Confused at Best — Psychopath at Worse. Tormenting Myself.
Caroline is the author of Fairly Smooth Operator: My Life Occasionally at the Tip of the Spear, now available on Amazon. She is PhD student at the University of San Diego and CIA and Coast Guard veteran.
Finally home. Sort of.
I sat in my car, lights still on, the sun had set hours ago. I was a few houses down from my apartment, feeling lucky to have found a spot near by. It was dark, but I was home earlier than usual from my class that usually ended at 9pm.
I felt lucky, but unsettled. Not ready to go home. I took out my phone. A situation had been bothering me for a while and it was time to confront it instead of waiting. This too shall pass. What a load of bullshit. I meditated, I tried to focus, but the feelings of discomfort only grew worse.
I typed on the glowing screen, in the notes section instead of immediately texting. I reviewed, softened it, and retyped. Copy, paste, send. It was gone. I quickly searched my favorites and called my best friend as a distraction, not knowing the amount of time that would pass before a response.
She answered right away. “Carrie! Good for you,” she said after I gave her the brief run down, “you would have told me to ignore it, but good for you for saying something. Omg you’ll never believe,” she started on her own stuff. Just the distraction I needed.
I interrupted a minute later, “Oh! Wait, he’s calling,” I said, flustered. It was a quick response and not the format I expected.
“Ok, go, go, let me know,” she said.
“Hey,” I answered as calmly and friendly as my mind would allow.
“Hey, I got your message. You’re uncomfortable at work? I’m making you uncomfortable?”
“Yeah, well, I just want to clear things up,” I responded, trying to figure out how to say yes to his first question and non-accusatory to the second. This was my own stress I had to deal with. “Yes, I don’t feel comfortable, I think because we were hanging out and then now we’re not. I sent a work message today,” I began, trying to sort it out. He interrupted.
“What’s making you comfortable, how can we fix that?” he said in an overly caring, yet detached tone. I’m sure it’s been a long day for him and he has many other relationships he’s navigating. I knew about his exes, two children, one on each coast.
“I sent a work message out today and you’re the only one who didn’t respond,” I explained. If I could clear this up, I could at least set the boundaries that we are professionals and that’s what it is now.
“I didn’t see it,” he said, “Is that what’s making you uncomfortable?” he asked, alluding that there might be more.
“Justin, Dan, and Jordan all responded,” I said, hearing his reaction to Jordan, a good looking guy in the office who he decided deserved his scrutiny.
“You thought I was ignoring you?” he said, as if he solved the problem.
“Yes, well I didn’t know. That’s why I messaged you just now,” I said.
“I wasn’t ignoring you. I didn’t see a message. I’m on so many different apps, Signal, messenger, I don’t check them all,” he said with arrogance, as if me, being a former CIA officer, didn’t also leave me messaging all my friends on multiple platforms.
“Ok, cool,” I replied. I rolled my eyes as he rattling off the encrypted communication apps that he had on his phone. Mansplaining communication security, thanks buddy.
Despite his unknowingly condescending explanation, I felt better and that was enough. I didn’t feel better because he wasn’t ignoring me, but better because I confronted something that bothered me and was the person who established communication after weeks of nothing being defined or said. My usual modus operandi was avoidance and shoving down my uncomfortable feelings. Look at you girl, I guess therapy does work.
He continued, “look at your phone see that green button. Try that,” he was mixing being condescending with a tone of friendly banter. He didn’t realize that messaging work things on a work platform was a way for women to feel comfortable with boundaries, instead of work messages turning into personal. Like this whole mess had become.
“Is that all?” He asked.
“Yes, that’s it. Thanks, I appreciate you calling.”
“Nothing else? What about other stuff?” he pushed.
“Um no, I think professionally we are good,” I responded.
“But like what about other things? I mean, we were hanging out. You’ve got a bench of guys?
“Um no, I keep a pretty close circle. I hate everyone,” I let my guard down. Maybe it would be good to talk this through. There seemed to be feelings lingering on both sides so I opened up and moved past the professional. Maybe I could resolve the rest of the stress instead of putting up a wall.
He laughed. “I mean, a girl once told me I was her dick appointment,” he started telling me about a girl he had been sleeping with who became his stalker. He would jokingly text her back after she sent messages saying she saw him with his son at a pizza place. He had already told me about the dick appointment stuff. Him as an innocent guy and victim of women line was old, but I went with it.
