Originally published on The Toast on January 12, 2015
When dating a narcissist, what you reveal about yourself in kinky roleplay can and will be used against you.
1. “Do you want daddy to put on his cardigan?” he asks, and then takes off his shirt, stripping down to one of his undershirts, which, on his big, burly body, you find impossibly sexy. He puts on the cardigan, which is the green of dried oregano, and he becomes Daddy, not your actual father, the one who died when you were a teenager, but your kinky, dirty, loving Daddy, the role he offered to play for you in one of the tender moments that would soon disappear, the one where he asked what he could give to you that your father couldn’t because he was gone. Kinky Daddy is the one who smooths your hair and your eyebrows and tells you you’re beautiful and takes you for ice cream before he bends you over the bed and spanks your ass for being a bad girl, and then fucks you silly for being a good girl. Being a good girl gets you a mouthful of daddy’s cock along with your ice cream. You are a grown woman of nearly forty, but Daddy makes you ride in the backseat of the car on the way to Dairy Queen.
Your Kinky Daddy wears a cardigan because your real daddy wore a cardigan. Your real daddy is dead, and though twenty years have passed since you lost him, the wound of his loss is ever present, something you live with and something that your new boyfriend, the one you’re deliriously in love with, wants you to tell him about. So you do. The cardigan is the one you bought for him in the early days of your relationship, when you told him that if he was going to date you, he needed to own a cardigan, before you explained why. This is the part of the story that might seem a little fucked up, but at the time you thought you’d met your perfect man, your soulmate, your confederate in kink, your co-conspirator in art, the man who will fuck you in all the weird, wonderful ways you missed over the course of your long, sexless marriage. Of course you shared your fetishes, your dreams, your personal suitcase of shit that makes you wonderful and broken and you.
You think you’re offering this man your heart and your soul, and so you let him be your Kinky Daddy, because it feels like an act of love, dirty, brutal love, just like you dreamed of for years. He says it will be healing for you, and you believe him, because you want him to heal you and you want to be healed. You let him fuck, literally and figuratively, your twenty-one years of dead father grief, the grief that has ravaged your body for most of your life. You lie beneath your boyfriend, beneath his weight and sweat and musky smell, and he whispers into your neck that he loves you, that you’re his sweet girl, that he’ll take care of you, that you’re such a good girl, and you say yes, Daddy, I love you, Daddy, and he pushes your knees apart and presses his cock into you, and before you come you start crying, and he rolls you over so the tears can fall on his chest.
2. I was in love with this boyfriend in ways our language fails to supply words to adequately describe. In cultures more passionate than ours, the word to describe what I felt for him would dance up close to the concept of death: duende plus morir sonando plus petit mort. I really did want to do the daddy/daughter roleplay because I wanted to show my boyfriend I could be as twisted as him. I wanted my boyfriend to love me ferociously, to show me that I was protected and adored. I wanted him to love me deep and hard and being a kinkstress who was willing to act out all the ways she could be Kinky Daddy’s whore was a way to secure that love. I thought that I was pushing what it meant to be vulnerable. I thought he was trying to help. I thought it was a big slice of love-cake. I happily lapped it up.
3. Looking back on it, you see how you were a target. You stood in front of a crowd of people at a sex-positive storytelling show and confessed you made a rookie’s mistake. You were freshly separated from your husband of a decade, lonely, unsexed, worried about finding someone to love again. Of course he wanted you. Of course he touched your big nose and thick eyebrows and the dent in your chest and called them beautiful.
You agreed to an open relationship because you’d lived so long in a marriage where your sexuality was not only ignored but rejected. You are half uncomfortable with the open relationship, and half excited to meet other men and have other lovers, but you also know you are so completely consumed by the intensity of your relationship with your boyfriend that other men seem boring. He keeps changing the answer to the question of what poly means specifically to him. He also tells you that he hates making compromises, and that someone shouldn’t have to give up something or someone they want because their partner is insecure. A sick feeling brews in the pit of your stomach, which you chalk up to poly anxiety, and keep moving forward with the relationship, because it is, in every way except one, a dream come true.
