Originally published on Everyday Feminism. I was scared to admit it. The words came flooding back from my subconscious. How could I be so petty as to resent someone who never yelled at me or physically hurt me, who I loved and wanted more than anything to get along with? But all the fights that seemed resolved every time he dropped me off at my apartment kept creeping back.
I was just overreacting. He was so loving and kind in so many ways. The memories would resurface days and weeks later. Viewing relationships like transactions. Such an underserving girlfriend. The truncated hairs fell one by one, severing the half of me still angry he never paid me back.
Never mind the money. Never mind the thesis. What was wrong with me? This was the guy who had surprised me by arriving at my apartment with newly bought ingredients and cooking me dinner.
Who had patiently reassured me about all my body image concerns even though I must have sounded ridiculous. But I was so mad. Mad he turned this all around on me. Mad at him for making me mad at myself, and mad at myself for being mad at him. I picked one hair after another, lost in the hypnotizing strands. My brain was as split as the tips of my hair. While caught in this cacophony of conflicting thoughts, I went to a book fair with my boyfriend and a title caught my eye: This should be interesting, I thought.
I stuffed it into my paper bag, all-you-can-fit for five dollars. It was only during that fleeting moment between our kiss goodbye and my Friends reruns that I admitted to myself why I had really bought that book.
The next day, I opened it instead of my computer. As I half expected, I saw myself — both selves — scattered across the pages. For the first time, I saw why his behavior stressed me out. You may simply have been manipulated into believing you are one.
My partner accomplished this manipulation by deflecting blame onto me. Even if the action under discussion was his, I was just looking at it from the wrong angle. Making someone feel oversensitive and unreasonable is gaslighting. After he told me what to paint and hovered over me complaining that I was doing it all wrong, I got mad and left the room.
Could I be the manipulative one? Would he break up with me? I went to the bathroom, and when I got out, I was relieved to find him standing there holding his cat. We stood together and pet her like nothing had ever happened. Forget about my anger toward him. As they started getting worse, a friend encouraged me to end the relationship.
Finally, I saw why I could never get our arguments out of my mind: None of my concerns were ever addressed. They were simply deflected onto me. My concerns became results of my own pettiness. In fact, I wondered if I would drive all my future partners away for being so over-critical. I grew to believe he was noble for resisting the urge to argue and I was small-minded in comparison. He understood what life was about. This is what manipulative people want. Since I was constantly trying to prove I was deserving, my partner always got what he wanted from me.
The first boundary he coaxed me to cross was my standard for safer sex. He told me condoms hurt, so I asked him to get tested — for months. He kept saying he would make appointments but never did.
I got sick of having the same discussion over and over, so I gave in and had unprotected sex. My decision was not safe either, but it was understandable given the alternative. The next boundary he wore away at was financial. Since I made more money than him, he argued, I should cover our dates when he was short on cash. I had enough money to pay for his meals, so I again felt petty that it made me uncomfortable.
Why was I putting my own ability to save money over his ability to enjoy our time together? As these stories show, his weapon of choice was not overt aggression, but intellectual, seemingly rational arguments.
If someone stumps you with a question, he said, change the subject. So, you comply with their subject change and try to forget how the conversation started in the first place. Unfortunately, if it started with something important to you, it comes back to haunt you later. I felt like I had split personalities, my allegiances constantly shifting.
My thoughts were muddled and confused. But after gaining an understanding of manipulation, I realized the version of me that was aligned with him was not based on my own original thoughts. He had manipulated me into advocating for him.
In fact, when I defended him, I sounded just like him. I ranted about how misunderstood he was. Thankfully, I had family and friends who stood up for me — and stood up to me when I was gaslighting myself. Eventually, it became impossible to play the roles of both the loyal girlfriend and the friend and daughter of people who wanted the best for me. I had to pick one version of myself. So I decided to speak up. And I knew that as long as I stayed with him, I would feel those pressures.
In her follow-up book The Verbally Abusive Man: When you confront a manipulative person, they will either take a good, hard look at themselves, or they will manipulate you into unseeing the manipulation. I hope that if you are being manipulated, what was previously fuzzy and confusing and so maddening you wanted to tear your hair out has come into focus for you as well.
And I no longer pick my split ends. You can follow her on Twitter suzannahweiss.