The morning after Boxing Day, Filipeen was back at work but I had an extra day off, so in my “I can’t help but be nice” state of mind, I finished tidying up the rest of his place. We’d done a lot of it the night before but there was still piles of dishes, boxes of drink and generally stuff all out of place. So I let my cleanliness OCD take over and fixed it all up. I also walked the dog and, for the second day in a row, he’d given me the keys to his pride and joy to drive the rental plates and glasses back to the hire place. As you do with someone who the night prior you’d been introducing as “a friend”.

And I did all of that with a hangover and confusion fogged brain, trying to work what in the hell’s name was going on. Dropping off his house key to him at his office as I made my way back downtown I couldn’t help but feel that the thanks and minimal kiss he’d offered on the side of the street weren’t quite enough reward for the bitch of a morning I’d just had.

But had he asked me to do all those chores or had I offered and he’d just taken me up on it? Did it matter? Well, yeah, because I guess I can’t really be mad if I offered and then was pissed off because I didn’t get a big enough pat on the back. But it was more than that. It was because he’d let me do all of that while still clearly not knowing where he was at with his feelings for me. But again, can you blame him? Who wouldn’t take up the offer of a free housemaid for the morning. Especially one who you’d had shower sex with before you went to work.

That’s right, throughout it all, the sex was an unwavering constant. Maybe the only unwavering constant. And it was always great. It was the one time when I wasn’t second guessing myself with him. By this point I felt fairly confident in my own sexuality and I was sure there were no complaints from his side, in fact there was more talk about it being some of the best he’d had than it being a further source of disconnect for us.

But I found myself post-Boxing Day dinner party, post-Christmas Night weirdness, post-Christmas Eve domesticity, having a really hard time getting a grip on what in fuck’s name was going on. I couldn’t understand how we’d gotten to a place with so much confusion and tension and ultimately, where I was feeling worse about myself instead of better.

To add to the festive period trials, New Year’s Eve was coming up. Which would have been fine if we weren’t going to spend it together but a few weeks back, before things had gotten this far down weird street, I’d mentioned that I was going to an engagement party on NYE and that he should come if he didn’t have any plans. It wasn’t like a big “let’s bring in the new year together” or “I want to take you as my plus one to a friend’s engagement party”, it truly was “if you’re not doing anything else that night, come along, it should be a super fun party”.

After everything that had gone before we probably should have rethought the decision and instead taken it as a night for ourselves, apart from each other. But why try and keep things simple when you can add more confusion to the mix?

With the residual feelings from Boxing Day still lingering, I knew I needed to address them before NYE – I hate taking negativity into a new year and I knew if there were underlying issues and I got drunk all hell could break loose. So on the 30th December I, of course, went over to his place where he cooked us dinner and we found ourselves having another chat about our relationship a mere two weeks since the last one.

I started by saying that I knew that despite saying we should slow down and focus more on just spending time the two of us, Christmas had kind of got in the way of that with Boxing Day dinner and now NYE coming up. So we should just forgive ourselves those but come January we’ll try and start afresh again. I just thought we needed to slow down like we spoke about and I knew I needed to stop giving so much of myself by doing things like walking the dog and being domesticated at his house (oh my god I’m having deja vu from the conversation two weeks ago – had I learnt nothing?!).

I presumed he was going to agree, we were going to try (again) to make those changes and things would get better. End of story. But his reaction left me speechless.

He told me right off the bat that he felt like something was missing and he wasn’t sure that our life goals aligned. The trail off at the end of “you tick all the boxes on paper but something feels off, I mean you should be everything I want but…” isn’t really something you want to hear.

He said he felt something was missing with me. The pointedness of making sure I knew it was ME that there was something missing with and not him wasn’t lost on me. But the part that got me the most, the thing that definitely shattered a little piece of my heart was when, looking me in the eye, he told me “I don’t have butterflies about you”. Not to be melodramatic but it felt like a stab, like the quickest insertion of the finest blade deep inside me. My biggest fear – rejection – was staring my squarely in the face.

