Feeling queasy after meeting up with ex-boyfriend.
April 20, 2016 3:08 PM   Subscribe

An ex of mine was in town recently, and after seeing him again, I feel somewhat off kilter.

About six years ago, I ended a two year relationship with a man (I'm a woman). The relationship began when I was quite young (a legal adult, but barely), and he was years enough older than me that it was considered out of the ordinary. I thought I really loved him at first, and I am the one who instigated the relationship. I probably came on very very strong; I was pretty lonely, cripplingly shy, and away at college for the first time.

It quickly became very power imbalanced. Sexually, we only did what he wanted (a particular kink of his), and he would "joke" about how I failed to perform up to expectations. Intellectually, he would compare our achievements constantly, with the implication that he had the superior mind. (Obviously, since we had an age gap, he had a lot more education. He went to a magnet school, then a prestigious uni, while I went to a poor public school, then a tiny state university, then transferred to a school of similar rank to his alma mater. He would act confused about why I hadn't won more prizes or taken more challenging classes, when those things weren't even available at my schools. He would wonder why I hadn't "learned more interesting things" at jobs I'd had during high school, even though I was working for $5/hr to take the financial burden off my parents.) Emotionally, he was very hot/cold. He seemed to be uncomfortable with the fact that I was too young (I realize now), but never broke things off, so instead he'd frequently talk about my youth in a demeaning way. I started to be preemptively ashamed of feeling enthusiasm for things like new foods, or books or television that I liked. He mocked my social media and communication habits, and my friendships. I understand this more as I get older, but it felt very inappropriate to me at the time. He would also constantly oversexualize things that I did, and when I'd ask him to stop we'd get in a big fight. He'd threaten to cancel plans to see me if I didn't do exactly what he wanted (even if it was inconvenient or impossible). Once he hurt me during sex, and when I mentioned it, he blamed it on me. When I replied with a rude retort, he refused to talk to me and very angrily ushered me out of his house and drove me home in furious silence.

On the other hand, we had good times. He urged me to seek higher education. He was funny, and laughed at my jokes. He praised me constantly when he wasn't demeaning me. We had fruitful conversations and made good companions on the occasions that we traveled or made plans together. We were very similar in many ways.

After a couple years of this, we were long distance and I started spending more time with people my age. This gave me the push to break up with him. He took it really hard. I didn't do it in the most ethical way; I partied and hooked up with a few guys before I ripped the bandaid off. It was just a relief to spend time with people who didn't automatically mock me, even if they weren't particularly nice or simpatico. I kind of mentally broke things off before I actually did; I went on a few dates with another guy before I told the boyfriend it was over. It didn't come out of nowhere; I was kind of clear about the fact that I was drifting away, and we had several explicit conversations (plus one break up attempt) before it really happened. (Even though I'm glad I ended it, I still feel bad karma from this time.)

Anyway, he recently got in touch because he was visiting my city for reasons totally unrelated to me. It's been over five years, and we'd chatted over email a couple of times during that period, so I thought it would be OK, though I felt weirdly nervous and apprehensive. I brought my boyfriend with me for support (which was fine with all parties, being friends with exes is not weird for us). It started out OK, until he started asking kind of leading questions about when my boyfriend and I got together, or when our "anniversary" was... I realized he was trying to figure out when bf and I started dating versus when ex and I broke up, so he could file that away as information about my character, or whether I had cheated six years ago. (That sounds like a big assumption, but it felt very familiar, in terms of his manner and questioning.)

I felt kind of disturbed and nauseated right after this, but steered the conversation away from the subject and had a primarily decent evening. He talked a lot about his job and his new girlfriend, but in a way where he seemed to want to keep conversational control by being overly chivalrous and "charming"... and he was pretty nice and amusing. But as the evening wore on I got more and more introverted and exhausted until I was just smiling weakly and hoping to dart home. He made me feel powerless and silly all over again, like he was the magnanimous gentleman and I was the girlish fool, and I felt tangled back into a web where anything friendly or witty I said was sort of seized on as more suggestive than I really meant it. It reminded me of how when we were dating, an innocent remark on my part would be twisted into sexual innuendo by him-- and not in a light, humorous, that's-what-she-said way, but in a way that accused me of being seductive and meaning it all along.