In the beginning you talk on the phone every night for hours, and then you fly to a far-away city to meet up with him, to make happen the first kiss you’ve been talking about for weeks. You check into a hotel room, where he removes your dress button by button, the perfect picture of the submissive he tells you he wants to be for you, and kisses your belly and eats your pussy, and tells you he loves you the first time with his lips still glistening with your juices. In such a short amount of time, he made you feel loved, wanted, and sexy, which you haven’t felt about yourself in years, if ever. A week later, he takes you to his mother’s house for dinner, and makes a big show of how his most recent ex never would have eaten the heaping helping of chicken fried steak smothered in gravy that his mother makes. You eat every bite, you big, beautiful, sexy Texas girl, and you thrill to the lust in his eyes as he watches you take bite after bite.
You agree to move across the country to his city, and you ask him to be monogamous with you for your first six months in Portland, because your moving to a new city and you need the bulk of his free time, and he agrees. When, a few days before you are set to move, he tells you he hooked up with a female friend of his he’d never mentioned before, because they had bonded over their suicide attempts, you find it scary to admit to him that you feel threatened by this. He tells you that she reminds him of another of his exes who was also suicidal. Later, he cries for her in front of you, telling you your monogamy request has broken her heart and his too. Your body shakes. You are made to feel like a deficient partner, as he is now telling you that your needs hurt him, and that the most attractive quality he finds in a woman is a history of suicidal ideation.
You almost canceled your move from Austin two days before. You thought about calling it off because you had a feeling in your gut that this was going to be a mistake, that leaving your comfy life and good friends for a guy was kind of ill-thought-out, but you are also crazy, madly in love, and yet you know that this love is chemical and unhealthy. He is drugs. “You smell like drugs!” you tell him and then plunge your face into his neck and take a big sniff. That you would imprint this severely on the first man in years who fucked you like he loved you comes as no surprise.
He is drugs. Certainly users of actual narcotics know deep in their guts that they’re making a mistake. But nobody thinks moving to Portland is a mistake, so you went.
You call your best friend from Portland and tell her you don’t feel safe. Emotionally safe. Every day, you cry for safety and security and you ask him for it and it never comes. There is some sort of Teflon coating around his ability to love you, something off-kilter that you can’t readily describe or recognize.
Though he says he’s not pining for the other woman a thousand times, you are a girl with girl intuition, and your spidey-sense goes berserk where she’s concerned. You know he isn’t being upfront with you about her, though he insists he is. And when you met her, she seems nice enough, but something feels strange about their interactions, and later, he looks at you with disappointment in his eyes and tells you that she thought you were “marking your territory” on him, and, devastated, you ask if that’s a bad thing, and apparently it is, and now he’s saying that your feelings are wrong, only he’s not saying that at all. He is confusing you on purpose. He is shaking you up. He is making you doubt yourself.
“That’s not poly,” your best friend (who is poly) tells you. “That’s being an asshole.”
The only time it feels safe to be with him is when he is wearing the green cardigan. When he is pretending. Kinky Daddy loves you the way you want your boyfriend to love you, but his love for you is waning, and you can feel it. You tell him to wear the cardigan, and he is Daddy, and he is kind and loving and lets you curl up beside him and cry into his armpit. When he is not Daddy, he is impatient, he tells you he finds your sexual needs intense and off-putting, he looks bored when he fucks you. When you go on dates with other men, he looks at you scornfully and accuses you of doing it to get back at him, and that it isn’t fair for you to use other men as a weapon against him.
