This is the story of how my life came the closest it’s ever been to Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, complete with a spunky but naive American, a suffering artist-stereotype of a human, and how a textbook romance turned into emotional manipulation.
My friends have heard this story once already. My good friends have heard it at least three times. My friends from abroad witnessed it. But I probably haven’t told you yet. It’s a good one.
Let me tell you about this guy. You won’t believe he exists. Hell, I was certain he was a figment of my imagination for the entirety of our fling. But this is 100% true.
***This article discusses emotional manipulation, emotional abuse, and toxic relationships.***
He reads Dostoevsky on bus rides home from the University (of Granada — Spain, to be exact), which is how we met. We were the same age and year at school, and he studied philosophy. What does he do for fun? He reads philosophy for fun; he told me so. He also writes and directs plays. He has green eyes, obviously. A painted portrait of him sits on an easel next to his bed. He has a bust of Nietzsche in his bedroom and a bust of Beethoven in his living room, right next to his incense and bong. Whenever writers block sets in, he smokes a little weed and that gets him started. He named his cat Lord Byron because one of its legs is missing a paw. He stole a box set of a Beethoven’s collected works from the department store, El Corte Ingles. We cooked ratatouille. We took moonlit walks along the river. We discussed Freud and John Stuart Mill. He would put on Tchaikovsky and read Lorca to me. On our second night out, he asked me, “Has sufrido mucho en tu vida?” (“Have you suffered a lot in your life?”) On our third date he took me to the old part of the city (where he told a dealer he wouldn’t buy weed that day, but the dealer should ask him again tomorrow), and then we watched the fucking sunset, and looked at the fucking stars.
Oh yeah. His name’s Fernando.
Tell me my life wasn’t a Nick Sparks novel for a hot sec. Or at least, like, a really pretentious porno.
Yes, I enjoyed some of that stuff. It was dreamy. Things like that don’t usually happen to people, especially not me. I was still getting to know him, however, and the better I got to know him, the warier I was.
I’m pretty sure he was a drug dealer. That doesn’t make someone a bad person, but let’s just say that Fernando had enough red flags that he was basically a parade. He mentioned all the hashish and ecstasy at his apartment, which I wrote off as a European/young person thing (two cultures to which I’m an outsider). Three times he mentioned his friend who could get us “the best stuff” for “the best prices.” Every time he and I were in public, someone came and chatted with him. At first I thought it indicated Fernando’s charm and warmth, but then I felt suspicious when they had these hushed conversations, and Fernando never introduced me. And I began to think: You know who know a lot of people? Drug dealers.
For a playwright-philosopher, Fernando also had an extensive knowledge of pharmacology. He’d rattle off the side effects and addictive qualities of Adderall, Valium, Xanax, heroin, cocaine, etc. Way more than you’d expect your average playwright-philosopher to know.
The clincher was he lived in his own apartment — not a dormitory, even though he’s a university student. In Spain, it’s expected that one will live with one’s parents through young adulthood — some middle-aged people still live with their parents. I learned he was of a working-class family that most likely would not be able to pay for his apartment. He never told me about any job he had. Did I mention he’s a playwright-philosopher? I don’t know what that salary is, but I don’t think it’s enough to afford rent in a nice neighborhood.
I’d welcome other hypotheses or explanations, but that’s what I got.
As for the serious stuff, the relationship became toxic. I learned Fernando had a bad temper. He was manipulative. He had a history of violent relationships. An example: we were making an omelette, and I chopped a whole onion, and he kept saying we had too much onion, and I suggested he use half the onion and save the rest, and he screamed in my face for it. (Oh. Violent relationships, I thought.) It goes on.
I was lucky to have support from people both near and far. My wonderful American roommate, who was much more objective and level-headed than I was on the issue, pointed out that Fernando made me feel scared, which I shouldn’t put up with. My host-mother spent 45 minutes with me Googling him. My cousin back in America reassured me that I owed him nothing. And if not for those incredible almost-fairy-godpeople who knew that I didn’t deserve the way he treated me, I may have gotten in real hot water.
Here’s how it went down. Several days after the aforementioned onion incident, which demonstrated his temper and potential to create an unsafe environment, I called him. I said I didn’t want to see him anymore, as my roommate had encouraged me to do. We didn’t have a serious relationship, so I expected him to respond dismissively. Nope. He exploded. After I explained the onion incident and my concerns, he said how dare I accuse him of a having violent temper. That I was selfish for not considering how that accusation made him feel like shit. That my emotions were absurd. Machismo is so real, you guys.
His guilt trip worked. Was I overreacting? Couples fight. I just aggravated him at a bad moment. I could learn how not to make him mad, and we could continue our romance. Really, I needed to do better.
A few days later, Fernando and I met in a crowded park in broad daylight — unbeknownst to him, under the watch of one of my friends (who is truly an angel) — to talk. He rehashed his vitriol, but in an even voice, his leg pressed against mine. I tried to find a compromise. Why did I do that? Why did I desperately try to salvage what was clearly a dangerous situation? Because I still saw the sunset. The stars. His green eyes. I told him I’d never go back to his apartment, but maybe he’d want to go for a walk sometime. After our exhausting two-hour conversation, I knew I’d made a bad call. I decided to avoid him and let everything dissolve. Luckily, I never heard from him again.
I talked to my friends and family about it. They repeated how glad they were I took care of myself. Really, I learned to take care of myself. I found myself in a shitstorm. With enough support and reality checks, I accepted that my partner was, in fact, mistreating me, and that I didn’t have to and shouldn’t tolerate it. I didn’t realize I was capable of speaking up so much as I taught myself how to do it.
What I’m trying to say is, please listen to your gut. You may meet the most mysterious, seductive, eloquent, profound, green-eyed person in your life. It may be your dreamboat from the time you were 17 (saem tho). Still, that person might do much more harm than good. If you see red flags and feel your gut lurching unpleasantly, please please PLEASE know that you can, and probably should, get the hell out of that thing, no matter what bullshit that person might spoon-feed you. Anybody who cares about you will try to listen and understand your feelings.
You might feel ashamed of ending up in a toxic relationship, like you should’ve known better, like you should’ve taken better care of yourself. Never, ever feel ashamed of that. If you had known in the first place, you wouldn’t have done it. You can’t blame yourself for not knowing something. Don’t cry over too much chopped onion.
A reminder: The Peer Counselors (740) 398-3806) and Sexual Misconduct Advisors (740) 358-1544) are available 24/7 for confidential talks. Crozier and Unity House are safe spaces where all students can go.