To the Next One
By Eve Rickert
So, you’re the new one. He was lining you up, at the end, though he told me he wasn’t. You probably saw me, trying to make sense of the difference between the evidence of my eyes and what he was telling me. Did I seem unstable to you?
But now I know. What I saw was real.
I know there is nothing I can say right now that will change your mind, or your feelings. I know the intensity. I know the feeling of being swept off your feet. The feeling of safety. The feeling that someone gets you. (“We speak the same language,” he said to me, at the beginning. Has he said that to you yet? “We fit together.”) You’ll be having adventures, and amazing sex, and you’ll feel alive, and inspired, and just so, so special.
This message is for later. I know you cannot hear it now.
I’m sure you know that he is decades older than you. I do not know how you feel about this, why you think this is — if you know that he is drawn to you because of this, not in spite of it. What you may not know is that you are the typical age for his new relationships. He will obfuscate this pattern, so you have to look, really look, and ask questions, to see it. There is a reason he chooses women so much younger, why the age of the women he chooses never changes, even as his does. With time, this reason will become clear to you. It’s not because you’re special. It has to do with boundaries, with what we will accept in a relationship, what our standards are, what our basis for comparison is. It has to do with the way we look at him, the way we look up to him, the way a man like him looks to women like us. We haven’t yet learned the true cost, to so many others, of that childlike joy and wonder that is so exciting to us.
It’s okay. You’ll learn. Someday, you’ll never see men like him the same way again. I just wish you didn’t have to learn like this.
You’re probably already giving him money. If you aren’t now, you will be soon. You may not be supporting him directly, but you’ll be paying to go see him, and paying to bring him to you, and paying for your adventures together. You’ll probably feel sorry for him, that his poverty is someone else’s fault, the cause of something another woman did to him (is that woman me? He told me the same story too, about another one), that his brilliance isn’t valued enough. Or you’ll invest in him because it feels worth it, because you can’t be with him if you don’t. Or eventually, because you feel like you don’t have a choice.
We all did it. The damage he’s left behind, with other women, must be approaching $100,000 now — not counting the cost of our lost time and potential, the lost years of our lives.
I wanted to help him. We all did.
I know you’ve been taught to mistrust me. I know you were before we ever met. I know you and I never stood a chance. It’s amazing, how insidiously he can do this, how he can sow distrust inside what seem on the surface to be words of love and admiration.
But now that I’m gone, I know there will already be another. Another Bad One. There always has to be. This is misdirection. If there’s a Bad One, someone limiting his choices, or someone unreasonably hurting him, then you’ll always be looking at her, and never directly at him. You won’t recognize that he’s making these choices; you won’t recognize that she doesn’t deserve how he’s treating her. She’s needy, or codependent, or anxious, or jealous, or insecure, or they’re just incompatible. You’ll wonder why he’s with her, why they don’t let each other go.
You won’t recognize the role she serves.
It feels good, doesn’t it, to be you and him against an outside threat? It feels good to be the special one. The Good One. The one who understands him. The one who is secure, and strong, and can (finally) make it all work.
You won’t see the cost to you until it’s too late.
And the Bad One, especially the past Bad Ones: we serve another purpose. You won’t want to be like us. You’ll start policing yourself, your feelings, what you ask for, long before he ever has to even try. You’ll be afraid to call things out, afraid to get angry, afraid of having any effect on his other relationships, afraid of the fatal sin of Not Being Polyamorous Enough.
There may be a time when you won’t remember you were good at polyamory. So I am telling you now, so you can remember later, that you are. You are not jealous or insecure or possessive or controlling, you know how to build relationships with your metamours, you know how to communicate and manage expectations and de-escalate group conflict, you know how to feel compersion.
Maybe you’ll laugh at this now. Of course you’re good at this. Hold onto that. Take notes, save pictures. Keep a journal. Remember what it was like. Come back here in a few years if you need a reminder.
There may already, now, be things that don’t quite feel right. Pieces that don’t really seem to fit. You are probably already normalizing and learning to manage the confusion, the mixed signals, the disappointment. Did you remember that wrong? Did you have that conversation? Did he really say that? Are you asking too much? Is it you? Will it get better?
It isn’t you. It won’t get better.
