My experience being the codependent of a covert cerebral narcissist – the story
Note: The “covert cerebral narcissist” is not a clinical diagnosis, but the best descriptor I found over the years for the behavior I was subjected to. A follow up post will explain recurring patterns and parts marked as * in this post. This post has now been edited to remove relatively irrelevant details and for coherence.
Note 1: I am polyamorous. In both instances of cheating, all he had to do was honestly tell me of his interest in someone and I’d have been happy for him. There was a deliberate lack of honesty.
Note 2: I am not someone who gives up on relationships easily and am resilient. If I thought there was a possibility for change or if I even see change in the future and he would like us to be together, I would still seek it, but I am done covering up for him and pretending all is well. This public disclosure is also important because he continues to flirt with other women that fit a specific profile (all patterns in next post) and I believe that he presents a danger of exploitation to them. This post being public allows any future victims to make their choices with their eyes wide open. This public disclosure was also guaranteed to him if he dumped me arbitrarily and without any discussion whatsoever. Like “fine and discussing our future one moment, dumped the next” grade arbitrary. No woman deserves to be yanked like this, and I am not the first person he has done it to. He did it anyway. He knew this would happen and it has.
This is being written both as a public safety warning as well as an insight into vulnerability and exploitation in an intimate relationship.
The initial days
This story began in late 2014, when I found an insightful reply from @godavar (aka Raghu aka Raghuram S Godavarthi) who followed me. A few days later, when I said that I planned to write a book but never seemed to have time, this person reached out to me offering to help. We switched to chat. I had recently separated from an abusive and alcoholic husband, lived alone with my son and was in no mood to have another man in my life that I was barely putting together again. We got along so well on chat, it was fascinating. It seemed like there was nothing about me that he didn’t like. He accepted me “exactly as I am”. He seemed to respect me to the point of being starstruck. After years of emotional abuse, it felt very healing, though somewhat exaggerated.
He offered to come over and meet me to discuss the book in person. That was surreal. Who in the world travels to another city altogether to discuss a book by a first time author they won’t even get paid to co-write? But I didn’t have a good reason to refuse either. He claimed to be a fan. The pedestalization made me uneasy, but I hoped he’d grow out of it with time.
He charmed my son right off the bat. He was and is the perfect mix of charm, loved the kid, made himself helpful – no task was too much. We got involved. He wanted to marry me right off the bat. I didn’t. He wanted to be in my life “in whatever capacity I would have him”. He agreed to not marry, but continued to argue for it. He often hinted at moving in with me, to which I suggested that he rent another flat in the society for appearances sake, even if he mostly lived with us. Would also give him space to work without being disturbed.
The first year was heady and romantic and…. odd, but I chalked up the oddities to everyone being different people. He evaded intimacy, but also seemed eager at times. He was interested in me on occasion, on other occasions, he was totally aloof in a manner that was hurtful and jarring.* I chalked it up to inexperience, as he claimed it to be. Overall, we were good. He was unbelievably helpful. It was easy to overlook the moments that didn’t add up. He always apologized profusely for those. Sometimes disproportionately and melodramatically so. It took me a while to realize that the apologies meant nothing, there was no particular regret or guarantee that he wouldn’t, knowingly do the same thing again.*
2016 – the year from hell
Trouble started mid-2015, when my father’s Parkinson’s got suddenly worse and my so far estranged parents came to live with me. Suddenly, from this relatively carefree person he was hoping to travel extensively with, I was a largely home bound, stressed person with three dependents. Around this time, he also got a job with a multinational company that had him traveling abroad on work and often. It further increased his sense of self-importance and decreased his respect for me. He got more and more aloof on his visits with me, though he did come physically when needed, while also resenting it. I didn’t have the energy to confront him, beyond the occasional requests for more loving attention, which were met with empty reassurances and ignored.
During this time, he flaunted his devotion to me and my son to appear to be a very charming and devoted “ideal” family man before others. Token gestures were boxes checked. On my birthday, he literally walked into the room with a “surprise cake” at midnight and promptly made himself scarce after it was cut.
