Drawing the line between boyfriend and God
by Jasmine Burnett; illustrations by Heidi Flores
If you are my friend, I have lied to you. I’m sorry, and I’ll correct the mistake right now: I did not meet my ex-boyfriend Lloyd at a Jesus and Mary Chain concert. We met online. We were both at that concert, but he was downstairs in the “you can drink” zone because he was 24, and I was upstairs in the “all ages” balcony because it was my 18th birthday. When I went home, I made a Last.fm journal entry about the concert. He found it, commented, and the ensuing conversation chain lasted for 11 months. I’ll tell you now: Our relationship ended up becoming very unhealthy and nearly abusive. There are many types of unhealthy relationships, but here’s what happened to me.
Within weeks of meeting, Lloyd and I were texting and talking on the phone for five hours a day. He told me he was a 24-year-old Berkeley grad with a double degree, but, for some reason, he worked part-time at a pizza joint. He owned 1,800 CDs, and they covered an entire wall of his room. He sent some pictures before we met in person: He was a cute Mexican guy with a bowl haircut and a knockout smile.
On July 17, 2012, we met in person at Book Off, a Japanese secondhand media store. He was standing in front of the store, tapping his foot and wearing a denim jacket, jeans and a red Wedding Present shirt. Red was his favorite color. He was colorblind. The date was awkward and we blurted out weird things because we were both recluses. “I haven’t hung out with a girl in two years,” he said. We ended up kissing at a stop sign next to an In-N-Out Burger and agreed to meet again.
I was relishing Lloyd and our dates to Kobey’s Swap Meet. But there was one red flag: I noticed he wasn’t responsive to my interests. When I showed him my doodles and told him about my sci-fi novel ideas, he just didn’t react. But he did react when he told me to listen to The Perfect Perscription by Spacemen 3, and I told him it was great. Lloyd was the only decent thing I had going on, so I started doing more things to please him. First, I replaced all my music with his taste. For a reason I have no explanation for, he refused to listen to any band that formed after the year 1989. Fugazi but never Drive Like Jehu. Talk Talk but never Bark Psychosis. He would outright ridicule me when I played a post-’89 band such as Sigur Rós in the car, and make it so awkward that I would just take the easy way out and put on Miles Davis. In the course of our relationship, I would take all 500-something of his recommendations, and he would take zero of mine.
I calculated my every action to please him: I stopped reading books because he didn’t like fiction, I tried to talk in an “intellectual” way to impress him and I copied his interest in ethnic cuisine. I also changed my identity. By pure coincidence, we were both interested in the Enneagram, a personality theory that says that there are nine basic types of people. He said he was definitely a five—“the thinker”—and even before we had met, I thought I was a five, too. He started using statements like, “We are fives—we have zero emotions. I’m so glad I found another robot.” I made it my full-time job trying to adhere to this “robot” idea, pushing all my emotions away, also conforming to other five traits such as “enjoys researching” and “has hard time empathizing with others.” To practice this latter trait, I once laughed inappropriately at my grandma’s failing health and made my mom cry. And I didn’t care because, like the Christians say, “Only God is my judge.” God was Lloyd. Sorry, Mom.
In the last few months we dated, it became obvious that he had severe PTSD from being in Chile during the 2010 earthquake. He got a new job that required two hours a day of tutoring elementary schoolers, and he shut down and stopped talking to me for a week. He would become paralyzed by minor obstacles such as filling out one-page forms, and he started to mention Chile ten times a day. I would send him loving messages, all sprinkled with “intellectual” language, only to get pessimistic one-sentence responses. I kept trying because I hoped that I could cure him and then would feel worthy of something (despite the fact that he said he didn’t want therapy). There’s a very specific, clogged state of mind that I hope I never feel again: when you’ve practically given your soul to please someone and they don’t acknowledge it at all—and foolishly, you resolve to try even harder. Meanwhile, my best friend stopped talking to me. I took on Lloyd’s habit of frequently buying CDs, a stress-relief technique that I had adopted from him. I started blowing hundreds of dollars on music, then trading it all in.
On May 12, 2013—his birthday—Lloyd lost his marbles. First he brought me into his living room and started pointing at the presents his parents had gotten him, loudly denouncing each one so they could hear. Then I forgot to say goodbye to his dad when he left the house, so Lloyd started yelling at me. He told me that I had Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Asperger’s. His proof was, “When you get up to get water for yourself, you don’t ask me if I want any.” One of the many sentences that made me shiver in the night was “You can’t take care of yourself. Do you know how many times I’ve saved your life?” Then he said that he was planning to kill himself. I ran outside crying and my car was getting towed—and he was the one who had told me to park in that space. I emailed him “It’s over” a few days later, and we have not spoken since.
It took me a year to realize this, but my “best friend ever” who felt like my own flesh and blood was emotionally abusive. When he insulted me, I felt destroyed and like I had no purpose. His mental health problems made me feel responsible, since I was his only support network. And since I couldn’t help him, I felt helpless and guilty. Not to mention I had basically invested my entire self in him until there was none of myself left, just a messy imitation of someone else. Luckily, the only damage I received from that blow was a semi-mental breakdown and a life lesson or three. Who knows what would have happened if I continued with the whole façade. I very well could have skipped college, moved in and had a kid with the guy, while trying not to watch my whole world fall apart because I hated who I was.
Now for the semi-mental breakdown: I spent a lot of money on CDs, filled the black hole in my heart with Mexican food and blew up at everyone I knew. But once I came to Colorado College, I started to get in touch with my actual self. Block 2, I bought a CD by a ’90s band. Block 3, I stopped yelling at people in my hall. Block 4, I made some friends. Block 7, my nonstop fantasies of disagreeing with him subsided. During the summer, I went to Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, where middle-agers who cheat on their spouses hugged me and told me that I have a whole life ahead of me. When typing and talking, I dropped the “intellectual” act and started to sound like who I really was—a scattered, disaffected youth who goes online too much. And then I went to therapy, where I found out I exhibit typical co-dependent behavior.
While holding alternately vibrating handles supposed to “shake up my brain” (it’s called EMDR and it’s been proven by science) the therapist and I figured out the root cause of my co-dependency. I was a social reject my entire life, which led to an “I’m not good enough” complex; I figured in every friendship or relationship that if I was compliant enough, the other person would like me. And if I said something I found out the other person disagreed with, I would feel waves of shame and invalidation and quickly jump to correct my “mistake.”
Finally, 15 months after the breakup, I gave in and looked at Lloyd’s Rate Your Music page, a habit that I had sworn off. He had gotten fat and acquired an additional 1,400 CDs. That was when I truly put Lloyd to rest: he wasn’t God, nor was he a Frightening Man From My Past. He was some total loser, a controlling, slightly abusive jerk. I wasn’t the first victim, either: I found his ex girlfriend’s Rate Your Music page and she owned 488 CDs, most of them Lloyd-approved. The last time Aleesha catalogued something on the site was December 13, 2010.
I don’t know how to escape every abusive or unhealthy relationship. All I learned was that people need to affirm their own identity while dating someone. Everyone has something exciting to bring to the table, and the point of a relationship is a mutual exchange of selves, not for one person to be absorbed into the other. Also, if your boyfriend works at a pizza place and says things like “That’s what happens when you try—you fail!” with utter sincerity, he’s not going to treat you like a princess for very long.