The issue of loneliness has been on my mind because I’ve been cooped up with a broken foot. This past weekend my son was with his dad and, with the exception of my neighbor walking my dog and a friend bringing me groceries, I spent the entire weekend alone. In all the time I was alone though, I never felt lonely. I never felt the soul crushing pain that comes with knowing that those you count on simply don’t care. In fact, breaking my foot might become one of the highlights of my year, because I’ve spent days on end alone, yet not once feeling the debilitating loneliness I lived with during my marriage.
My ex and I spent the summer of ’98 preparing to open our/his restaurant. At home, I had my stepson and 2 other children. My ex spent most of his days at the restaurant while I took care of the children. I was extremely sick the entire summer, but my doctors never diagnosed an illness. If any of you are dealing with illness while in a relationship with a narcissist you probably know this – until you’ve been given a firm, substantianing diagnosis, you have to power through. Your narcissist will never support the idea that perhaps you really are sick, it just can’t be medically verified. Instead, the narcissist will suggest, subtly, that you are a hypochondriac, or perhaps you are punishing them by being unable to have sex, or go out partying. No where in the mind of the narcissist is there the possibility that you are experiencing something that is not directly related to them.
I powered through that summer, and continued powering through for the first 3 months of our opening. I took care of the kids in the morning, got my youngest to daycare around 10, hopped over to the restaurant and worked till 2. After work I picked up my children, went home and cooked dinner, cleaned the house and worked on homework and bedtimes. After that was done I sat at the computer and did the books. By 6Pm every night I wanted to cry, I was so exhausted. When I woke up each morning I prayed I’d feel better. Instead I sobbed in the shower, knowing that day would be just as difficult as the days before.
Towards the end of November I told my spouse that I could no longer work. I insisted he hire someone. He dawdled. I was free labor, and I cared more than anyone he could put in the front of the house, so he did not want to replace me. On the 1st Saturday of December I awoke with severe chest pain. I begged him to call my doctor and, in one of the few shows of support he ever gave, he did. My Dr insisted he take me to the ER, and directed him to refuse to leave until I’d been given a chest xray. He took me to the ER, then paced around, complaining that he needed to get to the restaurant. When the Dr said they were releasing me with a diagnosis of muscle spasm, it was I that had to insist on the chest x-ray. When the Dr came back into the room with a face mask on, my ex was clearly dismayed, not at the the thought that I might be really sick, rather the idea that we might not get out of there quickly.
The Dr told us I had a “lesion”. He had no idea if it was infectious, tuberculosis or cancerous. He sent me home with pain meds, and an ever growing sense of terror.
I was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday, and I was really scared. All I knew was that the Dr’s weren’t really sure what I had, but that it was entirely likely to kill me. When they finally figured out what it was, I became the freak show around the hospital. Residents, nurses, respiratory therapists and immunologists donned the protective gear required to come see the girl who had an infection so severe she should have been close to death, yet instead was up and moving – in fact, working 12 hour days, with an infection that should have left her bedridden.
My allergist came to visit me, and he told me I had made it into his Hall of Fame for tough patients. The only other patient was a woman who worked a farm with her spouse. They were having trouble with fox eating their chickens. One night she was outside and spotted a fox. She yelled to her spouse to grab his rifle. He did, and proceeded to shoot her. In the chest. She, being one tough cookie (and probably married to a narcissist!) decided it wasn’t all that bad, bandaged herself up and went about her business. It wasn’t until years later, when scar tissue began interfering with her breathing, that the bullet was found. Initially, she had no idea what that spot on the x ray was. It took her several minutes to even remember being shot! He told me he wasn’t sure which of us was tougher – or crazier.
In the 8 days I was in the hospital, scared, tired, sick and worried, my spouse called me 2 times. The 1st was on Saturday. He had opened the Sunday paper to a raving review about the restaurant, and he called to read it to me. He read it, I praised him, then he hung up. The 2nd time was to find out what arrangements I’d made to get home upon my release, because he was too busy to come get me.
I called him several times, around 10 at night when it was clear he’d not be calling that day. I always started by asking him how things had gone at the restaurant that day. He was animated and engaged while speaking about that. Then I tried to keep him apprised of my situation, what the latests tests had revealed, what treatments I’d had that day, but it was like talking to a wall; he was clearly not interested.
He did come to visit twice. The 1st time he brought my stepson. He climbed into my bed, kicked me out and fell asleep, leaving me to entertain the child. The second time he brought all 3 children. They had to wear protective masks in the room, so he insisted that we move to the cafeteria where only I had to wear a mask. It was a short, uncomfortable visit.
When I came home I was on IV antibiotics. I had to do 4 treatments a day, each treatment taking over an hour. I was also still tremendously sick. My mother had been taking care of the house and the children, and she suggested to my spouse that he might prepare dinners for us at the restaurant, then bring them to the house (4 blocks away). He seemed to agree. As soon as she left he informed me that he was much too busy to make us dinners; I would have to figure it out.
