I hemmed and hawed over publishing this publicly because it makes me look dumb. I know co workers will see it, associates will see it, people who look up to me as a survivor of abuse will see it, and I will look Dumb. But I think that’s okay. I was being pretty dumb and I think a lot of people can relate to that. I like to be honest about my dumb moments, and I think this could help others be honest about theirs. So here it goes.
I’d been single and celibate for over a year, after a series of unsatisfying relationships (one, from over seven years ago, was more than unsatisfying - it was abusive) put me in the mood for a good, long period of self-reflection. I was pretty sure I just wanted to stay single for at least a good eight years. Why eight years? My teen son is joining his dad in Italy in a couple of years, and my daughter is 10, so I have been feeling more and more that I just want every spare second to be soaked up with them, with no interruptions or distractions besides work. I had zero romantic or sexual feelings for anyone, nor could I imagine drumming any of those feelings up again.
But then Ahmet came into my life.
I didn’t feel that way about him at first. The first time I saw him, it was in my Facebook news feed. My favorite aunt was out having sushi nearby with him, and Facebook wanted to make sure I knew (presumably because I am friends with my aunt and like the sushi place). His picture flashed in my feed as I scrolled, and his gorgeous black hair and big, friendly smile reached out and smacked me from the screen. I was about to jump into a Google Hangout with a couple of long-distance friends, but I couldn’t forget his face. I remembered my aunt telling me about her friend, Ahmet, a few times, but I never realized he was closer to my age than hers. Impulsively, I did something totally uncharacteristic. I texted my aunt and said, “Whoever you’re eating sushi with is gorgeous!” She showed him my picture and he had her tell me he thought I was beautiful.
Over the next few weeks, he friended me on Facebook while he was visiting Turkey (where his family is from), and we chatted. Interestingly, I had a distinct feeling that I didn’t like his personality. We had extremely differing views, and his ways of processing information and responding to it was just kind of strange to me. But I knew he’d been friends with my aunt for so long, and since she’s one of my favorite people in the world and we’re very similar, I thought he must be a good guy if she likes him, and I thought I should give it some more time to get to know him. Maybe he was an acquired taste. I thought we could make interesting friends, even if we weren’t a suitable match for dating.
At first when we started talking and he’d say something totally at odds with my worldview, I’d get upset and almost cut off the budding relationship there. But then he’d switch gears, take a less obstinate approach about his view, and tell me that I knew more about it than he did, and who knows, over time maybe he’d see it my way. I was ashamed at my seeming inability to tolerate someone who thinks differently than me. So I’d take a deep breath and dive back in, committed to patiently offering him new information and understanding him over time. We talked about everything. He wanted to know everything about me, my childhood, anything that had ever hurt me in life or meant something to me. Finally, one day, I recognized the stirrings of something in my heart I hadn’t felt in a long time for any man. Feelings. And they were for him. It was a beautiful day — I truly had been frightened that I’d lost my ability to feel feelings romantically. With a quickness, within weeks, those feelings were in full bloom and it was glorious. I’d kept Ahmet at arm’s length, and we hadn’t met in person yet because I had been going through testing for cancer at the same time we started talking. I wanted to know one way or the other about that before I met him and truly gave in to any developing feelings. But now that the feelings were here, it was only a matter of time before we met.
We had our first date in early July (we’d been online chatting since May). It was perfect. He pulled out all the stops. We ate at a classy Turkish restaurant in Chicago, and had a throwback night of clubbing, something neither of us had done in forever. I had just learned I did NOT have cancer, and I was letting myself fall in love with this man as a way of celebrating. I felt alive and grateful for the beauty of the moment. He won my heart when he didn’t want our leftovers to go to waste and he drove to an alley hoping to find a homeless person or an animal to give them to. In spite of our ideological differences, how different could we be when it comes down to it, if he had a heart like that? We had an amazing time together.
