“All too often women believe it is a sign of commitment, an expression of love, to endure unkindness or cruelty, to forgive and forget. In actuality, when we love rightly we know that the healthy, loving response to cruelty and abuse is putting ourselves out of harm’s way.”
― bell hooks,
He said all the right shit. And he talked a whole lot of it, too. I can’t front, my interest was peaked by what he said. The whole idea of a man catering to me and what I need, the idea of a man telling me that his ultimate goal in a relationship was to make his lady happy and attend to her needs as best as he could appealed to me.
I mean, fuck, who wouldn’t that appeal to?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a naive idiot. We all know there’s a whole lot of give and take in any relationship, but on some real shit, in most of my relationships it has usually been pretty one-sided in the effort department. I always end up taking care of someone or trying to light a fire under their ass or comforting them. I’m not saying they didn’t care. I’m saying they didn’t try.
This guy wasn’t the answer to my prayers, but after a string of yawns and eye rolls, he was talking quite the good game.
It is New Years Day. He says he wants to see me, that he wanted to spend a few hours with me before he went to work at the bar where he was a bouncer. Tells me he is skipping the gym and this should prove to me how much he likes me. According to him, it’s a huge sacrifice for him and something that’s a big deal apparently. I don’t know. Never the gym rat, I recently have been the type to work out by sitting up when I read or lifting my coffee to my mouth. Anyway, he says he wants to see me and I am with it. We have recently just connected and he has peaked my interest and I am excited for the getting to know each other chapter.
I dress carefully, putting on some of the new duds I had splurged on as my Christmas present to myself, use my good smelling lotion and perfume, apply my makeup with care. I feel good. Real good. And damn it, I look good as shit, too.
He calls me and when I mention facetiously that I got cute for him, he says, “Oh, I am in sweats. Who told you this was a date?”
“Well, I assumed we would be going to a place where we could sit and eat and talk. I didn’t think that we’d be getting something to grab and go.”
“I’m a grab and go kind of guy, ma. Besides, I don’t eat anything heavy after 2:00 or 2:30pm.” I look at the cable box, 4:30pm. Okay, I guess a nice dinner spot is out.
There is a small pause before he speaks again. “You know what I really been feigning for? Cuchifrito. Let’s go to Harlem and get cuchifrito.”
Wait. “You don’t eat heavy after 2:00pm but you want to go get cuchifrito?”
“I didn’t say that. I said I don’t eat full meals. Are you listening to me?”
I feel my eye twitch a little. Was he serious?
The fucked up part is….I let that shit rock.
The most frustrating thing about being gaslighted is that what you know to be true is argued as false. Gaslighting is a thing, y’all. A big thing actually.
Didn’t you ever ask yourself if you were bugging when they spoke to you? Didn’t you ever brush it off at first as just a weird and awkward moment? Didn’t you ever begin to feel adamant that you heard what you heard yet they still made it seem as if it were just confused and jumbled in your brain? Didn’t that shit drive you crazy? Didn’t you sometimes have to stop and breathe and go over it all in your brain to reassure yourself?
Didn’t that shit fuck you up? The doubt? The doubt in yourself? As if you couldn’t believe yourself? What the hell is that shit about, huh?
And didn’t they just rub that shit in?
The term “gaslighting,” comes from a 1944 Ingrid Bergman film that is about a woman whose husband slowly manipulates her into believing that she is going insane. Think about that for a moment. He makes her think she is going crazy.
The word “manipulate,” means “to handle or control with skill, to control or influence unfairly.”
To handle or control.
Whenever it occurs to me that I am being gaslighted, I remind myself that it is merely a feeble attempt to control me.
But it has to occur to me first.
When he picks me up, he doesn’t get out of the car to greet me the way he did the other night. Instead, he waits until I’m in the car to ask me again what I want to eat.
“I thought you wanted cuchifrito.”
“No, baby. It’s whatever you want.” He pauses. “You really don’t listen, do you?”
“Well, it’s New Years Day. I don’t know what’s open.”
“I’m not trying to do anything crazy. I mean, I’m in sweats and shit.”
I bring up a favorite pizza place in the neighborhood that I mentioned in a previous conversation. He shrugs. I try again. “Let’s drive and see what’s open.”
“Why didn’t you decide this before?”
I feel my eye twitch again. “Like I said, I don’t know what’s open. It’s New Years Day. ”
We drive by a Mexican spot I love. He grimaces. “Hell no, I ain’t eating Mexican right now. I told you I don’t eat heavy after a certain time.”
We drive by a diner. Another grimace from him. “A diner? Really?”
Deciding on pizza in my mind, I ask him to pull over so I can get the address for the pizza spot so it will be an easier drive for him, a Bronx novice. He sighs. “I really don’t understand why you didn’t do this when you were at home.”
