A while ago, I wrote about living with my ex-boyfriend, after we’d split up.
Then he moved out for a month, to house-sit for friends who were travelling. It was perfect timing, as things were just starting to heat up with the Whippersnapper.
Then, as quickly as the month arrived, suddenly it was over. Shortly after my 5th date with Whippersnapper, my ex was coming back.
First, I’ll explain a bit about my relationship with my ex-boyfriend, to put into context my incredibly mixed feelings about him coming back. His name isn’t Matthew, but let’s say it was.
We met on Guardian Soulmates in 2013. He was the first person I went on a blind date with. When I saw his photos, I didn’t fancy him at all, but the messages he sent me were really good – very funny and well-written.
The first moment I saw him, I thought ‘nope’. But then we got on really well, and I had a great time on our first date.
Well, what I remember of the date, we got on really well. This was the date where I fell asleep in the toilets. I was aiming to get just nicely tipsy, but I overshot by a few glasses of wine. I can only assume I went to the toilets and thought I was going to be sick, and knelt in front of the toilet, and then fell asleep.
It was after 11pm, and I’d been in the toilets for about 20 minutes. He was worried about missing his last train back home. He thought maybe I’d had such a bad time, I’d left, but my handbag was still next to him. He tried phoning me, but my phone was next to him on the table.
He was just about to hand my stuff in behind the bar and rush to the tube, when I came back.
“Where have you been!” He said.
“What do you mean! I was just in the toilet?”. I don’t think I even knew I’d been asleep or been gone for so long.
He looked both annoyed and confused, but then suddenly smiled.
“Have you been asleep?” He asked.
“Because your watch is imprinted on your forehead.”
You would think after that introduction, it would’ve been him that said “let’s just be friends, yeah?” but actually it was me. Amazingly, he was up for a second date, but I wasn’t. Although we got on really well, I just didn’t fancy him. I said I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend after all.
However, I genuinely wanted to be friends. I had been in London for less than a year, and didn’t know loads of people, and we had a lot in common.
It was summer, and we started meeting up in central London and hanging out in parks, sharing a few cans. Then, he was dating someone new, and I found that every time he texted me about her, I had my hand on my hip by the end of the message. I didn’t like it. Classic dog in the manger.
There was a night when he and I were both on dates with other people, and I knew I would’ve had more fun with him. The next day, we went to Battersea Park. He asked about my date, but it took about 3 hours and 4 cans of cider, before I was brave enough to answer. Eventually I plucked up the courage to say “my date was fine, but I would’ve had more fun with you”.
We kissed and he said “what am I going to say to what’s-her-face?”.
He wasn’t my usual type, but that was kind of the point. I had always been attracted creative, tortured people, and that hadn’t worked out very well.
He was very different to my other boyfriends. My ex-boyfriend who died always went to extreme lengths to avoid accidentally being in strangers’ photos (partly to avoid inconveniencing people, and partly because he didn’t like his appearance). One of the first times I met Matthew, he was striding through groups of tourists at Parliament Square saying “I love ruining strangers’ photos”.
I know he really loved me.
But I knew from our first argument, something wasn’t right. We were back in the pub from first date, and he had just given me a letter about how much he liked me.
My friend’s boyfriend’s Dad had just died from cancer. I was saying I had seen him and felt bad, because I hadn’t found the right moment to say how sorry I was about his Dad.
Matthew’s mum died 2 years earlier, also from cancer, and he said he didn’t like it when people brought it up and said their condolences, when they next saw him.
I said I felt the opposite when Balthazar died – I was thinking about it constantly so it wasn’t like people would be reminding me, and I appreciated people saying nice things. Which was why I regretted not saying anything to my friend’s boyfriend.
“YOU DIDN’T CARE HIS DAD DIED! YOU DIDN’T LOSE ANY SLEEP OVER IT!” Matthew suddenly exploded.
I felt stunned.
