Author’s note: this story contains nongraphic themes of abuse, miscarriage, and divorce, told from the perspective of a woman telling her therapist what it was like to love “a man with no feelings” years later. It was written while listening to All Too Well (Ten Minute Version) by Taylor Swift on repeat. Read at your own discretion.
I saw through his mask. I think he knew it too, even though I never told him. Maybe he wanted me to see through the cracks, or maybe he was just bad at hiding it. I don’t know. But he showed me just enough truth to keep me intrigued, like a moth to a flame. When I first met him, he had an impenetrable mask, a perfect facade to hide the truth. A cool guy. The coolest, most unbothered, sexy guy out there; who had everything, yet cared about nothing; who could take or leave anything he had, myself included. To be cared about publicly by him was like the first rain after a drought. It was all I wanted.
I saw through him on our very first date when we saw Bridge to Terabithia in theaters together. As I peeked through my tear-soaked tissue, clenching my chest in pain when the rope broke, I saw he remained stoic. Bored, even. Yawning, with shifty eyes like he was embarrassed by my tears. He was too cool to cry. I quickly wiped at my eyes and toughened myself, gritting my teeth till they hurt so he’d think I was just like him. But moments later, I caught sight of this man wiping his eyes and sniffling. I knew he had feelings, somewhere deep down, and felt a sense of competitive pride in my heart.
I convinced myself I was The One for him, the one destined to fix him up and make him the best version of himself. In my mind, my life was a fairytale; I was the princess, and that would make him the frog, or the beast I needed to tame. I'd kiss him, I'd give him my heart, and he’d become a handsome, perfect prince. And I'd be... I don't know... happy?
It was hard to do at first. He had built up nearly thirty-two years of protective shield around him, but I took a chisel and chipped away, bit by bit, to find the gold that lie beneath. I pushed him, trying to bring him out of his comfort zone and get him to open up to me. It was like a contest I was never gonna win.
In the beginning, I saw his Happy the most. Moments where laughter would just... burst out of him or he'd take me on spontaneous adventures and take hundreds of pictures to share with his family and friends online. He told them about me all the time, he said. They couldn't wait to meet me, he said.
That was how I saw his Love. His love language wasn't gift-giving or even words of affirmation—it was bragging about me to anyone that would listen. He brought me around to parties, introducing me as a party favor for his family and friends. I felt like a Christmas gift or a novelty souvenir. But I looked up and saw his smile and I couldn't help but feel proud. I did that. I was the reason he was smiling. I'd done it! I cracked The Invisible Man.
Everything was perfect, and when he got down on one knee and proposed, I felt like I had won. He’d picked me. That was all I ever wanted. I sprinted down the aisle in a white dress because I couldn't wait to start our Happily Ever After. I meant every word when I vowed to love him always, but looking back, the man I said that to was just another lie, another mask, another show. I should have sued for false advertising.
I met a new version of him that night, too. The first time we were ever truly alone, I realized. The first time I ever saw him take off the cool guy mask. Just under his smile, he hid words of steel, which he threw at me with reckless casualness, as if he'd been waiting for us to get married to say them. Maybe he'd only proposed so that he could. It was like he'd rehearsed those words for days, maybe months, and I cried myself to sleep on our wedding night.
I endured, of course. After all, I'd seen the Happy in him and didn't want to abandon ship because I chipped a little too far into his walls. It was my fault; I pushed him too hard... I shouldn't have done that. So I did my best to do my best, and be the perfect little wife to keep our Ever After a Happy one. Some days, though, I never stood a chance. When some jerk cut him off in traffic, or he had a rough day at work, he'd walk inside and slam the door behind him. He'd throw his keys in the bowl so loud they'd startle me, and aggressively throw his coat at the closet door.
His Anger, I saw the most. I knew it in the air changes and how he curled his lips. I knew his eyebrow so well, and I knew when I'd done wrong. But I also knew I’d never known happiness like I had with him. I'd seen him at his best. It was worth sticking around through his worst.
At first. Time went on and he no longer pretended to put the mask back on when I was around. He treated me with disdain, acting cool in public too, but more like a cool guy who hates his young and dumb wife. Public tauntings and scoldings and I'm at fault for every little thing. The weather. The neighbors. The gas prices.
