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Unbelievable

I have trust issues.

These are serious and they are long-term. There are never more than half a dozen people in my life whom I feel I can trust. It is paranoid. It is isolating. It is unhealthy.

The Techie somehow, terrifyingly, became one of those half dozen within a few months. Everyone else on the list I have known ten years or more.

There’s a piece of advice that’s all too common in terms of relationships: listen to your gut. If you’re constantly paranoid, second guessing, suspicious, there’s a reason. Get out. This advice is useless to me. It describes every interaction, every day. Knowing that my emotional response often has no relation to reality is a necessary part of survival. I can’t let anxiety make decisions without evidence, unless I want to completely dissociate from humanity. I have done this. It is paranoid. It is isolating. It is unhealthy.

The last few months, I have essentially not seen the Techie. This was expected. He works nights and often weekends. I get up early, go to bed late. Grad school comes first. Classes, research, writing. I have a job, teach a class, organize board gaming events, cook, clean, occasionally exercise. Relationships have to occur around the fringes. I see Spouse less than I should; the Techie’s physical absence did not suggest a problem except that I missed him.

We texted, most days. About nothing much. His work, his health, my studies, recipes. He stopped responding to flirtation in kind at some point. Acknowledged, apologized: work was eating all of his time and energy, causing pain. I stopped flirting.

There was a phone call in September. He said he’d had a positive serotest for HSV-1 (itself a non-issue). Mentioned he had other calls to make, plural. I was aware of only one other partner. He and I had engaged in unprotected sex. I debriefed my doctor: my boyfriend has likely had partners I do not know about. I do not know his risk behavior with them. We moved up my routine test. Talked about the staggering inaccuracy of HSV serotesting. Most doctors will not perform it in the absence of clinical symptoms, of which I had been assured there were none. Interesting. Suggestive. Insufficient data to justify listening to anxiety.

I asked him for data. Said we needed a conversation about risk behavior and risk communication. That while we were at it could we please put a term to this relationship because I’m tired of not knowing what it is. He said yes and of course, it’s important, we’ll make it happen soon. “Soon” kept falling through, always for reasons that seemed to make perfect sense. I knew his job took priority. After a month I saw him. It wasn’t planned. I was hanging out with his girlfriend at his house, he came home early. I have too much pride. Didn’t want her to know I was upset. Asked him to let me know, when he had time to talk. I offered to discuss it by text message: written communication is far more comfortable for me than verbal. He said that wouldn’t be fair. Anxiety said: be done. I ignored it. Insufficient data.

By Halloween I’d decided he was simply too cowardly to end things. (Behavior: said “we’ll talk soon” for seven weeks. Did not talk.) We were at the same party. I told Spouse and the Fireman and his wife that I was going to go tell him I was no longer waiting; whatever it had been, it clearly was no longer. I’m fond of closure. All three of them objected. He’s busy. Exhausted. You owe him a chance to explain. I did not say I’d offered half a dozen chances. I did not say intent and explanation were not relevant: the behavior is not one I accept. I cornered him outside. Said I didn’t know how to talk to him, or whether it was worth trying. He was calm, compassionate, apologetic, sincere. Work. Always work. He wasn’t willing to steal my attention from the Fireman, he said. They visit rarely enough, he knows I miss them. We’ll talk soon. I said I no longer trusted soon. He amended: I will look at schedules tomorrow. You will have a list of my expected free time for the next week by midafternoon, but expect it to be limited. It was limited to times I had work or class.

He tried to contact me a few times in November. I had extra complications with classwork: an unexpected paper was assigned, I spent two hours with a biostatistician going over some numbers I’d analyzed for a project but seemed too high (the math was correct). I was organizing a group project, finishing a grant proposal. This is real life, not a Nicholas Sparks novel. Romance does not trump all. I told him to expect a call when term ended.

Things started to come out. Spouse started seeing a girl who used to date the Techie. Exclusive relationship, she thought, but then he just stopped returning calls. Our timelines overlapped by several months. He’d never mentioned her name, had explicitly said he had had no other partners since his last STI tests when we started fucking. Laughed when I asked, in fact.

I’d been spending time with his girlfriend–the one I knew about, who lived with him. She got awkward and silent if I mentioned him. He said this was anxiety, she felt I was only spending time with her to get closer to him (not the case. She is bright, studies my field, and as damaged as I am. We get along well). I asked if this was the case, she said she had wondered. That she knew he needed other partners to be sexually satisfied. She gave names, approximate dates. Three or four women either never mentioned or whom I had been explicitly told he had not and would not touch. She hesitated, asked when my physical relationship with him had ended. I told her: we had not fucked since early September. We had a couple of brief, intense makeout sessions, he found excuses to finger fuck me in semi-public a few times, as recently as a week ago.

