Editor’s note: Lovefraud received the following story from a woman whom we’ll call Hilary. Names are changed.
The night before I met Nick, I had a vivid nightmare. I lost sight of a caring man in a chaotic crowd, a baby was murdered, and I was poisoned. I awoke and heard, “Wait for the right one. Don’t try to save him. You’ll ruin yourself and your future.” The thought was so pervasive that, although I was perplexed, I wrote it down.
The following afternoon, I met Nick (with whom I’d connected on a dating site) on his boat at the local marina, and an afternoon sail turned into an “accidental” dinner with his parents and sister, drinks afterward, and hours of conversation late into the night. The following evening, he cooked me dinner. He began texting me first thing in the morning and throughout the day. We slid into life as a couple, and although things seemed to be moving quickly, we decided that we were in our 30s, we knew who we were and what we wanted—and we’d finally found that in each other.
Nick was good looking and dressed well. He was educated, highly intelligent and verbal, outgoing, well-read yet good with his hands, spontaneous, outdoorsy, professionally driven, and incredible in bed. Where we weren’t similar, we balanced each other out. There didn’t seem to be any reason to hold back. And yet I was. I’d recently had a brief affair with a pathological man, had learned about personality disorders and the prevalence of such, and—as I told Nick—I loved my life and didn’t want to invite anything into it that would upset it. Nick, of course, assured me that he was different. He’d never hurt me like that.
Nick had worked as a bioterrorism expert and eventually, he revealed, as a covert agent with the CIA. He said he’d been certified sane by the U.S. Government through a battery of psychological tests. He confessed that he had regrets about some of things he’d done and had moved back to his home state to reconnect with his family and his values. He told me about his ex-girlfriend, Grace, whom he’d nearly married. She’d cut him out of her life with no explanation, and his reaction to the loss had ruined his friendships and had nearly destroyed him. For the first time, he said, he’d met a woman he didn’t compare to Grace, a woman who was a better match for him and who challenged and intrigued him all on her own.
Spending time together
Within a week, he’d been forced out of his job and we began spending every spare moment we had together. Within two weeks, he began joking about marriage. Within a month, he told me that he loved me. I didn’t say it back, but instead asked him for his definition of love. “Each time we part,” he said, “it feels like too soon. When I see you, I envision a future, each tomorrow better than today.” I countered, “So it’s a short-term cost-benefit analysis? If we have a bad tomorrow or two, then there’s no future and therefore your love dies?” “Of course not,” he assured me. “I mean the average over the long haul.”
But something still wasn’t right. I asked how he could draw on his skills as a manipulator so easily for his job and yet separate that from his personal life. He appeared sad, assured me that he’d never lied to me—and then confessed that he had. It was a small white lie regarding our dinner reservation with his parents on our first date. I’d heard him on the phone with telling his mom that he’d forgotten about the dinner, that he was bringing someone, and was the reservation still for five? When I inquired about the phrasing later that night, he’d claimed he didn’t remember saying that. We’d had a few drinks, so I didn’t press it. When we later told the story of the date to a friend of mine, Nick said they’d had an extra seat because his sister was supposed to bring someone who’d cancelled. “I’m sorry,” he said now, “a friend was supposed to join me and she couldn’t make it, but I didn’t want you to think I was just plugging you in. I panicked and lied, but I’m a terrible liar when it comes to the people I care about and I could tell you saw through it. So I lied again in front of your friend to try to cover it up. It’s been eating at me since.” I believed him.
He said he was ready for marriage and children, and that I complemented his life. He took me to a suite at a fabulous hotel, he invited me to accompany him on a trip to a Caribbean resort, he did dishes and gave massages, took me to expensive dinners, and he was constantly giving me gifts both great and small. I was in the market for a house, and he accompanied me, talking about what we could afford together and which would allow room for a growing family. He charmed my friends, and they loved him. When the New Year rolled around, my lease was coming to an end, and I hadn’t yet found a house, Nick invited me to live with him on his boat. “It’ll be tight, but nice to wake up to you every morning,” he said. I declined, but took that as a sign of his love and commitment. He flew with me to meet my immediate and extended family, and they were charmed by him, too. I’d moved beyond simply wanting it to work with a man who seemed perfect for me, and I was falling in love, although I hadn’t said the words to him yet.