Anyway, at the end of the night my boyfriend and I agreed it went better than expected and went out for a few drinks. I felt fine, but pretty much pulled an iron curtain of concentration down so I didn't have to think about it anymore. The next day, I started to feel withdrawn and sad, and the next morning I started crying while thinking about it. I feel extremely disempowered and sad, foolish and underconfident in my judgment and intelligence. I don't know how to account for any of this; I never thought of the relationship as emotionally abusive until now. (After all, I was a young fool who was running around on him at the end.) Now, in my late 20s, I would NEVER date someone who was my age when I started dating this ex; I simultaneously feel ashamed of how stupid I must have seemed, and foolish because I felt the same way in front of him this time, and slightly gross about the fact that he came to visit me with his girlfriend seemingly not realizing he was hanging out with his super young ex. (I didn't even know he had a girlfriend until we met up.)

Anyway, I'm having a really difficult time understanding this, or why it's hitting me so hard. I've gotten depressed and had a hard time concentrating at work or doing my schoolwork. I feel like it's almost too much to process. I know therapy would be ideal; I'll be able to see a therapist in a few weeks, but I'm quite busy right now in my life and I'm looking for suggestions on how to deal with/process this, or even just help conceptualizing and framing how I felt in this relationship, and what the relationship was.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It's hitting you hard because this guy is a tool, was a tool back when you dated, and continues to be a tool.

I think it's always easier to remember old relationships through somewhat rose-colored glasses: I'm sure it was half my fault, we each had our problems, we just weren't compatible, he's probably grown a lot over the years, etc. Then when you realize the actual truth, that your ex is actually a terrible person who not only treated you like crap but continues to (attempt to) do so, it all hits home in a really immediate way.

Either way, this guy sucks and none of this is on you AT ALL. Go forth and be good to yourself!
posted by Sara C. at 3:21 PM on April 20, 2016 [39 favorites]

I can relate to much of what you've described and are feeling. I've had similar experiences. When it happened to me I finally figured out that my conscious actions were at odds with my subconscious progress. In other words, I'd subconsciously learned lessons and made resolves and progressed to a healthier place, but I needed one last "lesson" to make the subconscious stuff, conscious. I think if you sit with these feelings, observe them when they come up and consciously tell yourself that you resolve never to see this man again, you will feel better until you can get to therapy. This guy is no damn good for you and your brain is sounding all the alarms in an effort to protect you from him. Give yourself a lot of credit for the strength of your instincts and be really good to yourself. You're a smart woman who learns her lessons and takes care of herself.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:23 PM on April 20, 2016 [44 favorites]

If this had happened to me as you describe it, I would frame it like this: he was an emotionally abusive jerk. It's fine to never want to talk to that kind of person ever again, no matter how long it's been. So fuck this guy.
posted by clavicle at 3:24 PM on April 20, 2016 [22 favorites]

Yeah, sounds like he was abusive then and he's still abusive now. There's nothing good that can come from ever talking/meeting with this person again.
posted by blueberry at 3:25 PM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Remember when you left this guy because you felt like he was a jerk? (He was.)

He still is.

This experience just proves that your younger self was actually pretty smart for a "fool" and that you've made the right choice.

It's very easy for people from our pasts to pull us back into the versions you were when you were together. You're feeling sick because EVERY PART OF YOUR BODY is refusing to do this. Roll with that impulse and realize that any mistakes you made have made you the person who is less susceptible to his particular brand of asshole and in that way, your mistakes were a gift. And you never need to talk him or see him again.

(I understand your feelings of "bad karma" for how you ended it, and sure, it'd be wonderful if we could all get out of bad situations as gracefully as possible but it rarely happens outside of hypothetical answers by smart folks on Ask Metafilter. You were in a relationship with a manipulative jerk and you took care of yourself to get out of it; the fact that you did it in a less-than-ideal way is as much his fault for the damage he'd done within the relationship as it was yours.)

Good luck!
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:28 PM on April 20, 2016 [27 favorites]

I'm looking for suggestions on how to deal with/process this, or even just help conceptualizing and framing how I felt in this relationship, and what the relationship was.

Start a journal. That may help you process it.

Re framing:

In my late thirties, going through a divorce, I was involved with a man 14 years older than me. The longer it went on, the creepier I found him. The wife he was leaving was about a year younger than me and their relationship began when she was 17 and in his 30's.

I eventually concluded that, except for the detail that I was actually well into adulthood, the relationship had kind of a pedophile vibe. I left him for someone 2 years older than him who wasn't such a creep. It wasn't the age difference per se that was a problem. It was the creepy assed "I can control her because she's younger" shit that is all fucked up.