“Did he tell you we were having unprotected sex?”

“No. Did he tell you we did?”

This led to all three of us and poor Spouse sitting around my dining room table for a few hours comparing notes. He said he was going to a funeral? No. He and I went on vacation. He said he was emotionally involved? That this was unusual, frightening, moving fast? Lovely, we all got the same line. He told none of us about having had unprotected sex with the others, explicitly denied the existence of a sexual relationship with the others (he had not hidden me from girlfriend, likely only because I predated their relationship so she’d heard both scenes and sex from his bedroom when they were just roommates. Bit hard to deny). The girlfriend kept shaking her head. “This is emotional abuse. This is inexplicable, compulsive lying and emotional abuse.” The girl Spouse is now seeing kept crying. The girlfriend was angry enough to be shaking. I wanted to be. Angry, upset, something. I couldn’t manage more than confused. Two of us at least were openly nonmonogamous. What possible motivation to lie? What possible chance we wouldn’t eventually talk?

It didn’t matter. Overwhelming consilience of information. Lies. To everyone, about everything. Behavior is what matters, not motive, not intent. We texted him, got a passive-aggressive and rather martyred email in reply. Not good enough. Confrontation in a diner at 0200, all of us wanting to hear the truth. They may have even hoped for it. I was holding pieces of broken trust and trying to remember how it could possibly have ever fit together. Truth or not, I don’t think I could believe him. He was calm, compassionate, apologetic, sincere. Yes, he had lied. No, he couldn’t say why. Of course we should be angry, he never claimed not to be a terrible person. I reminded him that I had explicitly offered to step back into the role of platonic friend or to just go away if that was what he wanted. That just 24 hours before, he had asked me to be patient, insisted he cared. I did not ask whether that was true; his behavior was not caring, so the sentiment became irrelevant. I just asked why. A few times. He didn’t answer. I suppose that doesn’t matter, either.

I’m not calm. Trust issues. Anxiety is telling me to question everything, everyone. I am confused, frightened, appalled at myself (supposedly an intelligent woman), filled with self-loathing that I could trust someone so easily, that I would choose a mythomaniac to have faith in. The flight reflexes I held down for him–because he asked me to–are wound up as bulls in a bucking chute. But oddly, I’m okay. Not crying. Not angry. Not grieving.

The others, I don’t know. Spouse is taking care of one (Spouse is not the Techie’s biggest fan right now. Can’t be fun to find out one’s wife and new partner were systematically lied to with no explanation by the same man). She’s young and rather fragile. The girlfriend went back home with the Techie. She has a higher stake in this. I am not sure whether she is attempting reconciliation, whether she would welcome support, or if I should expect to be villainized. I suppose I’ll find out eventually.

In any case, that’s done with.

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  1. Ewen McNeill
    December 7, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    Oh my.

    I’m glad you have an answer (I’d sort of assumed it’d already been worked out, quietly, without being posted about, some time ago). I’m sorry to hear that it’s such an lousy, incomplete answer, and a trigger. I hope the medical side of things doesn’t complicate it any further.

    A couple of observations in case they help: the reason such stories get so complicated is that they tend to centre around people who are “easy to trust” without necessarily rationally thinking about it. It’s very hard, from within a frame of reference, to be able to even imagine what actions/events would look like from outside that frame of reference: it’s the “Matrix” effect, that if what you’ve known is a created world, it’s unlikely you’ll realise that it’s not real.

    Secondly, as someone who has had to re-teach themselves how to trust (because reasons), my personal approach, developed over years, is to take notice of my stronger gut reactions and then to use that to trigger a rational re-examination of the situation rather than just running away. Including consciously considering what it might look like from another frame of reference (particularly “what would someone else just looking in think here”). Often times that re-examination says “actually, no, you’re not about to be eaten by a grue”, and I can relax a little. Sometimes it says “y’know, from the outside, this still seems kind of dodgy”, and then at minimum I’m more “on alert” for other signs. It can be helpful to actually get that outside person’s point of view (“this is what I’ve noticed, what do you think”) if there’s the opportunity.

    It still colours everything about my interactions with other people. And I probably miss out on opportunities others would take. But I don’t have to be afraid of my own shadow, or completely ignore my gut reaction.

    Ewen

    • gingernic
      December 8, 2013 at 3:42 pm

      I should have ended it. After Halloween, the only possible option other than closure that I saw was to take a break and consider resuming a physical relationship when he wasn’t at work 12-14 hours a day (the insane work schedule I know to be true). Medically, bupropion is moderately effective at regulating the dopamine issues. I seem to have taken up smoking to enhance this effect. It’s telling that I haven’t wanted a cigarette since this conversation. Psychologically, he actually showed more empathy and attention to my compulsions and anxieties than anyone had in years (aside, you know, the lying part).

