It's been over five weeks now since I got the word that I was being played.
I've done what all of us do in those circumstances and reexamined every odd bit of behavior or possible clue in all of our interactions over the previous nine months looking for that one sign I missed. It's the "if only I had realized this meant that . . . " trope, that somehow I could have been smarter, could have been more protected.
I've gone through every stage, from disbelief to heartbreak to anger to rage to resignation, and still there's this one nagging question? Why?
You see it in news footage after natural disasters. Here where I live you'll see pictures of people standing in the smoking ruin of their homes after a fire asking, "Why?" Why my house, God, and not the one across the street?
With the help of good friends and some perspective after the fact, there is only one "why?" that makes sense. As Sherlock Holmes observed, in The Adventure of Beryl Coronet, "It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
The truth is she's sick. She can't help herself. The little liar most likely is suffering from what is known as a Borderline Personality Disorder. I'm certain there are mental health professionals who might dispute this; I am not a psychologist. My training was at the para-professional level pretty much concentrating on crisis intervention and referral to long term care. So, when she told me she was in love with me, she meant it. Just as when she betrayed me, at that moment everything made complete sense to her.
See, with this type of malady everything in her little world makes sense moment by moment. There's a disconnect between what happens now and before. "I loved him with all my heart an hour ago, but now I don't" is entirely reasonable for the person living in that world. What doesn't seem to work for the victims of that disease is the rest of the world around her, and the people in it. See if it's reasonable for her to love me with all her heart in December, but want to use me and lie to me in March, there must be something wrong with me for objecting to that change in behavior, because in her world it makes sense and is reasonable. She sees no contradictions. She got fired at one job because of this, yet somehow it's my fault she got fired; there is no view within her world that makes her culpable.
The problem with BPD people is that most of them are what psychologist call "high function." She can hold down a job, drive a car, socialize with people and do many other things that give no hint of her problems. In fact, there are people who go through their entire lives without being treated. The problem is that it's a scary, empty life. No intimates, because that's one of the biggies when it comes to this disorder; the manner in which relationships form is narcissistic in nature. It's all about her. How much she loves me. How much I mean to her. How much joy she gets from . . . whatever. At the moment of betrayal, it's still only about her. How she's justified in lying. How she's not cheating, but taking care of her own needs.
It's a pretty complicated diagnosis, but there are some very common facts about BPD.
Most BPD patients tend to be young. Early 20's is really the point where this comes out. Females are far more likely to have this disorder than males. In general, it can be summed up as a pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, starting with family, close friends, and romance. There are maybe eight or nine criteria that define it; anyone with more than five is considered to have BPD.
The little liar demonstrated the following:
She put frantic effort into avoiding abandonment. She told me "I love you" from the first date. The fear of abandonment is there, even if the risk is unreal. My rejection of her after I found out about her lying and cheating punched that button hard. Suddenly I was evil because I abandoned her.
She has intense but unstable relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation. Hence she could tell a co-worker one day, "I like what I see in that guy," then later tell me I was "perfect" for her, yet later tell another co-worker, "You don't think I'd seriously date a guy that age? I just want the money."
She has what is called an "identity" disturbance, though in her it's low level. She's uncertain. She came to California to study cooking at the Culinary Institute, without any thought about what it takes to function in that business--she identified with the role of chef. She got caught up in the Presidential race last fall and changed her major to Political Science. There's a serious disconnect between what she does (stripper/waitress) and who she wants to be. She damns and rejects the other dancers, yet behaves worst than most.
She is impulsive in areas that are potentially self-damaging, substance abuse and sex, money management also being a problem. Non-suicidal self-destructive behavior is a biggie with this disorder. The men she cheated on me with are by common judgement "losers." She seeks out bad men who can hurt her emotionally, psychologically, and potentially physically--her alternating between idealization and devaluation works with them, as well. This is the heart of the denial that's part and parcel with this disorder; it doesn't matter if the guy is a good guy or a bad guy. It's all about how she feels and her feelings are quicksilver.
She suffers from affective instability as a reaction to mood. We were making love one night and a half-hour later she was ranting about things that were so far removed from our personal experiences as to resemble a therapy session. It's easy to miss this one because her personality is often "bubbly" and "excitable."
She has transient stress-related paranoid ideations. If something bad might happen, it will, and the consequences will be the worst. Also, her reaction to stress is high, hinting at dissociative behavior.
I can not speak to her having chronic feelings of emptiness, but I can also buy her constant use of marijuana is self-medicating and not solely recreational.
There is nothing I've seen to indicate she's at risk for suicidal behavior, or self-mutilating behavior.
That puts six out of the nine clearly in the "yes" column as far as I'm concerned with two more possibles.
Why bother? Why dig this deep to come up with a reason to cut her some slack?
Not trying to cut her any slack. I'm back to trying to answer the "why?"
If someone breaks into your house and harms your family, it's academic if it's because he's an evil bastard intent on robbing you and willing to hurt you to get what he wants, or if it's some crazy guy who broke out of a mental ward and is just randomly causing havoc. Either way you're an injured party.
But the law and society look differently on evil vs. sick. There is no straight simple line. If the little liar were busted for a crime, it would be very hard to prove Mens Rae, or diminished capacity. That's because there's a different standard for law and medicine.
Should I ever have contact with her again, I suspect my reaction would now be very different than a week ago. I might take a chance at saying, "You need help," but everything I know about BPD tells me it's as much a waste as saying, "You should learn to grow wings and fly."
But this realization makes me understand things about myself that I needed to discover. First, I did nothing wrong. But more importantly, there was nothing I could do to change how things went down. Secondly, she was not evil, but sick and nothing short of a full blown intervention getting her to a shrink to get therapy and meds might have changed things. Lastly, I still love parts of that person, but must face the reality that even if she got help, the person who would come out the other side of treatment would resemble none of the various personalities I met. She could not love me as deeply and as profoundly as she did when she loved me, because as wonderful as it felt to be the object of such adoration, it was just a symptom of her illness. Rational people do not fall that deeply into an idealized fantasy of their lovers and then hang on to it. Love at first sight? Sure. It's happened to me, once and it was what my wife said happened to her when we met. But that's the "jumping in" point in a relationship, not the end all/be all. She might come out of that looking at me and saying, "Sorry, dude. You were just in the wrong place. Nothing personal, I was sick."
And that's what it comes down to: she is sick.
What do I wish?
I wish she gets help and stops harming herself and others. But that's just my personal distaste over human wasted potential. Statistics provide the likelihood she'll continue this way for a long time to come.
I hope next time I run into "crazy girl" I catch a hint a little earlier and run away very quickly.
And I hope those of you who have been reading this account of my own journey might catch an insight into both how human experience can lend itself to writing and to growth, and maybe catch a few clues that will save you some pain along the way.