I’ve tried to imagine how you will meet. Perhaps after the monthly urbanism meet-up he hosts, he’ll sidle up to you and engage you in conversation… You’ll be captivated by his charisma, his charm, the fact that you were the only person in the room to him. He laughs a little too loud at one of your jokes. You find it disarming. You will be disarmed.
Perhaps he already knows a little bit about you. He’s seen your work, or read your profile. Maybe he knows someone who knows you. He’ll play it up, how much he knows you already. Not enough to be creepy, but just enough to make you wonder how much you know yourself.
You begin a dance of courtship, one that feels ancient and slow and romantic. He messages you at the end of a long day. “What are you grateful for, today?” Flushed, you consider your response. What would be the most attractive thing to be grateful for? You crack a joke, and list your gratitude in earnest. And I’m grateful for you, you suddenly want to add to the end of the list, but you don’t. You play it cool. What is he grateful for, today?
He will read everything on the internet about you. And I do mean, everything. Not because he is curious… but because he’s looking for hooks. He’s looking for a way in. At first, the attention is flattering. He’ll tell you he did a ‘background check’ on you to check you aren’t a ‘psycho’. If that doesn’t ring any alarm bells, time to check the batteries.
Three, maybe four weeks in, the conversations — each becoming a more densely layered tapestry of attraction, weaving into infatuation — become somewhat more… pressured. He starts asking you about your plans for children. Your financial values; your marital values. How many kids do you want to have? Do you believe in marriage? Do you believe in God?
You’ve never had a relationship like this, one where you can speak so openly about the topics other men baulk at. A man you dated on and off for five years choked on the concept of marriage, but this one… this one wants to know the corner of every boundary you hold true to. You don’t realise it’s because he’s about to bend and twist those boundaries until you don’t know what’s true to you, at all.
The first time you stay the night with each other, he might tell you he doesn’t want to have sex. More layers of your armour, so meticulously and carefully adorned, are peeled away. He doesn’t want to make this physical too fast, he says, in the same breath as he asks you how many children you want, and when. Later that night, you have to physically push him off you when he doesn’t hear you murmur “no”. His gorilla arms and heavy, bulky body; crushing you, clawing at you, suffocating you.
I hope you don’t lie in the dark and convince yourself that you wanted this. This suffocating monster in a borrowed bed. And in the morning, when he condescendingly applauds your ‘self-restraint’, I hope you don’t let the fury burn your insides, as the cold, oily stench of violation sticks to them. As though you were gagging for it, for his grotesque, full-of-itself body and the desiccated heart fueling it.
If you should shower together, I wonder how he will look at your body. Will he squint at it, peruse it critically in a way that makes you blush and turn your head? Will he tell you that your skincare routine is wrong, even though he hasn’t lived for 30 years within it? Will he prod at your scars and admonish you for decades-old inflictions, a domineering judge?
I hope you will hold your head high and let his words and gaze wash down the drain, to join their kinship grime. I hope you will realise that he has already voiced his entitlement to your body, and it is a lie.
I hope that when you start researching abusive relationships and how to survive them, you’re doing it not to learn how to stay — but to learn how to leave, intact. I hope when you find that bookmark folder, your hidden shame of “How to spot the signs of emotional abuse” and “Should I stay in an abusive relationship?”, your heart breaks for the wilful naivete you had. Your willingness to sacrifice yourself on the altar of love. And I hope you realise that real love doesn’t need your sacrifice at all.
And when he makes a ‘safe word’ out of one of your favourite native birds, which he then uses to forbid you from contacting or speaking to him for days at a time — usually after he has abused you in some way — I hope you realised that “healthy boundaries” are not about controlling others around you, but how you respond to what they do. I hope you realise that using the language of healers to stonewall and further abuse you is demented. I hope you realise that his attempts to steal your words from you is not safe, at all.
Healthy boundaries are not a fence with which you imprison the people you love.
