I say “former friend,” because life had been drifting us apart until new babies and new jobs had widened the gap far enough, that although on good terms, we hadn’t spoken in several years. And I say former boyfriend because he was her ex.
He was also the only divorced person I knew at the time, and my ex had just left.
Messaging me back only a few minutes later to ask what was going on, I was fairly brief but blunt about my situation, and what came next was what I can only describe as “overwhelmingly helpful.”
Within an hour he had set up consultations with several local attorneys, given me instructions on how to freeze my bank account, and offered to come over and talk me through a plan.
At this point my parents were the only other people who knew that my ex had left a week prior, and they weren’t too keen on doing anything other than waiting around to see if he came back. But I knew that not only was this my chance to finally “escape," but that I couldn’t wait any longer after some things that I had found out shortly after my ex left… and everything he had done that had led us to this point.
I needed to be free, but I was completely falling apart, and a week after my ex had left, I still had absolutely no idea what my first steps should be.
But this guy, “the Helper” if you will, well he knew exactly how to take care of the situation, and he wasn’t shy about stepping in to “help.” Repeatedly asking me if he could come over, calling me every hour to see how I was doing, and messaging me more information than I knew how to handle, it left me feeling both smothered and relieved at the same time.
I didn’t trust myself to do anything right after I had spent so many years living life where every decision that I had made turned out to be wrong, and suddenly when I was the most lost that I had ever been, here was someone who seemed to know what he was doing, and was going to make sure that this time, I was going to do everything “right.”
Looking back, I can see exactly what was going on, but back then, I was just too unaware. So when the Helper kept asking me if he could come over so we could talk about this in person, I said no as many times as I could before he eventually wore me down and I said “yes.” And when he offered to take a few days off work to watch my kids so that I could get some appointments lined up with social services and handle things with the bank, I said “yes” again, because I had no other help.
Several months later and before I even knew what was happening, the Helper had become completely ingrained into every single aspect of my life. He would come to my house directly after work, and sometimes stay through the weekend. If I had something come up and needed a babysitter, he would take the day off work. If I was tired and the baby was fussy, he would run errands for me so that I didn’t need to go. If something in the house needed fixing, he made it a priority to work on it in his very next free second.
But even though I was drowning in life, I spent most of that time attempting to resist his insisting assistance, yet I always gave in at the end because I was too tired to fight every battle that life seemed to keep throwing at me, and in all honesty, I did need the help. And at night when the sun went down and the lights went out, he would fill the room with his promises for our future, and the reasons why no one else had ever deserved me like he did.
Yet I never wavered from the fact that I did not want to date him.
No, I had repeatedly told him that I was not ready to date so quickly after my husband's departure, and that I was only looking for a friendship. And while I remained firm on my end, I could tell that to him, we just weren’t there “yet.”
But it was more than just not being ready, something felt off about him. There were little red flags waving in the wind, and a sick feeling that I just couldn’t seem to shake. And as I sat there explaining to him that I was beginning to feel smothered and trapped, he was prepared with an arsenal of reasons why he could prove that I probably would have never made it this far without him.
Why I needed him.
And so I thought to myself, “he is right.”
“I guess I was wrong” I said to him, so damaged from domestic abuse that I was unable to find any validation in my own feelings, or my own self-worth. “I know it’s not you, it’s me, and I’m just not ready yet. It’s only been six months and I haven’t even got my feet on the ground. I want to trust you but I feel so damaged that I just can’t.”
“You are damaged” he told me, “but I’m OK with it. I’m falling in love with you, not in spite of your damage, but just because you are you. You don’t need to trust me today, because I have the rest of my life to prove it to you. I have the rest of my life to prove that I was always supposed to be your husband, and that I would make an amazing father to your kids.”
He said all the right words, to a girl who really wanted to hear everything he was saying.
Yet, knowing that I had much that I needed to work on by myself first, and being at least clear headed enough to want to put my children first, I still resisted his efforts to date me.
Resisted them right up until the day he told me that being near me and loving me, was too hard when he knew that I didn’t love him back. He told me to make a choice, and if the choice wasn’t him, then he was done.
I wasn’t ready, and he left.
Then, for the first time in over ten years, I really was alone. My family and I were barely talking, my husband was gone, and now the Helper, who had been my rock, was leaving too. Although I had been grieving the loss of who my ex should have been for my family, I had yet to truly become “on my own” because the helper was always there.
Until he wasn’t.
Suddenly, the reality of making all my own choices and the terror of really being a single mom, completely overwhelmed me.
I was lost, alone, and had two kids crying for not one, but now two men that they had lost from their lives.
I panicked and called him back and told him that I loved him, and that I needed him, because I thought that was the truth. I thought that I couldn’t survive without him, and I felt awful that the kids had now lost another man because of me. So out of touch with my own emotions, I mistook “need” for “love” and dependence for companionship.
I didn’t love him, but he (and I) had created a situation where I needed him.
Loving him felt a lot less scary than traveling through life on my own, and I had been beaten down to the point where I no longer had any healthy coping skills, and so I took that panic of being alone, and convinced myself that what I was really feeling, was the terror of losing our love.
He came right back, but this time he did it with expectations and demands. And I, knowing how scary it felt to be without him, was more than happy to oblige.
Soon the person who I had come to know, was beginning to change, and I, still being under the mindset of a DV victim, didn’t see any of the red flags.
Instead of cooking dinner together, he would now pick up items that he wanted me to cook, and then give me the receipt to reimburse him since he was a “guest” in my home. Gone was the guy who would bend over backwards to help me, and in his place was left a guy who was causing me to bend so much, that beyond the trials of getting divorced and raising two kids on my own, he was the one who was causing me to break.
Yet, as he always reminded me, I was the one who had put myself in this situation, and things wouldn’t get back to normal until he was able to see that I had learned to “appreciate” all that he had done for me, and he felt assured that I would never take him for granted again.
I didn’t argue with him — I couldn't — because on the occasion that I would speak to my parents, my mother never missed an opportunity to remind me of how I had driven my ex away.
I had a habit of running men away you know… so clearly there was something wrong with me, and I wasn’t about to do that again.
I wouldn’t be “that girl,” again.
So, to my friends I would share how wonderful the Helper was, but behind closed doors, things had gotten to where he was punching walls and telling me that I was lucky it wasn’t my face, and I believed him, because in my life, people hurt you, and at least he deemed me worthy enough to not actually hit me.
In my life, you took was you could get from people, because there weren’t a lot of people willing to offer you anything better; probably because you didn’t deserve it.
So when the Helper asked me to marry him and become the family that I had always wanted, I was thrilled; thrilled that I had finally proved myself worthy enough to get a second chance.
Yes, some people had their concerns, but the overwhelming majority were showering me with phrases such as “I was so worried you would be alone for the rest of your life,” and "you are so lucky to have found someone who will accept your children," that I couldn’t hear any of their concerns, because the alternative to not marrying the Helper, was a lot scarier than anything that anyone wanted to talk to me about.
It hadn’t even been a year since my divorce when I found myself standing in a wedding dress, surrounded only by him, a photographer, and an officiant, proclaiming my ever-lasting love and devotion. And I, for the second time in my life, cried through much of it.
But, unbeknownst to anyone but us… it wasn’t a “real” wedding, or rather should I say, it wasn’t a legal one. We didn’t get a marriage license, because as he told me, “God gives the blessing of marriage, and the state has no right to have its hand in our love.”
I thought that he had become jaded by the legal system during his divorce, but as I would soon come to find out, there was a deeper reason as to why he didn’t want to legally marry me.
The conclusion, next time. And trust me, it will be my most shocking post yet!