I don’t know how a normal person would have handled this situation. There is no doubt that it was a terrible situation for him. There he was, having just recently opened his dream restaurant. In addition, once the review hit, reservations went bananas, and he really was busy. At the time I tried to focus on these factors to excuse his behavior.
In the end though, I was left with no excuse for his unwillingness to even pick up the phone and call me. That could have been done with ease while he was chopping vegetables. I was also left with a greater awareness of how my life would be from that point on: I was alone. Not once did he call any of my Dr’s to find out my diagnosis or prognosis. Not once did he check with the nurses to see how I was doing. Not once did he ask if I needed anything.
Many people speak to the power of feeling alone while in a relationship. Those who have experienced it agree that it is a different, more debilitating sort of loneliness. It makes it hard to breathe. The air around you feels thick with particles of disgust, anger and loathing emanating from your partner. His revulsion becomes your cage.
There is one factor though, that makes being alone in a relationship with a narcissist unique: narcissists love bomb when they feel they are losing you.
My existence was imperative to the day to day shenanigans of my ex. I took care of the house, and the kids, and all of the tasks of daily living. Even during my sickest times, the most he was required to do was perhaps an quick trip to the grocery store, or prepare 1 dinner for the kids. For the most part, he was free to come and go as he pleased. He had only 1 job: keep me on the hook. He did this job very well, for a very long period of time.
Most of the time I was too sick, and busy (!) to entertain leaving him. Every once in a while though, I’d have a few months of good health. During these breaks I’d become increasingly agitated with his behavior, and I’d start making noise. I’d stand up for myself, I’d insist that he help and be part of the family and, when he did not comply, I’d make noise about leaving. It was during these times his narcissistic character really glowed. He’d enter the house with an air of Prince Charming. The swooshing air of confidence and romance he exuded was palpable. He’d sweep me out of my chair, look me right in the eye, express his undying love and regret at having been an ass. While holding me close he’d swear he’d learned his lesson, he couldn’t live without me and he would, from that point out, be the man I needed, the man he knew he could be and that I clearly deserved.
If you’ve never been roped in by a narcissist you are probably smirking at the visual. Certainly I was simply an idiot to have accepted this, time and time again. Alas, I was. However, narcissists are at their best when faced with a love bombing challenge. If you haven’t experienced it first hand I suggest you watch the movie Jerry Maguire. Knowing what I know now, it is obvious the Jerry is behaving narcissistically throughout the film. What is fascinating though is how the writers, and actors, nailed the final scene. Renee Zellwegger, in the role of Jerry’s love interest Dorothy Boyd, has come to the realization that he doesn’t care about her and her son, and she has told him to get lost. Jerry’s response is the ultimate love bomb. He shows up unexpectedly, he gives a speech in front of her family and friends about how much she means to him, then he drops the famous line: “you complete me”. If you are a feeling, breathing person, you swooned.
Interestingly enough, Renee Zellweger struggled with her response. She was supposed to say “you had me at hello”. She recounts the scene in this way:
“Cameron had me say it a few different ways,” she said. “It’s so funny, because when I read it, I didn’t get it—I thought it was a typo somehow. I kept looking at it. It was the one thing in the script that I was looking at going, ‘Is that right? Can that be right? How is that right?’ I thought, ‘Is there a better way to say that? Am I not getting it?’ I just don’t know how to do it.”
The reason she didn’t get it is because it was ludicrous. Jerry had mistreated her character terribly throughout the movie. Then, at the very end, he barges into her house like a knight on a horse, proclaims his undying love and devotion, and she is supposed to acquiesce, forgive him his neglect and bad behavior, and express her undying love. In real life, there is only one circumstance in which life works this way: when a human doormat (i.e. me) is dealing with a narcissist.
Imagine the long term effect of that scene though. Had this been real life, Renee/Dorothy would have been hooked for quite some time by this show of adoration. Jerry, having hooked her but knowing it would only be temporary, would then revert to his old behavior but add in one subtle twist: he’d begin gaslighting. Each time she suggested that he was beginning to exhibit old patterns he’d blame it on her. Surely she was overreacting. He was sorry she’d had a bad day but that certainly wasn’t his fault. Or perhaps he’d go with the nothing is ever good enough for you, or the ever reliable don’t you remember how great I am and how forgetful you are? There is no limit to the amount and variety of gaslighting techniques in the narcissists’ toolbox. And, if the gaslighting seemed to be losing its power, the narcissist would simple perform another love bombing scene.
In the end, there is only 1 way to know for sure if your partner is being sincere or is love bombing and gaslighting you. How does his behavior make you feel. Does his proclamation of love leave you feeling confident that he will show up for you, or are you left wishing it was true but filled with doubt? Do his accusations about your behavior ring true, or do they leave you puzzled? Do you walk around feeling like you have a challenge in front of you but it is manageable, or do you stumble through each day wondering what is happening, confused about why you feel the way you do. Do you feel like you are smothering in a sea of fog, or are you seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?
If you are filled with doubt, puzzled and confused, and living in a daze, drowning in the grey fog swirling around you, you are with a narcissist, and you are being gaslighted. Get Out Now. Because, and you have to trust me here, the loneliness you feel right now will get better, but only if you get out.