And I had to get involved with a new guy to break free because he was such a manipulative, controlling asshat. Multiple attempts to dump him before that failed. I think you should forgive yourself for "running around on him towards the end." That's like the fly feeling guilty for escaping the spider web.
posted by Michele in California at 3:29 PM on April 20, 2016 [15 favorites]

I had a guy like this in my life too. Not a boyfriend, but we had a weird sort of friends-with-benefits thing going. He was incredibly manipulative and somehow managed to make me feel insecure and jealous and compete for his attention (ugh!). He had a way of making every conversation into a competition to show how smart you were. Even now, married to the most amazing and supportive guy, when he visited my city and I met up with him, I could feel myself sinking into that old role. I resolved to limit contact, because there's no room in my life for friends who make me feel small.
posted by peacheater at 3:34 PM on April 20, 2016 [12 favorites]

What a miserable wreck of a person he seems to have been--and to still be! He deliberately sought out someone much much younger and cleaved to her in order to seem to himself more accomplished. And now six years later he's still trying to make that work. Chortling to himself secretly because he successfully kept back the truth from his current partner? He sounds repugnant. Sara C. is right: he sucked six years ago and he sucks exactly as much now: he hasn't grown one synapse in six years. Whereas you have grown up.

Look here, he has not tangled you in his web: he's still in it, you're long out of it. He's where he was way back then but you're grown, now. You've moved on and you have a life entirely separate from his. You fell back briefly into the old way of thinking because he deliberately tried to get you to, but it was only for one very unpleasant night, it needn't set you back longer than that. It may delight him to think that he's still got his claws in you and can control your thoughts and your moods and whatever else bullshit he thinks, but none of that crap is actually true. It doesn't matter if he goes to his grave thinking that he's an amazing Svengali: it still won't be true. You're your own person, now. Let him have his little pipe dream if it comforts him. It doesn't matter what diseased idiocies he dreams up. He is probably stuck forever with his sick thoughts, but you're not.

Also, I agree with Michele in California that you should forgive yourself for "running around on him;" in fact I think you should celebrate yourself for running around on him. I gave a little internal cheer when I read that part of your post.
posted by Don Pepino at 3:35 PM on April 20, 2016 [22 favorites]

I would go so far as to say he was emotionally abusive and a creep re: age and sex. So, that probably hit you all at once, now that you have distance. It hit you along with a bunch of other things (memories of the good times, guilt about your own behavior, the difference between what you know now and what you knew then, a reevaluation of the power dynamics at play, etc. etc.)-- it's a heavy load! It's normal to have mixed feelings and delayed reactions.

As for processing, can you be mindful and really nice to yourself? Like pay attention to your feelings, and if you catch yourself feeling gross, reassure yourself it's normal to feel that way and he was a jerk and it wasn't your fault and you didn't deserve it, and luckily, you're out of it now? Writing helps with this. Or a good chat with a close nonjudgmental friend. I know I would want to be there for a friend going through this.

Also make sure you eat something good, get enough rest, do something fun or relaxing.
posted by kapers at 3:35 PM on April 20, 2016 [11 favorites]

I agree with kapers – I think the reason why it might be hitting you so hard is because you're actually now in an appropriate mental space to process all of the latent negative content that you simply had to absorb earlier in life. Your current relationship is probably leaps and bounds above this old one in terms of overall quality – not to demean what you had in the past, but quite frankly, I'd imagine most all the relationships you have with your friendships and acquaintances are, now, too. I'm sure it was lovely, in some regards, but in taking everything into consideration, it seems super clear that you are in a much healthier place now than you were then. It's okay that that's clearer now.

You're thinking about it again simply because it has been re-contextualized for you: an emotional link has been immutably drawn, from the past to the present, effectively; and so you are made aware of it again. When you are able to come to conclusions on it, and perhaps forget about it again, you will find yourself back in a much better mental space, maybe even more than before. Mindfulness techniques will be best right now, in lieu of being able to go in for counseling right away.

Try some meditating with focused breathing, and see if you can bring up some subconscious thoughts that you need to have awareness about. Allow them to exist within you regarding this. What is it that troubles you?

