They met at the workplace and began dating. A few months later he moved in with her, to her own place. As a divorced man, having owned no property (he never told her whether he ever had one and whether he left it to his ex), he was happy for not having to extend a contract on a leased apartment.
So far so good: They were “in love”. They dreamt about life together, “until death will do us part”. They enjoyed coming back home after work, sitting on the bench, looking at the sunset, eating dinner together, with a good bottle of wine, night after night, as if they have done it for decades.
… And time went by. And they gotten used to each other – whatever “used” means. And they got accustomed to life’s routine, life’s structure together.
And then one day, out of the blue (or was it a stormy day?) he asked her if it will be o.k. that he’ll bring his adult son to live with them; he is 20, unemployed at the moment. Would she mind?
We don’t know whether she minded or not. We can believe that, in all probability, she didn’t mind. After all, who will mind when there is such a great love between them? And besides, what’s love after all, if not coming towards your partner, accommodating his needs and requests?
So the 20 year old son moved in with them.
So far so good: She felt like a stepmother (even though she wasn’t much too older than the boy. But, alas, not having children of hers, why not “pretend” and play “as if” he was her child? And besides, what shouldn’t she do for her partner?)
You would have thought that the story ended here. But no: The end is yet to come.
Some months went by; the son was still living at her home (claiming that “as soon as he finds a job he will rent his own place”). She felt somewhat betrayed, cheated, but said nothing. After all, why rock the boat? Why take the chance that her partner will get angry at her? This is exactly what she doesn’t need, that he will get angry at her, and God forbid: he might even leave her!
So she said nothing (maybe now is the time to mention that she and her partner have seldom, if at all, communicated openly about issues. After all, as a “man”, he didn’t talk much. And being who she was, she didn’t encourage him to share. How they spent their evenings together looking at the sunset is unknown; apparently in silence).
Yet, everything seemed to be going “smoothly”. In silence, with not much communication, but smoothly (whatever that means).
But then one day – as it often happens – sitting by herself on the bench drinking wine (did she know why he was late coming home that day?), it finally downed on her – how did it happen now and not earlier is a riddle – that she is the one paying for all household expenses, for herself, for him, for his son: for all three of them!
Oh God! She cried within herself, how didn’t I notice it before? How could I be so stupid? Have I been taken for the ride? She asked herself; has he been taking advantage of me?
These thoughts shocked her. NO, this is not the way she wants to think about him; this is not the way she wants to think about their relationship.
Could it be that until now she hasn’t paid attention to these issues out of the “enormous love” she felt towards him? Could it be that she was still driven by the early promise they made to each other when he first moved in with her that “what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine”, neglecting to see that except for “so much love” he contributed nothing?
We don’t know. It is almost impossible to know what’s going on in one’s head, especially in the head of someone who is willing to sacrifice herself “at the altar of a relationship”; who is willing to be taken advantage of “for the sake of love”, just so that she won’t be left alone.
Was she aware of the fears and needs that controlled her?
We don’t know. People are often subjective when thinking about themselves as well as about the relationship they are having. Many behave one way or another based on fears and needs which control them and drive them to self-sabotage and self-sacrifice themselves.
In addition, many often refuse to acknowledge this to be the case; often, they find a thousand and one excuses to justify to themselves why they behave the way they do, why they tolerate their situation. Often, they get angry at whoever attempts to shake them off their perception of reality and show them the true nature of their relationship.
So we don’t know what was going on in her head; what other thoughts were running there, back and forth, while she was sitting on the bench, drinking her wine, waiting for her partner to come home; we don’t know whether she contemplated what to tell him; whether to confront him. We don’t know whether she thought to herself “enough is enough!” and whether she felt ashamed of being taken for the ride for so long.
… or whether she re-affirmed to herself that she is a loving person; and that he loves her – in his own way – and that their relationship is “just fine”; maybe not terrific, but better than being alone.
I don’t know.
But if, by any chance, you know, please tell me:
Is it love? Is it abuse? Is it neediness?
Doron Gil, Ph.D., an expert on Self-Awareness and Relationships, is a university teacher, workshop leader, counsellor and consultant, and the author of: “The Self-Awareness Guide to a Successful Intimate Relationship. In his book Dr. Gil shows you how you sabotage your relationships and what stands in your way from successful intimacy.