If there was one thing I could give you, it would be for you to be able to listen to that little voice inside you telling you things are not quite right. Trust yourself, not him.
I know there is nothing I can say to you to turn you away from what you want to do now. I know this has to play out, the way it has with so many other women. So I want to say some things, now, that might come back to you when it’s time. Because if I could have gotten out even two months, a month, a week earlier, it would have made a difference to me. I hope this will make a difference to you, someday.
You could start with asking some questions.
Where are his exes? He can produce one or two, sure. But do you know how many women have been in relationships with him? How many of us are still in contact with him? How many of the women who have lived with him still want anything to do with him? What does he say about us? Isn’t it just a little…strange…how he describes us all? How it’s never really anything he did that made us want nothing to do with him — at most, if it wasn’t us, it was something another woman made him do?
Is he, do you think, drawn to women who are insecure, unstable, controlling, crazy? What is it that he says he’s attracted to? What is it that he says he’s attracted to in you?
You know. And he chooses the same things in all of us. He chooses, as one ex has said to me, the bright lights.
You are like us. You are a bright light. You are smart. You are brave. You are strong. You are resilient. You possess a deep, deep well of empathy.
And I’m sorry, but these things will be turned against you. You will use your intelligence to try to solve the endless puzzles he puts before you, put together the pieces that just never quite fit. You will use your courage to overcome the fear you start feeling when you can never know quite what is real, and challenge yourself to push through your discomfort, silence that little warning voice inside you. You will use your strength to manage your emotions, and his, and to carry the weight of maintaining the relationship — and eventually his other relationships — for both of you. With your resilience, you will keep trying, keep going, keep getting back up, always sure that this time, you can make it work. With your empathy, you will center him, and perform labor for him, and for your metamours, and you will become angry when they hurt him — as angry as if they had hurt you, maybe more. You will begin to feel more protective of him than you are of yourself.
And over time, you may forget that you are any of these things. You may start to feel like…us. Like the Bad Ones. You may fear this, and try harder. You may try until you break.
If you break, it is not your fault. It’s not because you didn’t try hard enough. It’s not because you weren’t strong or resilient enough. Everyone has limits. He found yours.
I hope you remember this, when you break.
Because if you do, it will be your turn. You will become the Bad One. And there is real, real danger here. Because you will be punished. You will be shunned. You will be shamed. By people who had been your friends — your “family.” You will be defined, told who and what you are. And you may want, desperately, to prove that you’re Not Like That. You are a Good One.
Please, please do not do this. It will destroy you.
You are good enough. Now. Then. You were always good enough. You have nothing to prove. And if you give in to this, if you go back, try to win your way back in, you will forget who you are.
More questions: Where are his friends? Not just people he knows online, or admirers he may visit from time to time, but his friends? People who have known him for decades, known his partners, one after another, in whom he confides, for whom he performs labor, and them for him? At what point in his life does his current social circle seem to just…start from nothing? What happened before that? Where are the people who knew him before?
Who got the friends after his breakups? All of them?
What happens to people who challenge his narrative?
Where are the women’s stories? He has so many stories, doesn’t he, about so many women? He knows so much about us. What we thought. What we felt. Who we were. And yet it never really quite makes sense, does it? There’s always some mystery to it, how we can all be so…irrational. Unstable. Hysterical. Unkind.
Are women just like that, do you think?
You may forget, as I did, that the women have our own stories. That we define ourselves. And you will learn, you can learn, if you ever choose to, that when we own our stories, when we are allowed to claim them and stand in them, they suddenly make sense. Pieces fit that didn’t before.
The women’s stories are the missing pieces. When things don’t make sense, when they’re falling apart, remember that. Our stories hold the key.
And you can have them. If you ever ask. This was what I found. When I was ready, they were here for me. All of them. All the women, and their stories. When I was drowning, their hands reached in and pulled me up. And bit by bit, story by story, built me a raft.
And we will for you, too. There is a place to go, when it’s over. It will hurt, you may feel like you’re dying (it’s not supposed to feel like that — but you won’t remember that until it’s finally over). But you’re really just breathing. For the first time, maybe in years. We’re here. We’re waiting for you.
Because it wasn’t you. It was never you.
You’re not the first.
You won’t be the last.
It’s not your fault.
You’re not alone.