My inclinations on why it's impacting you like it is are to suggest that you didn't actually want that previous part of your life to interact with your new relationship, and that it was a little embarrassing for you somehow. Perhaps it was more out of politeness (or only out of politeness) that you invited him out? Frankly speaking, perhaps you've got some residue of shameful feelings in having had to live through that at one point – was the 'bad karma' a motivator?
posted by a good beginning at 3:49 PM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think you understand it all pretty well. Sounds like it was just a shock to be pulled into the same old feelings, and having that happen despite the understanding and insight you've gained since then. Feeling those feelings, and that vulnerability, at the same time that you had more of an awareness of how and why it was happening, *must* have been confusing.

Maybe it felt like the life you've built since then, and the growth you've seen, have been invalidated. That's not true, though. He hasn't changed, so he evoked that old reaction (in a hundred ways - nonverbal stuff, tone, just the sight of his face - all very powerful, especially in the context of past abuse). But that dynamic exists in its own time. In a similar way to how having certain arguments with family members can throw you right back to age 10 (or 5 or 15), emotionally. (Or that's the case for me :/ ) Your response to him isn't a statement about who you are fundamentally, who you were back then, who you've become today. It just means he marked you, hard*.

His voice is strong because it's fresh again. But don't judge yourself with his standards. You wrote (very clearly) above about all the contextual factors that went into your vulnerability when you were with him. Remind yourself of them as often as you need to. You weren't silly then, and you aren't, now. You're someone who accidentally trusted the wrong person, and mistook intensity for love. (And very casual and normal exchanges and affection can happen around that, too. It's complicated, right?) So many of us have done that - you're far from the only one.

I suggest going for a change of scene to cleanse your mental palette, asap - somewhere grounding and green. Take a day trip this weekend, if you can, or go for some long walks in parks you haven't been to.

*Which doesn't mean, "forever". You can move on. Sounds like you have moved on, you just have to avoid this person in future.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:05 PM on April 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Psychological trauma is having an outsized response to a current situation, based on its resonance with stuff in your history. I think what you're describing is essentially a trauma response.
posted by Sublimity at 4:06 PM on April 20, 2016 [15 favorites]

Agree that you may be feeling like your growth since dating him was invalidated.

I dated a guy for years who was rather openly not monogamous. And at the time, being young and really in love, I put up with it. When I think back on it now, I feel not quite ashamed but certainly sad for my younger self.

I'd suspect you're feeling something similar here: You feel like you were foolish, and you feel guilty for cheating on him in the end. It probably just brought that old you back into focus and threw you for a loop.

The good news is, this guy (who IS a jerk, by the way) taught you what not to accept from a boyfriend.

Be kind to yourself and see if you can mentally thank him for the lessons he taught you - then let him go.
posted by chestnut-haired-sunfish at 4:27 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Congrats on escaping from your creepy ex-lover, who sounds horrible. You did a really good job of caring for yourself then, and now I hope you can be kind and self-loving toward yourself rather than harsh and judgemental about how you felt during dinner with him as he exercised his creepiness once again. Now you're dealing with the aftereffects (the emotional equivalent of food poisoning or a bad allergy attack) of seeing him again. But there's no real danger. He's gone, he's not going to be in your life ever again, you did the hardest work years ago, and this is a reminder of how wise you were to leave him. So treat yourself gently and well between now and when you see your therapist, and keep in mind that your feelings, while unpleasant, will not last.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:34 PM on April 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

You feel grief and trauma because he fucked with your head in front of your boyfriend for the entire meeting - the fake chivalry stripping you and your bf of agency, twisting your words into dirty flirtations, subtly demeaning you throughout the meal - UGH.

He's an energy vampire, a narcissist and a fucking child. That his poor girlfriend didn't know he was seeing you and your boyfriend was so low and emotionally ugly. Wanna know why he told you that? To drag you down to his level and make you complicit with his mind games.

Tell yourself (and maybe your boyfriend) that his smarmy attitude and dishonesty towards his girlfriend made you feel incredibly uncomfortable about the meeting. Disavow the experience, wipe him from your consciousness. Forgive yourself for attempting to be civil. Forgive yourself. You are not the person with the toxic inner life, he is. It was uncomfortable being faced with that again, be kind to yourself.