“Yeah you mentioned that before, that’s weird. I don’t have dick appointments.”
“You never know. What about other things, I mean, how do you feel about me?”
“About you?” I delayed. I was flattered by the attention, maybe even excited, like most women would be. He was moving the conversation to be about our relationship that died off. I was flattered and excited, but it was odd. A guy had never really asked me if I was into him without first telling me how he felt, “Most of the time it the guy who makes the move on expressing that sort of thing first. Maybe I’m just traditional.” I responded.
“But how do you feel about me?” He pressed. It was weird, but he wasn’t exactly a normal guy, and he did just imply with his lines that there’s some sort of insecurity with him.
“I like spending time with you,” my voice changed from professional to warm, “it’s cool talking to you.”
“What about dating?” he asked.
“I mean yeah. I have a good time with you,” I said. It was true. I had opened up. I was proud if myself again, for the second time in one phone call. Damn I confronted things and now we are talking about feelings between us, pretty good! I was elated with my communication.
“Yeah, I’m just so busy.” His tone changed to smug and detached. “I also need to date women with kids because they understand my schedule. I’m going to be seeing my daughter more now. You deserve something more, someone who has more time,” he said firmly.
What the fuck? I had heard this line before. About a year ago. Something similar, the firm commitment that either I wasn’t right or the timing wasn’t good.
I had left my car and had been pacing outside. The night air left me present enough to say what I felt. I hadn’t called him out on his encrypted app arrogance, I could surely call out what was feeling more and more like a punch in the gut.
“Why did you do that?” I asked.
“Do what?” He responded.
“Why did you ask me how I felt just to shut things down? I wasn’t asking for any of that.”
“What, you think I’m playing games?” his detachment got stronger, like when he would say, don’t be silly over text to me and I hated it. What about me, being a professional and PhD student, left me silly, “I don’t have time to plan out games,” he couldn’t confront what he had just done.
“It was subconscious,” I said in disbelief and wonder before shutting down in confusion. I opened my door to walk back into my apartment.
A pause. Whatever was going on within him he deflected towards me, “are you ok?”
“I feel shitty now, I should have just left it at the professional stuff,” I said and trailed off. Mad at myself in the moment. Why did I open up, but why did he do that?
The conversation tapered off. Both letting each other go. I hung up and sat down on the couch.
What the fuck was that?
My little dog was sitting in the corner of the couch, snuggled up on a fleece blanket. I stood up from the couch, trying to process what just happened. I walked into the kitchen and picked up a joint. What the fuck was that. I thought as the end burned and I pulled in the first hit of paper mixed with herb. That was fucked up!
I stood in the kitchen for a couple hits, the smoke danced around. Dude, I said to myself, that was really fucked up.
A swirl of muscle relaxation hit me. My questioning of myself stopped and I looked out at him. It all fell into place. Puzzle pieces dropped down from the sky and, miraculously, landed in place to reveal the picture. I had been throwing away the pieces given to me over the last year of on and off contact.
He’s a psychopath. I said with less anger and more wonderment. He’s a textbook psychopath.
Visions of other conversations echoed and more puzzle pieces began to rain down.
My dog had found a Wet Seal type of black woman’s thong under his bed a while back. That ended the first stint of our dating, not because I thought it was current, but because he meant he had been sleeping with someone wearing that garbage. At the same time, there were other episodes of him pushing me away, so I left.
“Oh yeah, she’s my stalker, never anything serious.” Months later, we talked about it. I understood, I had slept with other people too, I had gotten back with an ex for a few months during the holidays. We all had not our greatest or most genuine moments.
“It’s hilarious, I went to the cops about her messages, but they can’t do anything unless she is threatening me, now I mess with her to see if it’ll go away. She sent a message about seeing me and my son at our pizza shop, we go every week after I pick him up. It’s me and my son’s ritual.”
Why did he tell someone like that where he goes to pizza with his son? Why did his first explanation via text say that he had no idea whose it was? That he “had family in town recently” as if his mom was wearing that shit?
“I’m saving myself,” he told me once in a random phone conversation one summer. Um ok, I let that slide and moved on the conversation we were having about religion. Not sure why he was telling me that. Weeks later, we had dinner and went back to my place.
