In an age of believing survivors, and given how much of a feminist you are, this one really hurt. It hurt to lose you. I didn’t think I would lose you, but I am not sure why I expected things to go any differently. You’ve known him much longer than you’ve known me, and he was very careful to only confide in you when things could be my fault.
He never reached out to you when he struggled with my expectations around the house. Never said, “Do you think she’s being unreasonable?” when I asked him to handle something he told me was unreasonable. He could never risk you saying, “Uh, dude, she’s being totally reasonable.” I don’t think he ever came to you when the situation wasn’t about me upsetting him.
Whenever we had issues, he’d bring my friends into it. “You have your friends to talk to and I don’t have anyone.” I always told him that yes he did. He had you, he had other friends, he could get a therapist or come with me to mine. But he insisted he couldn’t talk to you about the things we struggled with. It struck me as odd but I didn’t realize until after I left and he started his storytelling that it was because he could not dare to confide in you a story in which he might be in the wrong. He must play the part of the victimized husband who bent over backwards to meet my whims and was tossed aside when I got bored.
I gave my twenties to that man. He preyed on me when I was 23, as close to “barely legal” as a 40 year old man could get. I believed every word of his fairy tales about how we were meant to be. How he had never felt this way. How neglected he was and how I made him feel things he never thought he could feel again. I stepped in as the savior, the second chance.
You told me when our marriage started to deteriorate that you’d never seen him so happy. It hurt me to read those words. Of course he was happy. I took care of his house and his cats and his laundry and his meals. He didn’t have to lift a finger. Of course he was happy — but did you know me enough to notice or care if I was? When he met you for breakfast, I’d drop him off so that I could go get the shopping done. When you two went out for a day of photography, I’d clean the house and catch up on laundry. Because there was no fair division of labor, my fun always had to come after my responsibilities — otherwise no one would do them. When I did go out with friends or for a morning on my own, I’d be in constant touch with him, letting him know when I’d be home, because I always felt that he owned my time. He’d tell me with words that he didn’t own my time, but his behavior when I didn’t want to sit and watch four hours of television a night was one of a petulant and pouting child not getting his way.
I saw you and your family making things work. You share cooking, pet care, cleaning, parenting. You share everything, and there is balance. I never had the sharing or the balance. He would not learn to use the Instant Pot or a cast iron skillet. He acted like he had achieved greatness when he made soup one time with my supervision. When he made dinner, I pre-chopped the vegetables for him and put frozen french fries in the toaster oven. Even when he made me dinner I still needed to be close, on hand, ready to take over. Once, he walked away from the stove and dinner burned slightly, and he threw a tantrum about how ruined it was and refused to eat. He went to bed immediately.
I was always on eggshells. Always stressed. Always one moment away from being triggered by his stumbling into my childhood traumas from my abusive mother and then left alone to cry on the kitchen floor when he asked if my panic attack was “about my mom issues.” He was not kind to me, unless people were watching. This is the key. You never, ever saw what it was like alone with him. With an audience, he was captivating, clever, charming. He said the funny things for me to post on Facebook. But when I wasn’t happy and charmed by him, he asked why I was so distant, demanded to know what was wrong. He never told me to smile like a catcaller on the street, but I had to smile anyway. Act happy or deal with the pouting.
When I saw you in September at an event and you asked me how I was, I was relieved that you even spoke to me. My face broke into a smile and I said I was great. In the moment I felt so happy to have seen you again. Someone who was my friend. And now, I worry that you thought I was gloating.
When I realized you had unfriended me on Facebook, tears welled up in my eyes. It shook me. I know you had talked about reducing your Facebook use, so I thought maybe you removed me for my own safety so I didn’t feel like you might be watching me. But you were gone on Instagram too, and you never replied to the text I sent wishing you well. It all hurt.
But you were his friend before you were my friend, and you never actually knew me. You knew the version of me from his head, the version that I destroyed with “toxic feminism” and expecting more of him. It is no coincidence that I left him three months after I started antidepressants. Once the fog cleared and I stopped being so afraid of HIM leaving ME for daring to ask him to take out the garbage, I realized he’d been steering my behavior all along. So I left. And then he started his story of being abused and manipulated by me, a flipping of the truth, and some people will always choose to believe the Nice Guy’s story. I can’t control that.
This letter has no purpose except to say that I miss you, and I value your friendship, and I do hope you are well.
I don’t expect you to believe me. But I’d love to see you again.