Forgive yourself for "cheating" on him. I agree you were not cheating, you were making an effort to save yourself, which you did. Hooray.
posted by jbenben at 4:39 PM on April 20, 2016 [22 favorites]

I was a young fool

You really weren't. You were, and are, a sensible human being, and convincing you that you were a fool was his way of manipulating you. It is a completely garbage way of treating a person, but the good news is that you never have to speak to that piece of garbage again!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:20 PM on April 20, 2016 [12 favorites]

Yeah this is a trauma response to seeing/engaging with your abuser combined with the realization of "oh wow he was actually abusive and what the HELL I would never". Seeing him again, being reminded of everything he did, has dug up all these feelings that you probably weren't expecting, especially if you've been focusing on the good times. Like this is extremely normal: "I haven't interacted with my abuser in a while and forgot just how terrible he makes me feel and now I am remembering all the OTHER ways he made me feel terrible". You're not wrong for reacting this way, you're not having a breakdown, it's just a really unfortunate confirmation of what you felt in your gut.

It doesn't matter what you did back then because you were so young and it was his responsibility as the significantly older person to not be a predatory creep. Your reaction to his abuse is whatever made most sense at the time. You clearly felt trapped in your relationship and like you couldn't end it but you also really needed intimacy and support, so you went and got it. That makes total sense to me and every single person I know who has been in this kind of dynamic has done the same (and none of them have developed patterns of cheating later, if you're worried).

You might benefit from journaling out some of the memories so that you aren't constantly ruminating on them (and so you have them a bit less jumbled by the time you can access that therapist). Unfortunately it's really hard to turn this off or avoid it once it comes flooding out; trauma has a way of being like "no I need your attention NOW" and pulling resources from other things. Be kind to yourself, take whatever breaks you can, make sure to make time for things that you enjoy/that make you feel good and safe, don't try to do new super intense things right now because your energy is already going to processing this. It might take a while for this to resolve itself and you might end up being more affected than you expect. That's OK.

I went from being unaffected/thinking it was fine to now having a much harder time with it, especially since I just turned the same age my abuser was when we were dating. Like... dating someone ten years younger than me is unfathomable and I am really disturbed by what that means about him, even though it's been 8 years since we ended it.

The key for me in processing this was to see my younger self as a young person in need of protection from exactly this kind of person. Now when the memories come up, I let myself get all grumpy protective mama bear about it, like how DARE this person do that, I would never THINK of dating someone that young let alone think of treating someone I dated that way. In a way it's like... I couldn't protect myself then but I can act out that protection now when I have flashbacks and that helps ease some of the queasiness.

Also consider that some of your negative impression of your younger self, and your younger self's behaviour, is because he made you think so little of yourself. You were not a fool, you were duped; you may have chased him, but he actively chose to date you. It sounds like some of his gaslighting is still affecting your image your younger self. When you are engaging in negative self-talk about this period of time, ask yourself - is that something he would say? if it was your best friend in the same situation, would you be saying the same thing? You don't need to be so hard on yourself for what was already a hard time. (Why does he get so much benefit of the doubt and you don't? Who cares if the dinner went well as far as dinners with past abusers go, it sounds like it was kind of awful. You don't need to be kind to him or rationalize his behaviour.)

Best of luck!
posted by buteo at 5:42 PM on April 20, 2016 [12 favorites]

Having been in similar relationships, I agree with Bella Donna. I would add that you may need time to process this, and that's okay. You're allowed to take your time, and you don't have to decide exactly how you feel about this relationship right away... (or ever).
posted by sonyaellenmann at 6:08 PM on April 20, 2016

We often judge our younger selves much more harshly than we might judge a niece or nephew, y'know? Cut Younger You a little bit of slack. That kid did fine - learned, and grew. Mr. Ex, on the other hand, did not. And how dreary it is, how invested he was in finding naive kids and scoring petty points off them to self-aggrandize. It sounds like he hasn't changed at all. That's really sad.

Honestly I don't know how someone could have navigated this without feeling sick and disgusted afterward. Mr. Ex has a really gross mind space, and I'd be a great deal more concerned if you didn't feel ill at ease after revisiting. I keep thinking of rads in Fallout!

How do you feel after writing this AskMe, compared to before? You outlined the situation really clearly, and for me, that sort of thing helps me process it so I can put it away. I think your compass is well-calibrated, and I think that, partly as a result of what you learned by dating Mr. Ex, you now have a very low tolerance for his brand of toxicity. I'm guessing you might actively avoid people who play his sort of games, and spending an evening with him was like getting a mega-dose, even if you didn't have the history as a factor.
posted by Lou Stuells at 7:01 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Here's three truths I get from reading your post –

You are a normal person. You are a normal and full-of-life person who has gone through normal experiences and are also quite smart, and personable, and very deserving of love, respect and fulfilling romantic relationships. You were not abnormally naive, or oversexed, or stupid.

