According to google dictionary, of which I am not sponsored, to gaslight is to, “manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.” Up until a week ago, I was not familiar with this term though it was an experience with which I was all too familiar.
My ex was a master of manipulation. It would start off by me making some completely reasonable statement like, “I’m just going to go relax in a bath.” Next it would become unfair of me to have alone time when there was nowhere he could go to get away from me. I’d offer options, “go for a walk, go to the gym, have a bath of your own” to which I would be told that I’m not understanding his point. Am I crazy? His point was that he had nowhere to go to be alone, wasn’t it? He then clarified that he didn’t want to go for a walk, the gym isn’t relaxing for him, and he didn’t like taking baths. Okay…? I wasn’t sure how to solve his problem because I couldn’t find what the problem was anymore. That’s when he would let it come out, “the problem is that you shouldn’t have to need alone time.” But everyone needs time alone. He would counter by saying that he didn’t need time away from me. But WAIT! That’s not what I was saying, I wasn’t saying “I need time away from you specifically, I was saying I need time to myself.” Then all of a sudden, I was told I was being selfish. And I’d struggle to find anything that proved otherwise. I would stand there in a moment of confusion as the reality of who I had believed myself to be my whole life was being dismantled. Then after a long moment of silence, “you can come with me?” Posed as a question because I was grasping at straws to figure out what he wanted. I’m not selfish and I wanted him to know he was loved. He’d run over and kiss me. Ten minutes later I’d find myself in a cramped bath that was anything but relaxing, telling the man squished up against me “I love you” while the woman in my head screamed and banged against the walls of my skull for someone to save her.
When he wasn’t in the mood for a bath, he’d come in and sit on the toilet while I took one. And if it wasn’t the bath, then it was drinks with coworkers, which then morphed into drinks with friends, which eventually became doing anything at all without him. In hindsight it is so easy to see that what he was doing was wrong. But in the moment, all you can do against the psychological attacks on your character is come to the conclusion that this is what compromise looks like. That is until the day you look in the mirror and all the changes he skillfully forced upon you don’t look like compromise, but actually look like abuse.
I was lucky enough to get out of that relationship, made possible in part by two friends who could hear the screams from inside my skull. If not for them, I would not have found the courage to stand up for myself. If not for them, all understanding of who I am and what makes me unique would be long gone. And here’s the hardest truth: if not for them, I don’t know if I’d still be alive.
An ex of mine was a bit of a self-proclaimed renaissance man. Sometimes it was fascinating like when he could accurately predict if a person’s parents were still together based off a few random questions. Times like those, it was like dating Sherlock Holmes. But other times, like when he’d correct my pronunciation? That’s when it was like dating Ben Stein (just in case that’s appealing to anyone, no judgment, but I meant it in a bad way). Those are the times when I would clench my teeth so hard, two veins would protrude from my neck. I’d be thankful I wasn’t born with Cyclops’ optic blast ability otherwise I’d be taking the stand pleading “your honour, I didn’t mean to kill him, my protective glasses just FELL off.” And then I’d tell the jury that though they couldn’t see it through my lenses, I was definitely batting my lashes in a cute and totally innocent way.
Perhaps you haven’t noticed but many people, at least in Toronto, have dropped the “c” out of the word “picture.” So when I ask, “hey babe, can you take my picture?” I sound as if I am asking my boyfriend to grab a pitcher of something (probably wine ’cause that’s how I roll). “PIC-ture. PIC-ture. PIC. There’s a c,” he would say. You know what else there is? A pedantic man making his girlfriend feel stupid for no reason other than to make himself feel better. Was my dropped “c” hurting anyone? No. Did it make me stand out from the crowd or make me seem of a lower level I.Q.? Hell no. Did it give me a complex and make me want to speak less around him? Absolutely.
There’s a famous anonymous quote, “never make fun of someone if they mispronounce a word, it means they learned it by reading.” If I was a betting gal, I’d say I probably learned the word “picture” in grade school from a teacher and not from reading. And somewhere along the way, much like the second “t” in Toronto (re: Turonno), the “c” just dropped out. But the lesson still stands: don’t be a pronunciation bitch. It doesn’t make you look smart, it makes you look like literally the worst person ever. PLEASE stop talking, then go die.
But seriously it’s ba-gel. Like BAY-gel. Not bag-el. You idiot.
Rifling through my “memories & keepsakes” box the other day, I came across a collection of photobooth strips. While many were of me and my ride-or-die best friend, there were an equal measure of me with ex-boyfriends. I looked at one specific set of 4 black and white 2.5 x 1.5 inch squares showing me and one of my exes seemingly in love and all I could think was, “ugh, I look so cute.” Is that weird? Most people would be reminded of that failed relationship and think any number of damaging things like, “you cheating fuckin’ asshole” or “how could I have been so clueless” or even worse, “I miss you.” But, nope. Not me. I feel nothing. Except vanity of course. Seriously though, so cute!
And it’s for that very reason that I never throw photos like these away. In a perfect world, I would be in that photobooth alone and when it got to the fourth photo where we are oh-so-adorably smooching, he’d be replaced by some fierce individual like Idris Elba or Cara Delevingne. Babe. And then the photos would cease to be of me and my ex, but me and my future. DREAM BIG PEOPLE.
In a world with 7.6 billion people, the odds are that I am not alone in this form of photographic memory hoarding. And it goes deeper than just photobooths. Three laptops, each spanning about 4 years of my life from the age of 19, that wreak of exes. Kisses, dinners, holidays, trips. Disposable cameras developed to include a CD copy so those kisses could be immortal. Did I really think we’d be together forever? My pride doesn’t want to let me say yes because it means admitting that I was stupid enough to make the same mistake over and over. But, it’s the truth. And whether it’s considered “healthy” or not, it’s something I will probably never stop doing. My only hope is that the next person is actually the real deal.
DISCLAIMER: If we have ever been in a photobooth together, YES I still have the photos, NO you cannot have them back, NO I will not throw them out, and YES it’s possible that I’ll post them with you replaced by someone more deserving of my time.