You didn’t think that’d be the end of Nightingale, did you? That’s not how OCD works. He would trade me in and barter for me back many more times before I’d finally say enough.
He called two days after he’d moved out. APOLOGIZING…that’s all. He called the next day, wanting to NEGOTIATE. We agreed to meet in a week, at a neutral place.
Ten days later he rolled into the Coffee Bean parking lot with the U-Haul still hitched to his car. He still had not moved into his old apartment. I don’t think he ever really intended to. I got the feeling it was all a dramatic hoax…an emotionally manipulative ruse.
I have no psychological training. The only degree I’ve earned in mental illness is as the punching bag for other people’s mental struggles. From my mother to my lovers, I have lived a lifetime of twisted love. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter if the manipulation carries a fancy, scientific name. Mental illness is no excuse for inflicting emotional abuse on the people who love you.
“It’s not me, it’s my struggle. It’s the OCD.” As though there is an uncontrollable force making them do and say awful things. This is a wonderful excuse for those with mental illness. They do not have to be responsible for the consequences of their actions. It is not their fault; they were born this way and there is nothing they can do about it. So love them as is. Accept the abuse. Accept the manipulation. Let them destroy themselves and you in the process…
“You would…if you really loved me.”
Nightingale is eloquent. Tears stream down his beautiful face. He is certain now, he says, certain that he loves me and wants to be with me forever. He will never change his mind about that. He wants to come home. I can give up the bird and he can come home…he will start therapy and maybe get on meds…
But I am wiser now. He may have forgotten his moment of clarity but I have not. That moment when he admitted it wasn’t the bird or the bunnies or some future phantom baby, it was his inability to commit, his inability to handle overwhelm. I knew he would choose overwhelm again, if not today, then on one of his uncertain tomorrows. If I let him come back home he would leave me…he would pack up his shit and go…again and again and again.
So I attempted to draw some boundaries. “I am not a cell phone plan or a pair of shoes that you can keep returning,” I explained.
I got a roommate and he went to therapy and we agreed to see where we were at in 3 to 6 months…maybe then he could come back home?
But we never made it to three months. The emotional abuse escalated. The cognitive therapy didn’t seem to be helping. The hypnotherapy made his symptoms worse. He was angrier and launched missiles of blame my direction. I stopped seeing my friends. I had no light and they would notice.
During our first joint therapy session the counselor asked Nightingale, “didn’t you know she had animals and wanted kids?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “She had that on her online profile, but I thought if she loved me enough that wouldn’t matter.”
She asked him, “Did you put on your profile that you wanted kids?”
He said, “Well, yes. No woman would date me if I said I didn’t want kids.”
“So you weren’t honest from the beginning,” she said. “You were hoping you could change her mind?”
“Of course,” he said, as though this sort of manipulation were standard.
She encouraged him to take medication. She said it would help him gain control over his anxiety. He refused.
“Either you continue therapy and get the medical help you need,” she said, “or you won’t be able to maintain a relationship and you’ll live your life alone.”
“I can have a relationship,” he argued. “It just won’t be a healthy one.”
In between sessions our love life went something like this:
Inviting Nightingale to parties was a little tricky. He wanted it to just be the two of us…always. So I was nervous about inviting him to my friend’s Super Bowl party. How should I phrase it? What words to use? With my stomach already in knots, I say over the phone, “My friend Jason is having a Super Bowl party this weekend and I would love, love, love for you to come with me. If you are playing two sets on the Promenade, then maybe you could meet me there after?”
This was absolutely NOT the way to go.
Nightingale takes it to the extreme. “Wow, if that’s how you want to approach this relationship then fine, I can approach it that way. Let’s face it. We are two very different people who see things very different ways and I’m at the point where if we can make each other happy, fine and if we can’t then that’s totally fine too.”
He’d already broken up with me three times since moving out. (So much for certainty.) The counselor made it clear that as soon as he threatens breakup I need to get off the phone, or ask him to leave or leave myself. So I say, “I’m sorry I didn’t phrase the question the right way, but I think we should take a breath and talk again in a couple hours.”
