Updated: Jun 7
But only once. Not sure what he saw in me. Surely not victimhood…
He did a double take as he passed me walking through the mall, and stopped to chat me up. He reminded me a little of a young Frank Langella, so I let him. I’d just moved to Canada.
“I’m sorry. I felt compelled to say something. You look so much like a friend who’s recently died.”
It was one of the weirdest pickup lines ever, but I fell for it because of prior precedent in my family.
My mother’s second love had done a double-take on the bus when he saw her. She said he looked so stunned she believed him when he said Mom looked exactly like the woman he’d been in love with who died back in Germany.
He and Mom fell in love, but the romance went nowhere fast because he was already married.
So, like mother, like daughter, n’est-ce pas? Well, except for the married part.
His name was Sam, and he wanted to take me to lunch. Okay, I said, but first I have to apply for my Ontario Healthcare Insurance Program card. He went with me, and we talked in the waiting room.
He seemed okay, nice and friendly, and I kind of liked him, so I thought I’d better drop the bomb that ended things quickly with a lot of Yankee men: I told him I didn’t want children.
“Neither do I,” he said. Well okay, then!
We couldn’t just eat in the mall, it seemed; he had some special place he wanted to take me. Foolishly, I got into the car with him and we drove somewhere. This is what I call women ‘doing dumb shit’ that puts us in danger.
Dumb Shit I’ve Done I didn’t get raped, but I sure made it easy for them.
Spoiler alert: Nothing bad happened.
We went to some restaurant on the water — probably Lake Ontario. I had no idea where I was.
He’d been pretty free with the compliments, oh how pretty you are, you’re so pretty, I just love being with you, blah blah blah. Guys say a lot of stuff.
There was something not right about him. Kind of phony.
He asked a lot of questions. He seemed eager to establish an early intimacy.
“What are your plans for this summer?” he asked.
I mentioned I was going to a family wedding in New York in September.
“I’m going with you,” he informed me.
“Um, excuse me?”
“I’m going with you,” he stated.
“Oh no you’re not.”
I gave him A Look. “Because we don’t know each other well enough.”
“We will by then.”
“Why are you worried about September? You don’t even know if we’re going to make it to the weekend yet.”
“Why wouldn’t we?”
“You’re not going.”
“But I want to meet your family.”
“I’ll decide when you’re ready to meet my family.”
Wisely, he dropped it. There’s nothing that sets a control freak back on his heels quite like an early sign that his victim doesn’t take any shit.
Later he pushed my hand down and took the fork from me. “Let me,” he said, and he tried to feed me himself.
What was I, two? “No,” I said, and I took my fork back. Did he think that was romantic? I found it infantilizing.
After a little more conversation — oh yeah, we were sitting side by side, he didn’t want to sit across from me — he announced, “I’m in love with you.”
I crinkled up my face and said something along the lines of, “What the hell?”
“It’s true,” he replied. “I’ve fallen in love with you.”
“After only two hours?”
“Oh, cut it out!” I spat. “You’re not in love with me. That’s bullshit.”
“I am,” he insisted.
I’d had enough. This afternoon was growing tiresome. I realized I was somewhere in or around Toronto, nowhere near a bus line as far as I knew, with some joker I’d met at the mall and had idiotically gone somewhere in a city I didn’t know very well.
Worst came to worst, I could call my roommate to come get me, but that would be supremely embarrassing, not to mention a huge inconvenience for him.
Still, I didn’t feel like I was in danger. I’ve gone through life largely convinced I’m not the sort of woman who gets raped and/or murdered. So far so good.
He asked a few more questions, but I wasn’t in the mood anymore.
“Tell me your hopes and dreams,” he said.
“Tell me your hopes and dreams,” he smiled.
Who the hell says that?
What were my hopes and dreams? To make a new life in Canada. To find a job soon. To finish my dark fantasy novel and get it published. To be a famous writer. To meet a great guy and fall in love, after so much disappointment in Connecticut.
“I don’t have any,” I stated.
“What? How can you not have any? Everyone has hopes and dreams!” Sam cried.
“Sure you do. Tell me.”
“Nope. I don’t have any. Sorry.” Stated with that smug sarcasm that says screw you, buddy boy!
