“Each of us has an inner compass. This is an instinct that points us toward health. It warns us when we are on dangerous ground, and it tells us when something is safe and good for us.” ~Julia Cameron
After I broke up with Mr. Wonderful, I found out that he was a predator.
When I realized who he really was, I stood in my home shaking in fear and feeling sick to my stomach. I was horrified. My mind raced with terrifying images of what could have happened to me if I had not followed my instincts and left him.
It was like finding out that there is a crocodile at the watering hole. I had taken a drink not knowing that a predator was nearby. Something had alerted me that I was in danger. The signs were there, and like an antelope, I sensed the urgent need to bolt.
He was a person who was considered to be an upstanding member of the community. He was an elementary school principal and had been a special education teacher beforehand.
He was charming, well-dressed, well-mannered, well-spoken, and very entertaining. He was well-read and could quote Brené Brown and discuss equality and social justice issues. On the surface he seemed like a wonderful man.
At first, I thought everything about him was real. He was generous, attentive, and fun, and he communicated well.
He liked the same music as me, and had similar views on education, politics, and social topics of the day. He meditated and read books. We attended concerts, ate sushi, enjoyed each other’s friend groups, and joined a gym together. He told me personal things about his childhood as if confiding in me alone.
He told me he was in love with me and that we could build the relationship we always wanted. I was the love of his life, he said.
The honeymoon period lasted for a few months until cracks in his veneer started to appear. These cracks began to open and reveal another side of him.
He would talk about himself a lot. He would often greet me at the end of the workday by saying, “Hey how was your day? Well, I had a day…” He would immediately launch into one story after another about his day and never really get around to listening to my stories.
When he wasn’t bragging about himself, he was putting down other people in unnecessarily harsh and insulting ways. He thought he was a rising star in the education realm and that other people were jealous of him. He would find subtle ways to cut down accomplishments that were not his own, including my achievements.
He would talk about other people in restaurants, insult his colleagues, and he would even put down the people he called friends.
He would talk often about empathy, a buzz word in education, but he didn’t actually possess the ability to empathize. It was like he studied the qualities of empathy, practiced what to say in situations that required empathy, but when someone was hurting, he couldn’t demonstrate empathy and compassion in genuine ways.
One day he said to me, “This is the (his name) show, and you are my guest!” It was a random and awkward thing to say, and I thought it was so very odd. Slowly, I began to see what that statement meant. He was a performer, faker, and a poser. I was just another visitor on his show.
A major red flag was the way he talked about his ex-wife. I have an ex-husband, so I know that ex-spouse relationships can be challenging. This was on a different scale.
He claimed that she was crazy. He was frustrated that she wouldn’t return his emails, but at the same time claimed that she couldn’t let him go. He claimed that she was suing him for more money. He gleefully told stories about humiliating her in court and described her disdainfully as looking old. He was vindictive and wanted to destroy her.
He also blamed her for his estrangement from his adult sons. One son still spoke to him, but I found the dynamic between them uncomfortable and odd. It was competitive and lacking in genuine warmth. As well, he lacked stories of connection, love, and bonding from when his children were young. It was kind of sad, and without knowing them, I felt sorry for these young men.
He gave me strange parenting advice such as recommending that I stop buying groceries for my constantly hungry teenaged boys. He thought I was too soft and that in general mothers coddle their children while the fathers are the ones who do the tough work required in parenting. More alarm bells rang in my head.
He liked the attention of other women, especially younger ones. He would buy them drinks as if it were an innocent gesture from a friendly guy. He would tell me stories about women paying attention to him when I wasn’t around. I don’t get jealous very easily. I know that it feels nice when someone else pays you a compliment, so it didn’t bother me much.
Yet he was needy. He wanted me to react to his tales of other women, and when I didn’t, he said, “You are confident.” That seems like a nice thing to say, except it wasn’t a compliment. It was an observation, as if he were sizing me up to learn the degree of my confidence.
He would gaslight in small ways and would play strange little games. His gaslighting and game-playing were so subtle that it wasn’t enough to really complain about, but it was enough to make me feel bad. He would say little things that were not quite insults, but they stung just a little bit, like paper cuts.
He would self-medicate frequently in his tiny apartment. He seemed to need alone time to get drunk and high so that he could release the tension from constantly pretending to be someone he was not.
It was all very weird and getting stranger as time went on.
While getting ready one morning I looked in the mirror and noticed that I didn’t look like my usual self. I looked tired and sad. No amount of makeup, lotion, or hair styling was making me feel better. Underneath I didn’t feel good anymore. It just didn’t feel right.
I began to wonder how I could feel this way when I was dating Mr. Wonderful. Why did I feel so off balance? Why were there times when I felt like I wasn’t being heard? Why was my skin starting to break out? Why was I drinking wine more than usual? Why didn’t this relationship feel good consistently?
Why was I lonely?
