ON RED FLAGS AND GASLIGHTING
I noticed he was greedy, from the time we stopped by his friend’s place on our way to lunch and she offered us food. ‘No thanks’, I said smiling courteously at her gesture which I considered quite unnecessary since we already mentioned that we were on our way out. In what seemed to be less than a split second following my decline, Tobe startled me by enthusiastically requesting some chicken sauce with boiled rice, laughing heartily and explaining to me that ‘it won’t take time’ as though he were the one to do the cooking.
My shock increased as I watched him devour the chicken, piece by piece until he gave a satisfactory belch. ‘Baby, are we still going to the mall?’ I asked. ‘Will you still be able to eat?’ I continued, partly irritated. He nodded. I agreed. Hours afterwards, I couldn’t seem to suppress the thought of what had occurred. I felt hurt that our schedule had been interrupted because of his inordinate affection towards food. I eventually decided to excuse what happened and convince myself that it was a one off, thinking – Maybe he was just too hungry. I wouldn’t rather that he fainted. Plus, I had somehow managed to develop a depressive habit of overthinking at the time, so it didn’t take long before I convinced myself that it was the case.
I genuinely started to research the psychological causes of gluttony when I noticed a trend. Two weeks after the incident, we had our first major argument – about food (or the thought behind it as he had succinctly put it). Not again! It was his friend, Gboyega’s birthday anniversary and the day had started off on a good note, with highlights of candles, cakes, surprises and hearty wishes. I had a culture of celebrating people so I couldn’t really refuse when I was invited to a rave later that night at the bar close to their apartment, more so it was a walkable distance from my university. I also anticipated the hugs, kisses and perks that came with seeing my graduate boyfriend. During the celebration, Tobe teased me continuously about how I ignored him throughout the day and how those small small boys in my class could not love me the way he did. We laughed about it since I was already accustomed to this manner of jokes.
Shortly before I left, he bent over and whispered to me, ‘Ehen… Babe, did you know that Bolu cooked for Gboyega today?’
Bolu was Gboyega’s talkative girlfriend who was constantly in everybody’s business. I wondered why he asked me that and sincerely I thought it was a bit extra. I mean, a cake would have been just fine considering the fact that we attended the same University and mid-semester tests were well underway. But I had to be pleasant and besides, it was none of my business so I said that it was thoughtful of her to do so. For a moment, I thought I heard him say, ‘You should try to be more like Bolu’. So I laughed and asked him to repeat himself. He did, and I realized in that moment that the blaring speakers hadn’t affected my auditory senses. What happened afterwards is still a blur. I only remember I decided to maintain my self-respect by staying away from a man who didn’t value me.
And that’s exactly what I did – for about a week and a half – before he explained so cleverly and convincingly that what he really meant was that I should be more thoughtful about him since he lived by himself and was trying to gain his footing in ‘this brutal city of Lagos’. Soon enough, my room became a kitchen. I was cooking every other day and buying take outs just so I could have peace in my relationship.
You can bet that I made this make sense somehow: He was raised as an orphan. He was deprived as a child – it’s all that suffering that makes food so important to him. I continued to excuse the red flags. All through this period, I categorized these experiences as the regular hiccups couples faced.
After about three months of dating, I started to notice the way he looked at some of the girls in my faculty when he came visiting. There was a glow in his eyes that disturbingly lasted longer than a few seconds. I thought of speaking to someone about it but I realized that I had lost touch with most of my friends since we started dating. I didn’t know anyone who wouldn’t judge me for running to them only because I was having boyfriend trouble. Then I also remembered reading something about testosterone and young men throwing tantrums of various sorts until they eventually matured, so I let it go.
During this period, I caught him cheating on me a couple of times. The first time was with his seventeen year old neighbor. I was livid. I must have been about nineteen at the time and it still seems like a movie – what happened afterwards. He started crying hysterically and soon the focus moved from the soft heart breaking moans I heard from outside the door to how I was being illogical and selfish. It turned out I hurt him by my reaction because, you see, it wasn’t really about me. It was just something he was going through – a rough time. All these were resultant from the multiple molestations he experienced as a child and I just had to be empathetic. Sigh. How could I fault him for that? By now, you must be thinking I was sick or just crazy. Viewing things in hindsight, I know I should have urgently seen a psychiatrist – in an ambulance! But I promise you, it all made sense to me at the time. I was hurt but still I was unreasonably affectionate towards him because of his sufferings. He explained that the other girls didn’t mean anything to him and he didn’t really mean to cheat but these girls were constantly all over him. He kept falling into this temptation for the remaining two years of the relationship, dragging me through the mud each time he fell (especially when I knew the girls involved).
The next hurdle I encountered was his frequent outbursts of anger which were usually accompanied by the shattering of glasses, smashing of phones, occasional slaps and then a pool of tears – mine from apparent physical hurt and his from the emotional pain of what I made him do. All the while we both were completely isolated from the rest of humanity, I more than he. We lived in a pseudo world created by our own hands, for our destruction – one largely characterized by self-pity, chaos and masqueraded happiness. Nonetheless, I envisioned us growing old together – the worst case being the molestation of our children by their father, which I somehow felt I could avert.
I had lost my mind yet I was unaware. I was willing to risk everything in the hope that things will someday make sense. To be honest, I think the acceptance of my culpability concerning the turnout of events, increased my determination to make things work between us, so I could prove a point to all those ‘intrusive’ people who told me that my boyfriend was a psychopath.
I didn’t understand what was happening to me until I viewed my life through the lenses of a therapist friend of mine who I ran into at an event. It was easy to talk to him since we hadn’t seen in years and we didn’t have any mutual friends. It was only then I realized that Tobe had constantly been making me question my sanity and self-worth. He didn’t love me. Maybe he thought he did but he didn’t understand love at all. He was emotionally unhealthy and so was I. I still loved him though – in a way that I couldn’t explain.
When I told him I was breaking up with him (which took a lot of psyching up by the way), he threatened to kill himself because his life will no longer make any meaning. This made me stall a bit, but I still left. I’m surprised that he isn’t dead now. I know this because he posted a picture on facebook two weeks ago. I see that he has now relocated to Canada with his new girlfriend.
For months, I battled with my reality – I couldn’t believe that this had happened to me. I was young but I should have been smart enough to recognize emotional blackmails and cheap lies. A lot of times I still wonder if Tobe is okay. I wonder if he will ever be bold enough to get help or if he will keep hurting himself and those that care for him.
Maybe I was too quick to trust or fall in love. Maybe I still am. These days, I am unsure about a lot of things, so I’ve decided to take it a step at a time. However, one thing is certain – I will fight against isolation with every fiber of my being. I will build nontoxic and honest relationships with people while I uncover the gold within me and discover the things I genuinely like. No longer will I ignore my instincts. No longer will I undervalue myself. Never again will I be gaslighted.