists and child molesters. And so on.

Not only that, but I get a window into their lives, because there are psychiatric and social work notes in their charts explaining their past. Who their parents were, how they grew up. And one thing I have noticed is that a lot of these people (not all of them, but a lot) have some really sad stories. Parents who were alcoholics and drug abusers. Trusted adults in their lives who abused, molested or raped them. Some of the stories I read, they bring me to tears and I think, how could these people have turned out normal? They were hurt so badly that all they know is hurt. Hurting others is normal to them. They are emotionally handicapped. They are insecure, they live with self hatred, controlling and abusing vulnerable people like their lovers or their children make them feel powerful.

It is in no way an excuse for their behavior, really. Plenty of people go through terrible traumas and do not lash out and hurt others, do not inflict traumas themselves. But when I see a person doing things that I don't understand, I often try to think of the child they once were and what must have happened to that child for them to grow up into this adult person. Sometimes that helps me deal with them.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:59 PM on March 12, 2014 [24 favorites]

part of me feels like if I could have managed to not gain any weight that he would have loved me. A few weeks before our break up he started complaining about me eating peanut butter, he also didn't like if I ate cream cheese, and he started commenting that my portions were too big, or my smoothies too big.

I weighed 88 pounds when I finally left and he still told me I was grotesquely fat two weeks before I left him. Chew on that.

This has nothing to do with love. Somehow he twisted love and control up in his head and up in his brain he thinks: "she doesn't love me unless I control her" at the exact same time as he is thinking "she had better not make any demands of me" which is so paradoxical at its core. I have no idea how their logic works but that's how it plays out: you can't ask for anything of them but they can ask everything of you.

My ex said that if I really loved him I would make my body as hot as possible so that he could have the best possible sex with me. Because his desire for hot sex was so much more important to him than my desire to not feel hunger every waking moment (I was on a 750 calorie a day diet for over a year with him). And getting the hot body was interestingly not about exercise - making my body stronger. It was about limiting something that gave me nourishment and pleasure. Food.

Now what kind of person wants people they love to limit pleasure and not increase their strength? Food is INCREDIBLY symbolic and I think it is no coincidence that abusers often focus on it.

What my abuser felt for me he thought was love. I know I loved him. But whatever emotion he called love was not really love at all. He didn't love me. People who love you don't want you to weigh 88 pounds. People who love you don't want you to have issues with food again. Does he know about your food stuff? If so, that makes his behavior all the more sickening. What he is doing has a great potential to cause you to have new issues with food - I struggle now with anorexia because of my abuser. People who love you and who are adults should not do those sorts of things to you.
posted by sockermom at 1:37 PM on March 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

As a guy, your ex sounds rather like an asshole so you are better off without him.

Remember: everything good in the rest of your life will inevitably, in some degree, come from how you are feeling right now. So use those feelings as fuel to drive you into the future.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:46 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

The man is 46 years old and goes home to momma every weekend? And was trying to make you into some figment of his imagination? You are so much better off without him. Congratulations for keeping control of your own life.
posted by Cranberry at 1:57 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thank you everyone for all the answers so far. They vary a little- but that is awesome- because so are my feelings! Each answer is speaking to a different part of me that needs consolation.

and yes- his mother's- every single weekend. Even though we lived 15 minutes away!

There were a lot of moments where I thought to myself "he's not being very nice" "a kind person wouldn't treat you like that" Like criticizing my clothes in public, telling his mother not to serve me white bread anymore, cutting me off in public...

but there were enough good times in between that I justified it to myself- paired with being somewhat financially dependent- It was too scary to even consider not being in this relationship.

I love mefites. Big hugs.
posted by misspony at 2:13 PM on March 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

A lot of people's inner turmoil is very easily "solved" by exerting power and control over other people. We place a great deal of social emphasis on power as well, so if you have someone who feels insecure within themselves, one socially acceptable way to be powerful (and successful) is to control someone else. Part of missing someone like that is that because we place such emphasis on "power = success."

The other possible reason could be that this is how "love" is expressed within his relationship with his mother - through control and critique and acceptance of this.
posted by heyjude at 2:20 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

"a kind person wouldn't treat you like that"

True. He is not a kind person.

Can you explain why moving to an isolated farm with someone like that would have been devastating?

As you said, you wouldn't have been able to keep your job. You would have been even more financially dependent, and he would have slowly isolated you from all your friends.

