I have written and rewritten and edited this post a thousand times. Obviously not actually a thousand times, but it feels like it. I keep getting tripped up on tangents and details that the person in question seems to forget, or pretends to forget, or just thinks don’t matter that much. But what I really want to say is that it did matter, and it had serious impact on me and my life afterwards. The apology sucked; it can’t really be called an apology but a passive aggressive play for redemption.
I’m not giving it.
But first, I need to get this written and stay focused on the purpose… so I’m going to try going backwards, from now to then.
I recently completed an editing certification program through UW. I had been eyeing it up for years and contemplating doing it after I finished my B.A., but I wasn’t sure how practical it was. I knew that I wanted to return to my love of words and language, and I knew that I wanted to stop being a tech person. I knew that going back to school had reignited and reawakened things that, a decade ago, I had shoved into a box for which I’d thrown away the key. I knew that I’d been periodically dusting off this website in an attempt to write again… even though rambling blog posts don’t generally count as “writing.” Not in my book, anyway. Not when I know it’s just a way to release some of this pent up writing energy I have, since I hadn’t done any serious writing for quite some time, but the desire to write again has been building.
So I wound up registering for the program, on a whim but not. I discovered that I love—LOVE—editing. But more than that, I realized I how much I missed writing. Serious writing, not fluffy blog stuff. So once I finished the editing program, I thought… what if I tried writing again? My focus is terrible, but I still know the basics. I still have my voice. I’ve tapped back into that part of me that turns out deeply personal, visceral things. I’ve taken enough writing and English courses over the years to equate with a B.A. in English three times over. So at Husband’s encouragement, I went ahead and registered for some writing courses again, at the community college I went to before UW. (It’s kind of ironic that I’d take community college courses again, after getting the B.A. that inspired me want to write again. It is what it is.) So this Summer I’m doing a fiction writing course, and in the Fall I’ll be taking another course in my speciality, Creative Nonfiction. The fiction class will be a challenge. I’m not good at making up stories, I’ve always been someone who writes deeply personal, true things. But I figure the fiction class will at least make me a better developmental editor.
I used to write a lot. I had considered trying to pursue it as a career or more than a hobby, but then I met my ex boyfriend. He and I met in April 2000. In 2000, I was making my second attempt at college, and I was pursuing writing and art history. Up to and including that point, I had been consistently praised and encouraged in my writing. I had been pushed to enter contests, submit to journals, even won an award or two. A couple of years ago, I wrote to my favorite writing professor from that time, and she told me that not only did she remember me, but she still had several pieces of my writing saved. She said that meant something, because she rarely saved students’ work and certainly not for that long.
I was writing a lot then, and I was trying to write more. But that boyfriend repeatedly told me that “all girls write.” He was dismissive of my writing and all my creative aspirations. He had acted as if there was only room for one artist in the relationship; or worse, that he was somehow the authority on creativity because he had an art degree. Yeah, he had a degree in art, but he didn’t do anything with it and honestly, I thought his “sculpture” was uninspired. Though I had taken more art, writing, and photography classes than I can possibly count, I hadn’t finished my degree… but I was actively writing and doing photography. I was lacking confidence, so I elevated him while letting him devaluate me. He treated me as if my desire to write was nothing but cute. Coupled with the everything else that I endured with him over our nearly-7 years together, it crushed me.
A few months ago, I realized that he’d been visiting my website—this website—regularly for the last ten years. I saw a few visits in the months prior, which caused me to dig deeper into web stats. It was a little disturbing. So I confronted him, saying, “If you have something to say to me, just say it.” He came back with a passive aggressive apology that had little to do with what he did to me during our time together. But he also said that it was his wife looking, not him… which is… odd? And makes me think he hasn’t changed all that much. (My husband would never throw me under the bus like that. Even if I *were* doing something, he’d take one for team. For me.) She and I have nothing to do with each other. But after everything, now he’s telling me that, “in her defense, you’re an excellent writer.”
After everything he had done to push me down in that regard, I didn’t feel flattered, and I certainly didn’t believe he thinks that now. I just felt manipulated and, well… “fuck you.” Since when do you think I’m a decent writer, let alone an excellent one?
