Chris brought me flowers every week. Chris wined and dined me and took me on spontaneous romantic getaways. Chris called when he said he would, made plans in advance, opened doors, and held hands. But when he wasn’t doing all of those things, Chris was also kind of an a**hole.
There is a moment in every doomed-to-fail union when your relationship jumps the shark, whether you know it or not. Maybe he forgets to calls one time too many or cancels again. Maybe you just wake up one day and realize you’re tired of his face. For me, that moment with Chris came when I told him that my work schedule would make it impossible to hang out for a couple of days. On the brink of a giant promotion, I was coming in early and staying late, and I warned him I would be too busy to grab dinner in the coming 72 hours.
It is a nice feeling when your boyfriend expresses interest in seeing you often and is disappointed when you can’t get together. It’s most certainly not a nice feeling to sit and watch in horror as a grown 36-year-old man gets red in the face, curls his lips into an exaggerated pout, stamps his feet, and makes whining sounds. Was Chris just passionate, or was I dating a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? It was his first temper tantrum, but not his last, and in the months following, I was treated to a couple a week as his list of grievances grew: I made him feel rejected when I wasn’t up for having sex for a third time before noon; I couldn’t hang out often enough or for long enough; I took too long to answer emails and too long to speak when he asked me a question; I was too focused on work. Chris yelled. Chris cried. Chris hurled insults, names, and, I soon learned, objects—something he confessed to after the fact: apparently, I had set him off by typing too slowly when we chatted online.
I thought I had dated them all—cheaters, liars, addicts, commitment-phobes—but I had never dated a man who so much as raised his voice at me or called me names, let alone screamed at me on a regular basis. And the more often I saw this petty, ugly side of Chris, the more I began to dread his good side, which he threw in my face whenever we fought.
Still, it was hard not to get caught up in the moments when he doted on me and treated me well, and as I let myself get swept away, I willingly swept the red flags under the rug. Until, just as quickly as it began, it ended.
We had had another argument the night before, and leaving the office uncharacteristically early the following evening, I hopped in a cab with a peace-offering cupcake in hand. When I called him outside his apartment, he snapped at me. “What did you think, I just sit around waiting for you all day, twiddling my thumbs?” Flustered, I stammered out an apology for nothing in particular. “No! Not at all,” I defended myself. “I figured you might not be around, but I just wanted to do something sweet.” He continued ranting about my lack of respect for his time before hanging up on me.
He broke up with me the next day … until later that night, when he apologized for flying off the handle. And, my head still spinning, I found myself apologizing, too. As I heard the words coming out of my mouth—defending his assassinations of my character, struggling to keep up with him as he paced around his apartment, ranting and raving—I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was doing the wrong thing; that what I should have done was storm out of his place without a second look back. We decided to get back together, but hours later, still expressing his frustrations and wildly gesturing, he threw his hand up in the air. I flinched and recoiled.
He looked shocked. “I thought you were going to hit me!” I finally spat out. He looked horrified, assuring me he would never, but the damage was done just the same. While he slept next to me, I spent the night plotting how I could end things without another confrontation.
I could have gotten my beauty sleep, as it turned out. By morning, he had another change of heart and called me at work to break it off again. I hung up the phone and laughed—I hadn’t even had a chance to tell my friends about the first breakup, and he had already broken up with me a second time.
Unsurprisingly, the cycle didn’t come to an end when the relationship did. A couple of days after the breakup phone call, he decided—again—that he had made a mistake. And for the next few months, about as long as we were together in the first place, he offered tear-filled apologies, declarations of love, and promises to change.
I answered his calls at first, even agreeing to see him a few times. For a while, he seemed like a changed man. He was patient, calmer. But he could only hold it together for so long, and eventually, I was treated to another one of his fits. True to form, he apologized shortly after and asked if we could continue to be friends. “We have so much history between us.”
History is right. I haven’t taken his calls since.