Being gaslighted isn’t just for straight people.
When someone you love tells you something negative about yourself it’s easy to believe.
We’ve all been there. Sometimes a friend needs to sit you down and tell you about some behavior you weren’t aware of. Maybe you’ve been in a bad mood lately and have been taking it out on other people. Maybe your partner notices that you’re acting more depressed than usual. We aren’t always the best at seeing what’s going on with ourselves. It makes it all the easier to believe the people close to us when they tell us things we may not like about our behavior.
So when my ex girlfriend told me she thought I was a sex addict, I believed her.
It wasn’t just that I wanted sex too often, she explained. Twice a week was bad, but not addict bad. It’s that I seemed too interested in sex. I wrote about it, I read stories that had sex in it, and I seemed too curious about different kinds of sex. I wanted to experiment and that wasn’t normal. Thinking about sex as often as I did was a sure sign of illness. At the age of 24 it was unnatural.
I needed to go to a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting and get help or she’d have to leave me. It was for her own good. She couldn’t support an addict.
What I wasn’t seeing at the time was the growing pattern in my incredibly unhealthy relationship. She had a tendency to gaslight me, back before the term was really well-known. She never did anything wrong, I was always at fault for everything. One time I’d been out with friends and had arranged to spend time with her after. She’d told me at the time it was fine, but was incredibly angry by the time I showed up. I’d spent too much time with them and should have been with her instead. I brought her flowers to cheer her up and she smugly said “You really needed to do something like this to make it up to me.”
Another time she insisted that if I really loved her I would have “just known” that she hated a movie we’d gone to see, even though she’d told me she liked it at the time. She’d been in more relationships than me, I figured she must’ve been right.
So I went to a Sex And Love Addicts Anonymous meeting, and right away I felt like I didn’t belong there. People were sharing stories about how they’d ruined relationships because they couldn’t not have sex. That they thought about it all the time, needed it in the way some people need coffee in the morning. I liked it, but I didn’t need it.
I told this to my girlfriend. She patted me on the shoulder. “Every addict thinks that at first.”
Two meetings later and I was convinced I didn’t belong there. I couldn’t stay. I felt like being there was a betrayal of these people who genuinely needed help. I told my partner and she left me.
I spent a year thinking I was a terrible partner; I didn’t deserve her. I couldn’t help myself, I couldn’t be a healthy partner, and I needed to figure out what was wrong with me. Of course thinking about yourself through the lenses of a partner who was emotionally abusive and manipulative, curing myself meant “what can I do to get her back? What can I do to get her approval?”
At the end of that year I’d found success. I’d gone to therapy, I’d done self reflection, but more importantly I’d sucked up to her like crazy. I took her to expensive restaurants and Cirque du Soleil shows. I made an abstract comment about really wanting to ask someone out and her response was “Well, it’d better be me or I’ll be too jealous to stand it.” It was, and she graciously took me back. I was a good person again. I was worthy again.
The thing about people like this though is you’re not allowed to feel worthy for long. There’s always something wrong with you, always something that needs to be fixed. And sure enough she brought the sex addiction up again not much long after. I turned to her with a frown. “I never was a sex addict. That wasn’t a problem I had.” She raised her eyebrows, scoffed, and implied that I had some soul searching to do.
I wish I could end this story with an antecdote about how I found my inner strength, my self worth, and dumped her. But I didn’t. It’s incredibly easy to find yourself in an emotionally abusive relationship and have no idea that you’re actually in one. Gaslighters are great at distorting reality and making you feel like these problems are your own fault, and that’s absolutely how I felt.
We fell apart when I refused to drive out and spend time with her and her homophobic mother. We had to pretend to be friends rather than a couple and I wasn’t comfortable with being closeted. A month went by of us not seeing each other, and she finally called me to break up with me over the phone.
Looking back I can see this for what it was, and like a lot of you I can see how ridiculous it was to let myself absorb all of this, to get so caught up in someone who was bent on tearing me down. The scariest thing about it is how unaware I was at the time. It felt completely rational.
I’ve since learned that she was cheating on me at the time, and of all the things she’d done to me this was the one that allowed me to let go. A part of me will always be grateful for this relationship, terrible as it was, since it taught me a lot about who I am. At the very least it definitely taught me that I’m not a sex addict.
Images via tumblr.com and giphy.com.
Comment: Have you ever been gaslighted by a partner?