You have learned a lot about yourself. This experience with this guy was traumatising because he was, and is, a jerk. He liked the power he had in his relationship with you and he abused that power. That's on him. You see it now. You see how it happened. You know it wasn't all bad and that there were tradeoffs but you see it clearly. You've learned and grown through this experience.

You have a better romantic future ahead of you. Slam the door on this guy. Do the dance of the double birds and take a huge sigh of relief that he is out of your life. And cut him out. Block him on Facebook, etc.. Treat yourself to a massage and try to re-center yourself. You are worth it.
posted by amanda at 7:13 PM on April 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

I've met plenty of men like your ex. And by that I mean, I've been friends with or around men like him. They're a type. Usually later 20s or early 30s with partners around 18-21. They pride themselves heavily on their self cultivated intellect. Know how to find and attract very intelligent, younger women. They berate their partners with their egos. Endlessly condescending. Will find any excuse to undermine women's strength and intelligence all under the illusion of opening new doors and pushing them further into adulthood and maturity. Eventually the women get a little bit older and more experienced and realize "fuck this, I'm smarter and better than these guys," and leave. The men are always devastated.

Your ex caught you at an extremely vulnerable, important phase of your life and exploited that. It's not your fault. All your accomplishments from that period of your life are your own. You owe him nothing and should not feel bad for the way you ended the relationship. The reason you feel they way you do after seeing him is he brings nothing positive to your life. It's ok to dislike or hate him while feeling good about the things you grew into and goals you accomplished during your time with him. The good from then is all yours.
posted by AtoBtoA at 8:11 PM on April 20, 2016 [11 favorites]

You are not alone. I could have written this post. Word for word. Long ago, I was in a relationship with a man exactly like this, exactly the same dynamic. Sexually, emotionally, intellectually, everything. The same package, complete with the awkward random interaction many many moons later.

I was barely into my twenties. He was a decade older. I had low self esteem. He would drink a twelve pack of beers in one sitting and force me to listen to stories about his college days and all of the women with whom he'd slept. Down to the gory details. Sometimes he'd feel ambitious. He would shoot for eighteen beers and take me out to his car where we'd sit while he shouted at me to write improvisational poetry until it satisfied him. He thought he was my guru; I never asked him or wanted him to even be a teacher. He truly thought he was challenging me. Him, the subversive hepcat brought by God to show me how to be raw and interesting. He hid his alcoholism from me for the first three months, just barely. He was rough in bed until it actually hurt me and I asked him to stop; his response was to make mocking, whiney "owwwwwwwww, it hurtssssss" sounds while I lay quietly in the bed, back facing him, crying in complete silence while my heart raced waiting for him to just fall asleep and leave me alone. He claimed to be attracted to me because he found me unusually culturally literate and bright for my age, but would get angry when I would become quiet during his intense, meandering psuedointellectual rants that he enjoyed peppering with non-sequiturs. He'd say, "I thought you were supposed to be my smart girlfriend. I'm trying to talk about something important. Don't you have anything smart to say? I thought you read all these books. How can you still be so stupid?" ---neglecting to recognize that when I did say something, he'd intimidate me into the very silence he claimed to abhor by telling me I was stupid, cliche, naive, every time I'd speak. Of course I knew 'less' than him, on paper anyway; I was ten years his junior. Early on in our relationship, he had an argument with his roommate and decided to live in his car for three months. He would brag about his academic pedigree but only later did he disclose that he went to school for six years but never graduated because he fell into a depression after he fucked his brother's girlfriend on a whim (he blamed the encounter entirely on her while admitting it was consensual). He'd drive drunk to my house in the middle of the night and I couldn't turn him away because I knew if I did he could kill someone with his car. He preferred name-calling over conversation, despite his claims of supreme intellect, supreme maturity, and golden innate poesy. I'm not really even scratching the surface of his emotional and verbal abuse. I'll spare you the details but toward the end he made sure I knew I was being abused by escalating his abuse tactics to the physical.

In relationships with an age disparity, the elder person has a responsibility to leave the younger person in better condition than he or she found that person. Period. End of story.

But him? He made sure he left me in worse condition. I'm not certain if I've talked about my abortion on here before, but he used his fists to try to bully me out of having one (didn't work; there is also irony in punching someone to stop them from having an abortion). Even after he hit me and I moved out, he made sure to bully and intimidate me to the bitter end. Tricking me into lending him my cell phone so he could read my text messages and accuse me of talking to other men, and threatening to beat up the people who were coming over to help me move out my things. He even had in his possession a spare set of keys to my car. When I moved out and demanded he hand them over, he refused. "I'm not going to steal your car. I'm not going to take your car." So then why do you still need my keys? Fucker.