I choose not to repeat myself but feel the anxiety creeping up my toes. Is this happening or am I bugging? This is weird but I must be bugging because he likes me, we connect, he can’t be serious. Maybe I just have to get used to his personality.
He turns to me as I am pulling up the address on my phone. “You seem agitated.”
“I’m not. Let’s just figure this out.”
“Why can’t you just be real and admit that you’re upset? If we’re going to date I can’t have you getting upset with me for every little thing. I am so tired of over-sensitive women. I am so done with women who do that shit. I wish I could just find someone who can keep it real.”
My eye was fluttering. Fucking fluttering, y’all.
We drive to the pizza place and pull up in front.
“This is it? This rinky-dink place is it? I mean, call me materialistic or whatever but I thought it would be a nice place. This is just a regular ass pizza spot.”
“You said you were grab and go. You said you didn’t want a full meal. I’m kind of unsure what you want.”
“See? Keep it real with me. I know you’re upset. I keep telling you to decide on what you want and you’re getting upset with me because you can’t make up your mind. Just keep it real and tell me if you’re pissed off.”
“I am getting there, yes…because every suggestion I’ve made you have balked at. I am trying to do what you’d like and I am at a real loss now.”
“I want to do what you want to do, baby. How many times do I have to tell you that?”
What the fuck is happening here?
“Look, you mentioned cuchifrito. Let’s just go get cuchifrito in Harlem.”
“No, let’s do pizza. I’m not trying to drive down there.”
“Gaslighting means telling people that they’re not really thinking, feeling, or perceiving what they are. Its very often used toward women due to the assumption that women are too sensitive and that, especially when we’re calling out sexism, we’re overreacting.” – Suzannah Weiss, bustle.com, 1/9/2017
I am not crazy. I am not over-sensitive. I am not over-thinking. I am not over-reacting. I am not too much. I am not being emotional. I am not a psycho. I am not being a pain in the ass. I am not difficult. I do not like to argue. I am not too strong.
We eat in silence. I tell him to choose what we do after we eat since he didn’t have to be at the bar where he bounced until 11:00 pm. He tells me all he wants is to be with me. We get into his car and he comments that the pizza was just okay. That shit makes me cringe a little because for a New Yorker, sharing your favorite pizza place with someone is a big deal. This dude was for sure a New Jersey cat. I shrug. I liked it. I was content.
He asks me to direct him back to my house so that we can figure out what to do parked in front of there because he doesn’t want to be parked in front of this “hood ass pizza spot.” I shrug. Whatever.
When we get to my house, he puts his hand on my thigh and asks to use the bathroom. I oblige. I wasn’t scared of this man. I was annoyed by him. Not scared. He tells me that he thought we’d end up here, and smirks.
The smirk is more annoying than anything.
I don’t know who can be considered too strong. What is that? Why is it a bad thing for me to be strong? Why do men say they prefer women to have a voice, to have a mind, to have thought and opinion but when faced with it, say that we are “too strong” or “too aggressive?” What the fuck is that about?
Do you know how many times men have said that to me?
“You’re too strong.”
“You need to calm down.”
“You must like to argue.”
“You should relax.”
“Be easy, ma.”
All this when I speak. All of this when I respond. Wow.
When he comes out of my bathroom, I am sitting in the kitchen, hooking up my small bluetooth speaker to my phone. He sits at the table with me and stares at me.
“You seem upset.”
“No, I’m fine. Just want to hook the music up if we’re going to chill here.” I was already eyeing a bottle of red zinfandel in my wine rack.
“You’re full of shit. Full of shit.”
Did this man just curse at me in my own home?
“Excuse me? How are you telling me how I feel? You’re not in my brain. I am not upset at all.”
“I didn’t say you were upset. I said you ‘seem’ upset. You read books, that’s your thing, right? You should know what the word ‘seem’ means.”
Nah. Nah. This ain’t for real. He just HAS to be fucking with me.
“I am not upset. But this conversation is beginning to get to me. I don’t know what to do or say to end this. You let me know.”
“I don’t fucking believe you. Wow. I’m so tired of women acting like this. So fucking sensitive and always getting mad about everything. I need to know if you’re a psycho because I can’t deal with another psycho.”
I stare at him in disbelief. I lean back in my chair and cross my arms. It’s the first time I have really taken full stock of him. He is a tall man, with big muscular arms and a small belly that was once a six-pack. His face is pock-marked and he is showing the first signs of a double-chin. He’s a washed up papi chulo and I know it, knew it all along. None of this had bothered me before. I was into him and what we had spoken about. I liked him and what he was showing me on the inside. But now, hearing the passive aggressive bullshit frothing from his lips made him the fucking Elephant Man. Except I’m pretty sure John Merrick was a lot fucking nicer than he was being, I’ll tell you that.