For the next few weeks, we danced with falling fast and then we’d slow it down. He’d told me he loved me. Then he got scared that he’d told me so soon, and when I told him I loved him, he wanted to have a big talk about how we should only say it every once in awhile, only when we really mean it. Then the next day he started telling me “I love you” at least ten times a day, all cute like, as if he just couldn’t stop himself in spite of what he’d said before. I had whiplash, but I decided it was sweet. But then he pulled a bizarre and unsettling prank that left me cold. I had gone to Chicago one night with Brandon, my cousin’s husband. Our girls, Gigi and Bella, are close in age, and I had four Beyonce tickets and wanted Bella to go with us. Bella’s mom couldn’t make it, so Brandon stepped up to the plate. We all went and had a lovely evening as an extended family, having a wonderful Italian meal at a nice restaurant and enjoying the concert. I got home late with the girls, feeling so good about the night and what a great family I get to be a part of. Then I checked my emails. I had one from a name I didn’t recognize, someone named Anton. I opened it, and it was the most lewd proposition you can imagine, saying he’d gotten my email address from the bathroom wall at a place where I get martinis occasionally. For a moment, all reason left me and I was just embarrassed, horrified, and dumbstruck, wondering if my email address could possibly be on the wall there and who the hell would have put it there. I ruled that out as an actual possibility after a moment. After the redness left my face and I composed myself, two facts surfaced in my stunned brain: Ahmet had just learned that I visit that martini bar, and he’d also just learned my email address the day before. My money was on him.
The next day, I confronted him when he sent me a good morning message on Facebook. I said, “Good morning, Anton.” He played dumb, and acted totally confused. I said, “You’re Anton, right?” Again he said he didn’t know what I was talking about. I said coldly, “That’s one way you can play it.” And then I didn’t speak to him again until he admitted it was him. He thought it was just a fun prank, he said, and told me I had to admit it was funny. I told him I love pranks when they’re funny, and this one wasn’t. I said that if I had ever found out my son had sent something that disrespectful to someone he was dating that he’d have hell to pay, so why should my standards for someone I’m dating be any lower? He said I was being mean and had no sense of humor, and then he logged out. I was done — this relationship was over to me at that moment. Then he tried to call me on my various numbers, texted me, and when it was clear I wasn’t interested in talking, he started apologizing. He got me to talk to him, and explain why what he did was a problem on so many levels. Somehow in this conversation, by owning what he did and falling on his sword and promising me nothing like this would ever happen again, that he never meant to do something that he might lose me over, I was cajoled back. I was even impressed by the communication skills he displayed during that conflict. Yes, I’m pissed at myself now when I look back at that day. I should have trusted my instincts and critical thinking skills.
From there, the next couple of months were a cycle where he’d lavish me with love, then say or do something outrageously unacceptable in regards to those differing world views we had. I’d try to be patient and offer him new data to inform his views, he’d seem to absorb what I said, and then he’d lavish me with love again. There was flag after flag happening, especially in regards to how he viewed women, and I was pushing those flags to the back of my brain. I was thinking, “It’s good for me to see how other people think. This is helpful, it informs my work, and politics has nothing to do with our love.” I was rationalizing past the fact that he was, seemingly on-purpose, not getting along with my friends and, embarrassingly to me, showing dominating behavior when we were around them. I thought he was insecure and needed firmness and patience, not chastisement. He was starting to talk about marriage, and against my better judgment, I was really liking that kind of talk. There’s a part of some people, and I am one of them, that the idea of someone proposing to you and marrying you means you have been chosen by someone. That you are good and that somebody wants you. And on a level that’s somehow deep and shallow all at the same time, it smooths over that place inside of you that someone or some event long ago hurt in you. The feeling of not belonging, or wishing for a “whole” family, all of those little childhood wounds that just don’t seem to fully go away all seem to feel better, temporarily, when someone you love wants to marry you. When they choose you.
He almost really had me suckered in. I was starting to look at bridal magazines and planning. This proposal thing was starting to sound like it was any day now. That’s how close to danger I was.
