real life

'My ex left me for another woman while I was pregnant. He continued to sext me for months.'

It’s hard to explain how (or why) I loved my daughter’s dad for as long as I did. When he left me pregnant, I was devastated, and no amount of lectures about how I “should have known better” could change that.

I was oblivious to the fact that we were in a toxic and codependent relationship. Even though he left me stranded in November 2013, neither one of us seemed truly able to let the other one go.

A couple of months after he kicked me out of our apartment, he was living with a new woman. By that point, I was living with a friend’s parents, waiting to have our baby which was due in May. Despite the distance between us, and his lack of involvement in the pregnancy, he kept calling, texting, and emailing me.

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We argued practically every single day for four months. Both angry that the other person hadn’t “lived up to their end of the bargain.” I was angry because he acted like the pregnancy was no big deal for me. He was angry because I hadn’t “loved him as unconditionally” as he wanted. Instead, I expected him to be a decent dad to our child — who never asked to be born into our mess. And it ticked him off because I wasn’t happy with him simply fathering our kid and behaving as if nothing had changed.

There was so much rage between us, yet all I really wanted was to get back together. It didn’t matter that he treated me like garbage, because he also kept doling out little breadcrumbs that looked and felt like love.

While my ex was living with his new girlfriend and I was lonely at home, he kept our sexual relationship alive. If he wasn’t making comments about how he missed being intimate, he was calling me at 3am to say he was having an anxiety attack and needed me.

“Talk to your girlfriend,” I’d tell him at first. But then I’d usually cave. It drove me crazy how he kept reeling me back in after saying shit to me (like how much he hated me and that I was the meanest person he ever met).

In reality, I think he was pissed off that I didn’t lie down and take it when he threw me away. I cried, I screamed, I fought, and demanded answers.

I didn’t walk away.

Everything was about to change for me as a brand new mum. He seemed to hate me for not accepting his indifference right off the bat.

When my ex broke up with me, he severely underestimated my feelings for him. This was the man with whom I had an affair (even though I didn’t believe in cheating and I didn’t want to be a mistress). I left my life behind to start a new one with him.

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The affair left me wracked with guilt and feeling like that’s all I was good for — I was just somebody’s dirty secret. I spent a good deal of our relationship feeling so worthless and the only way I got through it was clinging to my belief that we were going to work out after all.

When we didn’t work out, of course, I was beside myself. I’d done something terrible, believing that the ends justified the means. I turned my whole world upside for him, but he couldn’t even grasp my dismay.

His leaving me pregnant was definitely an “oh shit” moment, but I’d convinced myself he was the only man for me. Even when he treated me like dirt, I only wanted to be with him. After all, I believed I was nothing without him, so I had zero faith in my ability to raise our baby alone.

Frankly, I couldn’t come to terms with the idea. I kept hoping that he would “come to his senses” and realise we belonged together.

And then, when I was living with my friend’s parents and waiting to have our child, I was disheartened to discover how much my loneliness turned into longing for my ex. I considered my changing body and mourned the fact that there was nobody to touch me.

The hormonal shifts made me feel hornier than ever, but I may as well have been locked away in a tall tower. There were zero prospects and I couldn’t imagine loving anyone else ever again.

Nobody could understand why I was still so hung up on him. They thought he wanted nothing to do with me. But he still called me at 3am. He still texted to tell me how much he missed f*cking me. And he sold me all these twisted fairytales about how we could somehow still be “together.”

I naively took all these things to mean that somewhere deep inside, he still had feelings for me. I wanted to believe we had a chance. It seemed easier to hope for our future and live through all the drama than it was to stand on my own two feet and forget about him.

That’s not to say I didn’t have my moments where I did try to draw up better boundaries. There were some moments when he was such a jerk that I told him to leave me be. Unfortunately, my conflicted feelings for him always made me terrible about the follow-through.

A month or two before I gave birth to our daughter, he said some particularly cruel things and I felt like I had come to the end of my rope. He must have sensed some serious shift in me because he decided to try to “cheer me up” by visiting for a couple of days.

My loneliness got the better of me to the point where I couldn’t say no. Actually, I was excited and looked forward to seeing him because it meant getting out of the house.

Back then, I was staying with a friend’s father and stepmother. As kind as they were to take me in, I was incredibly stifled there.

The stepmum was particularly stern and tried to control all of my decisions. I had no transportation or freedom to get out of the house on my own.

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Perhaps, for just a couple of days, I could have a little fun and forget about my reality.

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Of course, the host couple wasn’t happy to hear that my baby’s father wanted to visit. They let me know ahead of time that he was not welcome to come inside their home. If he wanted to visit he would have to stay elsewhere.

My ex being perpetually broke, didn’t want to spend money on a hotel, so he told me to find a friend for him to stay with.

In the end, the only option I was through a friend of a friend who said my ex could spend the night in their church rec room.

So, that’s what he did.

I think my ex must have visited me in March. A lot of the details of my life back then are still foggy; shrouded in a haze of depression and anxiety. More memorable are my overall feelings — how I felt so broken and overwhelmed through it all.

My ex drove over and picked me up so we could spend the day together. I was happy to get out of the house and see the city.

Happy to eat in restaurants again and feel just a little bit more like an adult.

