Imagine if every first date came with a vision of your future together in full high definition. Imagine if, in your first weeks of romance, you were shown how your new partner would treat you months, even years, down the line. The truth is we’re almost always given precisely such an image, and it comes through the way they speak about their ex-partners. I’ve never found a more flawless way to get a detailed view of the future.
In relationships, I’m the Houdini of excuse making. Tie me up under water with red flags and I’ll escape using excuses alone. I’ll see your warning sign and raise you five million kinds of denial, but the way you talk about your exes is too reliable an indication of how you’ll treat me for even me to rationalise away.
D adored his exes. He was still friends with every last one of them, and for five years, he treated me like a princess. H spoke well of his ex-partners. He owned his mistakes, and that’s precisely what he did in our relationship. He gave me many years of happiness, but he was as much of a commitment-phobic with me as he had been with his exes. Only a few months ago, he pulled precisely the same stunt with a new woman as he had with me, making a commitment and then sprinting away faster than it took to buy the ring.
Then there was N. He set off enough sirens to wake the dead. Every ex he had was “crazy”, and he was still furious with most of them. He found it impossible to tell me which mistakes he’d made in his relationships. Nobody is that perfect or that persecuted.
All N’s partners had had psychological meltdowns, so it wasn’t surprising when I started melting down, too. His manipulation, lies, and outrage were crazymaking, and crazy is what they made me. I became the kind of woman I’d never been before: hypervigilant, insecure, angry, and desperate. I literally felt as though I’d lost my sanity.
I’d seen the red flags early on, but even I was stunned at how closely I began to resemble the partners he’d described to me in such detail.
When it came down to trying to figure out if I should own and fix my part in the wreck or leave him, he’d gaslighted me for so long and so badly that it was impossible to see reality. It was all a haze of lies, but he’d never stopped raging on about his exes. That was the piece of clarity I needed to get away from him. My past relationships had been happy ones, and his had been disastrous, so the common denominator in our problems was him. It was enough to help me get out before he destroyed me utterly.
There’s an old cliché that goes ‘when someone shows you who they are, believe them’. I did, and it probably saved me years of hell.