Instead, you are going to have a great life where you can eat what you want, wear what you want, do what you want, and spend as much time with your friends as you want. It's coming. You'll get there.
posted by yohko at 3:33 PM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Please, please, don't make the mistake so many of us have made: he begs us to come back, apologizes, says he understands how wrong he was, and we fall for it. And then, soon enough, it's the same old shit.

This man is not to be trusted.
posted by mareli at 4:00 PM on March 12, 2014 [9 favorites]

It sounds to me like you already do understand it and it will just take time to sink in.

The best book I've found on this subject is "Controlling People" by Patricia Evans. It's the only one that explains how these people's minds work, really.

Sorry this has happened, but I think eventually your biggest regret will be that it didn't happen sooner. Not being flippant at all.
posted by tel3path at 4:35 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it's important to try to understand why you stayed, even when you had doubts, too -- maybe more important than understanding his behavior. I think what helped me the most post-break up with my (last) Mr. Controlling was realizing and accepting that my fear of taking chances (and possibly failing), for example, kept me dependent on someone who was happy to make all the decisions for me (whether they were good decisions or not), and my fear of being alone kept me in a relationship that didn't actually fulfill my needs.

Until I confronted and resolved these facts about myself, I found myself in the same relationship over and over, like Groundhog's Day for my heart. I wouldn't wish that on anybody. Big hugs.
posted by sm1tten at 4:53 PM on March 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

You dodged a HUGE bullet. I was with an abuser in 2004 and it was very similar. It was hard to get away, but as the years pass (a decade now) the relief of being away from that -- and the world of amazing relational possibilities that is open to me -- keeps getting sweeter and sweeter. Stay away. It'll be hell for a while then it'll get better.

BTW, you want to hear about the dynamics. Just a thought. Control is sexy/addictive, and so is being controlled, for some people who are wired to enjoy that. People who have that feeling and don't know how to manage it can be extremely dangerous. I left my abuser when I realized he could kill me. Mix a desire for control with other psychological problems (sociopathy, personality disorders, basic poor upbringing, etc.) and you get a nightmare.

I spent some time with abusers then I realized I could scratch that itch (my enjoyment of being controlled) more safely with bdsm. The bdsm world is fraught, but at least the difference between abuse and play becomes crystal clear. The dynamic of dependency, instructions, control, anger and relief, etc., can be very intense and in some ways emotionally bonding. Understanding that can help you understand how you could end up bonded to such an obviously abusive person. It's also a path to understanding that you can experience some of those intense feelings in other, safer, ways.

This is and was abuse. No two ways about it. Whatever the variety in the responses above, there is no variety around that fact. You are better off away from this relationship.
posted by htid at 9:15 PM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

It sounds like on some level, you already knew the dynamic was an abusive one - you were able to tell your story in a way that made it pretty clear to everyone who has read it. It's also no small feat that you managed to maintain a strong circle of friends who seem to know what's up. Now, while you're still grieving, might not be the time, but the more important question to ask is probably not what was going on with him, but why you stayed in a relationship like that.
I know from experience that sometimes we'll put up with all kinds of crap that logically we know isn't right because on some level we feel like it's true or deserved. I hope that isn't the case for you!
posted by loveatfirstsite at 11:28 PM on March 12, 2014

Just to chime in: you don't want the relationship to have been abusive. Who would want that? So you come up with excuses for his beahviour, rationalisations and reasons. Because you love him, and you want it to be good. But it isn't. You know that. Your instincts know that. Moving to an isolated farm where you'll be deprived of your job (something he can't control), your friends (people he can't control) and an easy way of leaving him is exactly the thing an abuser would do.

I'm quite concerned that the reason he's broken up with you is to manipulate you into missing him so much that you think you need him and will put up with even more when he tries to get back together with you. This may even have been a response to your resistance about the move to the country. Anyway, whatever, DO NOT GO BACK TO HIM. Whatever he says, however sweet he is, however loving he is, don't go back there. Red flags and alarm bells are there for a reason, listen to them.

Why is he like that? Who knows. My abusive ex had a list as long as your arm of all the horrible things that had happened, ranging from abusive to merely completely dysfunctional. Add in drugs, alcohol, mental illness and there were plenty of potential reasons. None of them matters. The only important reason is that IT IS NOT BECAUSE OF YOU. This is not your fault. Be well and memail me if you like.
posted by Athanassiel at 2:47 AM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your wanting to understand his behavior before you can move on is striking a warning note for me. I stayed with my partner many years (and one marriage) too long in part due to my trying to understand what made her tick. It wasn't until I recognized how much damage I was tolerating that I was willing to let that (still unanswered) question go and focus on moving on.