I decided that I didn’t want to be with him anymore. I knew that I would be happier on my own.
I gathered his things from my home and kept them in my car for a couple of days until the time was right to tell him.
He was surprised but seemed to handle it quite well. I told him the usual stuff about staying friends. I get along quite well with my ex-husband, so I naively thought that we would end on good terms.
However, it only took a few days for him to hoover his ex-girlfriend back into his snare. I was so surprised at how quickly this happened that I realized that my instincts about him were right.
I don’t know how I knew this at the time, but one of the last things I said to him was, “You hurt people. Don’t hurt her.”
He became very angry, and I saw then who he really is. He yelled horrible insults and made wild accusations. Rage is how I would describe what came over him. Pure rage.
I told some friends what had gone on, and soon people began to open up to me about what they knew about him. They told me frightening things that I wish I had known earlier.
He had badly abused his wife for thirty years, cheated on her multiple times, and was a horrible and manipulative father. He was the one who couldn’t let her go. He was the one taking her to court to get out of paying her the basic support that was her due.
He really was trying to destroy her.
Some educators in his board called him a blowhard, and other community members thought he was arrogant and selfish. They said that his wife was lovely and that she raised the children on her own. Where were these warnings when he was pursuing me?
The scariest thing that I learned was that he actually had a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. He went to anger management counselling for ten years and was diagnosed as a malignant narcissist. I was told that if he could get away with murder, he would do it.
I realized that his mind and heart are broken, making it impossible for him to feel compassion for another person. He is incapable of loving someone other than himself.
I tried to warn the recycled girlfriend, but she took no interest in hearing from me. Of course, I understood this, but I had to try.
Some might think that I am jealous of her. Instead, I am morbidly grateful to her. She became his supply at a time when I rejected him. She took his focus off me.
I feel sorry for her and now I worry about her. She is painfully and obviously insecure, which makes her his perfect prey. He hurt her before, and she went back for more.
I don’t feel good about my gratitude for her. I hope that she will come back to the warning I sent when she sees the red flags for herself. I would be her sister and help her escape.
Recently, I saw him while driving my car. He pulled out in front of me forcing me to slam hard on my brakes. Because he looked directly at me and waited before cutting me off, I know that he did it on purpose. Instinctively, I flipped him off. I saw him soon again after that, and he swerved into my lane threateningly.
Antelopes are very good at detecting danger and will warn other animals when there is a predator nearby. They communicate with a whistle and use scent as a warning signal. Like the antelope, we do not go to the watering hole alone. But unlike the antelope, we often ignore the danger signs from our bodies and the alarm signals from those around us.
If we could look out for one another as the antelope do, we could escape the predator more often. Predators reveal themselves. If we just pay attention to the danger signs, then warn one another, we would collectively be safer.
I made a list of warning signs to share with fellow antelopes. If you observe these behaviors, then pay attention to your instincts and RUN!
They talk about themselves, a LOT. They will often tell stories about how much other people admire them or are jealous of them.
When not talking about themselves, they will talk about other people in negative ways. They can be very subtle, but it leaves you with a slightly different impression than the positive one you originally formed of them.
They don’t celebrate your achievements, at least not for long. There will be something wrong about your accomplishment. or the conversation will switch back to their favorite subject, themselves.
They lack empathy and compassion for people who need help or support. People with sick or disabled children, alcoholics, or people with depression or anxiety are people they consider weak. They speak about them with a sense of disdain.
They withhold things from you. They neglect to introduce you, leave you out of invitations to gatherings, withhold affection and intimacy, keep you uninformed, spend the evening in conversation with someone else, or generally make you feel just a little bit on the outside of things.
You sometimes feel confused about something they said or did. They will tell you a different version and try to convince you that you missed something or that you just don’t remember things correctly.
You often have hurt feelings, although it is difficult to explain why you feel this way.
You sometimes feel like the relationship isn’t balanced. This is your gut warning you before your mind can understand the danger. It’s a feeling that things are just not “right.”
There is an uneasy feeling of “push-pull.” You are either “in” or you are “out.” Perhaps it feels more like things are up and down, like a yo-yo. In the beginning of the relationship things are “up” and you are “in.” Sooner or later that changes, and you don’t really understand why or how to get the connection back that you thought was there.
They make wild claims about their ex. They call their ex crazy and have stories to “prove” it. They enjoy telling you how they defeated them. Be very careful here. Their stories of the crazy things their ex has done are often a projection of their own monstrous behavior. That’s why the wild stories seem believable. It’s because they are true stories, only the predator is the one who did the crazy things to them.
As I write, we are in another lockdown. The local watering hole is closed. Our cars are parked in our driveways. I have blocked him from social media. I am safe and yet I still double check the locks on my doors when I am at home alone.
I am grateful to learn that my body knows when I am in danger even before my mind does. I am confident that I will listen more closely next time and pay attention to the warning signs.