As I fought back the tears, he continued by telling me he didn’t think I wanted to give up my downtown party lifestyle and that, despite what I’d said, he didn’t believe me when I said I wanted to have kids. The want to cry quickly turned into the want to punch him in the throat.

At what point had all of my trips across the bridge to the suburban North Shore, and walking his dog in the shitting snow, before having cosy quiet nights in at his place made it seem like I wouldn’t want to change my “downtown party lifestyle”? And even that phrase was ridiculous! I am practically a GRANNY! I hardly ever go out and in fact my drinking had increased since I met him. (Possibly because of the mental anguish he caused me.)

And don’t get me started on how insulting it was that he would question my sincerity, my honesty, my vulnerability when opening up about how I felt about having kids. Who the fuck was he to tell me that he thought I wasn’t being honest about it?

As I was sitting on my hands to stop me reaching out to strangle him, what I thought was rock bottom plummeted further when he finished up his character assassination of me with “but look, I’m hoping all those feelings about you change because I would really love this to work. I’m happy to give it time, to work on it, and see if those feelings develop and if maybe our life goals can align. If you are? But I understand you’ve been hurt in the past and the last thing I want to do is hurt you anymore, so I’ll understand if you want to walk away. I’ll let you make the decision. ”

If it hadn’t been for my ex-husband’s incredible displays of psychological manipulation years before, I’d have said this was the most exquisite example of gaslighting I’d ever seen.

I hadn’t even really wanted to be going this fast. Yes it was fun and ultimately domesticated bliss was the long term goal but it was scaring the shit out of me and the confusion it was bringing with it wasn’t worth it. But for some reason I was sat on that sofa actually weighing up the options. Whereas now with a clear head and hindsight all I can scream as I type these words is “RUN, YOU DUMB BITCH.” Trust me, reader, I feel your frustration.

I was so torn and in that moment I felt incredibly alone. Again, in hindsight, I know I could have reached out to any of my friends and they’d have likely uttered the exact same all caps instruction as above, but at the time I felt stuck with this decision all by myself.

My mind was racing but kind of in slow motion: surely we need to be together for those feelings to develop and for him to realise we are on the same page re life goals. i.e. spending time apart isn’t going to convince him of those things, so taking a break or walking away won’t help? But if those feelings aren’t there now, will they ever be? And do I really want to be feeling like I need to try and convince him that we’re right for each other? Does any of this matter right now? It’s still so early. Do we even need to be having these conversations? Is walking away sensible self preservation or is it running scared at the first hint of trouble?

As I was trying to calm my mind to the point I could move or talk or do something, ideally to get up and go home, he outdid himself by coming out with “look, I can tell you’re upset, this wasn’t a fun conversation to have and you shouldn’t be alone tonight, so why don’t you stay?”

Again in hindsight, it should have been a no brainer, I should have already been halfway back across that mother fucking bridge. But I was still there on the couch. And ultimately I ended up staying. I felt so paralysed by the fear of making the wrong decision. Like if I’d gone home that night it would have been over and, despite everything, I really didn’t know if I wanted that.

At the time all I could think was I really wouldn’t not want him in my life. Amidst all the bullshit, he did make me laugh, he was generally sweet and caring, he seemed like such a good person, with good values, he made me want to be better with his motivation and drive, and I loved how family and friends orientated he was. Plus, you know, the sex was incredible.

But that night as we climbed into bed, as we had done countless times before that, I felt like I was drowning in uncertainty and fear. Fear I’d make the wrong choice, fear that once again I was going to have to face the feeling of rejection, fear that I was once more going to have to walk away from something when it wasn’t entirely what I wanted to do but I knew that I should.

When he tried to initiate sex, his lack of true understanding of the situation shocked me. I had to explain to him that I didn’t want to be only enough for him in the bedroom if I wasn’t enough for him sitting on that couch 15 minutes earlier. While he turned over and went to sleep, I replayed everything he said to me, every untruth he told me about myself, over and over in my head and, as the 31st of December dawned, I cried myself to a restless couple of hours of sleep.

