Category Archives: The Red Flags In the Beginning

Red Flags

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May 2000-December 2001- People often ask me if saw signs in the beginning.

Absolutely.  There were signs.  I could give a million excuses — I was young and naive.  I wanted so badly to be loved.  He seemed so put together– his parents had been married for 30 years…he had a great job….he seemed stable and highly educated.  All of the things that I thought were important.  Yes, there were signs and yes, I take responsibility for my part in ignoring those signs.  People who are narcissistic are extremely charming, manipulative and good at their game.

Prior to meeting him, I took a one year hiatus from dating.  Historically, I hadn’t made the best choices in men.  I thought that I was being careful this time.

We met at a local lake in May of 2000.  We went out for dinner a few nights later and he immediately turned on the charm.  I woke up after our first date to an email which advised me to take the day off from work and enjoy a massage, hot tub and facial at Sycamore Mineral Springs.  He had called in a credit card and told me to enjoy myself.  Every time I turned around there were cards, flowers, gifts and weekend getaways.  He wrote love letters and poems.  He told me all the things that I wanted to hear.  He was a knight in shining armor when it came to dating.

He was in sales.  He sold me– on his family, his degree and his potential.  He was extremely intelligent– had graduated from UCSB with a degree in Physiology/Cell Biology.  Six weeks after we began dating, he announced that he was moving to San Francisco for a six-figure job.  He asked me to move with him to the Bay Area.  I announced to my family that I was going and it wasn’t up for negotiations.  I had only known him for six weeks and it sounded completely crazy but I was young and didn’t have commitments.  I longed to be loved– to be in a healthy relationship.   I thought that I had found it.

We moved in together and there were things that bothered me but I ignored them.  I tried to change and be the person he wanted me to be.  He reminded me often that I didn’t have a college degree– he explained that it was acceptable for us to date but that his parents would never approve of us getting married because I didn’t have that piece of paper framed on the wall.  I enrolled in College of Marin and quit my job– I took out student loans and studied around the clock.  I got a 4.0…to impress him and to let him know that I was worthy.  I knew college wasn’t for me but I wanted him to love me.  I wanted so badly to be married and have the white picket fence lifestyle.

There were little things– things that bothered me but I ignored.  He criticized my weight– I was only 112lbs at the time.  Things had to be “perfect”– shampoo bottles had to be turned the proper way…labels facing out.  He constantly made fun of people– in restaurants, in public places and on television.  He was smarter, better looking and more successful on every level– in his mind.  His spending habits scared me but I had faith that he knew what he was doing– after all, he was the one with the college degree and the high-paying job.  He was controlling but I thought it was love.  It wasn’t love.

The lies began: In September of 2001, I caught him in a huge lie.  I moved out of the house for a week to gather my thoughts.  He was beside himself– gave me every line in the world…showered me with cards, flowers and gifts.  One particular card said, “Tina- I’m sorry 1 million times over for lying to you.  I have no excuse.  You are a beautiful person inside and out.  I’m not.  I’m devious, manipulative and dishonest.  If you need to leave me, I understand.  I deserve it”. 

*Note to self: In the future, if someone admits that they are a devious, manipulative and dishonest person….run.  This is what my therapist would refer to as a “red flag”.  I didn’t run.  I took him back and believed him when he said he could change.  He wanted to change and he wanted to be a good person.  He said all of the things I wanted to hear.

December 2001- We went to Maui on vacation– while eating lunch on the coast, he pulled out a huge diamond ring.  He proposed and I said “yes”.  Looking back, it was strange– not emotionally charged but almost business-like.  Not a lot of feeling which struck me as odd but I dismissed it as I did with everything.  Then he suggested that we get married there– on vacation without telling our families.  I agreed.

We made arrangements to get married two days later.  On the eve of our wedding night, we sat down and decided to write our own vows.  It was his idea and it seemed uber-romantic to me.  I grew tired as the night progressed and decided to turn in early– he explained that he wanted to stay up and finish the vows.  I woke up through the night and realized he wasn’t in bed– 1am…2am…3am…I think he finally came to bed around 4am.