When I ran into him long after, he acted excited to see me and charming for ten minutes before bragging about his life and whatever "pussy" he'd gotten into and then trying to tell me how I should live my life and how I'm still so stupid, except he was more subtle about it. I realized he still terrified me and I withdrew, nodding and feeling uncomfortable.

It has taken me YEARS to get over the number he did on me. I always think about the common refrain that however long you were with someone, it takes about half that length of time to get over them. I was with him for two years and it took me at least six years to reach a point where I'm confident I wouldn't have a panic attack if I thought I saw him on the street. For many of those six years, I would see cars that looked just like the one he had, and my heart would start pounding at the thought that he might be nearby or that, worse yet, he'd see me. I once saw a guy in my apartment complex who looked a lot like him. I ran inside and buried my head in a pillow; I shook with fear until I fell asleep.

He did not - and does not - deserve any control over me, my emotions, or my well being. But disentangling from all that? Disentangling from his abuse, the time he spent twisting my mind until I believed him when he said I was a no good shit for brains twit? No amount of advice can expedite that process. Recovering from an abusive relationship, with the added bonus of an age-disparity power play, can really fuck a young woman up. You'll go a long time thinking you're okay and then... you'll remember. Something will remind you of him: the name of a poet he idolized; a map you've been staring at until it's too late and you've noticed the outline of the state where he was born. Or, as in my examples, you'll think you just saw him on the street and you'll think you're going into cardiac arrest.

The only things that can begin to heal this are going no contact. No contact, and time. Block his email address, phone number, everything. You owe him nothing. He owes you [far more than] an apology; an apology that you'll never receive.

Seeing a therapist helped, too. She made me realize how much victim blaming and gaslighting he'd subjected me. Meanwhile, I dove headfirst into two pursuits - nonfiction writing, cycling - and rebuilt my confidence. Even after I'd put on all that muscle and got tons of articles published, for many years I'd still find myself whimpering at the thought of him. Now when I think about him, I usually laugh. I'm not sure if I'd be able to hold it together if I saw him. But that's okay, because I get to choose if I see him or talk to him. And I never will again.
posted by nightrecordings at 9:20 PM on April 20, 2016 [16 favorites]

I'm going to take a wild guess that you didn't actually "come on strong" to him in the first place--he cultivated you, and later on gaslighted you into thinking you were some kind of aggressor. Let me be the 3,810th Internet stranger to tell you that he was an abusive sack of shit and you were just a kid who deserved a lot better. Forgive yourself.
posted by praemunire at 11:46 PM on April 20, 2016 [15 favorites]

I have a lot of experience with this smarmy, arrogant type of dude, it being a lifestyle for dudes in southeastern France. They're pretty open about their approaches to women.

So I have what is most definitely an interpretation, but one that's based on knowing that dudes openly discuss this sort of strategy and he fits all the signs so I'm relatively confident about it: this dude knew where you were and asked to meet up in order to fuck with you on purpose. Does he actually have a girlfriend? Who knows. Apparently you didn't meet her. He is the one who chose to USE HER to play with your conscience. Even if she exists, he was a total shit towards her and you.

Your body's reflecting what this dude is: sick.

I say this from grizzled experience, having done the same thing as you many times, no judgementalism at all: you don't have to agree to meet up with people from your past. You don't owe them anything.

Talking with a therapist would indeed be great. They'll be able to give an outside view with pscyhological expertise to boot that will provide you with yet more perspective. Be kind to yourself.
posted by fraula at 2:20 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think therapy is a good idea. It seems that you're trying to process your experience of (what sounds like) emotional abuse and manipulation.

In the meantime, can you talk to someone about how you are feeling? Perhaps a close friend. Journaling, as suggested above, can also be helpful. Breathing exercises, meditation and yoga can help, or just taking a walk when you get overwhelmed.

Think what you would say to a friend who'd had that experience. You probably wouldn't tell them they should feel ashamed. You'd probably tell them "You were so strong to get through that experience and then to get out of it. It must be so hard to look back on it now. You're okay. I love you and I'll help you in any way that I can." If you can stir up that kind of fierce love for yourself, it can be helpful.