In retrospect letting it go was the right answer though.

On another note...

But I thought that he might have aspergers and just didn't know what he was acting like.

Could be. In fact there are any number of reasons he could be a good person but simply not have the capacity to be healthy in a relationship.

Which is a tragedy, but not one that is under your control. The best -- the only -- thing you can do is keep yourself at an appropriate safe distance. Someday after years of therapy he may be relationship fodder for someone, but he won't even start down that route without the very clear message "if you act like this, people will walk away."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:55 AM on March 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd like to understand the dynamic more...

Why he did what he did? Because he is the guy from Sleeping With The Enemy?

Why you did what you did? Something more worthwhile to think about.

Never date a man who comments on what should and should not be on your plate...
posted by xm at 10:12 AM on March 13, 2014

You dodged a serious bullet. Congratulations. Never give this person another word.
posted by ead at 12:15 PM on March 13, 2014

I think that it is easy to believe that feelings of love are something that we receive from our partner. Then when they act abusively, you can really spin your wheels trying to reconcile the loving feelings with the deep-down knowledge that you are a victim of someone protecting themselves from their own shame.

The only way we feel love is by loving. Therefore it can feel as if you are in a loving relationship even if you are the only one doing the loving. The truth may be that your partner is unable to think of you as a separate individual and is therefore incapable of acting in ways that support your spiritual growth, which is the essence of loving behavior.

Narcissists have profound shame concerning their inner self, so much so that they abandon their inner self in favor of their reflection. As the partner of a narcissist, you become their reflection. This is why narcissists become so enraged when their reflection fails to suit them.

It's a spectrum; who of us does not feel in some way that their partner reflects upon them, as when we straighten their ties or rush in to correct their mistakes in front of others. But on the whole, as we mature, we can recognize that these impulses come from a false conception of the origin of our own sense of self-worth.

If a person is as severely narcissistic as your ex-boyfriend, it may not be possible for them to ever understand their dilemma, nor may they have any motive whatsoever to do so. I agree with others on this thread that now is a time to exercise discipline in your love for yourself, and to refuse any further contact with this person going forward.
posted by macinchik at 5:42 AM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Update: I am feeling much much better. He came over a couple of weeks ago and we talked and he admitted to me that something about my gentle and accommodating nature brought out some alpha-dog thing in his personality that made him want to attack me since I was weaker.

It must have given me closure, because the next day I woke up happy for the first time in god knows how long.

Onward and upward.

I love you mefites.
posted by misspony at 10:16 AM on March 28, 2014

It's interesting that his reason is still your fault, isn't it?

This was not about your "weakness" or about you at all. It's all about him.

Anyhow, I'm glad you are doing better. I hope you're no longer in contact. I found that cutting contact with my abuser was so important and very healing.

Best of luck. Feel free to MeMail me if you want to talk at all. I found that the aftermath of leaving him was so incredibly lonely and hard. But it was so, so worth it. I would never again have known the happiness I feel on a daily basis now if I had stayed with him.
posted by sockermom at 1:02 PM on March 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

My dear, I hope you will come to understand that nothing about you can make someone turn into an abuser. I hope you will also come to understand that his behavior toward you was abusive. It is not your job to find out why he is abusive. It is your job to love yourself and make a decision that you will never again accept or justify such treatment from anyone else.

I also spent a lot of time in the past trying to understand why an emotionally abusive man treated me so poorly. This is why it was so difficult for me to leave:

1) I didn't love myself enough
2) I didn't KNOW myself well enough to clearly establish red lines/boundaries about acceptable treatment

He mixed unkind behavior with "kind" behavior that I mistook for love. I thought, at the time, that his kindness was enough to compensate for the awful treatment. It wasn't. At the time, I also did not fully understand that his constant criticism, public and private disrespect, bad temper, intimidation and emotional blackmail were very clear forms of abuse. I didn't know that I deserved and could have better.

I thank the Universe, for your sake, that this man broke up with you. Living on that farm, in isolation, with an abusive man, would not have ended well.
posted by Gray Skies at 2:00 PM on March 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am honestly a bit angry that he'd come over and give you an excuse. Fuck that. The relief is temporary. He is an abuser and a failure. There is no reason other than than. You are gentle and accommodating, and he's an abuser. There is no correlation between the two. Fuck him for trying to say there is any "reason" besides his own failure, especially a reason that has anything to do with you. You can be gentle and accommodating, and still be treated with respect by someone who is worth anything.
posted by htid at 8:15 PM on April 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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