It was during this visit that I told my daughter’s dad I planned to write for a living to support our daughter. He didn’t understand how it could work and frankly, I didn’t understand it either. I just knew it was going to be my path.

As somebody who’d written for The Huffington Post, he felt it was his duty to warn me that writing wouldn’t pay the bills. To this day, it bugs me that I thought I needed his approval to write at all.

We sat in this little crepe shop and I practically begged him to let me try to earn a living by writing online.

He insisted that all I needed to do was find another full-time job. That way, I could put our daughter in childcare and everything would be “fine.” But I was positive that I wouldn’t be fine in that life. I knew I couldn’t function as a healthy mum if I spent the day apart from my daughter, toiling away in a job I hated or simply tolerated.

We were at something of an impasse, but that’s what happened with so many different pieces of our relationship. We were at an impasse about him being a more involved dad. We were at an impasse over what really ended our romance.

But oddly enough, the chemistry was still there.

There’s a lot I still don’t remember about what happened between us on that trip. I know that I was wondering the entire first day if he was going to come on to me. If he didn’t, I figured that was proof he really didn’t think that way about me anymore.

But at the end of our first day together, he took me back to the empty church where he was going to spend the night. He still had to drive me home, so stopping at the church was completely unnecessary.

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I suppose I didn’t care. At that point, was so lonely and desperate for his affection that I would have done practically anything to get it.

We climbed the stairs up to the rec room, and it felt like my heart was pulsing out of my chest. He wrapped his hands around my shoulders and cradled my neck. And then he said just enough to give me some glimmer of hope.

Not that he loved me or that he promised to be there for me. Not that he was leaving his new girlfriend or that he was sorry for the awful things he’d said and done.

Instead, he said something about how he wanted things to be “good” between us. How he couldn’t stay away from me when I was being “nice” and ‘sweet.” He said just enough to let me know that he wanted to f*ck me.

And that night, after months of heartbreak, I didn’t fight my feelings. He kissed me and I let myself be alive in the moment.

We had sex twice that night, and while we’d pretty much always had plenty of passion in the past, this time was… better. As if we were more ravenous for the other than ever before. And with him being a former youth pastor, I think there was a little bit of a taboo element that we both liked about f***ing in a church.

That night, I fooled myself into thinking that our evening of hot sex meant something good and important. But it wasn’t like that for him.

Not at all.

The next morning, my ex picked me up for another day together. We were supposed to be having fun, so, I thought it would be nice to go to one of those places where you can paint a ceramic keepsake. I suggested that we each make something small for our daughter, but his reaction was clearly disinterested.

Although he drove me to the painting place, we only looked around at the shelves of choices. In his eyes, everything was too expensive and the whole idea was not his thing. We left without buying or painting anything.

In his car, I tried to explain to him why it was so important to me that he contribute something to our daughter’s childhood. The conversation quickly escalated into an argument. I asked why he was being so cold.

“If you tell anyone about last night,” he replied, “you could ruin my life.” He went onto tell me how he was in such a good place now and loved the girlfriend he was living with but she wouldn’t understand him sleeping with me.

Hell, I didn’t understand him sleeping with me. I’d been very honest with my ex about our breakup. He knew how much I still loved him. He knew that I was desperate to get back together. Yet, there he was, practically lecturing me, claiming that I had all the power and could ruin everything he wanted.

I couldn’t get away from the feeling that he wanted me to be happy for him. He spoke of his girlfriend like she was so much better than me, all because she had no children, and she had a high-paying career.

It was like rewinding our history to see the way he once valued me, except of course, he didn’t value me. When I was child-free and gainfully employed, I was simply the means to an end.

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I cried a lot at his visit. “Why can’t you understand how much all of this breaks my heart,” I asked. “You push me away and then pull me back in. You know I love you but you treat me so painfully.”

My ex looked at me with disgust. “I knew you couldn’t handle this,” he said. “I knew my visit wouldn’t be enough. You’re such an ungrateful brat.”

“How can you talk to me like that?” I gasped for breath between tears. I have feelings, real feelings. How can you act like they’re nothing?”

I wish I could say we never fooled around again after that night, or that we never fought again, but that isn’t true. It took a good two years after our daughter was born before I could finally break free from the man.

Whether he had a girlfriend or not, it didn’t matter. He had me spelled. Eventually, he came out as “poly” and continued to string me along. I didn’t get over him until I admitted to myself that I was an addict and he was a drug that would only bring me closer to my own destruction.

As it turns out, everything I thought about my inability to get through motherhood without him was wrong. He was never willing to be the dad our daughter needs, and I was never going to be able to change that.

Still, these are valuable lessons. I’m glad I finally learned that I don’t need a man to save me. Not then, not now. I’m glad I realised that sex can be misleading.

For so long, I felt tied to this man because the sex was so good and we’d already had an affair — I was desperate to make it somehow “alright” in the end.

That’s not how poor choices work, however.

I did a number of awful things in pursuit of a man who first pursued me. I can’t make any of those choices okay. All I can do is learn from my past and quit making the same damn mistakes.

Of course, the same thing goes for all of us, whether our errors have been so dramatic or not.

Life keeps moving. We should keep moving forward too.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission.

You can read more from Shannon Ashley on Medium, or follow her on Twitter

Feature image: Getty.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you’re based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

If this post brings up 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. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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