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June 16, 2020 8:32 am  #1

Here I Am, On The Other Side Of The Bridge

Do you know how people warn you about “rebound relationships” after a breakup? Those are the warnings I wish I had heeded after the dissolution of my 11-year relationship with my high school sweetheart. Six months post breakup I met my GID ex in the romantic, adrenaline-laced days of a mutual adventure sport during the first single summer I’d had since I was 16. He was handsome and fun, excellent at all the outdoor activities I love, and he was a smooth talker. I fell hard and fast, and he sure convinced me he had, too. Just under 6 weeks later he quit his full-time job several states away (Red Flag) and convinced me to get an apartment with him in the mountains where we could enjoy all the sports we loved...even though it would be over an hour commute to work for me each day (Red Flag). Within weeks of moving in together I realized he was spending a strange amount of time online, even leaving bed at 2-3am to sit in the other room on his laptop. “Insomnia,” he claimed (Red Flag). I snooped and found a screenname he’d used that contained biguy_2001...which I misread as “big guy” and assumed all sorts of innocent reasons he’d be chatting online...at 2am...(Red Flag). I was so trusting, so blinded by what I thought was love, so insecure that I ignored every single red flag and so many more.

In those first couple years I packed my bags and left, swore I was done with his lies and hidden deceits more times than I could count. I truly had no idea how many times he had cheated on me with various different people from Craigslist, yahoo messenger, and the private booth area of a nearby adult store. I completely bought his reasoning, that he just chatted about all of his “imaginary” rendez-vous with men, like “interactive porn,” not that he would ever actually physically cheat on me. Out of fear of losing me, and most likely his rent and bill-free lifestyle, he suggested we get on the same cell phone plan so I could monitor his activity and build trust. Of course he just figured out different ways to hide his activities. WhatsApp, KiK, and Grindr are all easily deleted and downloaded again or just silenced and hidden deep within folders.

I entertained his anal play and fetishes in bed, even the gay porn. At some point I caught him, yet again, and he convinced me after grooming me for months that if I just joined him for a threesome with an attractive body builder from Craigslist that he would “get it all out of his system” and he would have “questions answered” for himself and finally be able to move on. After all, the  activities with men in which he had been engaging were just his unhealthy “responses to stress,” a taboo habit he’d picked up as a “coping mechanism.” Of course that one time just opened up a dark and dirty window. But, I didn’t know that yet. It had worked! He changed! That life of snooping and worrying he was hiding something and finding out more lies, it was all behind us now! He proposed. I accepted.

Three months before we were to be married, we bought a house. And a couple weeks after moving in, I came home early and caught him locked in the bathroom, in the tub, acting strangely. I had that same old feeling, and I hacked into his Facebook messenger on the first try. Before my eyes, his entire conversation with a female coworker unfolded, detailing his activities with the bodybuilder from Craigslist and with that particular coworker, as well. And, we were back to the beginning of the cycle that would recur every few months for the entirety of our 9-year relationship: I would get suckered in by his pleading and tears, I would believe he would actually change this time, he would become the most helpful, thoughtful spouse (because like an idiot I went through with it and married him), he would become less attentive, he would become nagging and angry and spiteful, he would corner me and hold me down and yell and swear at me and blame me for all of his negative behaviors, he would withdraw and not come home or just lock himself in the bathroom in the tub, I would become suspicious and eventually snoop and catch him, and back to the beginning of the cycle.

I threatened to leave him so many times. He went to several different counselors over the years and even managed to get himself a PTSD diagnosis for some fabricated incident — because the details were ever changing —of gay violence in college. I found my own therapist who ended up being instrumental in my escape many years later. I stopped being intimate with him because I didn’t trust him at all and was afraid. I went for STD testing a dozen times. He never went once that I knew of. Yet, he was sneaky and smooth and a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than I  am. He got me pregnant. One shot. I could never leave him now.

Even though I cried the entire way to work every day, I stayed with him. I stopped snooping altogether and just turned off all of my emotions. I became completely complacent. What I didn’t know couldn’t hurt me. We lived completely separate lives. I took care of the baby and worked full time and went to nighttime graduate school, often finding my own childcare because he was “busy” or “coaching.” I paid the mortgage and all the bills while he just paid his student loan and “put money into savings.” It was a lonely life. I just sucked it up and got everything done and accepted it all as my lot in life.