He lost all consideration for me as a human being and anything he got from us or any way we enriched his life did not register, while keeping a meticulous and sometimes exaggerated conversational record of what he did for me. I was going through a lot of personal problems hell with dying father and disabled son to have the bandwidth to assert my importance in the one place where it should have been a given. * The classic “idealized, devalued, discarded” cycle of narcissistic abuse. The irony of it is that unlike classic victims of manipulation, I was not unaware of what was going on. I called it out repeatedly and THEN got gaslighted into believing empty promises and apologies and that I was overreacting to something he did not mean.
Then my son needed major surgery and my father finally died soon after that. The first visit after this, when I’d have been more free than I had been in a long time, and I was looking forward to being with him, was the most aloof, and soon after he left, I guessed he was dating another woman in Delhi. To be honest, after the hellish time we had been through, I was happy for him, if he found joy with someone. When I asked him, he dumped me. That was the first time and with exactly the abruptness described. From one sentence to the next.
I was in shock. The next morning, he apologized and said that he wanted to be in a relationship with me and had dumped me only because he panicked that I guessed. He told me that the woman had been chasing him, but he had no intentions of going ahead with anything. He went ahead and started an affair with the woman, after telling me that he had no interest in her and telling her that she would be his main partner, since she lived closer and eventually the three of us would live together!!!
She soon started to find his behavior suspicious when he claimed to have an open marriage but refused to introduce her to me after telling her we’d live in the same home! In the meanwhile after I guessed that he had gone ahead and initiated a sexual relationship, he told me he had broken off with her. He told her he needed more time to convince me as I was “acting crazy”. All through, he maintained charming ignorance, a show of regret and what not while lying to me relentlessly, gaslighting me, inflicting more pain instead of making amends. This bewildered me, though in hindsight is classic narcissistic behaviour when they have new “supply”.
I spent months in a haze of pain and depression from the sheer lies and cruelty that followed. Sometimes I suspected he enjoyed this power over me, but it seemed too ridiculous. No one wants to believe someone they love is actually malicious, do they?
I lost some ten kilos of weight in these few months. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep and I had to act normal in front of my family to avoid making them anxious and insecure.
In the meanwhile, he “confessed” to me that he had a bad relationship with the truth, he feared adverse reactions and confrontations, “poor terrified me” etc. I believed him, offered to help. After all, truth was the one thing I had managed to hang on to through the hardest times, I had some ideas for courage. He wasn’t interested in those. The reason for his revelation became apparent later, when he revealed that the woman he had cheated on was so angry with his behavior with her – also with relentless lies – that she had threatened to have him arrested for rape for having sex with her under false pretences unless he wrote her an email with apology and copied me in on it. His “confession” had been his way of preparing me for that and being sympathetic to his “poor me, I was out of my depth”.
He had also encouraged her to book travel tickets for a trip they would take together – a trip he told me he “needed” to travel on his own for “creative space”. She forced him to reimburse her for those tickets.
That conversation was a further revelation on the sheer magnitude of lies he had been telling me. My trust in him was shattered. He insisted he didn’t want to break up with me. I insisted that he was going to have to prove both his trustworthiness as well as his valuing our relationship before we could move forward. He agreed readily, but never bothered to change. Dropped anything he agreed to do as a part of our healing process within a day or two.
He always had excuses – he was overwhelmed and didn’t know how to handle it. His brain was in a fog. It was the most shameful incident of his life and he couldn’t talk about it, he didn’t know what to do…. He started acting in love with me once more. In hindsight, he’d lost his new “narcissistic supply” – the other woman who now terrified him.
In one of his honest moments, he attributed his renewed interest in me to having kept him out of jail by conversing with the other woman. The sheer irony of it. All the love, care, acceptance in the world just got me contempt and being taken for granted. Saving his ass from the consequences of his own abusive actions with someone else got me his “love”.
It was the most shameful incident of my life. For fuck’s sake, my home was a standing offer for women wanting to exit abuse! I had never before or since had to defend myself as an ally of someone accused of rape. I had never before been accused of being an accessory in planned sexual exploitation of a woman – when I didn’t even know they were involved!!!
At another time, he had confessed that he wanted to move out of Delhi because he was terrified of running into the furious ex at a public place. He ditched his book club, theater circles (which he shared with her) and got into completely new circles with anti-Aadhaar activism.
