I Was In Love With a Man That Didn’t Exist

He was the end of the line for me. He was the place in which everything I knew about love failed; swallowed into a human-shaped void blacker than black – the colour his eyes turned when he was high on his own indifference to my or anyone else’s pain or suffering.

How did we get here? Through the doorway of a shiny facade. It disarmed me. He worked hard to present himself as the ideal image of the perfect boyfriend. He was caring, romantic and had a high-level job. More importantly, he mimicked my dreams and concerns like a mirror. I thought I had found my match. I didn’t question it. I fell in love, got married and then realised something was terribly wrong.

The first time he hit me was because he didn’t like the way I closed the door after an argument. He begged me to forgive him, blaming it all on stress from work and promised never to do it again until he did.

The thing is, within that relationship, I witnessed something I had never witnessed before – the fragility of the human mind, the splitting of personality, the strength of the ego to hold centre and what it means to be devoid of empathy.

The hypocrisy and the lying were woven into the fabric of who he was and he couldn’t see past it. All he saw was the mask of his persona and when it slipped, all went dark.

He was born in Germany to migrant Turkish workers but raised in Istanbul, Turkey, a city he desperately wanted to escape from. It was everything he believed he was not. According to him the country was religious and backwards and the people uneducated, including his mother and sister.

He identified himself as ‘Western’ with strong secular values which he had gleaned from American TV shows and pieced together with the help of YouTube and the books he half-read. But the truth is, he had no values. His blackness was fluid. He was whatever suited him in the moment.

For example, although he prided himself on being secular and considered religious people to be pariahs, on the night of July 15th 2016, the night of the Turkish coup he paraded in the streets with the others shouting Allahu Akbar. When I asked him to explain, he couldn’t. He just said he wanted to know how it felt.

Hypocrisy dictated most of his actions. He expected me to dress modestly while he wore what he wanted. When we went to a restaurant I was to sit facing only him so no other man was in view but he could face whoever he wanted. He decided where in Istanbul I could and could not go, while he went wherever he wanted. He accused me of leading on other men while he himself was entertaining a young woman in Georgia.

What he was, was deeply and dangerously confused. The stories he wove about me and others revealed that his sense-making ability was flawed and out of touch with reality.

Our relationship became nothing but drama and gaslighting which made it difficult for me to see where I began and he ended. In trying to make sense of him and his actions, I lost myself. He spun everything negative that happened as my fault. He replaced my feelings with his own because he was convinced he knew me better than I knew myself. I felt completely hijacked and deeply alone. And then the violence escalated and it nearly killed me.

I remember laying there on the contract floor not knowing if there was blood or if I had cracked my spine. He had kicked me with such force that I flew backwards hitting, my body slamming down hard on the cold concrete floor in the outside hallway of our rented London apartment.

His eyes went blacker than black when he, prior to kicking me in the stomach, grabbed me by the throat in the elevator. At that moment, I remember thinking this is how women in abusive relationships die.

He was what he was. A person who suffered from a twisted narcissistic mental disorder that defined who he was and he could never be anything else. What I had fallen in love with was a mask easily discarded just like me and everyone else in his life.

Prior to meeting him, I had with all my heart asked the universe to show me what real love was. When I met him, I thought I had found it. Looking back now, I realise it was only the first step in my journey of understanding love in which I learned what love was not.

Love was not loving others at the expense of yourself. Love was not trying to fix someone else. Love was not staying with someone that hurt you repeatedly. My experience in this abusive relationship also sparked many questions about myself that propelled me on a five-year journey of healing that I am just coming out of.

Sometimes when we think something has ended, we realise that we had been on an even bigger journey all along. My abusive marriage had been cathartic in that it allowed me to examine what placed me in that situation in the first place. What, in that relationship, did I mistake for love and why? What did I think I could fix and why?

The day I left him, I remember standing at Shadwell Station waiting for the tube and for the first time seeing how small he was. He insisted on walking me to the station, crying – looking pathetic, begging me not to leave I remember feeling nothing but the pain of bruising and then relieved when the tube arrived and the door closed and I could watch that part of my life disappear into the distance.

Key takeaways from this whole experience:

  • A person who loves you never changes narratives to deflect blame, contradict or deny your recollection of events, minimise or dismiss your concerns or make you feel that the negative feelings you are feeling are your fault. These are signs of gaslighting, the aim of which is to cause you to question your reality and sanity and leave you vulnerable to abuse.
  • You will never get a sense of closure from a narcissist. This requires empathy and rational thinking which is beyond their capabilities. Once you walk away from a narcissistic relationship, you need to give yourself closure.
  • A narcissist follows a pattern – Idealize, Devalue, Discard. Don’t engage in the pattern. Remove yourself from it if you can or seek help.
  • Remember that narcissists are people who prey on forgiveness. They thrive on your need for closure. They also manipulate compassion, exploit sympathy and manufacture anxiety. They use all three to control your behaviour and keep you stuck. See it and free yourself from it.
  • Be aware of multiple personas. Through the course of a word-salad conversation, you are likely to experience multiple personalities ranging from normal to aggressive to childish behaviour.
  • Notice the mean and sweet cycle. Sometimes they shower you with attention, sometimes they ignore you, and sometimes criticize you. This is not a normal or healthy pattern of behaviour in any way.
  • If a narcissist is accusing you of something, they are likely doing it themselves.
  • And finally, when you find yourself explaining basic human emotions to someone – things like ‘empathy’ and ‘feelings’ and ‘being nice’ –> leave. Normal adults don’t need to be taught the rules we all learn in kindergarten.

*Image by Gül Işık

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