“Hey, I don’t want to have sex unless we are a thing,” I put a quick hold to express myself before things went further. Look at you, girl! I said to myself, getting those words out and setting a boundary.
“How do we become a thing?” He flirted with the idea.
“Well, we talk about it and decide what it is,” I shrugged.
“Ok,” he smiled, and we continued. None of it felt genuine, but it was there, we were there. I had nothing else going on.
“Hey!” I said, “You’re like a high schooler, I said I didn’t want to have sex,” I joked as he moved himself closer to me. “No, stop,” I giggled and moved my body, he obliged. We reorganized and continued, without going further.
The same thing happened another day.
Typical guy, can’t control himself.
“What were you like as a kid?” I asked once.
“I was such a sweet boy,” he said with nostalgia. He explained he was the youngest of many, basically on his own to grow up.
“I think my mom made my dad miserable and I kind of get it, she’s kind of crazy,” he said. Ok not the greatest to have a guy who doesn’t respect his mom, but who knows, I’m not super close with mine either, I told myself, connecting with his story.
“I’m Christian, just not a good Christian. I’m not a good Christian and that’s ok.” I wasn’t sure why this came up, but I nodded in response, not wanting to mess up his acceptance of himself. He was clearly working on his shit.
But before all this back and forth, was the initial innocent stage of getting to know each other. It moved kind of fast, I called it out once and then let it go, he seemed confused about how to organize himself and I thought I was giving it grace. We were both in school online and it was exciting and refreshing to share time together.
“Who’s the little girl in the photo?” I asked one day after I finished my school work in his apartment. His living room was filled with black and white photos of his son and him, in some photos was a little girl. I had seen them before, but never asked, I figured it was his niece.
“That’s my daughter,” he replied. “Oh.” I said. “I didn’t know you had a daughter too.”
He explained he had many repeat deployments, his ex took his child and left the house while he was away. I knew it was not healthy that he had not revealed that he had another child until now, until we had already been intertwined, but I also understood the idea of not knowing how to lay it all out there in the beginning. As someone who kept a lot to herself, I allowed myself to understand the order that this was unfolding, not healthy, but not an easy situation. His shame was clear, in not revealing it and his status. I thought about how hard it all must have been. An intense job, trauma, impulsivity that came with it all.
But what did you do to her to cause her to pack up and leave? I was too involved in empathizing to ask deeper questions. Was it my business to ask at this point?
I had summarized our on and off as confusion and growth, confusion and regressing back, confusion and him wanting romance, but not having the time. Until that phone call.
Whether conscious or not, he aimed to hurt and I knew from his past that I wasn’t the first victim.
“She took everything,” he said. “She accused me of other things too. None of it true.” I understood his view, I had heard of women who take half of the deployment money when the woman was the one cheating anyway.
But what did you do to her? I thought later on. Most women want to hold onto a relationship, especially when a child is involved. None of these stories revealed his own faults.
“She ran away with the kid.” He lamented about the mother of his first child. “I bought us a house, I was deployed and came home to an empty house. An empty home, she and my kid were gone.” I felt for him, whatever happened between them, the hurt of coming home to that must have been awful.
But why did she run from you? Why did she run to her parents three states away? I asked myself later.
“She was with a boyfriend a week after we were divorced.” He referenced the ex in LA again.
But why did she seek safety with someone else?
What was this path of destruction? And why was I becoming part of it?
Lying, deception, and manipulation, for profit or self-amusement,
A pattern of irresponsibility
I stood in my kitchen, still soaking in that phone call. Smoke dropped to tile floor. I dodged a bullet, but not fully. I was his target and I had been grazed.
I messaged my Brazilian friend, a guy who never made any moves towards a relationship, but allowed for mutually comfortable evenings. I had wanted to disconnect from his rendezvous for something more significant. We hadn’t talked in months. I wonder if he’ll even respond. Does this count as a bench?
“Hey, are you free tonight?” I was shaken. Here I was, running to my version of safety, a friend, a confidant.
“Sure, come over!” He said 5 seconds later. I put down my phone and reflected again.
Textbook psychopath. By the freaking book.
APD (Antisocial Personality Disorder) is a DSM-5, diagnosis assigned to individuals who habitually and pervasively disregard or violate the rights and considerations of others without remorse.
