I was in Porto in Portugal on a night out with friends when I saw him. He had a slight rocker style from the 90s but worked on him. He made a beeline to me through the crowd with an intensive look in his face. I said the first thing that came into my head “You look like Jared Leto.”
When I think back to our first conversation, it was full of ‘negs’. Negs are backhanded compliments to undermine you. An example of a ‘neg’ is this: I wish you were brunette. I’m taking a break from blondes for a while.
We played verbal chess, and he left.
When he reappeared, he befriended our group. He suggested a cool bar, and we were happy to be led to sites by a local guide. The night developed, and the drinks continued to flow. I found myself alone with Bruno. We kissed, and one thing led to another, and I found myself back at his.
I stayed the night, and he walked me to my apartment the next morning. On my last day, he took me out for lunch. His behaviour wavered between eccentric and charming. I kind of like quirky people, so I went along with it. I also liked the idea of having a semi-love story to add to my review of Porto for when I got back to London.
We kept in touch. I found Bruno’s erratic messaging amusing; he would be friendly and then disappear. One day, he suggested that he would like to show me some places in Portugal in the North and would be happy to pay. I didn’t know him very well, but it seemed romantic.
Whenever I asked about an itinerary or what we would be doing, he responded that he hadn’t yet thought about it. A few days before the trip, he sent me a document where he had carefully crafted our itinerary. Each drop pin on the map showed accommodation, restaurants and activities. He had put a lot of thought to our three day trip for someone that had pretended not to care.
I arrived in Porto, and our first day we went to Braga. The red flags started to show. He would make a point of not doing everything I asked but with no real reason. For example, at times, he wouldn’t take my picture. As it was the beginning of our trip, I let it slide.
Everything he planned was excellent. After Braga, we went to Gerês national park. In the morning, he would tell me the itinerary for that day. It felt like a little adventure. Bruno had researched hikes and had even booked canyoning after I had mentioned that I had enjoyed my canyoning trip in Vietnam. Bruno was often videoing parts of our journey. He spoke only in Portuguese and sometimes got me to wave to the camera. I don’t know why I did it at the moment. I complied without thinking.
Another red flag was that he didn’t like it when I went out of his eyesight. He said it was due to concern, but I believe it was due to him being controlling. I saw it irritated him so I did it when I could. I’m happy I did this, but why could I have not been more vocal that this was not cool?
On the second night, we stayed at an Airbnb in the mountains. As we were in such a rural area, the Airbnb host offered that we could have a neighbour next door cook for us. We ate a hearty Portuguese meal of codfish, local vegetables, and potatoes and sat outside. The stars seemed so bright in the clear night sky.
I took the box wine out of the fridge and poured Bruno and me a drink. Bruno turned to me and said: “I don’t drink alcohol.” My mind went back to the first night, where we were drinking and singing through the streets of Porto. He always had a drink in his hand. He was buying rounds. “But, you were drinking in Porto with me?” He turned around and explained that he did that to make me feel safe and comfortable.
That I wouldn’t have opened up to his advances if I thought he was sober.
He then went onto explain step by step what he did that night to ‘get me’. He told me about his strategy of how he infiltrated our friendship group step by step, to attract me to him. I was horrified at the manipulation.
Bruno then went on to say that he had a girl he was dating in Porto “Why did you take me on this trip?” “Because I wanted to.” I doubted he had a girlfriend. I felt like he was testing me to see my reaction. “There are photos of us together on Facebook. You don’t have a girlfriend. Does she know about this trip?” He shrugged his shoulders and went inside.
I sat alone under the stars. What had just happened? I couldn’t pack my bags and go; I was in the middle of nowhere. I drank the box of wine in thought. I had one more night, and then I would be on a flight home. I knew now that I didn’t want anything to go further with Bruno. I rationalised in my head that I had one more day of sightseeing, I would get on a plane and leave.
I went to sleep in a different room. In the morning, I got up and got ready. Bruno greeted me, expecting some form of argument, but I didn’t mention anything. His demeanour changed instantly, and he was all sweetest and light. He thought he had won. We went to some waterfalls and did a canyoning trip. That night we went back to Porto.
The next morning he went to work. He made a point of being too busy to take me to the airport.
I said goodbye to him, knowing I would never see him again. I felt sad and cried when he left. Was this Stockholm syndrome?
Final goodbyes always make me sad, but I should have been happy to be alone again. I did feel sorry for him. As I could see through this facade that he was putting on, that he could be a good guy. Or did I want to see that?
I looked around his room. His English was excellent, so many books were in English. They were all related to persuasive techniques in building rapport and commanding respect.
I found a notebook where he had written mostly in English. Listed were different girls and how he had approached them. What had worked and what hadn’t worked, he analysed the situations with notes.
There were also the various stories he had told me about his childhood and past relationships. Beside each story were characteristics such as ‘loyal’ and ‘reliable’ about what the stories would convey to the listener. I had believed those stories at the time, but now I wasn’t so sure.
Bruno turned up and took me to the airport after all.
When I got home and was in a more comfortable environment, I reflected. I could see all the risks that I had put myself through. Thankfully I had no feelings for Bruno so that his manipulation didn’t work when I had left.
I questioned a lot about myself. I’m not a passive person, and I had realised to an extent what he was trying to do, and yet I stayed? I reassured myself this was to get the most out of the trip but was that right? A thought circled in my mind: was I not indeed a feminist as I allowed a man to control me?
Through curiosity, I googled him and found some interesting information. He was part of a PUA network. This PUA network of men trying to use psychological techniques to bed women was both horrifying and fascinating at the same time. I fell down internet rabbit holes on PUA forums and could see many of the tactics listed he had deployed on me.
I found Bruno had made an app and had advertised it in this community. The app was to help men chart their progress with various women and to compare them. It had made sense after seeing the notes that I had found.
I felt horrified by the videos that Bruno had recorded of our trip. Would Bruno use them on PUA forums to show how these techniques work? I had no idea. He had even hosted workshops on PUA in Portugal. Was I to be on some poor quality powerpoint presentation somewhere?
He messaged a week later gloating about his time spent in Lisbon. I replied only with his PUA handle that I found. He sent me a string of defensive and angry messages. He wrote that he could have chosen anyone to go away with and that I should be thankful that he wanted me. He also wrote that what he does is an art form, and he does what everyone does in social situations but only with more awareness. I told him that I had no idea from what he said what was real or a lie.
He resorted in telling me I was stupid and not to contact him.
He wished me ‘happy birthday’ and ‘Merry Christmas’ that year.
I never saw him again.