And you know, you don't ever have to see him, talk to him, or email him again if you don't want to. There are lots of people in the world you can be friends with who won't make you feel sick.
posted by bunderful at 5:13 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is so sad. I agree - he basically feeds off victim blaming and dated you because you were innocent enough to not have firm boundaries. When you realise how you've been treated, it will produce a sick feeling. It's part of shock and I think the reality of what happened is very slowly hitting you. I recommend therapy too, one of the reasons why being that you're still viewing him as a normal person and not an abusive man. You will always feel disempowered around him because this is how he gets his "esteem". He only operates this way. All you need to know is that he is not going to change, he is not a good person and nothing is going to be gained from spending any more time with him. I have known people like this so I got a chill (and a sick feeling) reading this post.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:49 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

He's not a nice person. He's unkind and manipulative and selfish. He took advantage of your youth and inexperience. You may have learned some things from him, but mostly he fed off you, and tried to do so again. Yech. You deserve so much better. He is your past, recognize that, move forward.
posted by theora55 at 8:12 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

For me, those sick feelings in similar situations came not from how horrid that older, more powerful person was (though, UGH), but from shame that I could see it so clearly now but had Asked for It when I was younger. If that resonates for you, sit with the feelings and forgive yourself. You were young and Not Responsible for his behavior.

You've grown. Journal out all of the things you can see now because you've matured and gotten healthier, then give your younger self a mental healing hug for her pain and a mental high five for escaping when she did.
posted by ldthomps at 8:43 AM on April 21, 2016

Another thing to remember is that you were really young and therefore almost certainly still in the "adults are wise" phase of development--"he's so much older, he's probably right about me/the world." Whereas now that you're older you've probably realized that in fact not all adults are wise and some of them are contemptible clowns. You couldn't have known that then: you had to learn that.

Don't be hard on your less-experienced, less-knowledgeable younger self for not knowing what you know now. You let him into your life six years ago and you spent two years studying him. You were not wrong to do that because you learned from him what you don't need to trifle with in the future. This was valuable information that you and all of us need. You didn't waste those two years. Then you briefly revisited him on hell-doubledate-night--like a little review or refresher course. Now you've just got the ruminative study to do, the debriefing, and then you'll have completed this phase of a very unpleasant--but very necessary--advanced study course in What To Avoid In Relationships (I say "this phase" because let's face it: you never will get a terminal degree in "Assholes to Avoid" because the classes are limitless. Life is long and the folks you will run into along its winding path are many and varied). He was part of growing up. The good times with him and the bad times with him were all part of you learning and growing and adapting and getting strong.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:47 AM on April 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

Can't add much to so many wise answers except next time he is coming to town, you are not available, and I would cut any connection you have with him via email or social media too. You need this creep totally out of your life. You do not owe him anything, and you were smarty to get away after only two years. Give yourself a whole lot of credit for that; some people spend a lifetime in that kind of relationship.
posted by mermayd at 11:21 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Be gentle with yourself, and be careful with your self talk. Recognize that the way you're feeling is understandable and ok. Stop using words like foolish or silly about yourself, and recognize that's you letting him have a say about who you are. Don't think that about your younger self anymore, and don't think it about your present self either. Cut yourself some slack and just give yourself LOVE. Give yourself all the love you should have gotten from him. Give yourself all the love you should have gotten from yourself. Just pour love into yourself. And ask your boyfriend to do the same. Please consider letting him read this post and the responses so that he can be delicate and gentle with you in a way that will help you build up and out of this place.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:02 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dealt with something similar to this a wayys back, and i gotta agree with everyone here, this guy is not worth your time - absofuckinglutely no need to feel bad about never talking to him again - he brought this upon himself by being a pile of steaming toxic goo.

Most of us have gone through one or two or three (or 12) crappy relationships. Don't beat yourself up about it. you were young, he was a POS and should be in therapy getting his shit sorted/butt kicked by wild gorillas/other such thing far far away from you. You sound really compassionate, kind and friendly, so celebrate in the fact that he didnt manage to take that from you.

What i found that helped me get the ugly ex stuff offa the brain was to have a good sit, think, cry, and decide there was probably some reason that he did what he did cause there are reasons i wont ever get, and he just couldn't do better (the hardest was to reconcile how he could be so sweet in between the really bad stuff). I forgave him (with my brain first, heart followed quite awhile later) and wished him the best and left it at that. I hope you find your peace sooner than later (no doubt you will). Keep your head up, you got this.
posted by speakeasy at 3:33 AM on April 22, 2016

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