The “you’re an excellent writer” line came wrapped in a passive aggressive, subpar apology for being “disrespectful” to me during our time together. It displayed more concern for how it affected him to have this “black mark” on his life that prevents him from looking back with… pride? contentment? peace? It wasn’t a real apology that addressed anything that he did to me or how it affected me. It’s been twelve years since I even saw him, but in therapy, I continue to break down in gasping tears when recounting that relationship because, Jesus, dude. You boil everything that you did down to “disrespecting me”? I’ve never gotten validation, I’ve never gotten a proper apology or acknowledgement… and he doesn’t seem to grasp just how badly his actions wrecked me and how they’ve affected my life.
Of course he won’t send me a real and proper apology where he admits to any details. Of course, he most likely thinks that after twelve years I should be over it; and I’m sure his family would say the same, since they blamed me for his unhappiness, as if I forced him to be with me, forced him to run back to me every time he left, forced him to send me drunken emails, or forced him to do any of the abusive things he did while with me. Instead, he responded to my “just say it,” by telling me he’s changed, but here’s the thing: Sending me an apology that talks about how sad you are to have a “black mark” on your life tells me that you’re exactly the same as you always were. Telling me you didn’t want to reach out and apologize because you thought I’d “shun” you tells me you haven’t changed. “Apologizing” by telling me you think you’re different now isn’t an apology. Real apologies lack defensiveness (“I’ve changed”), real apologies acknowledge the depth of what you’ve done (“I was disrespectful” – No, you gaslit me, manipulated me, lied to me, cheated on me, and abused me.), real apologies are stepping into discomfort and making it about the other person. You apologize for the sake of the other person, not only if you think the conditions are right to get what you want out of it. And most of all, a real apology acknowledges the effects of your actions on the other person.
“Redemption follows allocution.” I listened to this podcast episode last month, “Get a Spine!” by This American Life. In it, there’s a story about a failed apology that finally makes its way to a real apology. It hit me pretty hard. I have learned a lot in these past few years about what makes a real apology, and my husband has taught me a lot about how to accept real apologies and be forgiving. I have it in me to forgive. But I don’t have it in me to accept excuse-filled, self-pitying emails and give redemption in exchange. (You can read the transcript of that portion here, or listen to this particular segment here.)
Ezra. I highly recommend you read or listen to that.
So let me tell you how this has affected me. That shitty excuse for an apology ripped open a few scars. Throughout our time together, and even afterward, you tried to make me believe that what I knew wasn’t real. You tried to make me think I was crazy for all my suspicions and all the ways you undermined me. You told other people I was crazy and hid your own shitty behavior. For a long time after, it demolished my capacity to trust anything in my life, including my own instincts. I stopped listening to myself. I stopped trying to do something with my writing. I was paranoid about whether people were speaking behind my back. I’ve had to fight the belief that I deserved all of this somehow, and that I was crazy, that I was “too much.” You would lie to me and push my buttons, then tell me I was being ridiculous for getting mad at being betrayed. I’ll never forget the time you took my car without asking, to go to Newark… Well, there’s a lot of things I’ll never forget, and that was hardly the worst of it. But I remember you sitting on the couch on Greene Street after, looking at me with scorn when I got angry about you taking my car to sneak off to take a friend to the airport. You were gone with my car for hours, and I didn’t know where. I remember screaming at you eventually, as I know I often did… because you always just looked at me with that look. Scorn. Dismissal. You never acknowledged any real wrong-doing. You never thought I had a right to be angry at your constant lying and passive aggressive behavior. You were so fucking condescending.
I remember finding out that you were soliciting prostitutes online in Prague… though you swore you were “just looking,” because aren’t they always? But at least the prostitutes were of age.