Soon enough that “get-out-of-jail-free” appreciation died and with it, any efforts of trying to make me feel secure in our relationship. I stopped seeing the larger picture and related with him on a moment to moment basis – good if he behaved well, disgusted when not. This continues to date. He is actually extremely helpful around the home, solicitous in public, agreeable to requests, etc. Iron-clad “good boy” personna. The trust lost was simply never considered important enough to make a sustained effort to rebuild.
Why I continued to give him chances? Two words – my son. Raghu had always behaved in an extremely caring manner with him. My son adores him. And when that son is severely disabled with two primary carers, a mother will take a lot of abuse before depriving him of one of them. And he is mostly polite or silent or absent – there is no visible abuse to alarm the others apart from the occasional bouts of rage – not directed at people around him and never around my son. With me, he uses subtle taunts and sarcasm in private. Others are not affected and I know I am not responsible for his perversions. So I shrugged it off. His preferred treatment of me is stony silences and gaslighting, innocence-max and love bombing when confronted with latest assholery. I am also extremely resilient and not “needy” in the sense of requiring constant care, so his emotional or physical abandonment became more like being single for the most part. When things got really bad, he showed appropriate and temporary regret on cue and that was that.
We hit rock bottom (again) just as he was about to lose his job – too obsessed with own grandeur, too many “poor me, not my fault” excuses for work not done. To the world, he told that he resigned – a sacrifice for me, since long distance was hard when I needed his “support”. I dumped him – if it wasn’t working, I didn’t want him moving in permanently as planned once his job was over. He claimed to be depressed and suicidal. He was having panic attacks. Stupidly compassionate that I am, I agreed to give it ANOTHER try. This time with friends as mediators to ensure he kept his word. He didn’t. He convinced us that things were bad because of us being in a long distance relationship and that they would improve after he moved in with us.
Living in hell
When he moved in, he had no interest in addressing the problems in our relationship. He unleashed a new bomb – the man who introduced me to sexting, explored kink with interest and had been raw and horny plenty of times, was actually “asexual”. He played up the asexuality to the point where I literally wouldn’t touch him at all without explicitly asking – no one wants to force a lover, right? And he made a point of highlighting reluctance. Once again, I was in pain and rejection.
From being a normal woman, I suddenly was this oversexed, demanding creature making him uncomfortable when, in fact I was starved for any affectionate touch at all. I was this sexually experienced woman, while he was this simple, inexperienced asexual man facing overwhelming odds because of my “demands” – what demands? I’ve never been unable to take a no. It was simply yet another way to shrink me and make me think I was the problem – in the most brutal and intimate of ways. He was the one insisting he didn’t mind sex and even enjoyed it on occasion. New label entered “graysexual”. Sex became a handy way to get me to shut up if I found the new status quo unacceptable. This man can switch his charm on and off like a literal switch – it is fake.
STILL I believed that his lack of investment in the relationship was a matter of inability rather than unwillingness. He claimed it, it seemed plausible, I trusted him stupidly, trying to find ways to help him, help us. I think I simply lacked the ability to comprehend deception at such a profound scale. Or perhaps I did not want to accept that I had actually let a highly toxic person take root in my home that I had created as a place for love to nurture my child in. At some point, we had a reception declaring our relationship, though we didn’t legally marry. It was a unique celebration of inspiring people we knew and the causes they worked at in public interest and how they enriched the world, and he enjoyed the attention to the hilt,* but at no time did he take out so much as time for a token honeymoon to be with me. He did not so much as smile at me either before or after the reception. I am not a very attention needy person for the most part and accepted that he was “busy” or troubled by things he wasn’t willing to talk about and let it be, assuring him I was there to talk if he wanted to.*
Every time I reached my breaking point, he wanted to try again – efforts never lasted more than the time it took for me to stop being angry. This is the classic pattern of intimate narcissistic abuse. Every time I hit depressed rock bottom, including feeling suicidal in more recent times, he would be affectionate for a while and return to aloof indifference if I felt better. He is perfectly capable of kindness, except he sees it as a weapon to keep a partner hooked and witholds it as an expression of power over the other. I was the codependent narcissistic supply for a conman and in denial.