Distant and irritable
But when we returned from the week with my family, he grew distant and irritable. He confessed that he’d re-examined his values and it would be important to him to raise his kids in the Catholic Church—something he knew I was against. I said that his dating profile had listed him as an agnostic, which he denied. We talked for hours about religion and community and came to a compromise. “Don’t be worried,” he said. “It’s not a deal-breaker. I’m just trying to do the emotionally mature thing and talk it over before it becomes a big deal.” A couple of days later, I checked his dating profile. He was listed as a Catholic, but it also showed he’d logged on recently. I’d never thought to check his profile activity and was hurt to see he’d been online. But when I logged on again the next day to confront him, the profile was gone. I know now that I was lying to myself, that he’d changed his religious affiliation knowing that I’d check. But at the time, I convinced myself that he’d been online only to cancel his subscription.
A few days later, he was again irritable. “I’ve become skeptical and afraid you’re going to leave me,” he said. “I’ve laid it all on the line and made myself vulnerable to you. I need you to be as vulnerable to me. I’ve been hurt before, and I guess I’m just the kind of guy who needs to hear the words ‘I love you.’” And so I told him that I loved him and that if everything were still going well in a year, then I’d be ready to marry him and have his children. We made five-year plans and compared our goals. We agreed that neither of us had ever met another with whom we were more compatible. But Nick’s attitude did not improve. He started making racially charged statements and criticized my friend for being “dominant” in her relationship. He complained constantly about how sore he was from the gym, and made snide remarks about anything I was better at than he was. I asked him if he wanted me to be his ex-girlfriend, and he assured me that that was the last thing he wanted.
Finally, he confessed that he suffered from functional but clinical depression, and that prior to meeting Grace, he’d been on two antidepressants plus Klonopin and Adderall. He was in the middle of a series of rigorous job interviews for a top consulting firm, founded by an innovation guru, and was under tremendous stress. He said he was afraid I was going to leave him before he could get himself under control. So I promised him that as long as he agreed to help himself, I wouldn’t leave him. “But,” I told him, “this relationship limbo is my kryptonite. With my personality, what you’re asking of me couldn’t be more difficult.”
For the next three weeks, I was in hell. He encouraged me to move 45 minutes away to a place where we could have more privacy but that also removed me from my social circle. He saw me only during the day, then would become anxious and retreat to his parents’ house—or so he told me. He said he was trying to write to me about how much he loved me and what a weird place he was in. He said he couldn’t access his emotions, and it scared him. He said he didn’t know who he was without his job. I couldn’t sleep. I researched depression. I attended support groups. I was assured that although his treatment of me felt like emotional manipulation, it was just the depression. At one point, he had me convinced that he was suicidal, and I called his sister to make sure someone would look in on him. I didn’t know where to draw my own boundaries—where the illness took over from the man.
Then he got the job. He read me fragments of what he’d been trying to write, all of the reasons that he loved me. We were intimate, and he was soft, teary, and seemed desperate to access the feelings he’d been unable to before. I assured him I was still with him, and in the days following, he wrote to me of how much he loved me and we made Sunday plans.
I was shocked when, on Saturday, I ran into him on the street with another woman. He told her that I was a crazy ex-girlfriend he’d broken up with before meeting her. When I revealed the truth, Nick accused me of “torpedoing everything in his life.” I discovered he’d been dating her the entire time we’d been together, getting serious with her at about the same time he became “depressed.” She’d never seen any signs of depression. They’d had sex (unprotected) for the first time the night before we’d flown to visit my family. He’d texted me from her bed, “Goodnight, beautiful. See you in a few hours.” He’d told her he was going to visit his friend Ben, who was actually a cousin of mine Nick had never met. He was looking at houses with me, but talking to her about moving with him to the neighboring state when he started his new job. He already had a plane ticket to meet her family. This woman didn’t want to know the truth; she wanted her Prince Charming. She took her first opportunity to shoot the messenger, and she blocked me from contacting her. As far as I know, they’re still together.
For one month, he compromised my happiness as I worried over his mental and physical health. For four days, I was wild with grief, and I’m not proud of my actions during that time. But on day four, I went alone to the counseling appointment Nick had agreed to when I caught him cheating. Still in shock, I told my story. And when the counselor said that I’d been involved with a sociopath, it was as if all the lights in my house went on at the same time. I’d already been involved with a pathological person, had done the research, and was in fact writing about it when I met Nick!