      He is easy to trust. More than that, he is very good at making himself indispensable. This applies at work, where he’s the only person capable of doing a significant number of vital tasks, and in relationships. I do not need people. He had expressed distress about this: “I don’t know what I can do for you; you’re self-sufficient. It makes me think you’ll just get bored and walk away.” It’s worth noting that his fear of abandonment and my fear of vulnerability always presented a certain degree of tension: I can’t express emotional attachment (closest I managed was an overly clinical text message), he constantly expected to be deemed not worth my time.

      The concern about reality is serious. Events during panic attacks (no longer common) are often not available to recall. I have (very rarely) fugue states that occur without other symptoms of panic. Sometimes the memory comes back later, sometimes not. I know enough about memory to be aware of the mind’s limitations when it comes to mapping reality. Hence the preference for written communication: no confusion about what was said when, opportunity to take the time to phrase things correctly.

      The reexamining method is one I’m familiar with (and I love you for referencing Zork). It can help with decision making, for sure, but at least for me doesn’t reduce paranoia or anxiety at all. In this instance, multiple second opinions were actually detrimental: I mentioned the night three people told me not to end things. Previously his girlfriend said she was sure he still wanted me around, there was just no time. Hell, even my therapist said I needed to go talk to him after our last appointment. I thought maybe I was trying to find an excuse to end a healthy relationship because I didn’t like the vulnerability.

      I’m sorry you’ve had to relearn trust. Losing it can happen for all too many reasons, and all of them are traumatic. As much as I sometimes envy those for whom it seems automatic, though, I think I may prefer to keep most people at a distance. Far fewer opportunities to be manipulated or hurt.

  2. Ewen McNeill
    December 8, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    One of the challenges with asking for external input is finding the right question to ask. For instance, given what you’ve said, it definitely sounds like “he still wanted [you] around”. But that wasn’t the right question. The right question was something more like “is this going to change in the foreseeable future to be more like what I (want|need) in my life”. And it sounds like the answer there was “no” (because of being “indispensable” to many people/things and apparently no desire to change that, prioritise, etc).

    For me the answer to “is this thing that’s causing me to have to question whether this is right for me going to change” being “not in the foreseeable future” means that it’s Not Something I Want In My Life. And I have broken up with someone for just that reason — they were “too busy” to spend time with me for an extended period of time, without any indication of when it’d change — after some weeks of telling them I wanted to spend more time with them. (I also quit a permanent job, and “fired” freelancing clients, for similar “I don’t want this in my life, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change despite trying a bunch of times” reasons.)

    FWIW, I too greatly value the fact that I can take care of myself, and don’t “need” specific people. But on the flip side, I also don’t want people to “need” me. I’d like them to *want* me, but I try to leave everyone I interact with self-sufficient (or at minimum with other options) — I want them to be actively choosing me, at each moment, rather than forced into it. (This covers both work and non-work — my work is such that I could easily hoard knowledge, etc, to make myself indispensable. But instead I work quite hard to do the opposite — share knowledge, and make myself replaceable. And take pride in the fact that people still ask me to do things even given the choice.)

    Thanks for your sympathy. And yes, I think pretty much any reason that causes one to lose trust in people is going to be traumatic. It took A Long Time to process all of that, in many layers of “peeling the onion”. I think the biggest thing I learnt was how to be much more fine grained in my trust (both in what areas, and to what degree), and much more aware of signs as to whether it seems warranted to trust more or not.

    Ewen

    PS: As something to followup later (I’d suggest *not* reading them right now), have you come across Brene Brown’s work? I found some of her books quite useful to me.

    • gingernic
      December 8, 2013 at 11:45 pm

      “I too greatly value the fact that I can take care of myself, and don’t “need” specific people. But on the flip side, I also don’t want people to “need” me. I’d like them to *want* me, but I try to leave everyone I interact with self-sufficient (or at minimum with other options) — I want them to be actively choosing me, at each moment, rather than forced into it.”

      Yes. This is so important. I take it way too far–not allowing people to help when taking care of things myself is an objectively greater use of resources, &c–but the idea that I’d be stuck with someone or they’d be stuck with me when one of us didn’t want it is appalling. Best thing about a relationship with a self-sufficient person, you know they picked you, specifically.

      • Ewen McNeill
        December 9, 2013 at 1:04 am

        Not only did they pick you once, they’re continuing to pick you in each moment, because they’d be fine without you, so they could freely choose to leave at any time. The “continuing to choose”, moment to moment, part is *really* important to me.

        FWIW, it took me a while to learn to accept help, even of the “would you like me to hold that while you put your jacket on” variety. (I’m really well practiced at putting on/taking off tops, while walking, while holding other things in my hands. But recently I realised that doesn’t have to be the only way!)