He tried, but he couldn’t pry any hopes or dreams out of me. I was done. I sat back. “I need to get home,” I said. “I have to start making dinner for my roommate.” Or some other stupid lie, I don’t remember.
I wondered if he’d return me or just abandon me, but we got into his car and went back to the mall. He dropped me off there. The conversation was more real, less phony, so we kissed before I got back on the bus. Maybe he wasn’t so bad after all.
Today, that would be the end of it, but back then I was trying to turn over a new leaf. My last five years in Connecticut hadn’t been good after my ex and I split up. I call them my Angry Drunken Bitch years.
But, there was enough about Sam to like and we’d talked a lot, so when he reached out for another date I agreed. I wanted to be less picky and judgemental. I’d been rather unfair to men, and my last foray in Connecticut, with a customer I’d met through work, hadn’t gone anywhere.
The second time Sam called, I had planned to get a haircut.
“Cancel it,” he said. “Let’s go do such-and-such.”
I was a little taken aback, but I was flattered he wanted to see me so badly, so I did.
The next time, I was en route to the salon when he called. “Let’s go do something."
“Not this afternoon. I’m going to get my hair cut,” I said.
“No. I did that last time.”
“Do you have to do this today?” he asked.
“No, but I cancelled it last time for you. This time I’m getting my hair cut. Some other time, Sam.”
For some reason, he expected me to just drop everything when he decided we should go do something.
Once or twice I reached out to him, but he said he had other plans. I didn’t ask him to cancel them. I wondered if it was another woman, but I didn’t ask. None of my business; he wasn’t my steady boyfriend.
One day we went out to lunch. No annoying comments or pushy suggestions this time. Then we went to see the movie Cinderella Man. All was fine until he tried to push my head down on his shoulder. I pulled it up again. He pushed it down again, more forcefully.
“Stop it, that’s annoying,” I hissed. What the hell was wrong with him? Why was he trying to force this intimacy? It was like when he tried to feed me. And told me he was in love with me. He’d said the love thing several times since but I never said it back, and he didn’t ask why. I didn’t believe him either. Five years of bad dating experiences taught me not to believe anything men said anymore.
We went back to my place and made out on the couch a little, then he had to go.
And after that, I heard nothing. Not a thing.
I was pissed. Still quite insecure, I had outdated ideas of how dating was supposed to work. I’d been out of it for awhile. The ex and I were together for over seven years, with a split in between, so by the time I moved to Toronto things had changed a lot, but no one cc’d me the memo. I thought if Sam really cared he’d call. It was out of the question that I call him. I don’t remember if I was just being an idiot or testing him.
The silence drove me insane. My roommate and I decided to spend a weekend at Algonquin Park, a huge nature preserve north of Toronto to shoot some moose.
Relax! This is the only way we shoot moose. Although that mofo does look like he’s contemplating pulling some shit with me, doesn’t he?
I enjoyed myself, but I also stewed a lot. I never believed Sam’s love bullshit, but it always aggravates me when men meet my low expectations. So much for his great love if he couldn’t be bothered calling!
Then I accidentally almost dialed him since I’d either forgotten or not gotten around to deleting his number from my mobile. I hung up quickly. A day or so later, he called, seemingly out of the blue.
“I’m so glad I found you!” he exulted. “I’d accidentally deleted your number, and I couldn’t remember it. I tried everything to get it again but I couldn’t remember your last name either. Finally I saw you called!”
“How come you didn’t have my number written down somewhere?” I asked as I rode the bus.
“I never thought to do that, I’m sorry.”
“I thought you were madly in love with me. If that were true you’d have made damn certain you wouldn’t lose my number.”
“I should have, I apologize.
“Or bothered to learn my last name.”
“Uh, yeah. Where are you?”
“On the bus.”
“Well get off. I’ll pick you up wherever you are. Let’s go out to dinner.”
“I can’t. I just got a job offer and I have to go do the paperwork.”
“Can’t you do it some other time?”
“NO! Sam, for god’s sakes, it’s a new job!”
“Okay. I really want to make it up to you for losing your number. I’ll take you out to a really nice place I know. I’ll pick you up tonight, then.”
“No, I have plans tonight,” I lied.
“Cancel them,” he said.
“Fuck you,” I replied.
“Thursday night is better. We’ll go out to dinner Thursday night.”
“I can’t. I have plans.”