For awhile, I thought I brought all of this on myself. In some ways, I did feel like I went crazy for awhile. I had a nervous breakdown in Prague, but I was circling that drain for awhile before. I lost my shit. I lost my mind. I spent a lot of time screaming and crying. He once told me my journal made him sound like a monster… but he couldn’t dispute any of it. Everything I said—everything I say—is true. Before him, I had a tendency to engage in risky and self-destructive behavior that mostly stopped once I met him. I used to joke that I no longer needed all those destructive behaviors because I just traded up for a relationship with him. The constant back and forth (I love you, I’m not in love with you, go away, please don’t leave me, I’ll never marry you, here’s a ring, I’m ready to bring you to Olomouc, I stopped cheating, oops) made my head spin. If I tried to listen to the “go away’s” and the “I’m not in love with you’s”, he’d come back at me with desperate, drunk emails and texts while telling everyone I wouldn’t “let” him go. He complained about my “snooping,” but ignored the fact that I started snooping because I could no longer deny there was a lot to find, and I’d never get the truth otherwise. Those were years full of paranoia, suspicion, and pain. I got angry and screamed a lot, because I didn’t know what else to do. It turns out that how I reacted to him is pretty typical of people dealing with Passive Aggressive men. My therapist has also told me, on more than one occasion, that my “fight” response probably saved me, not just from him but from myself.
Even though he was in it with me, I know he thinks this all sounds very dramatic and made up. It is not made up, see above where I said I don’t write fiction. And I’m not dramatizing. It was bad. It was terrifying.
What finally pushed me over the edge was when he started making noise about wanting me to move back to him, in Olomouc. I was addicted to this shit, I don’t deny it. I was addicted, but I also knew I needed to get out. So I started seeing a therapist in Prague, and I went to psychiatrist to get meds to “stabilize,” as my therapist put it. I was on meds for depression, meds for anxiety, and meds to counteract the side effects. I took pills to get to sleep. I later found out it was the Czech equivalent of Ambien, and every morning, I woke up nervous to see the insane texting I did while “under the influence.” I wasn’t working much because I was canceling classes left and right. I was on all these pills and drinking a lot… and for a few weeks, I decided to fuck every man I could, in hopes that one would break my ex’s hold over me.
(There was one guy… a green-eyed Croatian DJ that I fell head over heels for, but bless his heart, he was honest with me. He’d just gotten out of a relationship himself, and when he realized he was starting to enjoy our time together too much, he pulled back and refused to see me unless we were with a group of people. It’s a great story worth telling some day… he named DJ sets at Akropolis after me. Another day, another story.)
I could have just left? I did, finally, after waking up one morning and throwing away every prescription I had. I quit the meds cold turkey and then leapt into another abusive relationship just to escape my ex. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat because at least at the end of it all, I escaped. It wasn’t as simple as just leaving though. It’s a tale as old as time—women often stay with their abusers. You think you deserve it. You start to believe everything people say about you. You start to think you brought it on ourself. You lose your entire sense of self.
But anyway. I escaped. The escape took so much out of me that I completely shut down once I returned to the States. I got into other relationships, but I was paddling desperately to stay on the surface. I was terrified. I was determined to do things differently. I was determined to avoid everything about myself that could bring about the slightest bit of drama or trouble. I stopped being creative. I stopped going out. I stopped opening up to people. I was completely shattered and skittish. I wanted to destroy everything about myself that had gotten me into that relationship.
I was so fucking scared of “doing it again.” But I did meet my now-husband pretty quickly after and that kept my trouble confined. (We’ve had some moments of reckoning over the years, which is another story for another day… but I will say that I’ve finally learned what a real apology looks like. I’ve learned what it looks like when someone is truly sorry, and what it means to be valued, and to be real.)
So why now?
I’ve come full circle in these past few years, and as life was settling back down, I saw that he’s been watching me. And even though I knew he’d have nothing to say that was worth hearing, I wanted him to know that I was aware of his presence.
He’s made passive aggressive digs to get my attention in the last decade. I was moving on and wanting nothing to do with him, quietly living my life with no contact between us. Then I got an “anonymous” gift of a Suicide Girls membership one year; I’m not sure how he expected that to be anonymous. It was both a thing we shared briefly and then became a point of contention when I realized how frequently he used it. (He’d also written drunk raving mad posts there about how jealous he was of my new boyfriend). There were the public, online callouts. Like when he responded to someone’s query, on the PANMA listserv, about recommendations for web hosts; he answered with the name of the hosting provider he used, saying that he sent most of his clients there, and ending it with “You’re welcome, Nik.” He was being snarky about the referral kickbacks I was getting because I had, indeed, referred him to the web host that I had been using first. But to make it worse, he used my nickname. He knew that I was very fussy about about people calling me “Nik.”