What the actual fuck just happened? I thought, a few minutes later, as I stared miserably at the back of the toilet door – the same toilets where I had fallen asleep a few months earlier.
I tried to forget about that argument, as bereavement is an emotive topic, but it turned out to be quite representative of future arguments.
These are the reasons his anger felt different and wrong:
the triggers seemed so random and small. Once, within 5 minutes of coming home he was kicking the shit out of some cardboard boxes, because I moved his shoes. Once he went and slept in the spare room because of something I said about the film ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop’ (which neither of us have seen or have any reason to be emotionally attached to).
how quickly his anger escalated. It would go from 0 to 60 so fast, like with the bereavement argument above. There really didn’t seem to be any warning signs. One minute he would say something lovely, the next minute he’d be berating me and I’d be thinking how the hell did we get here?
the level of cruelty and meanness. Everyone argues, and everyone says things they regret sometimes. But it seemed different with him. He would swear at me and call me names, like a dick, a twat, regularly. Even though I swear a lot, I think swearing at someone is different.
He said things like “the only reason your ex-boyfriends put up with you was because they were too limp-wristed to do anything about it”, and “your ex-boyfriend’s death has turned you into a sociopath”.
Once I left the room during an argument as I was scared, and he said “you’re pathetic, running off to your room, like a pathetic teenager.”
He’s the only person I’ve felt scared of, during arguments. He would get in my face, pointing, and shout, or growl in a quiet voice that made me think shit I’d better do as he says or I genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen.
Not being sorry. Sometimes he would apologise after getting angry, but then, years later, say “actually I wasn’t sorry, I thought you were being a dick that day”.
Sometimes he wouldn’t say sorry because it was my fault for being oversensitive (e.g. “I’ve been shouted at before. It’s not that bad.”).
Sometimes he said things hadn’t happened afterwards or that what happened was different to what I remembered.
He was subtly controlling. He wasn’t anything like the classic controlling boyfriend – he didn’t care if I had male friends or what I wore, or what I did, but there certain things he didn’t like me making decisions about.
For example, last year on my birthday, he said it was up to me where we went for dinner. I chose a restaurant that he seemed a bit funny about. I kept saying “are you sure it’s OK to go there?” and he kept saying “yes, if that’s what you want”. I booked us a table, as I thought it was OK. He was really grumpy the whole night, and we barely spoke for most of the dinner. On the way home, he stopped at a cornershop and bought an oven pizza to make a point about the portions at the restaurant not being filling. He didn’t give me my presents when we got home, because we were both too annoyed.
He went absolutely crazy when I suggested changing energy supplier, but it wasn’t clear why.
When we moved into a new flat, he didn’t do any unpacking (apart from on the first day) but he always seemed annoyed when I did, as he didn’t like where I put things. I ended up doing it when he was out, and hoping he wouldn’t noticed.
He seemed to get something out of upsetting me. Sometimes he would realise something bothered me, and then do it at random times, for a while. Then, as soon as it stopped bothering me, he stopped doing it.
One time during an argument, he suggested he sleep in the spare room, and it really upset me. I love spooning and I know a few couples for whom sleeping in separate rooms was the beginning of the end. Because I’d reacted quite strongly, he then kept saying quite regularly that he was going to sleep in the spare room. One time it wasn’t even during an argument, we were having a nice conversation. Then, he did sleep in the spare room, and afterwards I said I didn’t mind it as much as I expected, and he never suggested it again.
He discouraged me from doing certain things. With certain things, he was very supportive and encouraging. But with things I did that were too close to what he prided himself on, he was very discouraging. He wrote for a living, and I’m writing a novel. When I showed him my writing, he would just criticise it or correct my punctuation. When I said “I did some writing today” he would just clench his jaw until I stopped talking. When I talked about it he would say “don’t get your hopes up, it won’t get published”. The longer we were together, the less I wrote. One day I said it would really help me start writing again if he could ask me about my novel more, or seem encouraging when I brought it up. He said I didn’t know what I needed, and if he encouraged me, he’d be setting me up for disappointment.