And, eventually I found myself on Ashley Madison, just chatting with so many lonely husbands in marriages devoid of intimacy. I couldn’t tell my own friends and family what I was going through. It was too embarrassing. Too unbelievable. Too sad and horrible. I wanted human connection. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to commiserate. I wanted that intimate bond we all need. I met a few men but ended up connecting deeply with one who said he could not just hook up with me, that he respected me too much. And, we ended up building a friendship that was instrumental in his eventual divorce and my own, years later.

However, when I thought I had the confidence to finally really leave my GID ex, he suckered me into couples’ therapy. The therapists were completely mind boggled. “Are you a gay man in a straight relationship?” they asked him in our first session. Oh how he yelled and cried. What a show he put on. And, my, how he convinced me to stay - just long enough to get me pregnant again.

There I was, two kids, in the thick of his cycles. And he became increasingly abusive, holding me down and sexually violating me in front of our children multiple times daily. He would pick the lock on the bathroom door and come in while I was showering just to hold me against the shower wall and violate me while I was nude and defenseless. And, he never stopped his secret meetings with other people. So many other people I will never actually know the number.

One night while hiding in my son’s room as  I “put him to bed,” which nightly took over two hours even though it only actually took five minutes, I chatted with my confidante from Ashley Madison who was now happily divorced and dating. He told me I could have a life again, that I deserved so much more, but most of all, my kids deserved to see me in a healthy relationship. That night I found the SSN. From there I made it my mission to get out from under my ex’s dark cloak, to get off of his roller coaster of pain and secrets and lies once and for all.

As I learned from SSN, the very first step I had to make was to tell someone who cared about me and start building my support fortress. I actually told my ex I wanted a divorce, that I was going to leave him. His response? “No. You won’t leave me. You’ll leave and I’ll keep the kids. Leaving me would just hurt the kids. You don’t want that.” Meanwhile, he had never fed them a meal, never given them a bath, did virtually nothing to care for them. In couples’ therapy again, he continued his tantrums, I continued to say I wanted a divorce, he refused to acknowledge that as an actual option. The therapist brought to our attention that we would have to work out our 50/50 custody arrangement and that I would never be able to cross the county lines to live closer to my job, which was over an hour away, if I wanted to have at least half custody. At home, he thought he had me. He barely noticed our never returning to that couples’ therapist. I’d been sleeping in a separate room for months, but the verbal, emotional, sexual abuse continued often right in front of my kids. He would be gone for hours on “bike rides” or would be out with “friends from out of town” until 2am. He had no desire to even learn how to take care of the kids or even be around the house long enough to try. I knew I needed a solid plan and I needed help.

It took two long years to finally leave him. I took advice from my attorney, my therapist, police, people who worked at the domestic violence centers in two different counties, members of SSN, and friends who had survived custody battles and escaped abusive spouses, even though theirs weren’t cheating on them with men and mine never left any physical evidence of abuse on me. With their help, I developed a very intricate and seamless escape plan. I felt like a neurotic lunatic for two entire years, documenting every single incident every single day, sneaking items out of my house constantly, hiding conversations with instrumental people. When it was time and I had everything in place, I bought him a ski vacation that he was thrilled to take entirely on his own. My family and friends helped me move out of that house in two days. I would be happy to go into detail for anyone who needs help escaping.

I would be lying if I said the fallout wasn’t dramatic. And, trust me, the fear of that, the fear of losing my children, the fear of a judge believing his facade over the truth, kept me locked on his roller coaster of hell for much longer than I should have stayed. In the end, he was all talk. He never even hired his own attorney, maybe for fear of having all his dirty laundry aired out in court. That was one of the best tips I learned: Whatever dirty laundry you can collect, grab it, keep it secretly safe in your back pocket, and know when to use it to your advantage.

Here we are, three years later, and I still get anxious every time I have to deal with him. He still occasionally swears at me in parking lots or just in text. But, I found a good man when I never expected that to ever happen for me, and the difference is mindblowing. Real intimacy. Genuine mutual respect. Actual unconditional love. All of those feelings are not one-sided. And none of those feelings ever come with a nagging feeling of worry or doubt or a need to dig for hidden secrets. There are no elephants in our rooms. And I know that my kids will grow up seeking their own healthy relationships because we show them what genuine empathic concern and respect look like every single day.


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