I hope that the first time he gets a hard-on from making you cry, you begin to extract the soft and tender parts of your heart from his reach. I hope you see the glimpses of his twisted, brutal, monstrous nature for what it is — a sickness. A curse. I hope you cry less for him, every day.
When he resents you for conversations he had in his head, with you; conversations you had no control over or part in… bear in mind that ‘you’ will never truly exist to him. You only exist to him as the imaginary version he made up in his mind, and he will not be dissuaded. I hope you understand that you are merely a puppet through which he can act out a game and exercise (not exorcise) his misogyny. To him, you are nothing more.
I hope that you don’t try to buy him a birthday cake for his birthday, only to have him humiliate you in the New World bakery aisle. I hope you don’t let him see your face burning with shame when he makes a cruel comment about how you look after you missed a spot with sunscreen on a hike. I hope you don’t let him stay with you on your weekend treat to yourself after your first year of teaching, where he will wake you up with harsh and thoughtless remarks, so that you have to gulp back tears as you try to pay for both of your stay at the Sofitel. I hope you don’t try to make excuses to the front desk clerk, alarmed, as you fumble with your debit card while he waits nonchalantly by the front of the lobby, as though he doesn’t care at all for how he’s made you feel. He didn’t care then, and you knew it.
I hope that when he kicks you under a table because he thinks you should stop speaking — not for any particular reason, just the fact that you speak at all offends him — you make a point to mention it to your dinner guests to see what they think. Especially given he was the one who made the conversations about him for most of the night. I hope you don’t shrink, but steel your spine for what is to come.
I hope his soft, high-pitched voice doesn’t mask the cruelty he can deliver with it. I hope you see the silent treatment he wields against you for what it is — a weapon, not a shield. He doesn’t need shields, because he will slowly de-claw you in your sleep.
I hope, when he tells you his ex-wife is a voice in his head, judging you and everything about you — I hope you realise that voice isn’t her, but a way he has found to control you. I hope when he admonishes your mother in front of you that, in the absence of the voice you would speak for yourself, I hope you will at least speak up for her.
I hope you when he cries, sobs on your shoulder about all the horrible things he did to his exes — and then in the next blink, does the same things to you, without remorse — you recognise that these behaviours are merely the manipulations of a narcissist. He is not capable of empathy. Don’t project it onto him.
I hope when the family puppy — the most loving, doting, friendly schnauzer — doesn’t want anything to do with him, you take it as a sign. I hope you listen to the raised eyebrows and cautious glances from your brother and sister-in-law, when they watch how uncaring he behaves towards you, even in the presence of those who love you most. How cold he can become from one moment to the next.
When you wash, hang out his laundry, and then neatly fold it for him to take on his roadtrip — and he does not so much as breathe a word of thanks in your direction — you bear in mind that he has already voiced what he expects of you. What he expects of all women. This is your job, to him.
When he insults your mum’s cooking skills to her face, despite her efforts to meet his particular dietary requirements and make him a special dessert — I hope you tell him to apologise and thank her for her generosity. Perhaps it is too much to hope that you will ask him to leave your house, and your family, forever… but I can hope.
I hope you recognise this is a pattern he learned from his father’s treatment of his mother; a pattern he is only too eager to repeat with you.
And when your brother tells you, “Fliss, he was a sociopath with weird thumbs… and Capone didn’t like him.” I hope you laugh. I hope you listen. They all knew, all along.
I hope that when he makes you cry on Christmas day and then forces your silence so he can chat up women he fancies on Twitter, you leave him blocked. This time, it was a cruel attack on your family — but there will be other times. Other topics. I hope you realise his calculated strategy only serves to place him above you. I hope you see his strategies for what they are, and not for what he pretends they are… an attempt to ‘save you’, ‘fix you’, make you better.
You didn’t need to be fixed. You didn’t ask to be saved.
And I hope, when he comes back — crying, calling, ‘remorseful’ — you let those crocodile tears fall into the river of muck he swims in. Don’t let him stick to you… it will take months to wash him off.