There is a voice, loud, screaming, in your head telling you to leave. Even as much as you want to stay, as much as you desire his body and his attention, even though the thought of giving up the best sex of your life seems horrible, as much as it breaks your heart to abandon your Kinky Daddy, there is a screaming subconscious voice yelling leave. You feel sick all the time, mentally and physically, awash in stress hormones, cortisol, adrenaline. You are perpetually triggered into fight-or-flight mode. You cry more than you are happy. You realize you are losing your mind, that it’s only been three months in Portland and its already falling apart. You are falling apart. He’s dropping hints that maybe you’d be happier with someone else, that maybe you should go home to Austin. He tells you the suicidal girl wants to come and comfort him because of all the problems you’re causing him. You are drenched with anxiety over this, over his relationship with her, his refusal to say “if it hurts you this much, I won’t.” He tells you your feelings are not logical and therefore wrong. Feelings are feelings, but he insists yours are wrong and therefore he doesn’t have to honor them. He is convincing you that you are the problem, that you are asking for things you have no right to ask for. He is downgrading your relationship so he can get what he wants, which is no longer you. You are under so much stress and anxiety that you pass out in a grocery store, slumped over your cart in a blackout. After this happens, you cry in a heap on the couch because you are worried sick he’s going to dump you if you don’t acquiesce to his demands that he be allowed to go fuck that girl. While you are crying, he tells you her birthday is coming up and he’d like to go fuck her for her birthday. You are crying so hard you’re hyperventilating; you can’t answer the question. You squeak out a no. He snickers at you and tells you that you’re free to change your mind.
Sick and anxious and scared to death, you tell him that you’re having a nervous breakdown and that you need to go back to Austin. And strangely, he has no reaction. He simply shrugs and says, “Okay, if that’s what’s best for you.” He then tells you he’s going to Seattle and you know it’s to fuck the girl. He displays no sign of emotion. He is simply gone.
“That’s not poly,” your best friend tells you. “That’s abuse.”
What happens next is not normal post-break-up behavior.
You cry, but there is something else. You are agitated, nervous, and you feel like you have a walnut lodged in your brain. Your memory goes. You are slow and you cannot concentrate on a book or a TV show or a conversation that isn’t about what you’re feeling. You shudder and shake and wake up at 5am terrified and screaming. Your body is going through chemical withdrawal. He is drugs and now that he’s gone, you want your fix even worse. You try to go back. You call him on the phone from Austin and you can hear the searing contempt in his voice. He tells you he doesn’t want you, that you abandoned him, and that clearly there was something wrong with you, especially your daddy issues. That you’re still so fucked up over your father’s death and making a big deal out of it is cause for concern. He talks down to you like you are the most shameful, disgusting little child. He takes no responsibility for any of the break-up, or for any of your pain. It’s all your fault.
Meanwhile, you’re scaring the shit out of your mother, your close friends. All of whom say he isn’t worth it, that they never trusted him, that clearly there was a reason you left even if you didn’t understand it. Your best friend tells you he is an abusive sociopath but you don’t want to believe it. You replay the breakup in your head over and over. You call your mother screaming, begging her to take you to the hospital. With what feels like the craziest brain in the world, you remember saying, “he’s raping my soul.”
You are back home to Austin, checked into another best friend’s guest room like a hospital patient. You go on anti-depressants for the first time in your life. You fight with your therapist when she says you’ve been abused. Abused? Your therapist nods and it takes two months before you believe her. You are astonished that a relationship could be so toxic that it could destroy you. You see that. And there, then, the A word becomes queasily appropriate.
Narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissistic victim disorder. There are a hundred websites for victims of narcissistic romantic predatory mindfucks. The unbelievably perfect beginning you shared happened to you the same way it was described on thirty-six horrible websites. He came on strong and romantic early on, proclaiming his love for you before he really knew you, using your instant trust to discover your painful spots, your darkest and deepest desires, which you shared without much thought other than with the joy of feeling like someone wanted to love you. He told you everything you wanted to hear. And then, when you started acting like a real human being with needs and wants of your own, he told you what you could and couldn’t ask for, and shamed you for wanting the big, emotionally-loaded things he promised you, like giving you all the things your father couldn’t. The trauma followed after he let you know you weren’t that special after all. You watched your therapist scrawl traumatized! on the top of your intake sheet during your first appointment.
In a twisted way, you miss him, or at least the man he was in the beginning. You miss the fiction. The fantasy. He co-wrote your fantasy with you and now it’s dead and it destroys you to know that the perfect kinky love fantasy is dead and that in order to save your life and your sanity, you had to be the one to kill it.
You carry that corpse around until pills and time make it fade away.
You are worth so much, you remind yourself. Fuck fiction. Fuck anything that is not heart/empathy/compassion/listening/notfuckedupness. There are help-books and platitudes sewn on pillows and on your lips they sound trite but you believe them because they all add up to this: you are worth so much.