He seemed anxious and odd on the morning of our wedding.  We found a Kinkos to print copies of our vows which he had finalized.  While waiting at Kinkos, he handed me a 16-page, typed document which turned out to be the most insane pre-nup that I had ever seen.  I was in shock.  As I sat on the curb outside reading this document, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  One example from the pre-nup: I was not allowed to gain more than 10lbs during the course of our marriage.  Exercise was a priority and needed to happen at least 3 times per week.  If I had children, I had to return to pre-pregnancy weight within one year.    

I sat on the curb crying.  I basically told him to shove his pre-nup —I couldn’t marry him.  He begged.  He pleaded.  He apologized…we got married.

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Lack Of Emotions

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He had a complete lack of emotion.  This was another red flag that I chose to ignore.

I brought up his lack of emotions many times throughout our marriage and he just shrugged.  He didn’t understand it either.  He just didn’t feel like most people did.  There was no empathy.  At one point, towards the end of our marriage he asked me to buy him books on feelings and emotions.  He knew something was wrong- so I went to the bookstore and bought every book that I could find.

November 28, 2001 – I was sitting in a Border’s Book Store in Marin County one evening studying for a test.  My grandparents called my cell phone and I received crushing news.  I had been waiting for this call my entire life and I thought I was prepared: my mom died of a drug overdose.  To this day, I believe it was an intentional overdose.

I was devastated.  All of my hopes for her to recover from addiction- gone.  All of my hopes for her to be healthy- gone.  All of my hopes for her to be my mom– gone.  Gone with that one phone call.

The next hour was a blur for me.  I ran from the coffee shop leaving behind my laptop, my school books and my purse.  I was hysterical and I remember that I could barely breathe.  My mom was dead.  I was standing up against my car sobbing but I couldn’t get in.  My keys were inside the bookstore.

A couple came up and if I needed help.  Yes- I needed help…I needed my mom to be alive.  The woman hugged me and then went inside and got all of my belongings.  I called my X and he sounded confused.  He seemed quite and casually said, “Ok- I’ll meet you at home.”  I went home and waited for almost two hours- he wasn’t answering his phone.  I was laying on my bed sobbing when he finally came home carrying a pizza.  He walked in, looked at me and said, “Do you want a piece of pizza?”.  I remember being shocked and staring at him in complete confusion.

I said, “No.  I don’t want pizza.  I can’t believe you stopped and got pizza on the way home!  I needed you.”

His response: “I don’t know what the big deal is– you weren’t even close to your mom“.

No hug.  No feelings.  No empathy.  Nothing.

What’s even crazier than his lack of caring or lack of emotions? 

The fact that I married him one month later.      

Working the System

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He was an expert at working the system. 

His credit score was the most important thing in the entire world to him.  He bragged about it often.  He bragged about knowing how to “beat them at their own game”.  How dare they tell him that there were limits on his credit cards.  How dare they lower his ability to spend if he was just a few measly days late paying the bill?

He knew the system– he had studied the system.  He knew which credit cards report late payments and on which dates.  He knew how to “transfer” things around.  He derived a sick and scary pleasure from beating the system.  It was like a high for him.  It was a drug.  He literally became glazed over and euphoric.

One Saturday morning, he wanted to go and buy a new car.  Some people go for crepes and coffee on Saturday mornings- and some people buy cars just for the thrill of it.  At the time, he had a Jeep and his ever prized Nissan Z (which I wasn’t even allowed to stare at for too long let alone touch).  We also had my new car.

Three cars for two people– but he needed another one.

We went out looking for a car and he walked away with a brand new Subaru– he justified the purchase when I raised an eyebrow by saying it was perfect for zipping around the city and seeing clients.  His other cars weren’t good for that according to him.  On the way home, he pulled off into a Toyota dealership– he wanted a truck.  A brand new truck made complete sense because his other cars weren’t good for transporting his Malamutes.