The best part (note the sarcasm) of all of this is that the way he’d left the conversation was entirely on my shoulders, the decision was mine to make, I was the ref who had to make the call. And despite the mass of billowing red flags hitting me across the face from all directions, I genuinely didn’t know what to do. So what would you do in that situation? I bet the answer isn’t “still go to your friend’s NYE engagement party with him”? But mine was!

Yup, we got all dressed up that night, having told him I wanted to put the whole thing out of my mind and not think about it, and instead to try and enjoy the night, off we went for him to meet more of my friends and bring in the new year, celebrating love, while feeling like I had fully lost my mind.

The night itself was surprisingly not a complete wash. There were moments I’d catch myself starting to think about it and would have to actively change my train of thought, especially when he’d make comments about how he hoped he would get an invite to the wedding or that he’d love to hang out with my friends again. You don’t even know that you like me, why do you think we’ll be together in 9 months when the wedding is?!?! Otherwise we did pretty good and the friends we were with that night, none of whom had met him before, had no clue anything was wrong and thought he was great.

After we’d successfully seen in 2017 and toasted the upcoming nuptials while I remained sensibly semi-sober, I dutifully went back over the water to his place despite my house only being 10 minutes away from the party, but he had to go home for the dog. Always the damn dog! I loved that dog, she was a sweetheart but fuck me it was an annoying excuse he always had up his sleeve.

On January first he dropped me off back at home for me to go and do the annual New Year’s Day ocean swim with some friends. Before he left he suggested we do dinner the next night, our last night of the festive period before going back to work. At that point I knew I didn’t have another trip across the bridge in me so I insisted he come over to downtown and we go somewhere convenient for me, which he happily agreed to.

A few hours later I was at a bar with a couple of guy friends, trying to warm ourselves up by a heater and with a whisky each having shocked our systems by diving into freezing water, and I told them the story of Filipeen. They knew I was dating someone but hadn’t heard any of the rest of the story. I actually hadn’t really told anyone about the pre-NYE chat, I couldn’t bring myself to because it was just so… embarrassing. It felt embarrassing.

Naturally, both of their reactions were ones of absolute horror that I’d gone to NYE with him, much less that I was even considering what I should do about the whole thing. They were incredibly kind and said some very lovely, and much needed, things about how I deserved better and how he sounded “like a nutter”, as one of my friends so eloquently put it.

I think I had known that would be what everyone had said, but he’d done such a good job of making it seem so normal to say the things he had and turn it around the way he had on me, and of course with his less than stellar review of my character weighing on my mind, I had definitely started to believe that maybe those things were wrong with me and maybe I should just be happy he was willing to try and make it work? Yes, my self worth was entirely MIA by this point.

Lesson learnt that day – always sense check shit a guy says to you with your friends.

The following day I prepared myself for dinner with him, wondering if I should just cut it off with him that night. But I was all too aware that he was the first serious “relationship” I’d had since I started dating and I wasn’t sure if I was running scared or if I was self sabotaging.

Instead I decided to give it a bit more time, have a session with my therapist Julia (have I mentioned her? I LOVE HER) and go from there. Of course, that night we had to get just a little bit of couple domesticity in and went to buy a laundry basket for him – just how every girl wants a dinner date to start – before heading to the restaurant.

Dinner was fine, we kept the conversation light and it did feel like a nice way to finish the holidays. We’d started them together and, in some capacity at least, we were finishing them together. But when he came back upstairs to mine for a bit before he went home things changed. He sat away from me on the sofa – in fact he sat on the only other chair in my apartment – while he told me he felt like “the decision” had been on my mind all night and we wouldn’t get anywhere if I couldn’t let it go.

“If I couldn’t let it go”? “IF I COULDN’T LET IT GO”?!?!?!?!?! I’m sorry, it’s kinda hard to forget that the person you’re sitting across from at dinner, going out to parties with, sleeping in a bed with isn’t sure that you’re right for them and has actively you told you just that, along with all the many fucking reasons, enough to fill your new fucking laundry basket.

