|He said this was me. It wasn't.|
Twenty years ago I was romantically involved with a young man who often told me what to do and how to be. I had not wanted to be romantically involved with the man in the first place--having told him that I wanted to date only Catholics, as the whole point of dating was to get married. Also, he was not "my type", except that he was scholarly and very intelligent. Very, very intelligent.
But the young man was also very young. He had very strong views on subjects about which as yet he knew very little. And although he was not a Catholic, or even a believing Christian at first, he was disgusted by premarital sexual activity, especially by women. He was also disgusted by divorce, and in depressed moments, inspired by Kierkegaard (I think), thought himself impure because he was the child of a second marriage. For some complex non-Christian reason, he did not believe in divorce, so he thought he was a kind of bastard.
Or so he said. It was some time before I realized that he had lied and bluffed a lot in that relationship to get what he wanted which was, not to put to fine a point on it, me. But not in the way you might fear. No, no, no. He was, don't forget, disgusted by feminine sexual sin. His intentions, if not his methods, were entirely honourable.
Unfortunately, however, the young man hadn't the slightest idea who I was, which after twenty years I can forgive, as I didn't really know who I was either. I was bored by my Catholic friends, and shocked by my "artist friends", and the world was stubbornly refusing to fall in with my ideas of how the world was supposed to be. However, my ideas of how the world was supposed to be were shared to a certain extent by my agnostic male friend, and he decided that I was the Perfect Victorian Lady, or would be if I followed his advice. Somewhere I have his letters extolling me always to strive for virtue, taking "dear Jane" (Austen) as my model and guide.
It felt wonderful to be put on a pedestal and encouraged to be more of what I already apparently was. It felt great to be flattered and entertained and told that I was beautiful and good by a very clever and promising young man who had a high regard for female chastity. And so I was very sorry when I disappointed his high regard for me by mentioning that I had joined the university revolver club. As a Canadian, I am not that excited by guns (pro- or anti-), but I think knowing how to fire a gun is a good life skill, and I picked the revolver club because my brother was a military rifle instructor. Rifles were his thing.
The young man was horrified. He hated guns--or the idea of a woman mixed up with one. "Beauty cannot hold the repugnant," he said, paraphrasing--I think--Aristotle. He had a student petition against or for some gun bill that he was supposed to sign and pass on, but he said he wouldn't sign it until I quit the revolver club. As a matter of fact, I was terribly uncomfortable in the shooting range, which was in a cellar, and the noise was incredible, and I jumped every time I heard a shot, which was rather tragic for my aim. Thus I was tempted to quit the revolver club anyway, but I didn't for a long time because of that stupid petition. Twenty years later, I realize I should have simply told him to stuff the petition in his ear, instead of gaily laughing it off every time he shoved it under my nose and looked sad because he had still not passed it on, as he was bound in honour to do.
He meant me to feel guilty for his not signing the petition, and I did feel guilty. And that, my dear friends, provided him with a very useful tool. He was good at looking sad, and expressing shocked, high-minded disappointment, and convincing me that if I did not do something, this would be a blow against all honour and decency and a correctly run universe. Thanks, I think, to his studies, he became a believing Christian, and thanks to my adamant belief I could marry only a Catholic, he entered an RCIA course with a priest I recommended. However, the young man told me he would be chucked out of RCIA if he couldn't find a sponsor to come with him, and so I had to do it. This was probably a lie, but I believed him. After all, his immortal soul was on the line.
He was the most manipulative young man I ever met in my whole life, and that is saying something. He did sales one summer and chatted smugly about the psychological tricks salespeople pull to sell their unwanted wares. I admired him for his cleverness, God help me, and his ability to make people do what he wanted. It never occurred to me that he might be using the same tricks on me, "the woman of his dreams."
He didn't tell me not to wear make-up, but he did tell me what to wear. And when we were engaged, I actually obeyed his clothing strictures, which were almost entirely about preserving my lily-white skin. This meant wearing opera length gloves outdoors in summer and carrying a parasol. In the city. In the 1990s. I felt ridiculous. But when I did not wear my gloves and when I did not carry the parasol, I felt incredibly guilty. It is really amazing what men can make women do if they make us feel guilty enough. At one point--among other things, he dropped out of RCIA-- I called off the engagement, and he stopped eating. He showed up weeping at my door. He told me horrible things his parents had allegedly said about me, but he knew they were wrong, wrong! They couldn't understand! And he needed a friend to talk to me about, but as all his other friends now hated me, only I could understand! Please would I talk to him? Please? Please! He cried and shivered.
Reader, I married him. And I kept wearing the stupid gloves--somehow I lost the stupid parasol--and, because he didn't "want a fat wife", I lost twenty pounds and with them his hold over me. Somehow all that healthy eating and athletic activity gave me a backbone, and I started pushing back. (Testosterone?) He didn't want me to visit my family, but I visited them anyway. He didn't want me to visit my friends, but I visited them anyway. He most definitely did not want me to continue being a Roman Catholic--"Roman Catholicism is the religion of immigrants and peasants" he memorably said--but I continued going to my parish church anyway. We began to fight--quite viciously, really--and it was terrible. Beyond terrible. Naturally I will not tell you the whole story: telling the annulment tribunal was bad enough.
That incarnation of the young man is dead. I do not mean my ex is dead (although maybe he is--I haven't seen him in 15 years). If he is alive, he is over 40 and the man the past almost-twenty years have made him. By dead, I mean the incarnation of that young man, a twenty-something. That young woman is dead, too, poor thing. I am the spine she forged in the weight room and the boxing ring, and I'm almost all she had left of herself when she walked out of the apartment with the clothes on her back and her passport in her purse. (I am the spine plus the past almost-twenty years, of course.)
However, I have seen that young man in other men. I've heard about him, too. I sat with a friend's mother--my friend was abroad and desperate, his father had just been arrested for domestic asssault--and discovered she too had married that young man. I've met that young man in other countries. Somehow he persists, generation after generation. I'm sure he's a lefty sometimes, but I don't frequent lefty circles much.
The easiest way to recognize him is through his stubborn fantasy about what women are supposed to be, which he protects by ensuring women live, or at least one woman lives, up to it. I am not sure WHY this fantasy woman is so important, except that she is the love of his life, and he will do almost anything to protect her. If he projects her onto you, God help you, for if you threaten her, he is capable of anything. If he just breaks up with you, consider yourself lucky.
And I am writing this today because of E. E, my dear, I have no idea who you are. My computer doesn't trace commentators easily, and I haven't tried. I think you might be French, but I don't know for sure. For all I know, your name isn't E. I know nothing about you except that you are a reader and you have a boyfriend who lets you know that he is disappointed when you--like most women of your age in the western world--wear a little make-up. He makes you feel a little guilty about it--yes?
E, to me this is a red flag. I am not sure how much pushing-around you want to take from the man in your life. Maybe you don't mind a man who tells his woman what-is-what, and maybe your boyfriend is just a bit grumpy. Maybe you belong to a culture in which women let men be the head, knowing that they are "the neck who directs the head," and in which women nod and smile and then just do whatever they like. However, maybe your boyfriend is, how should I put this, a control freak who will never be content with the woman that you are and wants you to be another woman entirely, perhaps a fantasy image he carries in his head and heart and projects upon you, as if you were just a film screen.
As I have never met him, I have no way of knowing. But I hope you will consider discussing him with your mother, or if not your mother, a favourite aunt, and ask if she thinks he is a controlling type. I hope this because I do not want what happened to me to happen to any other young woman ever again. This is, in fact, [what I think is] the ruling passion of my life.