“See? Look at how you’re sitting in your chair. You must not be ready for a relationship because real relationships, young lady, mean you might not always be happy with me. It means being honest about what you’re feeling.”
“But I am being honest! I haven’t said anything about being upset. I have done nothing today but try to accommodate and compromise with you. Nothing has worked. But I am very uncomfortable with the way you are talking to me.”
I was at the point of aggravation and when I’m aggravated, I say what I need to say. Punto.
“You need to lower your voice a decimal before you talk to me. Why are you so aggressive? Is this why you’re still single?”
OH HELL NO.
I stand. “This isn’t going to work out. You’re going to have to go.”
And like a child who has been denied candy, he storms out of my apartment, huffy and puffy, not looking at me as he grabs his shit.
Good riddance, pendejo.
I slam the door behind him and call my mother to tell her about it.
As I’m on the phone with Mami, he starts to call me…one….two…three.four..five times. Texts me eighteen times in a row. He’s apologetic now. Tells me I didn’t deserve that, that he felt horrible about it because he felt he failed me and was trying so hard since he picked me up to impress me.
I read my mother the texts and she is aghast at the blatant manipulation.
“What the hell is wrong with this guy?”
“Shit if I know.”
He texts me again that “if you truly want me to then @ least text me the words (leave me alone) and I’ll respect your space.”
My mother insists that ignoring him will make him leave me alone. I know better. I’ve been here before. He will not stop until I respond. He will probably even go so far as to insult me if I don’t respond. If I give him any kind of leeway, he will drip sugar all over his words until the sweetness is blinding me. I will not allow this to happen. If he wants me to tell him to leave me alone, bueno, papito, I’ll do just fucking that.
“I don’t think our personalities mesh well and tonight showed that to me. I am no longer interested in being made to feel that way. Please leave me alone.”
He hasn’t hit me up since. Mami says I was too nice to “el maldito pendejo.”
I might have to agree.
I saw a meme once using the words of a woman named Portia Nelson, that reads as follows:
“Chapter One of My Life. I walk down the street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in.
I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It still takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter Two. I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same place! But it isn’t my fault. And it still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter Three. I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I still fall in. It’s a habit! My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
Chapter Four. I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
Chapter Five. I walk down a different street.”
If this is not the very story of my love life. I would fake the funk like I was at chapter five, this confident and take-no-bullshit kind of woman, but the reality is this.
I had no idea that for the longest time, I have been stuck in Chapter 3. I knew the sheer fucked-up-edness (yep, I made a word) of it all, of the behavior of the men that came into my life and was still stuck in the damn hole. Still climbing out of it. It has always been a process of getting in the hole and then getting out. I have been reading this chapter for years.
I thought it was me. I told myself for a long time that maybe I really wasn’t prepared to be involved with someone. Maybe I am just not cut out for being in a relationship. Maybe I am too difficult to be with someone and deserve to be alone. I told myself that I had to pick and choose my battles and be conscious of their feelings, even if it meant silencing mine. When a then-boyfriend asked me once if I liked to argue when I brought up something that bothered me, I beat myself up and told myself I wasn’t being a good girlfriend to him, that I was mean and bitter. I tried to figure out why I was so angry. I blamed myself. I was going crazy.
I never knew this was all one big mind-fuck from the same man with different faces. I never knew that while I thought I wasn’t….I was dating the same man. I was dating the same scenario. I was fighting the same fight. I was clawing out of the hole every single time.
I don’t know if I am at chapter 4 or chapter 5. I can say that I am working on it. I can say that I am aware that if I am uncomfortable or feel disrespected in any way, that I am not crazy or over-emotional. That I have every right to speak on how I feel when I feel that way without being told I am being “aggressive” or “too strong.” That I do listen and that I must listen…to my gut. That I am a sublime being with the potential to love and to be loved and that I deserve that. That I am figuring out what I can do to be a better partner by learning how to be a better person.
And before you kill me with the cliche and trite ass “Stop looking and it will come to you” nonsense that so many people that are in relationships like to tell me, let me remind you that this kind of work is not being done with the sole anticipation of “finding someone.” I am deserving of the kind of love I know I am offering. Not only am I deserving of it. I am ready for it.
But I’m not searching. I am not pushing or praying for someone to change and I won’t settle for someone just because he’s nicer than the last guy. I am not waiting to be saved or protected or redeemed, because I save and protect and redeem myself every day.
This work on myself is done with the knowledge that I am unlearning all of the bullshit and insecurities that was garnered over years and years of being in that damn hole.
Fuck that hole, b.