I hope, when he tells you he ‘doesn’t think women should be in tech’ — just because they might be the target of harassment — you defend your womanhood fiercely with the knowledge that he is part of the problem. I hope, when he reprimands you for “making him feel uncomfortable”, you say, “Good”. I hope — of all hopes — you don’t apologise.
When you are crying, devastated by an injustice on your students, and he tells you to get up and tidy your shared hotel room… I hope you finally see past the airs and graces he holds firmly in place to hide the monster he is beneath.
I hope, when he gives you the silent treatment for sharing with him how hurt you were by something he said, you don’t ask him to forgive you for feeling. I hope you don’t shrink the loving, wholehearted parts of yourself just for his convenience. He will only stop when you have no feelings at all… I hope, on hope, on hope, that you will not service this demand of his. I hope you don’t respond to the cajoling, the bullying, the manipulation that he directs at you to carve your needs into a neat ornament to place on the mantelpiece of his indifference. Something he can glance at, for entertainment, but mostly ignore.
I hope you don’t keep the poems he writes. The ones about the grandchildren he thinks you both will have (and their dogs); the ones about the dreams and the hopes and the vision he had of you before he stripped it down and broke it. I hope that when he sets you homework on how to pleasure him, when you are in the middle of your Master’s finals, you tell him he can handle that while you handle your future. And I hope you know that you’ll keep handling your future, even if he can’t handle your ambition.
I hope you don’t let him pinch the small pockets of fat on your hips when you asked him not to, because you once did the same to yourself in the throes of an eating disorder. I hope you don’t let him roll his eyes, and derisively snort “Ugh, calm down” when you try to share what’s close to your heart and what you cannot abide. He cannot abide that he should have to consider you at all. That’s nothing for you to be ashamed of.
I hope, when he lists all the things he thinks you should be insecure about, you let those lists burn. I hope that when he tells you he’s disappointed in the colour of your skin because “he always wanted brown babies”, you remind him that he is white, too, and that his narcissistic saviour complex is everything that is wrong with whiteness.
I hope that you cringe when he speaks of his ‘brown ex-girlfriends’ as trophies. I hope your heart breaks for them, and all they have had to endure — at the hands of one white man, after generations of others. I hope that when he uses your own trauma against you, for the purpose of sowing the seeds of doubt… I hope you’ll let the birds of your self-possession swoop in and pluck them out. Pluck them out. You’ll see that his faux wokeness is just fetishizing feminism.
I hope you don’t believe him when he tells you he will “go to therapy”. Because he won’t. And if he does, it will be like every other virtue signalling venture in his life — one where he does what is needed on the outside, just enough to be loved… not enough to love. The men’s groups he facilitates — the ones where he ‘helps’ other men stop abusing their families — are his cover for not doing the work required so that he doesn’t abuse his. He is too much of a coward to do anything but point the finger at others who would not stoop to the depravity he knows he has, and will continue to.
I hope, when he tells you, “Nobody is good enough for him,” you realise that’s a ‘him’ problem… not a ‘you’ problem. Because you were always good enough, and you do not have to work to earn the right to not be abused. Nobody deserves to be controlled, molested, bullied, manipulated — mind, body, or soul. You didn’t need to prove that to anyone worthy of your time. I hope that you understand that he did these things to you not because he didn’t love you, but because he is incapable of truly loving anything.
When he blames you for ‘taking it too fast’, I hope you remember who set the pace. Who was it, when you wanted to drink wine and talk about work, that asked you how many kids you wanted to have? Who was it that began discussions about the houses you would buy together, the ways you would grow together, whether you would marry? Who was it who told you that you were unlike anyone he’d ever met? Who was it who wrote poems about the grandchildren you both would have, one week into your ‘relationship’?
I hope you remember this and curl your lip, in disgust, for the lies he tells himself to justify the cruelty he inflicts. I hope you remember that you went into this wanting to get to know another human… not wishing to lose yourself.