A year of therapy and I was finally developing the self esteem to see things as they were.
I am such an idiot. What happened to me that I put up with this? I have two decent parents, my brother and sister love me.
I pulled away. I focused on my projects, but it lingered.
He messaged. “How crazy is your school schedule? I’m not sure where your head is at, but I enjoy/enjoyed hanging with you. If you ever wanted to hang and do something.”
“School is manageable for now.” I replied. “Sure if you want to meet up sometime. What do you have in mind?” I responded. A day passed. I added on to my message:
“Actually, if you’re just looking for someone to mess around with while you sort your school stuff out, no thanks, but I appreciate the offer.”
Multiple messages came in seconds later, “Sorry I didn’t reply sooner. That was not where my head was at. I was thinking maybe a movie, or a surf day in Mexico, camping, maybe a walk or breakfast sometime.” He continued, “You’re really bad at reading minds.” The next bubble read, “Not that I don’t LOVE other stuff, but it’s not as important as your mind.”
How do I end up with such trash? That was how. What woman, still finding her own power, wouldn’t read those tailored messages and the let past fall off without immediate question? What women with power wouldn’t melt a bit with those kind words.
Only, nothing happened. There was no brunch. No surf. No plans. It was all words.
Antisocials possess a superficial charm, they can be thoughtful and cunning, and have an intuitive ability to rapidly observe and analyze others, determine their needs and preferences, and present it in a manner to facilitate manipulation and exploitation. They are able to harm and use other people in this manner, without remorse, guilt, shame or regret.
No wonder I was stressed and uncomfortable, What women would be comfortable with the silence that followed the dreamy Saturday vision. He had me going and then disappeared. No explanation, no plan, no future dates to keep free or weekends for me to mark my calendar.
He manipulated two of his children’s mothers and I stuck around to find out more. Why do I do this to myself?
Here was someone who left a trail of hurt women and I’m beating myself up over being another one thrown into his wake. I pulled away. I stopped going in the office as frequently, I didn’t open up. I wanted it to go away.
Another freaking message months later? Are you even in therapy?
Another message to pull me in. Another message not addressing anything and cowering with my boundary. Another boundary I left with enough of an opening that it could be explored with care. Another lack of care. Enough benefits of the doubt already.
The consensus is there is very little in the way of effective treatment for Antisocial Personality Disorder.
Individuals with APD may have to be contained by the criminal justice system, through some combination of incapacitation (incarceration), supervision and monitoring (parole, probation, or house arrest), or informal monitoring by local law enforcement to contain their harmful behaviors to others to the greatest extent possible.
Why was his ex accusing him of something? Something he didn’t reveal. Was it true? Or was she looking to stop him?
There are also cases of individuals with APD converting to religion and finding strong conviction within themselves to reform and successfully integrate with society (“Confessions of a Christian Psychopath”, 2011). The role of religion and spirituality as a possible treatment for APD is not well studied, and future research is warranted.
He’s trying. Good Lord, he is trying and failing. Trying and flailing. Please try on someone else.
But this isn’t about him. This is about me. About why it took me so long to stick with ‘no’. A ‘no’ I stepped back from only recently. I was still giving a chance for someone to come back healed, someone who clearly needs many years to heal, if they want to. Why did it take me identifying deep personality flaws and disorders before I put up the wall to fortify the boundaries that I left too loose? Why did I stay curious when the signals were clearly confused at best?
Why were most of my relationships in the past five years not healthy, lasting way past their expiration date? Why, when my boundaries got trampled, did I not leave?
Why was I tormenting myself?
It took the worst of the worst for me to realize I needed to hold my own power. Alone and with women friends. Women friends who I could finally resonate with when they say, “Carrie, you just need a nice guy, like a real, genuine, nice guy.” I finally felt that.
I can be happy.
I ran from demons. From demon to demon. From my power. From a sweet life that is slowly unfolding. A sweet life that I already have. A life I was cluttering. It’s not any person who tortured me. It’s not any person that took advantage of me. The world is filled with all kinds of people, I let the trash in and sorted through it, looking for value like a homeless person. I’m not homeless, not even close, both literally and it terms of people and places that are home to me. I sorted through garbage and I didn’t even bother taking the trash back out. It’s me who let it in. It’s what was already in me that was destructing me. But it’s gone.