My friends and I were just about to head out to drown our sorrows, when there came a knock at the door. We looked at each with our cat-eyes, purses dangling off our arms. “Who’s that?”
I open the door and find one of my male coworkers standing there, soaking wet as the rain poured down into the parking lot behind him, flowers in his hand. My jaw dropped open as my girls all gasped with delight. I was friends with this guy and had told him earlier that day I’d been having a rough week. Now here he was, staging a scene out of a romantic comedy.
“I, uh…oh, you’re going somewhere,” he said, disappointed.
“You can come with us!” piped up my ever-cheerful roommate.
“Rachel?” he said, desperately seeking a positive reaction.
I collected myself. “Yeah, of course!” I said, even though I’d been hoping for a girls’ night out.
I took a deep breath, standing on the stoop with a DVD and a bag of Doritos clutched under my arm. I hope he’s home, I thought to myself. Part of me wanted to run back to my own home across the lot. We lived in the same apartment complex, we were in the same classes, and we’d shared a night together recently. We were friends…perhaps more? We were neighbors. Nothing wrong with making a social call.
He opened the door and gave me a look that shoved my heart into my stomach. “Um, hi,” I choked out. “What’s up?”
“I don’t know if you’re busy, but I brought a movie if you’re interested!” I said at an alarming speed.
“Uh, I’m kinda busy right now.”
“Umm… I’m busy the next few nights.”
“Okay, well, have a good one!”
I slumped off, feeling bad about the encounter but unable to place my finger on why. He had just treated me so differently from how he’d been treating me.
The next day in class, I learned that the guy had been telling everyone that I showed up randomly at his door and was “stalking” him.
Hi. I’m your crazy ex-girlfriend. I have generalized anxiety disorder, depression, social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD. I also have massive trust and abandonment issues after years of manipulation and gaslighting … by you. Now, I know you like to just pretend that I hate men in order to make excuses for your shameful behavior, but you and both know what’s really going on.
Dear audience, did you notice the key differences in the above two (true) stories? In one, the unannounced visit bearing gifts was made by a guy to a girl. Vice versa in the second, and somehow that was “stalking.” Believe me, being stalked is terrifying and serious. Unfortunately, some men have a bad habit of characterizing any unwanted female attention or behavior as stalking or “crazy.” (Just look at this list, which includes being religious, fun, great in bed, insecure, or tidy as signs of a “crazy chick.” If you read through the whole list, you’ll see that all women meet at least some of the criteria on it. I guess we’re all crazy.)
And notice that although I did not want the company of the guy who came to my door, I went along with it because I wanted to be polite and he’d gone to the trouble of making such a gesture. Those of you think I was just won over with flowers, what would you think of me had I declined them and shut the door in his face? Mm-hm, that’s what I thought.
But when I went to my “friend’s” door, he was barely polite. I suppose he could have slammed the door in my face, but he definitely was upset by my presence. It was shocking to me because we had already been intimate, we were neighbors, and we were friends. Or so I thought. But this guy was the epitome of entitled men who gaslight women in pursuit of their own self-interests, namely sex.
First of all, men like this are instructed to assert control over the crazy woman in the interest of continuing to have sex with her. That’s emotional abuse. You heard me. It doesn’t matter if the woman is certifiably crazy or not. Continuing a relationship with her by manipulating her emotions and pretending you think more of her than you do is abuse.
You might not expect it, but even after the stoop incident and him telling people I was stalking him, I ended up sleeping with this guy several more times—and he initiated it. Yes. I’m not perfect and I was really into him. I’m not proud of it. I was young and stupid. I thought that, based on what I saw in the movies, this is how adult dating happened: grand gestures, passion, confusion, eventual bliss. Needless to say, it continued to blow up in my face.
Second, men like this have no qualms about lying about their intentions. They’ll flirt with you shamelessly and take you out nice places; they’ll even tell you that you’re the only one they’re seeing and they’re interested in getting more serious. Then you find out they have between 1 and 5 “side chicks”—or that you’re the side chick. The guy who came to my door? He was married to a woman deployed overseas—something I found out not longer after he came to my door.
Third, men like this simply refuse to bond with a girlfriend. Their misogyny tells them that women are untrustworthy, fickle, and manipulative, and so they in turn refuse to form emotional attachments. While I understand being burned and gun-shy about relationships, I think this attitude is socialized through this unfortunately pervasive idea that women, especially “crazy” women, are only good for sex and not deserving of emotional bonds. Rather, sex and true love are simply conditions that happen to them. Consider how often “true love” is portrayed in films as occurring between people who never talk to each other but due to a man’s grand gestures.
