Updated: Jan 15
My first-floor flat in a council estate tower block overlooked the pub in which I spent many pleasant hours shooting pool. One evening I looked out of my window to see which of my mates were going in for the night before deciding whether to go myself. It wasn’t a hard decision - I was young, free, single and childless; I wasn’t earning much but I could always afford to go out - so I always did. Standing outside the pub with her friends was a girl with whom I was already casually aquatinted - Jess, a friend of Sam, my best female friend at the time. Jess looked lovely in a shimmering red dress, with long, black hair framing her pretty face, and I couldn’t get my shoes on quick enough as I rushed out, determined to get to know her better. We hit it off immediately and quickly fell in love. Soon afterwards I moved into her flat, where she lived with her two adorable young sons.
My mom was terminally ill at the time, and set firmly against the relationship, not wanting me to take on the responsibility of another man’s children, but I fell in love with those two just as quickly. We enjoyed a happy honeymoon period which culminated in Jess falling pregnant with her third child - my first - but by this time, things had started to go wrong. One day I came home from work to find Jess in a panic, having lost all her money for the week. According to her, she’d dropped it somewhere while she’d been out and about. Not to worry, I could cover it. Little did I know at the time, it was the first manifestation of a financially disastrous gambling addiction. One day, while Jess was out, I answered the door to one of those predatory credit companies that leech off vulnerable people with bad credit by lending them money at extortionate interest rates. I confronted Jess and discovered that she had agreements with several of these legalised loan sharks. I paid them all off with a bank loan at a more manageable rate and told these vultures never to darken my door again.
So now her debts were in my name, and worse than that, she had an exemplary repayment record with her former creditors. Unbeknown to me, she borrowed from them all over again and soon enough we were back to square one. All my wages went on repaying her debts and our household bills. I couldn’t afford to go out and see friends, I even had to get a job at the football to justify going to watch my beloved team. All this while every bit of cash Jess got slipped quickly through her fingers into the nearest fruit machine. We argued all the time over money, and Jess couldn’t countenance any sign of discontent or criticism, so every heated debate ended in a slanging match with me being ordered to leave. Take it from me, that kind of punishment really puts you off arguing! Sometimes I was happy to go, to escape her anger, but I was crippled with debt and had no funds to start again, so I always ended up having to go cap-in-hand to my dad’s house, which was so depressing that when Jess called wanting to make up, I was willing to listen to her empty promises to change. Mom had passed away by now, and I know in my heart that as someone who loved me as only a mother does, she would never have stood by and watched me go through this damaging and seemingly endless cycle.
Jess was also insanely jealous. I was cut off from my friends by financial embarrassment, while my female friends were DEFINITELY off limits. Isolated as I was, Jess became my whole life. I praised her constantly, telling her how beautiful she was, and that she was a great mom. I laughed at her jokes, asked about her day, listened to her stories and heard all about her friends. In a rare example of her saying something good about me, she said that I gave her a new-found confidence. It made my day when she was animated and chatty, firstly because - just for a change - she wasn’t being critical, and also because she seemed content, and that was the thing that mattered more than anything to me. But I got almost nothing in return. She wasn’t interested in anything I was excited about, and conversations about my interests tailed off pretty quickly. The only things we had genuine two-way interactions about were her and her passions. I convinced myself I was boring - to her I definitely was, and maybe she was right. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. I waited on her hand and foot but anything I asked her to do for me was too much trouble, or done begrudgingly - so much so that it became uncomfortable to ask.
She had an affair, which I stupidly forgave, and with my confidence at its lowest ebb, I was flattered when a girl at work took an interest in me and gave me her phone number. Jess found it in my coat pocket and being a hopeless liar I confessed all. Later on that day, I looked out of the bedroom window to see Jess making a bonfire of all my clothes in the back garden. Stylish clothes were once a code I lived by but I’d been skint for so long there was nothing I cared for being doused with lighter fluid in readiness for cremation. In a rare show of defiance, I grabbed her favourite dress out of the wardrobe, hid it behind my back and calmly ventured into the garden. As the blaze took hold, I threw the dress into the roaring flames, and stood laughing at the hilarious sight of Jess doing her best to stamp out the fire before it could do too much damage. On another occasion, an ex-girlfriend in the pub said I was ‘sexy’ as Jess looked on, which led to an assault with a crockery teapot and resulted in stitches in the hand I held up to prevent her from hitting me on the head with it.
After ten chaotic years together, she had another affair. By this time, we’d had another child, who was then just a baby. This time I couldn’t forgive and left, and her new love moved in to take my place in our bed, her heart, and the newly-fitted kitchen. Although it was painful at the time, I look back and realise it was the best thing that ever happened to me and I’ll always be grateful to the new boyfriend. I now have a beautiful wife and two gorgeous children, as well as good relationships with the older ones from my previous doomed accord. I feel no bitterness towards my ex - no break-up is entirely the fault of one party. We were simply not suited but that doesn’t make either of us bad people. Sometimes you just have to accept that you might want different things, that your personality is not that magnetic, or that maybe you’re not the last of the red-hot lovers after all. Only someone with an ego the size of Texas would imagine themselves to be the perfect partner. The important thing is to move on, be as resilient as you possibly can, and take responsibility for your own happiness. If you’re waiting for somebody else to do that for you, you’ll be waiting a long time.
SEEK HELP AND ADVICE!
If you have been affected by issues in this story, it is important that you seek help and advice from a professional. Don't hide away or try to mask the issue. Talk to someone you trust. No one has to live with toxic behaviour. Seek help and remove yourself if possible.
See links below to organisations which can and will help point you in the right direction.
Gambler's Anonymous - UK - https://www.gamblersanonymous.org.uk/
Domestic Violence - UK - https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/
Domestic Violence - USA - https://www.thehotline.org/
Gambler's Anonymous - USA - http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/hotlines
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