real life

'My fiancé's ex wrote me a letter before my wedding. I wish I'd listened.'

This story discusses abuse. 

The day before I married a man later diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, he waved all of his red flags in front of my face. Loudly. He gave me EVERY opportunity to cancel the wedding.

But I went ahead with it.

I even endured the marriage for three months, before ending it. I truly felt like the only way to end it was to go ahead and wait for a smoking gun (I prayed, not a real one) so that I could tell people: see, this is why I had to cancel it. I didn't have a choice. I felt the social pressure to follow through on the wedding so strongly, that I was prepared to quite literally risk my life.

So, what happened the day before the wedding?

There were the usual ups and downs leading to the big day, but, I attributed these nerves, to the general euphoria and craziness of it all... After all, we were getting married, whimsically, in our early 30s… after knowing each other only three months.

But cold feet? Nerves? That's not what was happening.

It was a game to him. Could he trap his victim? Yes. I had agreed to marry him (reluctantly, mind you). But the bigger question, the one he had to know before the 'big day' was: if I open the cage, can I still be sure she won't run away? 

First, he told me he'd planned a surprise for the morning. I went to bed excited, in anticipation of what was to happen. He'd been lavishing me with gifts and praise and thoughtfulness for the entire three (!) months we'd know one another so I expected this to be nothing less than…

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A watch. For him. When I woke up, he showed me his new watch. It was a very nice watch. And, that was the surprise.

He watched, no doubt with pleasure, as I muddled my way through a response. I wanted to be angry – how was this a surprise for me? But of course, after so much adoration for several months (called the idolisation stage), I didn't want to appear greedy or needy or expectant… (And this is called the devaluing stage.)

He explained that I was always so frustrated by how late he was (intentionally) to everything (again, intentionally) so he'd surprised me by purchasing himself a brand new watch so he'd never be late again.

This set the awkward tone for the breakfast when he overtly smashed a tumbler on the ground, walked over it and then told me I was clumsy and should really clean it up. "It's a bit rude," he said. I bit back, of course, determined to settle the matter: he had broken the glass and he had to clean it up.

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But instead, he said this, in this order (which I wrote down immediately because it was so shocking): 

"Get over yourself."

"How dare you."

"Stop catastrophising."

"Stop being overly-dramatic."

"You need to de-escalate this."

"You've got to be kidding."

"You've got emotional issues."

"I'm going."

Then he left for three hours and turned off his phone. 

He missed an appointment we had to collect the rings together. The silence was deafening. I called all of his friends and family looking for him. It was humiliating. His dad told me to "calm down" and that "I probably deserved it" which was the first time he'd said anything other than compliments toward me (like father, like son?). His brother came over and yelled at me that I was being ungrateful and selfish (again, despite no prior negative interactions)... And from his (only) two friends? Silence. 

When he came back (to my home, that he'd squeezed his way into a month earlier, rent-free) he told me he'd gone to see his ex. Alarm bells rung. He said it was to discuss the letter she'd sent me. 

Yes, his ex girlfriend had sent me a letter, via his parents. To their credit, they did share it with me. It warned me not to marry him. But of course, he told me she was the narcissist. She had the problems. And I wanted to believe him.

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After all, I had already agreed to marry him by that stage. The date had been (rapidly, on his request) set. And I was almost 32. Truly, I was feeling desperate. I wanted a baby and my clock was ticking. Here was a professional, charismatic, educated man with a lovely family who was desperate to marry me… I just wanted it to be real.

He said he'd gone to see her because she wanted him to cancel the wedding. The narrative didn't even make sense. I was so confused. And that's what he wanted. Had he planned to see her before the watch? Before the broken glass? Was he always intending to ditch the wedding band collection? I had no idea then. And I still have no idea. Because it's not even what happened.

The truth is, as he told me that evening while sobbing, that he'd gone to see a prostitute. Because, the night before, I had refused him anal sex. Because, he was worried about marrying me. Because, he was considering cancelling the wedding (this is called the discard stage, where they see if you'll pull them back even though they're abandoning you).

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And so, you know what I did? A switch flicked in me, and I was the one convincing HIM to marry ME. Here I was, exhausted from a day of psychological torture, convincing him that he shouldn't cancel the wedding. That I was good enough. That I was better than his ex. That he could rely on me. That I was being selfish when I didn't see the gift he'd given me, in giving himself a watch that morning. 

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…And the broken glass? Well, I kept quiet on that one. Because, though I said all of this… Though I wanted to believe it (!) because I didn't want any of this to be happening so dramatically, so rapidly, so wrongly… the broken glass was pretty clear-cut for me. He had definitely broken it. I wasn't imagining that. I just didn't know what to do with it.

And if I'd told anyone: "I cancelled the wedding because of the broken glass…" Well. What a fool I would have been. 

Or, would I?

When people ask these days, a decade on, why I became a solo mum by choice instead of getting married and having a baby the traditional way… I don't tell them about the glass, either.  

Sometimes, when I'm pushed to provide an answer (usually buoyed by wine) I tell them about the physical abuse that began immediately after our wedding. 

But truly, that isn't it. It was the psychological abuse that broke my trust of men. And the glass.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

Feature Image: Getty.