Of course, as a woman suffering from mental health issues, I balk at the word “crazy.” Crazy is a slur. It’s meant to demean and dehumanize someone. When men call a woman “crazy,” it usually tells us a lot more about them than it does about the woman in question.
My mental health has definitely affected my love life, but not in the ways these pickup artist websites would suggest. This article does have some good advice (see #9, #10) but also advises men to immediately dominate the bedroom and kiss a woman early into the date. These would be red flags to me, as a survivor of sexual assault, and I would go running.
My OCD has kept me agonizing over breakups, wondering what went wrong. I spent hours reading and re-reading our texts and emails. My OCD made me do “crazy” things that I only did in the privacy of my home, such as obsessively looking at pictures of us and refusing to wash the clothes that he left at my place. I honestly feel ashamed sharing these things with you now, even though we’ve all done crazy things in the name of love. I’ve been so brainwashed by pop culture to believe that my lovelorn rituals are the mark of a crazy woman, rather than a hurt human. Is there any real difference between making a scrapbook about a guy and bunny-boiling? According to society, no.
Meanwhile, my depression and anxiety did make me needy and insecure. I wanted validation and support, often from men who were incapable of giving it — or unwilling to do so. I’ll never forget when one boyfriend actually declined sex(!) and instead demanded that we simply lie together and “be intimate.” His reasoning was that I wanted sex so that I’d feel better about myself and he felt like he should deny me that. To this day, I’m stunned by his callousness. But in saying that, he admitted his true motivation: he wanted sex to be on his terms and wanted it to occur only to make him, not me, feel better. That’s not what a relationship is. (I turned out to be his side chick, too.)
The effect of all this is that mentally ill people learn to shame themselves. In the dating advice articles linked above, they learn that common symptoms of mental illness, such as low self-esteem, insecurity, and mood instability are going to be read as signs that they’re a hot fuck but nothing more. They are told that they’re not ready for or deserving of love and respect. Consider the adage, “you must love yourself before you can love someone else.” The implication is that you mustn’t have self-doubt in order to be loved. Now, I get it, the point of the adage is to encourage people to be in a good place to give and receive love. But the language is imprecise enough to suggest that borderline-narcissistic self-love is a prerequisite for a relationship. And indeed, we see this attitude expressed in countless dating advice articles for men, women, and everyone. When we assert that someone must be mentally healthy to have a healthy relationship, we excuse bad behavior in relationships when one of the parties involved is mentally unhealthy.
And that’s what it comes down to. My shoddy dating life occurred because these less-than-gentlemen picked up on my mental illness, and in many cases knew of it because I have always been open about my conditions. They saw me as a hot fuck, nothing more. They saw me as vulnerable prey that they could manipulate and gaslight into believing that we had something special, or that I was the problem. That I was the unstable, insecure woman who could serve their needs while they offered nothing in return.
Well, ten years later, I’m in a stable, healthy relationship with a man and I’m still mentally ill. I disproved the adage’s implications. I didn’t cease to be “crazy,” but I did find someone who was willing and able to be a partner, not a user. Unfortunately, it took a textbook case of abuse to make me see how many abusive relationships and dynamics I’d been in. Once I “woke up,” I realized how many red flags I’d ignored and — here’s the kicker—how much I’d been socialized to accept shitty, manipulative dating behavior in the name of romance. It began on the schoolyard when boys were mean to me and a teacher told me, “Oh honey, it’s because he likes you.” It continued with mistreatment by dates who excused their behavior as a “fear of commitment.” It was bolstered by romantic comedies and dating advice columns in women’s magazines — that advised me to be patient and endlessly loving toward men, to “fix” them—meanwhile, this behavior was read as “crazy” by said men, even as they were asking me to be patient with them.
So, yes, I’m your crazy ex-girlfriend. All of my attempts at romance failed, while yours continued to sweep me off my feet as you gaslit and cheated on me. If you met me today, you wouldn’t have such luck. Today, I get called “crazy” much sooner…as soon as I call a guy out on his behavior. It’s typically followed by the word “bitch.” Oh, well.
Rachel Wayne is a writer based in Gainesville, Florida, USA. She received her Master’s in Visual Anthropology and Film Studies; her thesis was on the relationship between the media and interpersonal violence. She writes about society, culture, film, politics, feminism, and entrepreneurship.