        Another recent(ish) learning is that “no, I can manage by myself” isn’t a direct answer to a “would you like” question: maybe one can manage, but still be grateful for assistance — and willing to accept help. Perhaps more importantly, that is situational (I’ll let almost anyone I trust not to just run off with my things hold them while I put my jacket on — it doesn’t mean I then trust them for everything from that point on).

        Ewen

  3. December 8, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    That just sucks, and I wish there was something I could say that would make it suck less. Jedi hugs if you want them.

    Feel free to ignore this if it’s not helpful, but I don’t think you should beat yourself up too much for having been scammed by this guy. I mean, I absolutely understand why you would and don’t mean to imply that your feelings are wrong, but from the number of people he’s jerked around, he’s clearly had a lot of practice deceiving people. You, on the other hand, triumphed over your trust issues and anxiety by not assuming he was out to lie to you.

    • gingernic
      December 10, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      Hurrah for Jedi hugs!

      I don’t think I’m quite beating myself up over believing the lies per se. I am having a flood of anxiety–questioning everything and not being able to put the doubt and fear away like usual–and that’s what I’m beating myself up over. It is not rational to let one person’s actions color my view of everyone else’s, make me doubt Spouse wants me around or suspect friends of not being friends at all. It’s not rational, it’s not fair to them, and I’m doing it anyway because I just can’t regulate this fear. To the point of hyperventilating and nonresponsiveness when a couple offered to come over and cook for Spouse and me since we were stressed. Emotional regulation is just stripped. And I want to have this written down–the level of anxiety and irrationality and fear–because he is charming and has many qualities I adore and he is very much a member of my primary social group. I do not want to think, in a few months, that maybe all this wasn’t so bad and it’s safe to trust him again. The lack of anger suggests this is a possibility.

  4. December 9, 2013 at 2:44 am

    I know I said it on Twitter already, but wanted offer a show of support over here also even though I haven’t really got anything useful to say except ‘Ugh. Jerkface jerk!’

    *hugs*

    Ferns

    • gingernic
      December 10, 2013 at 12:52 pm

      *Laugh* Jerkface jerk, indeed! It is useful. I keep talking about all this and rationalizing and overthinking and the rest, but really, that’s all that needs to be said. He did awful things, time to call it out and move on.

      All the support and hugs are very very much appreciated. Seriously. Thank you.

  5. December 10, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Ohhhhhhhh my god. :( All teh hugs. ALL OF THEM.

    I have anxiety issues that are – by the sounds of it – very similar to yours. I used to have to squish them down constantly with regards to The Pedant, and it was stressful and difficult – and he didn’t even betray my trust. To convince myself I was safe with someone and then turn out to be wrong…arrrrrrgh. Did I mention I have hugs? Go ahead and help yourself to however many you need.

    Echoing what Stabbity said: The Techie sounds like he lies just for the sport of it, and therefore is most likely very, very good at it. I think your reasoning to trust him was probably sound; I think he probably was seeming sincere and behaving in trustworthy-looking ways. And I kind of want to hit him in the face with a shovel right now.

    • December 10, 2013 at 11:00 pm

      The lack of communication/panic spirals with the Pedant were uncomfortably familiar. The odd thing was not having to push it back with him. He said whatever he liked, I believed it. Normally getting blindsided can’t happen–always expecting the worst. Would’ve been a good idea in this case.

      I doubt it was for sport. Not that it’s an excuse. I’m all too familiar with mental illness–>issues–>doing/saying awful things to push people away because it’s too frightening to have them close. Doesn’t excuse it by any means, but I know the processes that lead there. Which is probably why I don’t want to hit him with a shovel. Still not a fan of running into him at the grocery store either (of *course* that happened), but what can you do.

  6. December 18, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Holy moly, what an asshole. :(( I don’t know what else to say. I am really glad that you and other!girl and Spouse have each other to lean on.

    …what an ass. And clearly very good at it to operate on this scale. No wonder your anxiety is going bananas. It really sucks to have your trust abused like that. Not not not your fault, but damn. What an ass.

    • December 18, 2013 at 4:11 pm

      It really is okay (well, maybe not “okay,” but I’ve handled far, far worse). I’m not sure yet how future social interaction will play out, given the overlap of mutual friends, but there’s nothing for that but to wait and see.

      I don’t really lean on people, even Spouse. Get kind of spiky when comfort and support are offered, honestly. I’ve told poor Spouse “don’t you dare try to comfort me” at least twice in the last couple of weeks. Needing comfort feels vulnerable. I am not good at vulnerable.

      I’m trying to agree when people call him an asshole. It’s almost certainly fair. But I can’t seem to manage it. It’s been two weeks full of miserable feelings and jarring reminders of his existence, but not a bit of anger at him. If it hasn’t happened yet, I suspect it isn’t going to.

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