He went on to explain that if he were to purchase two cars on the same day, the credit bureaus wouldn’t “harass” him because it wouldn’t even register in their system until Monday morning.  When I questioned the legalities of what he was doing he blew it off with his typical, “you are so dumb” tone of voice.  I got the message loud and clear– “How dare you question me…you are a nobody”.

While others were reading the paper and enjoying their Saturday morning coffee, he was filling our driveway with new cars.

Pretending to be Wealthy

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In our family, we pretended to have money.  Lots of it. 

I’ve struggled to understand how it all happened.  In hindsight, I feel naive.  I wanted to believe in him so badly.  I had confidence that he was all of the things that he claimed.  Who was I to question him?  After all, I lived in a small, studio apartment and drove a used car.  He had a college degree and he obviously knew what he was doing – he had the cars and home to substantiate that claim.

Growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money.  My dad was a single parent and he worked his butt off to keep a roof over our heads.   I remember driving to the “X’s” parent’s home for the first time– in Avila Valley Estates and being very intimidated.

My X bragged a lot.  At the time we started dating, he had landed his first job in biotechnology and he was going to be making six-figures.  This world was very new to me.  He was very generous with his money and very flashy– a simple trip to Walmart for a beach towel would end with a $200-300 total…many of the items purchased for me.  He took me shopping in Hollywood for bikinis—no small-town boutique in San Luis Obispo was good enough for his girl.  His running motto in Las Vegas was that if you didn’t blow at least a $1,000 per day then you weren’t doing it right.

He paid for everything I paid for nothing.  He refused my attempts to split checks in restaurants and seemed offended that I would even try to pay for something.  He made comments like, “You’ve obviously dated the wrong men.  You’ve dated boys.  What real man would let you pay your way?!”.  I grew accustomed to this lifestyle and I liked it.  This must be chivalry and I had never been privy to this.

We started dating in June of 2000 and by September of 2000, he had bought me a new car.  Yes, a car.  I was moving to the Bay Area with him and he couldn’t imagine “his girl” driving a used vehicle in the big city.  I was in shock.  My family was in shock.  He met my father around that time and asked him to step outside for a few minutes.  He wanted to have a “few words” with my dad– man to man.  He told my dad that he no longer needed to worry about me financially or otherwise.  The X promised that he would ensure that I had everything I wanted and needed.  We were all sold.  Literally.  Hook, line and sinker.

We moved to the Bay Area together after dating less than four months.  He wanted to “start fresh”.  This meant that he didn’t want to bring used furniture, pots, pans, dishes, towels or curtains into our home.  We deserved everything new.  This was the first of many manic shopping sprees however at the time I had no idea the severity of the situation.  To me, it was thrilling.  We got to go out and purchase an entire house of furniture without even worrying about the cost?  This was a whole new world that I could get used to.  We started shopping.  We spent over $5,000 in the first furniture store within 2 hours.  We then went to Bed, Bath & Beyond where we filled his entire Jeep with accessories– it took two trips to the car just to unload everything.  Our house was perfect from top to bottom.  Perfect— just the way he liked things.

I started seeing signs of issues early on.  Within a month or two of being in the Bay Area I started noticing his insomnia.  He would pace back and forth and mumble.  He seemed stressed.  I overheard a phone call to his older brother and he was asking him to transfer money until his next paycheck came.  When I asked about it, I was made to feel inferior.  I was a girl with no college degree– how dare I question him.

He had a million excuses– this is just the way the “real world” works.  Transferring money around between family members– that’s what family is for.  There were the other excuses– he was waiting for a work bonus or he just needed to sell that one car which sat in the driveway.  I learned to have faith in him because it was easier than upsetting him.  Upsetting him resulted in him shutting down– void of feelings, void of emotions and void of love.  Upsetting him caused him to withdraw from me and close me out.  He would ignore me.  It left me feeling alone.

By this point, he had convinced me that I needed him.  That I couldn’t live without him.  He also had me convinced that I was extremely lucky that he had chosen me to be in his life.  He was settling for someone who didn’t go to college and who didn’t come from an upper-middle class family.  I was thankful.