by Allison Zapata

I was a willing participant in our relationship. I simply made the mistake of thinking it was real.

Recently divorced and detoxing from a decade of sameness, I was a sad puddle of vulnerability.

He picked up on that, like a hawk. But hawks are beautiful creatures, and their behavior is driven by survival, rather than malice. So I suppose that’s not the best comparison.

Let me try again. He picked up on my vulnerability and broken heart like a predator with the keenest, but most unnatural, of instincts. The kind that preys for sport, rather than survival.

I was unaware, but he’d been following me online for over a year, just long enough to have honed in on my weaknesses and insecurities. Then, along came my divorce and, with it, his jackpot.

His study and analysis made the next move incredibly easy. He knew every affirmation I was desperate to hear and from the moment he began circling, he said these affirmations daily, word for word, in the same order.

You’re the prettiest. You’re the wittiest. You’re the sexiest. You’re the best mother. You’re the silliest. You’re the kindest. You’re the skinniest. You’re the cutest. You’re the most beautiful. How am I so lucky that you’re so into me? You’re SO into me! No one has made me this happy. We’re basically the same person. You’re so into me!

The first few times he read the script, I was enamored and completely swept off my feet. In fact, my swooning was so intense that my pupils were quickly replaced with sparkly dilated hearts.

Around the tenth reading, I still wagged my tail and eagerly accepted his treats, though I’d secretly started longing for something less predictable. At the very least, for him to mix it up a little, maybe flip the order around. Perhaps he could even get a little crazy, and throw in something fresh and unexpected, like, “You have the best white girl ass of any white girl ass I’ve ever seen.”

But flattery is flattery and my self-esteem was so low that it wouldn’t have taken more than an accidental breast brush from the guy bagging my groceries to make my day.

Besides, he was honest, with a big heart that matched his smile. So what if he wasn’t the most original? He adored me and showered me with non-stop attention. Which, in turn, got me showering again. Shaving, even.

We talked for hours on the phone at night like teenagers. Only, we didn’t have to hide under the covers with our emergency spare phone. Not long after, we agreed to meet, both of us needing assurance that the physical attraction was on par with the emotional.

Before I knew it, I was at the airport, waiting for his plane to arrive. When I first spotted him, he was a bit skinnier than I expected, but not too shabby overall.

Then, it happened: the first kiss. OK, it wasn’t the best. But kissing is an art — an art which can be learned with the proper instructor, right?

Our weekend was great, and by the end his kisses were much more that of experienced man than awkward teenager. (Mission accomplished! Now, where’s my tenure?)

Soon after, it was my turn to visit him. Driving around in his beat up truck, we had the following conversation:

broken-heart-2Him: I know it’s too early to say I love you, but I feel it.

Me: (sigh) Same here.

Him: I love you.

Me: (double sigh) I love you, too.

Each weekend together was better and more intense. It was almost too good to be true. Sure, our conversations were akin to Groundhog Day, but that was certainly no deal-breaker.

Thinking back, there were other small things that tugged at me. He never waited for me when we were together. If I’d stop to take a picture or look at something, he’d just keep walking. He never opened doors.

And the way he often talked about his success and generosity. Or how he constantly dropped hints that other girls wanted him — even some of his married friends — something I chalked up to his age and simply showing off.

But of course, I ignored them, attributing them to me being dramatic or him not having the best manners.

We took trips to the bayou and the wine country. We hit up Vegas, and caught a comedy show, followed by a cheeseburger from McDonald’s. We joked about being the perfect match. Like he said, we were kindred spirits — soulmates.

During our last night together, he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “No one will ever love you like I do.” Of course, I hadn’t a clue it was our last weekend together. But despite his proclamations of love and non-stop planning for our future, he knew.

Heading back home, I was camped out on Cloud 9. It felt amazing and euphoric. This almost-perfect man adored me … right up until he didn’t.

I was home again when he called asking if he could fly out for a visit. Squealing like a teenage girl, I replied, “Absolutely!”

Then, the following day, with the flip of a faulty switch, he blurted out that his feelings had changed and this wasn’t working at all.

In a mad attempt to grasp how and why, I pushed, begging for an explanation as to how someone can go from 1,000 to -5 in one day. Angry that I interrupted him, he hung up on me in mid-sentence.

After four months of talking and texting our way through each and everyday, he hasn’t spoken to me since the line went dead that day.

Although, he has sent some dreamy texts.

“I just wanted someone to love. Thanks for being around.”

“Actually, my feelings went from 1,000 to -5, not in a day, but in one single moment. I don’t know why and it doesn’t even matter.”

In my entire life, nothing has left me more confused and reeling. My days have been filled with feelings of self-blame and doubt, and my nights with the darkest sadness.

The man who loved me reached into my chest, pulled out my heart, and meticulously repaired all that was broken. Then, without warning, he threw it with the speed of a professional pitcher.

While wearing the same grin that gained my trust, he watched it slowly slide down the wall, until it reached the ground more broken than before. Content, he walked away whistling.

I’ve always thought of myself as sharp girl, with a gut to match. How had I allowed this man to bait, love-bomb, then set me out on the curb just as the garbage truck pulled up?

My emotions, at war, are a combination of rage, sadness, and utter stupidity.

Rage, because he spun the wheel, spotted the confused soul, and said, “You. I PICK YOU.”

Sadness, because of how desperately I miss the happiness and euphoria I felt when we were together.

Stupidity, for not knowing what I should’ve known.

When he repeated that script each day, I should’ve known.

Lying next to him in bed, as he oh-so-carefully edited our pictures, I should’ve known.

t-shirtsWhen he captioned and re-captioned the pictures, and asked me a million times if they were witty enough to post, I should’ve known.

When he counted the likes on those pictures of us, the perfect couple, because his self-image means that much to him, I should’ve known.

When I bought him five new size medium t-shirts, after being told the brand ran small, and he responded with condescending anger because he’d already told me a million times that he wore a small, I should’ve known.

I should’ve known — but finally, I know.

I was merely a prop to fill his time, a boredom buster, and a co-star in his carefully crafted social media persona. Nothing more and nothing less.

His appearance to the outside world means more to him than any of my feelings; the feelings he meticulously toyed with for months.

Despite reminding myself, over and over, that it was all an illusion and that I’d fallen in love with a lie, I can’t help but feel the fool. Of course, deep down, I know there’s only one fool in his game. If only that made it hurt less.

But the fact remains: I kept his t-shirts … and he kept my trust and dignity. At least the shirts can be washed clean again.

I own up fully to the part I played. No one forced me into anything. I was a willing and loving participant in our relationship. I simply made the mistake of thinking it was real.

The silent treatment and being ostracized by someone who claimed to care so much is one of the cruelest things one can do to another human being. It causes a level of hurt I can’t describe. Even more so when it’s abrupt and without explanation.

It turns your life upside down, causing you to doubt everything you thought you knew about yourself. I’ve texted some awful things to him these last few weeks. Desperate for any kind of attention, I’ve said and acted in ways that make me feel and look crazy. Sadly, I suspect that’s exactly what he intended.

I’ve waffled many times, debating if sharing this was a good idea. Was it too scorned woman or Taylor Swift? Too bitter? At the end of the day, I decided there are times when one has an obligation to air their dirty laundry, in the hopes it will keep someone else’s clean.

I’m moving on, slowly. I still miss him, even love him sometimes. The anger and sadness comes in waves, some so powerful that I can’t breathe. And I’m still desperate for that explanation I’ll never receive. But like he said, I guess it doesn’t even matter.

Besides, I think it’s time I move on to something important.

This post was originally published on YourTango.

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