But here’s where Breaking Bad comes in. SPOILER ALERT! One night, we’re sitting on the couch with my teen son, watching the new episode of Breaking Bad. It was our Sunday night thing. In this episode, Walt’s world was crashing around him; Hank was killed and the Aryan uncle’s crew took Walt’s millions. Walt was trying to pack up his family and get out of town. But his family had enough of his shit and weren’t going with him. In an effort to stand her ground (and knowing he was dangerous and unpredictable), his wife Skyler grabbed a knife and protectively stood in front of their teen son in the hallway. She told Walt to get out and go without them. He didn’t. He advanced towards her, and tried to convince her, and when she felt threatened she cut his hand with the knife. A big struggle ensued with them rolling on the ground and the teen son, crippled with cerebral palsy, got between them. This was a triggering scene for me by itself because of my past relationship with an abuser. The next part of the scene was their son calling the cops and Walt running out the door — but not by himself. He grabbed their infant daughter on his way out. Skyler runs after him and tries to get the baby back, to no avail. It was at this point that the pivotal moment happened.
Ahmet shouted at the screen, “That’s what you get, bitch!”
I was stunned. My son was stunned. This man had just watched the same series of events we had, and that’s how he perceived it? He also knew, before we ever met, that bitch as an epithet is a word I will not tolerate. I knew right then we were not living in the same reality. I rewound it for him, played that triggering scene for him again in the hopes he’d see something different, but he instead tried to justify his attitude toward her. He said they were wrong for calling the cops, that that is something you just don’t do. That is something you just don’t do when you’re afraid your dad is going to hurt your mom? What? He also said that Skyler was in it for good — she hadn’t left before when she learned of it so now she should just stick by Walt’s side. So, when you decide to not leave once, you can’t decide to leave ever? WHAT?
I looked at everything he did over the next few days with new eyes. I examined everything he’d ever done in our relationship with new eyes. I pulled out all those flags that had been accumulating in the storage of my brain and reviewed them. A few days later, I gave him instructions not to interrupt me during an important meeting that was happening from 10:30 am to 11:30 am, but to stop by afterward. He started calling me and texting me at 11. Though once I would have given him the benefit of the doubt that he just misremembered, instead I realized he was doing it on purpose. When he next sent me self-pitying, manipulative texts, like, “I guess you’re too busy for me right now,” instead of feeling sorry that I’d missed his calls, I felt like I never wanted to see him again. So we broke up. Interestingly, he initiated the breakup as a manipulation tactic, thinking it would make me beg him not to leave me. But I didn’t. I said I thought he was right and we should go our separate ways. And for a brief minute, I thought he’d go on his way and nurse any hurt feelings respectfully, but then he demanded to know why I didn’t care enough to try to work it out. The week since has been a cra-a-a-zy train of incessant texting (which I don’t reply to), sobbing voicemails (I don’t call back), run-on apology letters (which go unanswered), and unannounced visits at my house with flowers (which I didn’t open the door for, of course).
My aunt had no idea he is like this. She’d never seen this side of him, and the only versions of his past breakups she’d heard were his versions, of which he of course was always the victim and the mean, unappreciative lady he loved so much always just up and left out of the blue. PRO TIP: Ladies only pack up and leave while you’re out of town if they’re afraid you won’t let them leave while you’re home. Right now his strategy is to call my aunt relentlessly and beg her to convince me to give him another chance, since he can’t get ahold of me directly. But she’s starting to ignore his calls, too.
If I had any doubts about where that relationship might have headed, the post-breakup behavior erased them. I learned that I still have some very real vulnerabilities when it comes to dangerous relationships and until those are resolved, eight more years single is probably not a bad thing. Thank you, Breaking Bad. Thank you, Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, and everybody involved in making this show. You created a mirror that reflected something I really needed to see, and that’s the kind of impact incredible writing can have on people’s lives.
Are you in a dangerous relationship, or think your relationship may be headed that way? Trust your instincts. Here is a website and number that can help you. Please choose yourself and choose safety. Nobody’s love is worth staying in a dangerous situation.
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1.800.799. SAFE (7233) TTY Callers: 1.800.787.3224