I’ve been through a really bad period, some of which I’ve written about here. What I haven’t written very much about is my relationship with my partner. I shied away from sharing any of it when he was alive, because I didn’t feel confident in my perceptions. But his death and what’s happened since has thrown it into sharp relief. I’ve wondered what it was that we had if it all led to this? The answer is of course mixed.
Dew, my partner was significantly older then myself; I was in the same age group as his grandchildren, in fact. I’ve been afraid of being judged about that, even though I don’t see age differences as a problem in itself. But because he was closeted, wealthy, and married with children for much of his life, he conducted his gay relationships in a certain way. By taking in a series of attractive young men, and passing them off as being his servants. Except it wasn’t just a lie, it seeped into every aspect of his love affairs. He would blur the lines between the romantic and the professional, and then blow up when his unequal partners crossed his line.
He shared with me countless stories of his volatile breakups, all of which were blamed on his boyfriends and centered around their ‘undesirable’ qualities. It was only after his death, when I actually met and talked with some of these people, that I realized they weren’t monsters, but rather the recipients, like myself, of toxic relationship patterns that Dew engaged in throughout his whole life. He sought out deeply unequal relationships, with people that would either share his life on his terms, or leave. Some of them wanted a life outside of his estate, others wanted only a job or a relationship, and he would explode in rage and kick them out, as he almost did to me many times.
There is actually a lot of irony in the fact that my partner’s adult son threw me out in a torrent of abuse on my birthday three months ago. Because the first birthday that I spent with my partner, I was also the recipient of rampant verbal abuse and humiliation from him. In both cases it’s true that I hadn’t told these people it was my birthday, but I didn’t because I had no reason to, and being treated like that on any other day wouldn’t have made it any better. I almost left a week after that day in early 2008, but then we had a long talk, and he offered to let me stay, so I did. Eventually I did come to love him, and we became close, to a certain extent. But I had also showed him how much I would put up with.
But his raging didn’t stop. Often times, his anger would suddenly be triggered by little things, and then he would shout at me and start ‘listing’ everything that he had done for me, all the money he had spent… He had once told me he loved me, he asked me to let him take care of everything. But there was also resentment, of me, and my needs, there were tallies being kept and brought out for shaming in response to completely unrelated issues. This was the same way his son would later treat me, as while he was breaking our agreement to violently throw me out onto the streets, he began insisting that he had been ‘very generous’ to me and reciting a list that showed he placed no value on me or the work I had done for him.
We lived an isolated life, in a remote rural community filled with mostly retirees, where everyone had to have a car to get around. This isn’t how I was used to living; I had centered my independent adult life on the ability to walk or use public transportation to get around. Yet going anywhere with Dew I was inevitably just ‘tagging along’ in his view, he had no interest in changing his routines. He had a real ego about his car, and would insist that because it was his car and he was the driver, he got to make all of the decisions, and it didn’t matter if I was cold or air conditioning or loud music was giving me a headache, it didn’t matter if I was starving when he wanted to drive for six hours straight without ever stopping, because he was the driver, and it was his decision.
I never learned to drive, as my parents didn’t bother teaching me, yet whenever I brought up wanting to learn to drive, he would discourage me, telling me that I couldn’t take care of a car because I’m allergic to gasoline and therefore couldn’t pump my own gas–which is a valid point, but not an insurmountable one. Or he would snap at me, condescendingly, that I didn’t really want to learn to drive, because if I did then I would be watching his every move while he was driving the car… He brought up driving school once, but the only such places were hours away, and so it would have involved extensive driving to get there. In the end, there was really no way for me to do this independent of him, and he didn’t want me to do it, so I didn’t. Unfortunately that was a really big pattern in our life together.
I know that the reason he threw out a young man about a year and a half before I showed up was because he had wanted the use of one of Dew’s cars, to teach soccer or be a substitute teacher at a school on the island. In which case, he wouldn’t be there with Dew on the estate all day. That’s what Dew wanted, someone to share his life, not an independent adult with their own life. Unlike me, Dew didn’t want to go places and see things, meet people… he said he had seen the island already, and if I really wanted to go somewhere he would try to talk me out of it, tell me it was nothing special. Eventually I adapted, I learned to cultivate a life that while not stimulating, was comfortable.
I was unhappy, and I had very little choice in my life. But the atmosphere that I lived in contained no one who would have validated me or my situation. I was filled with shame, by the idea that I was just a disgruntled employee or an ungrateful person. That our relationship was inappropriate, and it should be hidden from view. That I was just ‘the help’ or some sort of rent boy preying upon Dew. So there was no one I could talk to about what was happening. And I was caught up in a connection that wasn’t emotionally healthy. Not in the slightest. To admit that would be to imagine leaving, when I had promised (to myself primarily) that I would stay with him until the end, because he asked me to. Because he needed me, and that was all I felt I had. I was used to being a caretaker, and I took good care of him.
When he died, I was thrown into confusion and cognitive dissonance, as all of the illusions I had held onto for so long were disintegrating before my eyes. I told myself this situation gave me an opportunity to heal. And it did, to a certain extent, so long as I could go about it alone (except for my great friends and allies online.) But some forms of growth were just not possible in that environment. I told myself it would give me time to recover from my eating disorder, but that was a long, hard road that I haven’t reached the end of yet. I told myself I could build up a writing career, but found myself uninspired, isolated, and sick instead. My real reasons for staying were much deeper and sadder.
I realize now that there is no reward, cosmic or otherwise, for staying in a flawed, unequal, or abusive relationship. For putting up with things for someone else’s sake, for making compromises that aren’t all practical or workable. It doesn’t win love, or better treatment to do so. With Dew’s death, my hope that this situation or our relationship could improve also died. There was no significant benefit to my hiding with him for all those years, not to me anyway. Those two birthdays that bookmarked my life with him have led me to mostly the same place and situation; though of course there are some differences, some are better or worse on each end, and hope shifts around, is ephemeral in each. Suffice to say now I have the chance to live my own life, and break out of these patterns.
This is only part 1 of a series of posts to come on this subject.