There was a large part of me that wanted to break things off then but I didn’t for a couple of reasons. First, we were committed to do a few things and I wanted to see them through. Second, I believed that together, we were a force for good and I was willing to work through the emotional tie to get to a place where professional work could continue.
So I set boundaries: Don’t tell me you love me. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t future fake and build false hope. If you’re with someone else, you can’t have access to me in those ways.
He didn’t listen and sometimes I was weaker than other times. I don’t judge myself for this; my heart was fully engaged and I was doing my best to let go. I kept drawing lines, and he kept rushing past them. Each time, I would address it and he would apologize, and then do it again. I finally made a decision; when we saw each other next, it was do or die time. There would be no more going forward with uncertainty. We would walk away knowing what direction we were going in, personally and professionally.
The next time we saw each other would be the last.
This time, I wasn’t going to let him off the hook. He wasn’t going to be able to walk away with some ambiguous answer about how he “wasn’t sure” and “didn’t want to hurt anyone” but still try to keep his hooks in me.
He finally said that he was choosing to stay in his “situation” (as he phrased it) because it was the way that the least amount of people would be hurt. Fine, I said, but don’t contact me for a while because I’m gonna need some time. He reluctantly agreed and we parted ways. Of course, he violated the no contact rule almost immediately, but this time, I was resolute. There would be no lenience in boundaries; for now, our conversations would be business only. Before he left that final time, he framed his sadness as greater than mine because he was going back to a situation that didn’t have hope for getting better and he would never have a love like this again, while I had the chance to find someone else. I was stunned by his selfishness; how could he possibly see himself as the “loser” in a situation where he lost nothing?
My alarm bells went off again; this was not normal.
For the next few months, we engaged in a back and forth with me holding my boundary, him ignoring it and me setting harder and harder limits. In the professional arena, his behavior had escalated to levels of extreme exploitation where I was doing the bulk of the work on our “collaborations”, to the detriment of my own individual work. Every time I asked for more balance, he would lash out at me. Every time I would ask him to consult with me about decisions he was unilaterally making that would impact me, he would either lash out or express contrition, before doing the exact same thing or a close imitation almost immediately.
My reserves depleted, I finally said I couldn’t do it anymore. By now, the personal aspect of the relationship was off the table and it was merely a point of trying to continue what we’d started but I felt like I was carrying everything, including him. The behavior consisted of not carrying his part of the work needed for projects, to making plans and not following through, breaking promises, failing to meet deadlines, not showing up for scheduled meetings and an overall disregard of my time, energy and resources. A comment he’d made once about his relationship stuck in my head: “I do 20% of the work and get 80% of the credit”. It seemed to be a pattern and now I was in the same loop.
I needed the madness to stop.
I first pulled out of a book project we were writing on healthy relationships. It was hypocritical to me; how could a man who is actively and consistently cheating on his significant other and exploiting women for his own gain possibly write about how to have a healthy relationship? His explanation was that it was a “warning” to other men…on how not to be like him. I felt like it was analogous to an alcoholic who is still drinking to tell other people why they shouldn’t drink. I couldn’t put my name on something that was so deeply flawed. I was also conflicted about my role; I had engaged in an illicit relationship with a man knowing that he was in another connection. Who the hell was I to tell someone else how to have a healthy connection?
Everything finally came to a head shortly after I quit the book.
I had noticed a pattern of behavior with women, and so I asked someone who also knew him what her experience was with him. What she told me blew me away. It turns out that what he’d described as a “brief flirtation” was anything but. In fact, the whole time he was wooing me, he was trying to do the same with her. He had made efforts to see her, and engaged with her in an emotional and sexual manner. It made me wonder, “what if the woman he said over-reacted was telling the truth” and so I reached out to her. It turns out that he had done the same thing with her and what he told me was a flat out lie. The similarities in the stories that came out were shockingly similar; so similar in fact, that it was impossible to deny the patterns.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more who would echo the same story.
It was at this point that I ended our professional relationship, completely. I was so bothered by the fact that he’d used me and other women in such a callous way, and often under the guise of a potential professional relationship that there was no way I could be connected with him. I figured that eventually, all of this would come to a head and I didn’t want to go down with him. I asked him to come clean and make things right. He made an attempt to do so which he then removed & immediately blocked me and the others.
To me, the most egregious part of this was not that he’d emotionally manipulated so many women; it was that he’d done it under the guise of being a “male feminist” and by presenting himself as a “recovering misogynist”. He’d used social justice and politics as a lure and presented himself as “safe” when in reality, he was consistently and knowingly causing harm to women, from his significant other to the women who he used to stroke his ego, feed his insecurity and build him up. When those women had enough, he discarded them like last week’s leftovers without an apology and without making amends. The validation he needed from women came at great personal expense to them, and he couldn’t see it. Shortly after we collectively demanded accountability, he blocked all of us on social media. To this day, he has never apologized or fully owned the impact of his actions.