He never hurt me physically, and I don’t think he ever would, but actually, I couldn’t rule it out. During one argument, quite early on, I was lying on his bed and he was standing over me, shouting, and he kicked the mattress, really hard, twice, right underneath my stomach. I’d only been at his flat for about 15 minutes. He was angry because he thought I was annoyed at him (I wasn’t). I felt really shocked by how hard he kicked so close to me, and couldn’t stop crying afterwards. I wondered what it would take for him to be kicking 6 inches higher – kicking me.
For balance, these are some of the good things he did
- he was supportive when I was upset about most things
- he bought me spontaneous, thoughtful presents a lot
- he arranged a surprise party for my 30th birthday
- he wrote me a song about how much he loved me
- he knew I liked salsa, and wanted us to do it together. He really didn’t want to, as he’s shy and unco-ordinated, but for my birthday he paid for a salsa class for us
Things came to a head last summer. We had an argument over nothing, which escalated quickly, and soon I was cowering in the kitchen as he shouted at me through the door. Then he said I had to leave the flat.
At first I said “don’t be ridiculous, I’m not going anywhere! I’m halfway reheating these fajitas.” But then I got scared what would happen if I didn’t leave. He said I had to go and stay in a hotel because I didn’t want to continue the argument until we’d both calmed down.
I stayed with a friend. When I came back the next day, he said “I’m sorry you felt you had to leave”.
We had broken up the previous year, and then got back together with promises that things would be different, and he would get help. He did get help, but he didn’t see his anger as a problem, so they didn’t really focus on it. Things got better, but only for a few months.
Second time around, the breakup felt more mutual. I brought it up, but he wasn’t happy either, so I don’t think it hurt his pride too much.
It was OK living together as exes. He doesn’t do any of this stuff with his friends (with a few recent exceptions – I think he has lost it with friends a couple of times and I got the impression they were a bit shocked). I think he suddenly saw me as having moved into his ‘friend’ category rather than ‘girlfriend’, so he abruptly stopped getting angry with me or doing these things.
I felt relieved it was over, and sorry for him. I felt no bad feelings towards him.
Or so I thought.
The first weekend of he was away, I realised I actually felt quite hurt and angry.
Some friends thought he was emotionally abusing me. It was very confusing; abusive partners on television or in books or films, like Trevor from Eastenders, or Rob Titchener on the Archers, are always depicted as terrible people. Even when they do good things, they do them to manipulate people. (Obviously Matthew was nowhere near as bad as Trevor or Rob, but there were some tiny similarities.)
My ex-boyfriend is a good person. He’s generous, funny, kind and loving. It’s just that he’s also terrible at managing his emotions and he did things that were totally unacceptable. I think you can be both – a good person who does some really shit, occasionally cruel things.
So, he was away, and I started feeling quite differently towards him. I didn’t want to be around him again. I think the whole time we were living together, I’d completely blocked out my feelings, in order to get by.
I suddenly started having images of me cowering in the kitchen while he shouted abuse through the door, and I didn’t feel good about him coming back.
Being with Whippersnapper was so different, it brought into focus how bad things with Matthew had been.
The plan was supposed to be for Matthew to come back temporarily, before moving more permanently into a friends’ spare room. He was always a bit vague about when exactly he’d move out permanently. There was a bit of back and forth, and he seemed keen to stay for a while, but I managed to diplomatically suggest that less was more. Amazingly, we managed to agree he would just stay for a week!
As that week approached, I started feeling really strange. I was jumpy, I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t concentrate. One day I was walking down an alley and a carrier bag blew across the ground, and I nearly jumped out of my skin.
I realised it was because when we were together, I was always keeping an eye out for warning signs for his temper.
Now he was coming back, I felt scared.