There were emails asking me for money, calling me a “mark”; emails about the Syphilis he contracted during that time he’d told me he was “celibate” after me. That last one was particularly amusing. And if you think I’m exaggerating his world view, he thought the syphilis was “God” was laughing at him… if I were in his shoes, I would have considered that karma.
But all these little callouts and digs came to me during a time when he was supposedly so happy with some new girlfriend.
So yeah, he told me he’s different now. As if that should somehow fix all the damage he’s caused and the shit he stirred up. I know that he hasn’t changed, though. I know from that “apology.” What has changed is that he’s moved on to someone who isn’t as challenging. I know that I’m a big personality. I know I have strong opinions. I know that I’m intense. Everyone tells me this. My husband says that I’m like “staring at the sun.” It’s what first drew my ex to me. I was the spark in our relationship. I was the flame that drew people to us. In Philadelphia and Prague, there was no shortage of options for me, if I could just get the fuck away from him. But I was loyal to a fault and it made him feel good. But I was the spark, and he did everything he could to snuff that out.
It made him feel good to be seen with me in public, and it made him resent me in private. He always said that he could only hear my voice in his head, and he often rebelled in stupid or dangerous ways just to feel like he was doing something of his own volition. (And it wasn’t my fault you only heard me in your head, either. That’s like diving into the deep end of a pool when you can’t swim, and blaming the water for drowning. Stick to the shallow end, dear.) A “quiet” woman won’t ever feel the full brunt of his insecurities, but without having done the serious work, he’s still the same man. A change of scenery doesn’t change a person. Not unlike a sex addict who needs to live a very controlled, careful life to avoid slipping up… The environment has changed, not the person.
You always said that you hated that I knew so much about you.
And I’m about to go off on a tangent again. So I’ll stop here. Do you know why it’s hard for me to keep myself from rattling off the list of offenses again? Because he’s never owned any of it. Because he pretends I’m making stuff up, or that he’s forgotten, or that I “made” him do it, or that it wasn’t as bad as I said it was.
Those years affected me. Badly. You could say that it affected you, too, but you were the only one that knew the truth about what you were doing behind my back. You were cruel, and you were selfish. You wanted me, and you resented me for it. Instead of dealing with your demons, you sicked them on me.
But I’m back to writing. So there’s that. Not just silly little blog writing, but the writing that I always did before him, and the writing I always dreamed of doing. There’s a memoir in the works—a series of essays about my time in Prague. I’d say only about five percent of it has anything to do with this relationship, though he certainly won’t like it. I don’t really care, it’s not for him. He’s rewritten his story of how he went to Prague and Olomouc several times, always changing it to suit his audience, to paint himself in the best light, to pretend I didn’t exist or had nothing to do with his life there. It was me who ultimately made the decision to go, and I went whether he would follow me or not. I’ve never changed the story, because I only tell what’s true. I only tell things as they were. I remember every detail, exactly as is because I’ve got notes and blog posts and handwritten journals.
And I’m done carrying all this shit around with nowhere to put it.
On another note, I wish I’d known about Passive Aggressive Personality disorder back then. It’s exactly what I experienced with this particular ex, and while we all say or do passive aggressive things occasionally, Passive Aggressive personalities in the extreme are considered abusive and do an extraordinary amount of damage to people involved with them. Had I known more about this then, I might have been able to disengage. Passive Aggressive (with a capital PA) have trouble expressing anger, so they essentially work in ways to get others to express it for them. PA is a known issue and can drive people who are in relationships with them crazy. They fare better, in relationships, with partners who are more timid and who don’t push back much or have strong opinions. In relationships with less timid people, or someone with strong opinions, they feel swallowed up by the other person and, rather than speak up like adults or express emotions, they covertly “act out.” Passive Aggressive people become PA for many reasons, including through childhood abuse. Passive aggressive people are in denial about the impact of their behavior. (See above.) They cause their partner to feel angry, powerless, and confused. They frequently gaslight their partners. They “act out” to feel a sense of independence, and they need someone to be the “object of his hidden hostility.”
About the passive aggressive man: The Boomerang Relationship (This one describes my ex and our relationship to a ‘T,’ down to his childhood.)