“You are deciding things for me! You are deciding things for us! You said, I’m going to this party and you can come if you want!”
He is so angry. I cannot go another round with him. I have to protect myself. “I’m going to get off the phone now, but let’s talk later, okay?”
“DON’T HANG UP THE PHONE.”
“I love you, baby. I’ll call you in a few hours.” Click.
Two seconds later I get a text: Have a nice life Amy. I’m done with you.
He calls repeatedly half an hour later. Asking me to come over…acting as though nothing is wrong. I tell him I will call him tomorrow.
The next day he cancels our weekend plans and un-invites me to dinner with his parents. He cites family drama and makes it clear that since I’m not part of the family, I am not welcome. I accept this with no hard feelings and tell him I hope everything works out. He is not the only ill one in his family…the drama, the crazy-making… it’s a genetic predisposition in the Nightingale breed.
We have another therapy session. I tell the counselor that I can take the OCD but I cannot handle the constant breaking up. She agrees and makes me swear that the next time he breaks up with me, we are done. That I will not take him back. We look at Nightingale, to make sure he understands. “Yes, I get it,” he says. “If I break up with her again or threaten to break up with her, she cannot take me back.”
He attacks me that night at the sushi restaurant. He is angry with the waitress for not understanding English. He launches into a diatribe about how if you’re going to work in America, then learn the fucking language. I feel for the woman, and while you are always supposed to support your man, there are some things I cannot get behind. And so I defend her. “English is a really hard language. Maybe she is taking night classes?”
This pisses him off—proof that I am not on ‘Team Nightingale.’
We make it a few more weeks. He has stopped going to therapy altogether. I tell him I support whatever he wants to do. He tells me he is thinking of moving in with a friend.
“But this friend has a dog. You won’t live with my animals, but you’ll live with a dog you know you’re allergic to?”
“I knew I shouldn’t have told you,” he says.
“It caught me off guard,” I explain. “Maybe it will be good for you…help you get used to animals a bit?”
And then comes the night it finally ends. He does not see me. We are lying in bed and he squirms from my touch. I know I shouldn’t say anything…I should ignore this. It will spiral out of control. But withholding intimacy…that’s emotional abuse to the highest degree…and I am fucking tired of it.
I go to the bathroom. I am shaking. My Higher Self rises up and pretty much screams at me: “I cannot live like this. This is not the life I want. This is not the love I want.”
Back in bed I say, “Hey babe. I’m a little confused. Yesterday, you said you couldn’t wait to ravish me in bed, but tonight you feel distant and will barely look at me. This makes me feel insecure. Is there something wrong? Something we should talk about?”
“I don’t know what to say,” he blurts out, as if just waiting for the opening. “It’s the same thing. Pregnancy…kids. Sometimes I’m crazy about you and want to be with you for the rest of my life, and other times I don’t even think we should be dating, and I can change my mind five times in one day! And that’s no way for anyone to live. Not you and not me. Maybe we should just break up.”
And there it is once again: Maybe we should just break up. The words crash through my brain. Headache.
“Then I guess it’s time for you to go,” I say. “You understand what the therapist said. The next time you threaten breakup, it’s over. I love you, and I will no longer enable your disease.” It is that calm, it is that measured and it is that easy.
Nightingale puts on his clothes and grabs his belongings.
“I’m so sorry for everything,” he says, his hand already on the doorknob. He holds his power drill in the other. I’ve shoved it in his hands as if to say: This is it. No coming back for your things, so don’t even try.
It’s dark. I cannot tell if his eyes are rimmed red but I know they are dry. No tears this time. “I do love you,” he adds.
If you loved me, you wouldn’t walk out that door…again. I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve been here.
I study his face…that gorgeous face I thought I would spend my forever looking at. I only have a few more moments.
And with one last look the door closes and he is gone…
But this time, it is for good.