And he had the audacity to get annoyed with me as he said it. HE was annoyed with ME. I was speechless, though I did manage to tell him I thought he should leave. I didn’t want to see his face, I didn’t want him near me, I didn’t want him in my house.

He called me that night to try and apologise but it was a short conversation that I ended by telling him I wanted to be left alone for a week. We went back to work the next day and at the end of that week I had an appointment to see Julia. I knew she’d sort me out. I knew she’d be able to help me get back to clarity and unpack the craziness of the last few weeks.

That Friday as I relayed the story to Julia, in her cosy, comfortable, safe space, and as I heard all the words come out of my mouth in the way they’ve tumbled onto this post, I knew. I knew what I should do, I knew that walking away was the only sensible option. But for some reason I needed that reinforced. I needed to be told that it was ok and I was doing the right thing. Because instead of just knowing I should do it, I had this feeling that me walking away was me not doing enough, not trying hard enough. It was mildly reminiscent of when I struggled so much with walking away from my marriage, albeit on a totally different scale. My self worth definitely still needed some work.

Julia’s role isn’t typically to tell me what to do, that’s not how counselling/therapy works. She asks questions to get me to look at things differently, think a little deeper about how things have happened or why I feel the way I do, reflect on things in new ways. But on this occasion she broke with her usual “no opinions given” demeanour and pointedly told me “you know I’m not here to tell you what you should do, but you already know what you need to do – you know you need to walk away and that is absolutely the right thing to do.”

It was all I needed.

I messaged him on the Saturday morning and asked if we could meet up sometime over the weekend to talk. He suggested Sunday afternoon, he would come over to downtown and we’d walk the seawall. So on a bitterly cold early January afternoon, I met him (and the dog) from the seabus and we started to walk.

There were a couple of minutes of catching up generally before he said “it seems like the woman has something on her mind…” with a smile on his face. The patronising tone and the fact he had seemingly very little understanding of the mental anguish this whole situation had been causing me, were perfect reminders of why I was about to say what I was about to say.

I’d gone through it in my head many times over the previous day and a half so I launched straight into it, ensuring I left no breaks for him to interject. It was straightforward – “I don’t want to be with someone who isn’t sure about me. I don’t want someone who questions whether what I tell them about my life goals is the truth or not. I don’t want someone who thinks I drink too much or that I’ve dated too much. I want someone who knows me and that what they know of me makes them want to know more, not less. I need someone whose actions meet their words. I want someone who gets butterflies about me the way I get butterflies about them. I need to feel safe, loved and supported. And you offer me none of these things, so I can’t see you anymore.”

He seemed a little taken aback by my brevity. In fact so was I. He had such a way of making me stumble over my words, and my thoughts, and for once I’d been able to concisely convey just how he made me feel, without worrying about upsetting him.

He responded by saying he had wanted to connect on a deeper level and felt the relationship had become too sexually focused – something he’d never mentioned to me before. That he’d hoped to get to know me more but he felt there were barriers up. He said he thought we would be better as friends and that he didn’t not want me in his life in some way because I was such a great person and my friends were so fun. Ummmm…. how bout no?

A lot of his thoughts, if not all, I disagree with, other than me being such a great person and my friends being so fun, obviously. A perfect example of us being on different pages and I didn’t really think it was worth debating.

After starting to feel my fingers go numb, and my brain from all of his shit talk, I suggested we walk back to the station for him to go back to the North Shore. I had kept myself pretty well together throughout but I could feel the tears start to rise as we got closer to the station. As I hugged him goodbye he did an incredible job of leaving me with the perfect reminder of what a shit bag he was, saying in all seriousness “do you want to feel my arms one last time?”

He knew I had a thing for arms and in that moment all I wanted to do was tell him there were already a pair of Arms in my life that far exceeded his. My friends have since told me I should have. Instead, I took the high road, politely declined and turned to walk home, bursting into tears as soon as I knew I was out of his sight and sobbing all the way home. Whether the tears were out of heartbreak or relief, I wasn’t entirely sure, but the heart was definitely hurting a little.

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