I know relationships don’t always turn out the way we think they will, but sometimes they are a whole lot worse than we thought possible. Many years ago, I started dating a former colleague. We were both instructors, and we had met at a school neither of us worked at anymore. We’d gone our separate ways and were working for different companies.
When we met, I liked him. He seemed smart and had a great sense of humor. I could tell he liked me, too. We always had a good relationship, but it was just a friendship between two colleagues: At the time, had a girlfriend and I had a boyfriend, so nothing happened between us… until years later when we met again and we were both single and available, or so I thought.
I found out after a few dates, from his phone constantly vibrating past a certain hour, that someone was waiting for him. He later admitted that he had planned to end his relationship but hadn’t quite done so yet. In fact, they still lived together.
Clearly, I was disappointed by his lack of honesty. He explained that the only reason he didn’t tell me was that he was too embarrassed to share his situation. Apparently, he had bad credit, and he couldn’t get his own apartment, which had resulted in his staying at her place for a longer period than planned.
Not wanting to make him feel more embarrassed, I agreed to a compromise. I didn’t want to be with someone who was in a relationship, but he kept insisting that it was over and that he really wanted to be serious with me, so I decided to give him a chance to straighten his life out. I told him I would give him two weeks to end things with the other woman and move out. He thanked me for understanding and left.
Ten days later, he contacted me saying it was finally over and he had rented a very small room in a house, not far from his sister’s place. He was hopeful his financial situation would improve now that he had broken things off with his previous girlfriend because she didn’t work and he had been spending for two during their entire relationship.
We picked up where we had left off and everything seemed to be going well. During this time, even though I asked him, more than once, to give me his address, he never did. His answer went always something like this: “It’s just a room. I’ll give you my address when I move out of that hole and get my own apartment.” It was a red flag, but I tried to be generous in my assumption. I thought he felt ashamed, and I didn’t want to step all over his pride, so I didn’t insist.
Two or three months went by. One day, I went to the store to buy something, and I saw him there, buying flowers while talking on the phone. We had just talked an hour before, and he had told me he would be stuck at work, possibly for the next few days, because some of their computers weren’t working, so he had to stay and fix them to prepare for an upcoming class. I got a little closer and heard him tell someone he loved them and missed them so much.
I was right there, five feet away from him, hearing every word he was saying, but he was so focused on his phone conversation that he didn’t even see me. I just stood there, waiting for him to notice me, and, when he did, he suddenly told that person he had to go and quickly hung up. I smiled and asked him who he was talking to; he answered it was his brother.
That was a little hard to believe. It was more than a little hard to believe, especially since he had only one brother and they worked together every day at the same office and I knew him and this wasn’t how they talked to each other.
I found out he had never ended his relationship. He had just bought her a plane ticket to Europe and given her cash to go have a good time for two months, and now she was returning home, as in their home, from which he had never moved, and he was going to the airport to pick her up that day.
Obviously, I was disgusted by all this, so I broke things off immediately. He begged me to forgive him and said he hadn’t been able to end things with her because she had just found out she had cancer and didn’t have more than a few months to live. It was a good story, one I didn’t believe for a second.
A month after that, he came to my door looking terribly sad and told me she was gone. I thought he meant she was dead, but given how sneaky he’d been so far, I asked him to explain what he meant by that. “She went to Vegas to live with her family because they can take care of her.” He also told me he had moved and would show me where he lived if I took him back, to which I politely responded I wasn’t looking for a relationship because I was very busy with work.
He seemed to accept my rejection, but the truth was he wasn’t taking no for an answer. He kept calling, showing up unannounced, sending me cards and letters stating how much he loved me, and even stalking me. His stalking didn’t scare me because I didn’t think he was dangerous, but it did make me uncomfortable because I didn’t know why he was doing it. I didn’t trust him at all anymore, and I wished he would just leave me alone.
One day, he showed up at my door with a giant bouquet of roses. When I looked through the peephole and saw him and his roses, I just said that I was busy and that it wasn’t a good time, but he kept knocking on the door. His knocks got louder and gradually turned to banging.
He was acting like psycho. I was about to warn him that I would call the police if he didn’t leave, when he said, “You don’t have to open the door if you don’t want to. Just come out on the patio so I can talk to you face to face. I only have one question.”
The patio was in front of the condo, parallel to the front door. I just wanted him to go away, so I figured I’d just go on the patio as he had suggested and answer whatever question he had, hoping that would make him leave.
As soon as I opened the sliding door to the patio, he extended his other hand, the one that wasn’t holding the roses, and I saw an open box with a diamond ring in it. He said, “Will you marry me?”
I know the usual answers to that question are either yes or no, but the words that came out of my mouth were neither. “What the f*ck are you doing!” I said in an exclamatory tone… and maybe a little too loud.
I’m not particularly proud of how I handled the situation, but I don’t think I should be expected to apologize for my reaction. I think the expression he saw that day on my face was a mixture of confusion, anger, and disgust.
Here was a guy who hadn’t been honest with me about anything, literally, and we’d even stopped seeing each other because of his lack of honesty, and decency in general. And he thought buying me a ring would make all that go away? How could anyone think that? He’d later told his sister that I’d broken his heart.
Years later, I found out the other woman had never had cancer, he had never moved out, he’d loved her all along, and he’d never even planned on leaving her.
The only reason he had gone out with me was that his family didn’t approve of her because they believed she was using him: She was over twenty years older than him, had teen-aged grandchildren, and didn’t believe in working for a living.
His family had put pressure on him to leave her and find a decent person. He’d seen this as a problem and thought he could solve this problem by pursuing and marrying someone his family did approve of, so that they would leave him alone and he could keep his relationship with the woman he loved, with no regard whatsoever for the life that would be destroyed in the process.
I’m sure his family wanted the best for him, but perhaps they didn’t realize what kind of pressure they were putting on him or how badly he would react to it. They’d been right about her, as time proved: That woman kicked him out as soon as he finished paying the mortgage on her house.
He had loved her, though, and if his family had left him alone, he would have at least enjoyed the fifteen years they had spent together instead of him struggling to live two lives, one of which he didn’t want.
I was lucky I dodged that bullet. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t gone to that specific store on that particular day, if I hadn’t seen him buying flowers, if I hadn’t heard him saying those words on the phone, if I hadn’t trusted my instincts, …
However, even though I was fortunate, I couldn’t stop feeling hurt. I’d realized he’d never loved me and he had just used me as if I were a tool, devoid of any feeling or emotion.
How can an individual treat another like that? Why would they think they have the right? These are questions I haven’t been able to answer, and maybe I never will. As a friend once told me, “Maybe it’s a good thing you can’t understand that behavior.”
This was an eye-opening experience for me. I learned not everyone is as honest as I am. I learned trust must be earned. I learned not everyone is worthy of it. I was also reminded that the face people show to the world is not their real one. When the mask comes off, what’s behind it is not always a pretty sight.
It was a hard lesson, but I can see how it could have gotten a lot more complicated and painful. I’m grateful for the experience.