Dear Patrick: I am in an extremely passionate, on-and-off-again relationship with a woman who could make you sell your soul to get another taste. When it's good, it's amazing. She can keep my dick hard for days. Getting my back scratched feels better than fucking. But when it's bad, our belongings get broken, and so does my heart. The last time she told me to get lost, I thought she really meant it, so I found my own place and did my best to start over. For one thing, I had to replace all of my furniture and most of my clothes. She either busted up or kept all of my stuff.
Getting over the breakup included a brief affair with a woman who hated my ex. She had charms of her own, but this girl also didn't mind lengthy conversations about my divorce. We liked the same drinks and the same positions but eventually decided we should stop playing house.
Now it's on again, and I've got my fingers crossed. It's probably stupid of me to rearrange my life one more time for a woman who blows so hot and cold. But the fact is, life seems very boring without her. I think I have gotten used to an abnormally high level of intensity. I do see her making changes, which gives me hope. For one thing, she is talking a lot about how much she appreciates me giving her another chance. I've loaned her way too much money and now she is paying off the loans. She has also been saying that she feels that we must be soul mates because “there are no secrets between us.” After so many ugly fights and passionate make-up sessions, she believes we know each other in great detail.
When I hear her say this, I ought to be happy, but instead the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up. She is trying to change her ways and that includes making up with some of her enemies. I am afraid this might someday include the woman who consoled me in my badly painted, cheap studio apartment. Just the other day this woman's name came up and my lover wondered out loud if she should give her a call. She decided against it on the grounds that there was no way the two of them could ever have a calm discussion about the past. But I wanted to throw up.
You have no idea what she is capable of when she feels betrayed. No idea. And I do not want to go through that again. The affair happened AFTER she told me to get the fuck out. I never fooled around on her. If I was on my own, what I did should be my own business. I was the most definitively set aside man on earth. “Hit the road, delete my phone number, watch me burn your photo, go stand under the bedroom window while I throw out everything you ever gave me, don't ever talk to me again or I'll shoot your car and steal your dog”—that kind of thrown out, uncoupled, single-try, bad blues with train whistles, twisted comedy routine, B movie of a breakup.
What do I do? I can't enjoy this reconciliation knowing that it hangs by a thread. But I am 99% sure that if I tell her the truth, she will clobber me. I don't know if I can live with this woman, but I sure do hate to live without her. Any sage wisdom for somebody whose life resembles a really bad reality show?
Stop feeling guilty. You haven't done anything wrong. You have not cheated on her. Whatever you did after she broke up with you is your own business. No one is expected to remain single after being tossed out of a relationship. She may not like what you did, but she forfeited the right to control your behavior or complain about it when she told you to get lost. Do NOT tell her that you had an affair with a woman she hates, however, because this is not somebody who plays by the rules of sanity and common sense.
If you do tell her, you are conclusively demonstrating that not all of the drama in the relationship comes from her. Deliberately telling a volatile person something that is tailor-made to make him or her explode is known as provocation. This is manipulative behavior that is favored only by people who have not consciously dealt with and accepted their masochism. You may not like that term, but I don't know what else to call it when someone deliberately seeks out (ostensibly) unpleasant experiences just because they are intense. If you experience these painful blowups as a rush, you are bent that way, and you'd be better off paying somebody to spank you than you are waiting for your current lover to lose it.
Granted, there is a chance that she will find out anyway. Some secrets are harder to keep than others. But if this relationship is really going to flourish or merely stagger along in a better state of mental health, the two of you need better boundaries. Reasonable people do not destroy other people's personal property, no matter how angry they are. They do not feel entitled to let their rage get that out of control simply because they are disappointed or hurt. If she does find out and starts to steam up, repeat after me: “You told me to get lost. We were no longer together. I thought I would never see you again. What I did was no longer any of your business. If you break up with somebody, you cannot expect them to remain celibate.”
I suspect that if this really was a viable relationship, you would already know this. You don't feel entitled to have healthy boundaries, never mind why, so you've become obsessed with a woman who bullies you. You set yourself up for yet another dramatic breakup by choosing one of her enemies for a revenge-style affair. If you never tell her about it, you won't get to see the hurt and anguish on her face as she processes how much you had to hate her to do something like that. Part of your motivation for having that affair will never be fulfilled if you keep it a secret. You could have told her about this in the process of reconciliation, before things got serious again, so she would have already known about it before the two of you gave romance another whirl.
Do you see what I'm trying to explain here? By holding on to the secret information, you have kept an atomic bomb in your arsenal. The next time she makes you feel terrible, you have something you can fire off that will level her self-esteem. It has to feel good to have a secret store of power while you consort with someone who has devastated you. Maybe you need that toxic weapon so you can take the huge risk of being intimate—once more—with a woman who holds you hostage on so many levels. If you really want a stable, contented life with her, you will not find it difficult to keep your mouth shut. If you have to blab, then I would guess that there has been a hidden agenda all along. You only pretended to love her and take yet another chance on her, while hoarding information that will make it all erupt like a volcano and collapse like a house of singed and smoking cards.
Women are not the only people who are victimized by abusive relationships. There are women who perpetuate physical violence and other forms of abuse. But in our culture, any amount of bad behavior in the part of a woman is usually dismissed. Male pride is at stake here. If a woman can genuinely hurt, control, or damage a man, that means she is in danger of becoming his equal. So we make jokes about women who throw televisions out the window, vandalize cars, forcibly obtain sex, verbally insult and terrorize their partners, or beat up their mates. Men often lie to themselves about what is going on because it is just too fucking humiliating to be a guy who gets beaten up by a chick. But the truth is that women can hurt men. Even if the “beating” is verbal rather than physical, even if your scars are psychological rather than physical, damage has been done. A relationship like this leaves the abused partner in a bad way, feeling terrible about himself, confused about what happened, alone, and degraded. I think there's a very good chance that this woman is an abuser. You describe a dynamic that might be exciting, but it is also extremely negative and dark. Is there anything you get out of being with her other than the overdose of adrenaline? I know that if a woman was writing to me about a male partner, and she used the same language that you are using, I would be very worried about her.
Think about this. Don't just dismiss it out of hand. Is there any chance at all that I am right? It might be worthwhile to argue your case with an experienced therapist. Is it passion that keeps you together, or are you trying to piece your self-esteem back together after she repeatedly tears you into little pieces? I'm not trying to be mean to you, I am genuinely concerned. See what an objective outsider has to say about this. It could save you years of wasted time in a bad relationship with a dynamic that will never really be okay.