“Just because they don’t hit you doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting you.”
This is what my best friend said to me when I hit rock bottom. My partner of almost 10 months had been living with me in my apartment and was on the brink of suicide, and I was beginning to lose it.
That’s when I started to realize that I was being manipulated by my partner. But in order for my story to help other people in my situation, I should probably start at the beginning. I just want to preface by saying that this is one point of view, and the last thing I wan't is to make my former partner look like a monster and myself into a victim. We both made mistakes, but this story is about power and manipulation. I hope it can help other people, if they are in a similar situation, realize that they can get out.
I met my partner on the internet in the middle of the summer of last year. I had gone on a few terrifying okcupid dates but the promise of a cute, tall, feminist anarchist was too good to pass up. I decided to give it one last shot. They are a genderqueer person who prefers they/them pronouns. We had the loveliest first date, which melted into a series of sweepingly romantic second, third, and fourth dates. We had our first kiss in a dog park, wandered around the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and watched the skyline of the city from Brooklyn. We were both intensely wrapped up in each other but at the same time really casual, which was exactly what I needed.
We continued with this romantic affair until I finished my fall semester of my third year at art school and went home for the month of January. We stayed close and talked a lot, so when I came back to Brooklyn in February I was surprised to find that my partner had become consumed by depression and no longer had a source of income. It started with them asking to stay at my place one night, which rolled into the next night, and then slowly they began living with me.
This was when things started to take a darker turn. At first I didn’t see the problem in paying for meals for the both of us, it just seemed natural to help them out. Soon however that turned into buying them beer and cigarettes every night because that was the only way they could go to sleep without panicking. Then during my first week of classes for my spring semester I got a text that just said:
“Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I’m sorry. Goodbye.”
I rushed home in a frenzy, frantically dialing the phone and trying to figure out what I would do if I found them dead in my apartment. I found them perfectly fine in my bed, watching TV on their laptop. They did this to me multiple times.
This is also when we began fighting. We would have these arguments that would end up with me sobbing hysterically begging them to stop yelling and they would just keep picking at me emotionally. This was also around the time when we started saying “I love you” to each other.
I realize now the way that they were trying to cut me off from my friends. They convinced me that my roommate, who is one of my best and only friends in Brooklyn, had a grudge against me. They even tried to tell me that I was really in love with my best friend who lives in Connecticut, and that I should stop talking to her in order to feel better about it.
I lived in this tumultuous bubble for two months. I would go to my therapist once a week and scream and sob about how I didn’t know what to do but then I would go home and do exactly the same thing I’d been doing. I thought I was taking care of a sick person that I loved. but the truth was that they were wrapping me up in them so I would do anything they asked.
I wish I could say I realized what was going on and stood up for myself. I wish I could end this story like that but I can’t. They found a job with a friend outside of the city and left me with the promise that they would pay me back the hundreds of dollars that they owed me. We had our last romantic moment as we hugged and I cried in Grand Central Station, but looking back it just seems as tragic as the rest of our relationship. We talked for a while, but quickly they stopped texting me back until there was no sign of them anymore. They disappeared as quickly as they came.
I was heartbroken for months. I would go to my therapist’s office, sit down in her chair, and quietly cry for an hour about how much I missed them. It hadn’t registered yet that our fantasy relationship was full of thick plot holes and dangerous moments.
About a month after my partner left I started to do things for myself again. I decided that I needed to find out who I was now that my partner wasn’t manipulating me anymore. I dyed my hair and got new glasses. I sent them a breakup text, even though I knew they wouldn’t respond. I started my job at BUST, and found friends who supported me and inspired me to do my best. Doing things for myself again was the most fulfilling feeling and inspired me to make art with the rest of my feelings about my former partner. I painted a lot, wrote a ton, and even made a zine about it with submissions from people worldwide. My art was the Band-Aid that I needed while I was healing.
The point of this story isn’t to cathartically release my feelings (I’ve done that already with my work) but to ask if you see yourself at all in me. If you do, consider that it’s possible that you’re being emotionally abused in your relationship. Remember that a romantic partner is there to make you feel better about yourself and never worse. Love is about making yourselves better people, not tearing each other down .
Mary Rockcastle is a florist, illustrator, and craftswoman living in Rochester, New York. She’s the sole founder of Little Lamb Studios, and #1 biggest fan of all dogs.