“Cancel them,” I said.
“Because I can’t.”
“Just call her and tell her you’ll meet her some other night.”
“It’s not another woman.”
I highly doubted that, but I honestly didn’t care anymore. “Thursday night is best for me. If you want to go out, that’s the night to do it.”
“I can’t. I told you. I have plans.”
“I’m expected to drop everything when you call. Now, I don’t actually give a damn whether we go to dinner or not. I’ve over you. You want to do this, we do it Thursday night. We do it on my time now. Otherwise forget about it.”
“I can’t cancel.”
“Okay, we’ll just forget about it, then.”
“I still want to take you out!”
“Nah,” I said. “I’m over this. You disappeared. Out of sight, out of mind." Not true, but I’ll bet he believed me.
I always wondered what Sam’s deal was. Everyone’s obsessed with narcissists, so I wondered if maybe that was his problem, but I tend not to go with pop-psychology labels, so I figured maybe he was just a manipulative little bastard.
At any rate, I lost no further sleep over him. That Cancel them crap had gotten on my nerves more than anything else.
It wasn’t until I watched a TEDx talk by a domestic violence social psychologist named Dina McMillen that I realized there was a possible explanation I’d never considered: That I was being groomed for an eventual abusive relationship. McMillen tells of over 630 violent domestic abusers, (95% male) she’s interviewed over the years in a client-doctor relationship in which she’s prohibited from telling on them. Without fear of punishment, these men have ‘dropped the mask’ and spoken with her quite freely about what they did to their partners, displaying male privilege at its ugliest and often evincing no empathy for their objectified partners.
McMillen believes our solutions to domestic violence are too reactive rather than proactive. She advocates teaching young girls and women ‘in about two hours’ the ‘secrets’ abusers don’t want women to know about their psychological manipulation techniques.
The mind-blowing, eye-opening takeaway for me was when she ran through the list and Sam ticked off several.
He needs you to trust him, plan a future with him, and fall in love with him.
He pulled ‘too much, too soon.’ Early claims of love; artificial intimacy attempts; telling me what we were going to do; planning for our future together. All at the first meeting. I wondered if he’d read The Game or something that told him women think you’re serious when you speak about the future with them.
McMillen spoke about pushing for constant contact but Sam didn’t do that. He did, however, want my attention like a cat: When it was convenient for him.
He tried to get me to confide in him before he’d built trust.
He expected me to drop everything and be at his beck and call, although he didn’t get mad when I wouldn’t. However, McMillen noted that often women go along with the little decisions these guys constantly make for you because we want to be liked and thought of as easygoing. Which I did. I’ve long believed our need to be ‘liked’ by men is one of the biggest vulnerabilities in female psychology. Whenever I’ve done dumb shit that put me in danger, like getting into a strange man’s car, it’s been because I wanted him to ‘like’ me.
She offered several other red flags but you can watch the video for yourself. I strongly encourage it; it’s not graphic with no descriptions of violence. She was only able to speak very generally about her subjects and not identify anyone.
“Holy fuck,” I said as I watched.
She didn’t even list all the warning signs. It would take too long. She wrote a book about it, though.
Sam complained a few times about my ‘walls’ when he tried to get too close to me. He was right, but I felt pretty justified. He telegraphed his phoniness at every turn. I wonder what might have happened if I was more of a victim. Or what I might have done if I’d met him when I was more emotionally naive and trusting. Would Sam have had better luck taking advantage of me? Maybe, although I don’t think it would have advanced to emotional or physical abuse. I’ve never been abused by a man and don’t believe I’d have tolerated it from anybody.
Do You Have A Thing For Abusers? Knowing the red flags will help you avoid them
When I was young, I was, like many women, easier to manipulate with the carrot-and-stick approach. It’s unconscious and not specifically male; women do it too. It’s when you give someone just enough attention to keep them interested but you’re really not that interested yourself.
Didn’t understand that one until I read the book He’s Just Not That Into You. I recognized how this had been done to me several times, but also, that I’d done it a few times myself. Wish I’d had this book when I was younger.
I hope others will take lessons from this and realize that abusers can’t abuse you unless you let them. First and foremost, recognize their need to control and establish authority and resist it. And get out early.
Because they can’t control a woman who won’t take their shit.
This article first appeared on Medium in January 2020.