There are many types of betrayal. Ones worse than being cheated on. I know this because having been cheated on, it was in the way it was done and the events leading up to it, that truly haunt me to this day.
In my 3 Minute Memoir yesterday regarding my fiancés stag do, you saw how some old and very difficult emotions resurfaced over the weekend. It reminded me of a dark time with an ex. Even though this particular relationship only lasted a year, it left a wound so deep it is sometimes ripped open by some of the memories I share with you now. Cheating and betrayal often go hand in hand, but don’t always happen at the same time.
Stuart* was different to other guys I’d met. Not instantly attracted to him physically, I was more intrigued by the fact he’d set up his own business at 17 and was at 23 running it successfully. Having come out of my traumatic relationship with Lee* – my first love – Stuart seemed like the exact opposite; had never touched a drug and was driven. After a few dates we embarked on the relationship that I hoped would heal my broken heart. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Often with a broken heart comes a broken sense of self-worth. I was ravaged by insecurity about my looks and who I was, and would overreact over the smallest thing. I was jealous of everyone as I compared every inch of my body to the celebrities I saw on-screen and in magazines. It wasn’t long before I discovered that Stuart, who had never had a relationship and knew little of what it involved, was the wrong person to be with to help build me up as he idolised those perfect pop-stars and actresses. I never felt like I could match up.
It wasn’t long before the comments started. Such as how lucky I was to have him “because I usually pick very attractive girls”, telling me my stomach was too big and how ‘fit’ my friends or other girls were in comparison to me. As these comments continued, they only reinforced my already dwindling confidence.
Stuart also had OCD. I wasn’t allowed to leave my things lying around, food tins always had to have the labels facing forward, towels needed to be lined up and God forbid I dropped anything on the floor of his ‘show-home’ looking flat.
I became encased into a prison of doubt and anxiety over everything, especially attractive girls he encountered. Sex and looks were a priority to him, and as I couldn’t match up in the looks department (he liked brunettes), I tried desperately to keep him interested through sex. I literally became his play thing. We would argue often about me not having enough sex with him, and in the end I started to give in, even priding myself with how I had become a porn star in the bedroom.
I thought I was in love. I believed that I WAS lucky and would never find anyone else to love me because I wasn’t pretty enough and no one else would put up with me. At one point I even dyed my hair brown in a desperate bid to keep Stuart from wanting other girls.
There were good times of course, especially in the beginning. But these became more and more rare. Even though Stuart didn’t do any kind of drugs, he drank. A lot. He wasn’t an alcoholic, but he took binge drinking to a level I hadn’t experienced. Having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol myself, the year passed in a blur of drunken fits of jealous rage, arguments and tears with constant break-ups and make-ups. I would usually threaten to leave, sometimes actually leaving to go back to my dorm at uni, only to have him reel me back in professing his love. Emotional blackmail became my weapon to make him prove to me he cared.
I was desperate for love and to be taken care of. But events such as his birthday – a night he wanted just with his friends (boys and girls) – reinforced my fear that he didn’t truly love me, and I became more and more needy. I became controlling, causing a fuss every time he wanted to go out without me because I didn’t trust him and I was so terrified of him leaving me. I never thought he’d cheat, but I couldn’t understand why he would choose nights out with his friends over spending time with me, or why he didn’t want me there with him, together as couple. A team. He would make allowances in his work schedule for hangovers, but rarely for me. I felt second best, not just to his business, but to his friends and to his drinking.
I was confused because his words of love weren’t reflected by his actions.
I tried to end it a couple of times. To leave. I wasn’t stupid and I could see that it wasn’t working and it wasn’t the kind of relationship I wanted. But Stuart would tell me all the things I wanted so desperately to be true. Every time I managed to get some distance and some independence back (usually after a huge row where we decided to take some time apart), he would come to me and play the best boyfriend act for a few weeks before the whole cycle started again.
I remember once thinking that we hadn’t argued – that I hadn’t cried – for over a week and how much progress that was!
Then his friends started to despise and make fun of me. I couldn’t blame them; I hated what I’d become too. I didn’t want to be the girl who sat at home ringing her boyfriend over 100 times because he had promised to be home at 10pm and it had gone 2am. I didn’t want to be the girl who cried every time he wanted a night out with his friends, because she knew in her heart they would bitch about her and he would do nothing to defend her or their relationship. Comments were made constantly about my trying to control him, but the less I trusted him, the worst I got. We argued more and inevitably, the more I tried to hang on, the more he wanted to break free. It felt like I was constantly fighting for the health and happiness of my own heart against the one person who was meant to protect and treasure it.
As bad as it got, he wouldn’t let me go. And I wasn’t strong enough to leave.
One night Stuart took me to dinner and told me that we would only see each other every two weeks to give him time to go out and be with his friends. This was after 10 months together and just after my drug overdose. As I sat there crying into my spaghetti, I listened to how my suicide attempt meant that if I wanted to continue to be his girlfriend, I was not going to see him as often as before because what I had done wasn’t normal. I was so ashamed and so desperate to keep him that I agreed to his terms.
Who would want me now anyway?
I had hit rock bottom and didn’t think I could fall any lower. The reality of what I’d done sat heavily on my mind. I lost 2 stone in as many weeks due to the anti-depressants they had prescribed, and I was failing my final year of Law. Then one night, at uni, dressed up and drunk, a friend of a friend started chatting to me. He told me I was gorgeous and that he’d always thought I was a good-looking girl. When he went in to kiss me, I didn’t stop him. For the first time in nearly a year a light inside me that I recognised as self-worth, flickered.
When I woke up the next morning I was disgusted with myself. Stuart had come for a surprise visit because he had “missed me” (he seemed to always ‘know’ when I was getting stronger or pulling away and would be there just in time to reel me back in). I immediately blurted out the huge mistake I had made. Of course he was angry. But in time he and I were ‘back on track’ of our dysfunctional relationship.
It would be a few months later, a few days before my birthday, that I would find out about a betrayal of his own.
*Names have been changed