Are you still with me? Let’s recap. In my last relationship, I was hoodwinked, lied to and cheated on, all summarized in my previous post, Timelines. This is the beginning of my tumultuous relationship with J. See Part 3 for the remainder.
There were the best of times…
I don’t want to dwell a ton here; in hindsight, a lot of the “magic” of a new romance I thought I was experiencing turned out to be a sham, despite my ex’s insistence otherwise. For what it’s worth, I genuinely do believe (hope? Okay, not there yet) the relationship she’s in today is starting on a healthier foundation than we did. Because I met J when she presented as a man, I’ll be using “he” pronouns for this portion of the story.
J was good looking, charming and funny. After the first date, he asked for a kiss and on the second, he asked if we could hold hands while taking a nighttime walk after climbing and ice cream. He taught me fractal geometry at one in the morning and used an electric bolt cutter to help make space for my bike at my apartment. We had spirited discussions and debates about the female and male experience, and as my one friend put it, I felt like I was “learning about how someone else viewed the world”. Fucking gag.
Things between us certainly shifted, but to me, didn’t wholly change after the assault. There was a period where I felt crazy. For awhile, I gave a lot of credit to J for “taking care of me” during this time. With even more hindsight, I realize that even if this wasn’t the intent, J was actually taking advantage of me. I was in an extremely emotionally vulnerable position as I scrambled for any semblance of stability and security. J even promised to leave his job and learn to code to build a platform for rape victims (in reality, he was fired, and this project was never built).
It was just one of many lies that unfolded over time. I forgot this one, but J didn’t even tell me his real name for several months. It was part of the whole needing to maintain a secret identity while cheating on his girlfriend thing.
The biggest one though was what followed. I asked J the morning after I told him about the rape:
There will come a time when you will be able to hurt me. You might even want to. Please leave my life before then. You don’t owe me any explanation, but just promise me you won’t hurt me. Just leave.”
But J stayed. In the coming weeks as we spent more time together, I could tell I was developing feelings as I eagerly awaited his texts, yearned to make him smile, for his embrace at night. But it was still too soon from my last relationship, and definitely too soon after being a recent victim of sexual assault. I was uncomfortable when we did “coupley” things together, like J buying me chocolates, or taking pictures together, almost always initiated by him. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but in my gut, some baser instinct told me something was off.
As a solution, J proposed a system called “a la carte,” like the menu option. It would allow for the “features of a relationship, without needing a formal relationship, like an affair.” I thought this was a brilliant idea and proceeded to evangelize it to all my friends.
“It’s not a relationship, why get hung up on labels and all of what those are supposed to mean?” I’d proselytize.
Why does dating have to be this big game of poker with this big buildup where you only reveal your hand at the end? And whoever says ‘I like you’ or ‘I want to be your girlfriend’ first loses?”
At this point, J was sleeping over everyday, so I had no reason to raise a conversation about whether we ourselves were exclusive. I had asked a few times “Are you seeing anyone else?” In my mind, I thought I’d heard “No,” but today, I’m not so sure.
I beat myself up a lot after I found out the truth of what was really going on. I still do. That I was a “dumb bitch” who should’ve known that anyone who looked like that could’ve possibly been interested in someone like me as anyone more than a side chick.