During the period of the least subtle affair ever my then-boyfriend ramped up his emotional manipulation to previously unprecedented levels. He had always been low-key manipulative, but his desperate need to protect his Good Guy™ identity whilst denying the reality of his behaviour made for a particularly unpleasant period of my life.
It began as an infatuation. He met Swiss Miss while she was attending college in the UK. She was only 22, spoke mostly Swiss-German and was working on improving her English. He said that he was just showing her around the town, introducing her to people. Within a couple of weeks, she was calling him her British Daddy, or just “Daddy” for short. This made me extremely uncomfortable, and GF#2 even more so. GF#2 regularly referred to him as Daddy during sex, it was their thing, and he was letting this young woman do it in public, in front of all of our friends; with the additional weird-factor that a) the 16 year age gap meant that he was actually old enough to be her dad and b) Swiss Miss had no idea it could be a sexual thing and he wouldn’t explain it to her.
Two months later, she’d moved into a mutual friend’s spare room while she sorted out visa problems, and my BF was staying at that house until 1 or 2 am four or five nights a week, sitting up alone with her late into the night. When his two girlfriends (myself and GF#2) expressed concern over the amount of time he was spending with her we were told that we were controlling. When GF#2 said that she’d like to go to bed at the same time as him for a change, she was called controlling, jealous and manipulative – how dare she think she could tell him when to go to bed?! When I found out from a mutual friend that BF was considering buying her a flat in Switzerland, and I confronted him about it, I was told that it was none of my business how he spent his money. Nevermind that we had a joint mortgage! I distinctly remember picking my jaw off of the floor during this particular encounter. Surely at this point he would have to see that he was being unreasonable? But no. We were clearly just jealous, petty, bitchy, controlling, paranoid and imagining things.
Rather than admit that his behaviour was in any way inappropriate, he simply decided that he wouldn’t acknowledge that any of it was happening . It was easier to call us mad, jealous or controlling than to admit to his own bad behaviour. Self-reflection or introspection would have damaged his Good Guy™ self-image. It’s easier to fall back on the trope of the jealous girlfriend.
Folks, this is gaslighting . It was a favoured trick of my ex. If I was on meds (antidepressents or otherwise) then my opinions couldn’t be trusted because of potential side effects. If I wasn’t on meds, then my opinions couldn’t be trusted because of my mental health issues. Either way, he always had an excuse for why whatever hurtful thing he’d done was not in fact his fault but was instead just me taking things the wrong way. He would go as far as flat out denying things that I had seen him say or do, in the certain knowledge that eventually he’d undermine my self confidence enough that I would back down / give in and inevitably apologise to him for causing an issue.
The more I called him out on his behaviour, the more we argued. He said that I was an angry person; an angry feminist, in fact . He assured me that it was my anger that was really damaging our relationship. My politics were too outspoken, too public, too ‘hardcore’. He event went so far as criticising what I shared on my social media. He said that I was too political and it might put people off me. His real concern of course was that it might put people off him. I dared him to ask any woman he knew if she’d be happy for her partner to spend every spare waking minute with a 22-year-old who called him Daddy. Interestingly, or perhaps not, he never took me up on it.
GF#2 tried a different tack. She was a good communicator. She asked, patiently and gently, for him to imagine how he would feel if she spent all of her free time with an older man who she called Daddy; if she were learning his language to have private conversations in front of him; if she were suddenly hiding her phone all the time and stroking his hair in public. Cuddling and holding hands and giggling togather. All the things he and Swiss Miss were doing. He admitted that it would make him uncomfortable and unhappy, but still denied that he was doing anything wrong.
I told him that if he didn’t have a conversation with Swiss Miss about why it was inappropriate for her to call him Daddy in public then I would. He countered by saying that if I even spoke to her about it he would leave me, because the revelation would make her uncomfortable and make him look creepy. I replied, “Oh, so you understand that it’s creepy?”
This wasn’t his first infatuation with a younger woman. A couple of years previously he’d become uncomfortably close with a friend’s teenage daughter. He’d stroke her hair and she’d rest her head on his shoulders. Or she’d grind up against him when dancing together. It culminated when a mutual friend said he’d seen them kissing at a music night. Her parents took him aside and said that they were uncomfortable with the relationship. He was all tears and hurt feelings. She had come on to him and he never did anything wrong! We argued about it so much that I was forbidden from mentioning her name again, on pain of him leaving me. Of course, once that bridge had been burned there was nothing stopping me bringing it up again in comparison to Swiss Miss. It went over like a lead balloon.