Our highs were high, and our lows were lower, but nobody knew, because when we were in public, he hid behind the mask that said he felt nothing, and I hid behind a smile that said everything was fine. Perhaps I should have said something. Who would have believed me?
I was the one who answered the phone the day his mother called, and said his father was dead. I expected then, that I'd finally hit oil and could put the chisel down. I'm not sure why, but I wanted to see him break, just to know that he could. I needed to know that all my pushing wasn't for nothing. That's my only excuse.
But he didn't break, and so then neither could I, or else suffer the tauntings and the teasing for it. I glanced at his face at the funeral, scanning for emotion, but his eyes appeared empty, his jaw clenched tight as he focused on a singular spot on the grass. I leaned up and kissed him on the cheek, to let him know I was there. He didn't react or respond. He pretended like I didn't exist.
And then I became pregnant, and everything went back to normal. He was happy again, and I figured this would be it. The happily ever after I had worked for.
Then, we hit bottom.
I lost the pregnancy, and then I lost the future. Not only mine, but his. He wanted to be a dad so badly; I was the one giving that to him–and I was the one who failed him. He said everything would be okay, but I knew some part of him resented me for it. I knew it in the way he couldn’t look at me, and in the way he eventually did. With eyes full of such sadness and hatred at the same time. I guess I got what I wanted. I saw him break. But even after finally seeing him at what had to be his absolute worst, at finally conquering this momentous feat, digging this cavern into his heart, he was still blaming me for it. I couldn’t believe it.
After that though, he no longer ignored me in public. No. It was a new mask, one I didn't recognize. He showed me off and shared our story with every single stranger who would listen, dragging it out for months on end, while I just wanted to move on and find a new purpose with my grief. I realized quickly that he craved the pity he got. Maybe it was subconscious, maybe he didn't mean to. But I know how he made me feel.
And eventually, I didn't see much of anything, anymore. The truth is, with me, he was a monster. And to everyone else, he was cool, jaded, and sexy with a mysterious past. I was a lucky woman to have landed him, they said. I’d be stupid to let this one go, they said. While he was out on business trips, flirting with other women, and pouting about his poor wife who couldn't make him happy, I was at home washing the coral lipstick off his work shirt collar.
The whole time I was just thinking, what had I done wrong? How could I let this happen to my marriage? Happily ever after slipped through my own fingers, and I had no one to blame but myself. I pushed too hard, I should've been patient. I should've put the chisel down. I should've tried harder. I should've left sooner. I should've never given him my number. I should’ve, should’ve, should’ve…
It’s so hard to move on when you feel you’ve lost a part of yourself. He rubbed his worst parts off on me, and now I'm so angry I can hardly even breathe. I don't see my Happy anymore, and I always feel the Sad. I don't remember the girl I used to be before he came along, and I'm afraid she's gone forever. I've tried to lure her out with the things I loved before, and I catch glimpses of her, in moments of spontaneous laughter and overwhelming joy, but it’s not the same as it used to be. Maybe that's why I'm still so angry, why I can’t move on.
I sometimes stalk his name on Facebook–he has a new wife and a newborn, and the smiles on their faces are like watching my own memories with a slight recast that was never explained. It looked like she did a better job than I ever did, at giving him everything he ever wanted. I always wonder if they’re as happy as they pretend to be. I wonder if behind closed doors, they scream and fight and she regrets her choice. I wonder if he ever talks about me, or if he keeps me close to his heart like a dirty little secret. I wonder why I wasn’t good enough, how I let this slip through my fingers… And I wonder if she thinks she’s the lucky one. I sometimes wish I could send her a message and save her the years of trouble no one saved me from.
All these years, all these regrets later, I still don’t wish I could be back in that position. I understand now that none of it was my fault. I didn’t deserve to be treated the way I was, and I didn’t deserve to feel like I deserved it. But what I won’t do, is hide behind a smile and ignore my complicated well of emotions. I won’t pretend to be something I’m not, for the sake of seeming cool or collected. I don’t care anymore if people think I’m crazy. I want to be real. And the real story is: I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m resentful. I’m grateful. I’m nostalgic. I’m truthful. I’m broken. I’m healing. I’m okay.