Jo is a mom of two stereotypical loud chihuahuas and has no qualm calling out misogyny, racism, and xenophobia.
It was a mistake to bleach my hair at 11. The near pixie haircut I got in high school, not threading my eyebrows until I was 20, waiting to come out until I was 19, delaying adopting a dog until I was 22, all mistakes.
Sending an "I miss you" text, colossally stupid.
In my defense, I was heartbroken, high, and full of wine. Okay, so those were excuses and not an actual defense, back off.
I'm being defensive now...moving on.
Of course, Mark responded. He said he missed me, his messages were much more romantic than I'm making it out to be, but that was the basis of it. We texted back and forth the rest of the week, I prolonged reuniting with him because I hated confrontation. We talked about how we had spent the two weeks we hadn't spoken, discussed his job search, my clients, places we could go out and visit, basically anything but the last in-person conversation we'd had.
It wasn't until a Sunday afternoon that we finally saw each other again. It was as awkward as I imagined it would be... for about 3 minutes. Then it was comfortable again.
It was easy to fall prey to Mark's charm again. And oh boy was it back.
He was sweet, attentive, and supportive.
The all-night conversations were back. The ones where hours passed and it only felt like minutes. The cute moments were back too, cuddling on the couch, parking in a scenic area and playing I-Spy, the innocent touches that meant so much more because they came from someone you love.
It was good for a while.
We'd even gone out dancing without fighting. At the time I thought that meant progress. Believing we were moving past our issues. It felt like he was opening up and starting to trust me.
Unfortunately, all paper men crumble.
It started subtle at first. Mark wasn't as affectionate. The jealousy crept up again. My intuition told me he was cheating. The stereotypical signs were there.
He was texting someone all the time. His attention was typically on me, but now...he smiled whenever his phone would ping. I recognized that smile. I'd seen it before every kiss we shared.
He would leave the room to answer calls. I went from spending almost every day with him to seeing him 3 times a week, if that. Our texts messages and phone conversations waned and so did our intimate moments.
I knew. I wouldn't admit it to myself, but I knew.
I did something, that to this day I'm embarrassed to admit, I checked his phone. I can't remember what we did throughout the day, all I know is that it ended with Mark passed out on his bed. He was absolutely drunk. His phone was next to him, unlocked. I contemplated the decision for a minute. Did I really want to be that woman? The "crazy" girlfriend who checked her boyfriends messages.
The answer, unfortunately, was yes.
My attention was immediately caught by one name, Alice. We had spoken about her before. She was an ex-girlfriend. I don't remember the details about their break up, but I do remember he told me it ended badly.
When I saw her name in his text messages my heart sank.
Why was he talking to her? Why was her number still saved on his phone?
I prepared myself for the worst, but was hoping for the best. I landed somewhere in between.
She asked to meet up with him multiple times and he constantly rejected her.
Although knowing he had refused her, I was still anxious. Now for different reasons. So she reached out and he declined.
Why not cut her off completely? I had an ex I was still friends with, but that relationship didn't end badly. Why keep someone around when things did crash and burn?
The one thing that became clear in the moment was that he was faithful to me. At the moment, that's all that mattered.
So I pretended that night never happened.
"Can you come over later. I want you to meet a friend of mine," that's how it started. Mark wanted to introduce me to someone named Maggie. I'd never met her, but he had mentioned her before. Maggie and I had even spoken on the phone once. She was in the same line of work, but getting paid less than what she should have. When Mark mentioned her situation I was quick to extend an interview invitation, which she ultimately declined.
When I arrived at Mark's home, Maggie was already there. I paid close attention to how they interacted.There was nothing overtly flirtatious about their interactions and yet I was still uncomfortable. They were always in close proximity to each other.
At times, I felt like I was intruding. Like I was over staying my welcome.
I was the first to leave and as I drove home I replayed all their interactions in my head. They never touched. No whispered side conversations. No side glances. Nothing that indicated they were anything more than friends.
Still, when I got home I cried. Bawled, actually.
It wasn't until we both left Mark, that Maggie and I compared notes and she confessed she felt the same. Suspicious. Doubting that Mark and I were just friends.