Yellow flags, red flags
How could I have fallen for it again?! I didn’t listen to my intuition; when I saw yellow flags, I didn’t slow down; and when I saw red flags, I didn’t turn and run. And although I’d learned what to look for the first time, I didn’t realize what it was about my own behavior that allowed/encouraged these pathologicals to manipulate me. Several months into our relationship, a friend asked if I was sure Nick was right for me, and I said we were perfect for each other. The fact was, I’d had a nightmare right before I met him. In the days following, I was slightly nauseous when I thought of him or heard from him, although he was saying and doing all the right things. And although I’d never had hives before, for the entirety of our relationship, they broke out in half-dollar size across my chest nearly every morning.
Also, Nick was incredibly out of shape for a man who claimed on his profile to work out 4x/wk. He used Grace as his sympathy story, and the way she cut him out of her life completely was a warning. He lied to me on our first date. He had no friends. He was an admitted risk-taker who’d been extremely promiscuous and hadn’t practiced safe sex. A man with his supposed diagnosis on four medications would not have been a CIA operative. He said women were terrible consultants and was obsessed with power dynamics in relationships as well as business. He was a pariah at his office Christmas party. He’d had five jobs in five years. He was volatile when he drove or when we tried to get his boat off the dock or even when the boat rocked with the outgoing fishermen in the morning. He showered and did his dishes and laundry at my house, (which I excused because I know how hard it is to live on a boat.) He claimed to have gutted his boat and refinished it, but after months of spare time and my offers to help, he hadn’t completed the simple plumbing for his sink. Changing his profile to Catholicism caused me to doubt myself and what I knew to be true. He kept the attention on himself/distracted me through physical complaints and claims of mental illness.
When I met him, he said “Sorry—I’m sorry” seemingly habitually. After a couple of weeks, I told him to stop apologizing—and he did. Even then, I recognized that there was something inhuman about being able to stop seemingly habitual behavior on a dime. But I ignored these things because I wanted so badly for him to be real. Because of my age, I’m running out of time to have children of my own, and I very much want a relationship. This makes me vulnerable.
I’m an open book. When he asked, I revealed. I told him about my family, about my ex-boyfriend (into whom he molded himself), and about my own fears and dreams. I handed him my kryptonite. I revealed my weaknesses and pleaded with him to hold my heart carefully. Instead, he intentionally tried to destroy me.
Afterward, I kept digging. Even those Nick considered friends were eager to speak out. I learned that he’d lied about past girlfriends being just friends; he’d lied to one that he wasn’t dating anyone even as he was making plans for a future with me; he’d expressed desire to raise our kids on a boat for a couple of years, but complained to another that he hated living on board; his resume is full of outright fictions and stretched truths; he’d been drinking to excess for years and was often thrown out of bars; he’d lied about the CIA; and his sympathy story regarding Grace omitted that she’d discovered he’d been cheating on her. The list of smaller lies, omissions, and character flaws is quite long.
Grace herself will not respond to my requests for her side of the story. She seems to have cut not only Nick out of her life but all mention of him. I can’t help but wonder if it’s out of fear, a desire to protect herself emotionally, or if she’s just as stubborn as Nick said she is. I’m struggling with my frustration toward her for not helping me to uncover more of the truth.
If you want to believe
To women who’ve yet to go through this or who want to believe in their mate despite the evidence, please listen to those who came before you and keep speaking to those who come after—even if they shut you out, accuse you of jealousy, and insist that you’re crazy. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, but we want to believe that we’re different, we’re special, and so he loves us. It has nothing to do with us. He’s incapable of love. He made those other women feel just as special as you feel now, and then he served their worst nightmares on a silver platter. They get away with it, in part, because we don’t trust each other. If we valued and sought out other women more than we valued these men, many of us could have been spared a good deal of pain.
Another of the greatest dangers we face is our refusal to acknowledge until it’s too late that evil is out there in the form of pathology. A pathological person will use our belief that everyone is inherently good, or can be better, as his greatest weapon against us. He is indeed some mother’s son. He’s a beloved brother. And he’s also your worst nightmare. For god’s sake, not everyone is capable of change, and if there’s one thing I took away from my Catholic school days, it’s that the devil doesn’t approach you with horns and venom, but beauty and a kiss.