To me, Swiss Miss and Teen Girl (and, if I’m honest, myself) were evidence of a pattern of his predatory behaviour towards vulnerable young women. To him, if was just evidence that I held grudges and didn’t understand him.
After my relationship with ExBF and GF#2 ended, followed by his relationship with GF#2 ending a week later, he waited precisely 7 days before introducing Swiss Miss as his new girlfriend. The sheer audacity of it outraged me. I was now the one living on a friend’s spare room floor, as there weren’t enough spare rooms in our house for two ex-girlfriends to have space of their own. And GF#2 had kids living there. So out I went, despite it being my name on the mortgage and not hers. Because I didn’t want to uproot the kids.
Swiss Miss had gone back to Switzerland by this point. The Ex had gone full mid-life-crisis and was talking about relocating to Germany so he could drive across the border to see her. When she wanted to come back to the UK for a visit, less than a month after our catastrophic breakup, he seriously expected to house her in the family home that ExGF and the kids were still living in.
Him: “It’s my house, I can have my girlfriend over if I want.”
Me: “[ExGF] is still living there with the kids! You can’t possibly think that’s fair or appropriate!”
Him: “It’s my house! She just rents!”
Me: “She lived with us for years and we raised her kids! You can’t just waltz this new chick into the house in front of the children! It’s completely disrespectful!”
There was a big music festival in Germany in March and I was determined to go. I’d been before with friends, and this year I would even be in Germany already for work the week before so it was perfect.
Unfortunately, ExBF and Swiss Miss were already going. He begged me not to come. It had finally fallen on a week that he’d be able to attend and he argued that this might never happen again, due to his work committments. I said he was welcome to just avoid me. Extra unfortunately, I’d ordered tickets to his address, having ordered them before I had a permanent address of my own. I thought it would be fine as we were all grown ups. I’d lived there for seven years after all. It was still my house. It wasn’t fine. The tickets (allegedly) never arrived.
I almost flat out accused him of stealing them to stop me from going, but I stopped just short of that. He said it was my own fault for ordering things to his house. He hadn’t remortgaged yet. It was still my house. I was seriously tempted to make an issue out of it, but most of my belongings and more importantly my two pet snakes were still in that house so I had to be nice. Fuck it. I bought another set of tickets and went anyway.
I travelled alone to get there. It was the longest journey by myself in another country that I’d ever done, with a massive suitcase to boot. I couldn’t find a seat on the busy train so I sat on my bag in the corridor, all the way from Munich to Leipzig. Coming back was easier as I travelled by car with friends. He flew to Switzerland and travelled by car with Swiss Miss and her friends. Despite travelling with a group of her friends they spent a lot of time hanging out at our base camp.
On one particularly hot day she wore a velvet dress and overheated so stripped off to her bra to wander around our camp. She was much thinner than me, and while she’d been in the UK I had given her some of my clothes that didn’t fit me any more. This was before I knew about her and my then-boyfriend. It’s pretty common in the goth scene to pass around clothes to baby goths, at least in my group of friends. I certainly hadn’t expected to see her wearing my clothes while kissing my (ex)boyfriend. The spent most of their time glued to each other, but it didn’t bother me as much as it might have. Mostly I just felt a sense of vague irritation, and suprise at how little it hurt. I figured that it just illustrated how badly our relationship had deteriorated. Had it been my ex gf I suspect things may have been different but thankfully I wont ever know.
He didn’t admit it at the time, but I found out later that they’d already broken up before they even made it to the festival. Apparently she found him controlling. Go figure.
 Dictionary.com defines ‘Gaslight’ (verb) : manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity. The term originated from the 1938 play Gas Light (known in the United States as Angel Street) by the British dramatist Patrick Hamilton and two film adaptations (1940 and 1944), both named Gaslight, about a woman whose husband slowly manipulates her into believing that she is going insane.#
 Tone policing was another favoured tactic of my ex’s. During any disagreement or debate, how I spoke was more important than what I was speaking about. This is a very common tactic which tends to be (but is not exclusively) used by men against women. If I became at all emotional during any disagreement then I was immediately labelled hysterical and could be dismissed along with all of my concerns. By contrast if he ended up punching walls or lashing out at the furniture he was simply passionate. To find out more about Tone Policing, there is a brilliant article on Everyday Feminism by Robot Hugs https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/12/tone-policing-and-privilege/ .