In the morning, I again made a colossally stupid decision. I convinced myself that I couldn't accuse him of cheating. I didn't have any evidence. They didn't even touch when we were all together. Even though my intuition was screaming at me to acknowledge the obvious.
I continued to wallow in silence.
Mark called a couple days later. Maggie was going to go dancing and she invited us to tag along.
I said yes.
And as it turns out, I had fun. Maggie was sweet and funny and couldn't hold her liquor. It was a hilarious night. We bonded the same way all drunk women do. Calling each other beautiful and complimenting our outfits.
Mark, on the other hand, went through an entire pack of cigarettes that night. I imagine he regretted every decision he made that night. Two drunk women, voicing everything that went through their mind. Yeah, I'd be nervous too.
By the end of the night I was nice and drunk. Like any upstanding citizen, I spent the night at Marks place, leaving the next morning when I was no longer intoxicated.
That was the last time I saw Mark.
I had a two day trip scheduled with a couple of friends. Let me tell you, there's something about being in the wilderness, with no wifi, and an array of strains that really let's people open up. I voiced my concerns to my friends and it felt so good to finally open up. To simply be able to voice my concerns was liberating.
By the end of the night, with the encouragement of my friends, I had come to a decision. I would confront Mark. I'd be honest and tell him why I was worried. Demand that he respect me enough to tell me the truth.
I never got the chance.
During our drunken debacle, Maggie and I had made plans to get together as soon a I returned to the city. She texted to confirm and ask what the plan was. Once that was out of the way, the conversation changed to crushes. She was coy at first. Not wanting to share who she liked. She did confirm I knew him.
And that was the moment my stomach sank.
"Who is it?" I sent the message with tears in my eyes.
"Mark, we've been hooking up for a while..." and just like that my heart was shattered. It's incredible how hurt and sadness manifest physically. I can remember my head spinning, my body aching, a pain in my chest, and wanting to throw up. This is the man that I loved. The one who I planned on inviting to a family dinner. Something I hadn't done with any previous partner.
I took the time to calm down before calling her.
I told her about our relationship, that we had been together almost a year, and that I suspected he was cheating.
She cried. She had no idea.
Maggie apologized profusely. She wanted answers and I did too.
I called Mark after my conversation with Maggie. He denied it. He said she was crazy, they had been in a relationship before we met and had remained friends after their break up. She would occasionally try to seduce him when she was drunk, but it never went anywhere.
The lie detector proved that was a lie.
We broke up. Obviously.
Maggie and I did get together like we had planned. She confirmed they met in April and dated briefly, but that Mark had broken up with because he "no longer found her attractive."
We were already dating at the time.
She went on to say that they had reconnected after he reached out to her two months earlier. Continuing where they had left off. In fact, they had sex the night I left on my trip.
Out of the 9 months we spent together, he spent 4 with her. I'm sure there are other women out there he cheated on me with. I don't care to know how many.
I spent months wondering why I wasn't good enough?
Why he couldn't be happy with just me? Was I not pretty enough? Thin enough? Smart enough?
Why wasn't I enough?
I spent months on a man who didn't work. A man I had to lend money to. A man who's phone I paid for. A man who would get drunk and accuse me of cheating. A man who would get upset if I didn't tell him I had gone out with friends. A man who liked keeping tabs on me. A man who was emotionally manipulative. Who would throw things when he was upset, who's father had to intervene on occasion. A man who took advantage of the love I had for him.
I dated again. I had one short lived relationship and a couple of flings here and there. My relationship with Mark haunted me though. I had never been cheated on before. Never felt so broken before.
That relationship left me reeling.
It took a while, I'm still going through the process, but I've been working on rebuilding myself. I still have days when I'm not feeling like my best self. I'd be lying if I said I didn't. However, my self esteem isn't what it once was. By recognizing my self worth, loving all my imperfections, acknowledging what I bring to the table, I've grown as a person.
I've learned to communicate my needs, to be confident enough to speak up, not hide and shrink away when someone's upset me. I've learned to use my voice. Most importantly, I've learned what love isn't.
It isn't feeling insecure in a relationship. It isn't being gaslit by the person who claims to love you. It isn't being manipulated. It isn't being made to feel ashamed of who you are. Love shouldn't make you feel worthless.
© 2019 Johanna Sanchez