I hope when he continually talks about how he holds the money (cryptocurrency, a fortune made from good luck and privilege); I hope you remember that he does not hold the value. That he does not hold your value. That while he tries to bully you into believing you’ll never own a thing on your own, you are not to be underestimated.
I hope you laugh at the memory when you buy that house. When you pay off that debt. When you build that empire, without him.
When he eventually discards you, the day after a discussion about those kids he assumes you’ll birth for him… without warning, without care; I hope you’ll walk away and feel relief. I hope you’ll realise he was never going to return to that dream of a man who love-bombed you into submission. I hope you’ll realise your entire relationship was a lie, built by a liar. I hope you will come to peace with the fact that you didn’t deserve it, but that you welcomed it when you didn’t stay true to the sticky, heavy feeling in your gut when you met him.
I hope you will take the lesson of his lies with you, but you will let them lose their edge. Don’t let them lose your edge.
I hope you don’t promise him your silence, so that he can keep his modest ‘fame’ — his podcast, his ‘followers’ — at the price of your pain. I hope you don’t wait for him to call you at the 6-month mark. He won’t. You were something to use, not keep. Accept it now, keep your dignity.
I hope you tell your mutual friend about all of this. I hope she sees how hard you tried to stay, how hard you tried to meet his demands, how much you wanted to make it work. How much you loved him unconditionally, even beyond the anxiety he caused you. I hope you don’t try to hide the abuse from the ones you love just because you want them to love him too. Just because you want them to see beyond his abuse, too. The thing is, you were misguided in believing he would stop. This was just the start.
I hope you don’t berate yourself for staying, when there were so many signs that you should leave. Yes, you probably should have listened. But you believed in him. You believed in you. You believed in love. I hope you can see that this belief is something beautiful, and you will — one day — find someone who won’t abuse it. It wasn’t your fault that he did.
I hope you let this kind of love be your lesson, so it doesn’t happen again.
I hope you don’t torture yourself over what you could have said or done into the numbing silence he cast. I hope you don’t lie awake wondering, “What if I had just done this? Or that?”, when it was never on you. His destiny was marked from when he was a young child. He has known for 20 years that you would be disposable to him — that every woman would be disposable to him. You were no more a moment to that movement than a grain of sand is to the ocean.
I hope you don’t wonder if he’s thinking of you. If he misses you. If he feels bad for what he did to you, and to the others.
I hope you will pick the friends who see you broken, carefully. Not all of them will care. Even fewer will understand. But those who do, and who will love you in the broken places, will be your re-making… your reinvention. I hope you will see his empty parades of self-aggrandisement as tragic pleas for a lost boy spinning fabrics of pain in all the lives around him. I hope you’ll realise the greatest pain is no longer yours to bear — the one he feels is the responsibility of every woman in his life.
I hope you will delete the playlists you made him, so you can find that music again without his memory attached to it. I hope you will remember who you were before he bulldozed into your life and made you question it. I hope you will allow the people who love you to remind you that you existed before his gaze told you what you were missing. You weren’t missing anything.
I hope when the days come — and those days will come — that you wake and the keen, sharp ache of the damage he did has been replaced with a dull, righteous fury at his nerve to inflict it… I hope you will count those days as the good ones. I hope you will rise into the fully-fledged wingspan of your fire, phoenix, and know that this anger reminds you that you were a whole person before he tried to erase you to feel better about himself. Before he tried to suck you dry of purpose just because he knew his life was bereft, because he’d let the garden of his hope wither and die in his laziness to tend it. And you will be a more complete person despite him, in light of him. I hope you will burn, burn, burn and brighten with the promise that you were only dormant… never extinct. I hope you will realise that one of you gets to take this pain and let it make you. He will only be left with the marks of karma, and I hope you know that it has already been paid to him in full.
And, when you are ready, I hope you will seek me out. We survived the same storm and became stronger for it. Stranger, I may not know you. But I have hope for you.
I hope you will one day see it too.