And then, he got involved with the second woman. Again, less than a month after my son’s surgery. This time his excuse for cheating on me was that the other woman did not want him to tell me. During this time, I wanted to break off with him again, and in the interest of my son loving both of us, we met another friend who mediated a conversation between us, where he AGAIN appeared sincere in his love for me and wanting to make things work. He omited to mention that while he was allegedly committing to heal the wounds from his first affair, he was already involved in a second one. Needless to say, none of the things he committed to then materialized either.
The friend who facilitated that meeting for us feels betrayed. He was lying all through. The photo with this post was taken at her place. That is my son with him, and the reason why I was willing to accept any behavior as long as he had this.
When I became utterly indifferent to his presence, he took time out to seduce me and get me interested and hopeful again before returning to aloofness. There is no power over me if I expect nothing from him. He got me hopeful again, so that I could be disappointed. He actively wants adoration or pain. Reactions that give the power in the relationship to him. He calls this period “genuinely trying to make me happy”.
When I found out about his second affair in February, I had run out of denials for the last time. I had run out of capacity to accept his word on good faith despite all evidence to the contrary. There was no escaping the fact that I was being used. Kind of hard to miss when you’re talking of being depressed and suicidal because of his constant lies, indifference and cheating and he can’t address problems in the relationship for a full month because he is “too busy” with important work. That is after dodging them for years. And ANYTHING is more important than me – he can be “overworked” and stressed and find the time to travel four hours to have lunch with someone in the city, but can’t spare fifteen minutes of attention for me unless I hit rock bottom.
The actual break off happened when after giving him that month, when I asked for his attention – that he had promised and scheduled. He wanted another few days because emails to send, stuff to do, tired, need medicine, sleep…. I lost it. I had been suffering for years from his behaviour, and he continued to put any discomfort or work he had over addressing very serious problems in our relationship. I was done. I told him this was not acceptable. He had scheduled the time for us to work on our relationship and it was overdue. I told him that unless he took this seriously, when we vacated this flat, he would not move to the new residence with us. I was fed up of his insincerity and evasions. He mumbled that he didn’t want to be here anymore. I asked him to think carefully and speak clearly. He said he wanted out.
Essentially, he dumped me, because I wanted to discuss his repeated lies and cheating and he had emails to send, was tired, etc.
The last time he pulled this stunt over a cheating affair, I had warned him that if he continued to behave recklessly with women, dodging accountability and dumping me for questioning his cheating affair, I’d be putting out a public advisory. And this is it.
Now that we have broken up, he believes long term relationships don’t suit him and he’d prefer a string of casual relationships. What is unforgivable to me is entering a child’s life as literally the only parent he has known, and whimsically throwing it away. What part of casual relationships involves installing yourself as a parasite in someone’s home? Why introduce to parents, engagement, wedding if you had no intentions of committing permanently? Why move in?
My home was nothing more than a base camp to operate from. What he valued in life was all outside. Public events, infidelity, socializing, meeting friends for lunches…. His “life” had absolutely nothing to do with the people in the home he inhabited beyond being a courteous roommate, helping around the home and with the child. And any attempt to demand more attention was punished with more distance and stony silences.
A separate post about what I understand of his methods and motivations will follow. Please note that I don’t know to date whether he is an extraordinarily selfish and cowardly person or actually mal-intended. There is no way to tell whether the false apologies and promises are real when he says them and then he loses motivation, or he never meant them at all. All I know is that as things stand, he is toxic for me.
Note 3: There is no doubt in my mind that he will respond to this in a manner that attempts to show me as someone hard to please. All I can say is that my expectations were a really low bar for any decent person and if he found basic honesty so impossible, that says more about him than me. Good part of having a long distance relationship largely conducted on chat is that I can prove what I say, if he wants me to.
Note 4: If I believe he has actually changed his ways, I will update this post – this is not intended as anger or revenge, but a warning to women who may be at risk. He is a compulsive flirt when it comes to single women living independently in particular, and grooms them to set up a mood of trust and intimacy.
Note 5: Without any arrogance, I can honestly say that I doubt there is another place or people on the planet who will give him the extent of acceptance this home has. He is throwing it all away because of an ego so massive that he cannot accept being recognized as scum and he is not willing to put in necessary sustained effort to not be scum. In the process, if the child who counts on him as a parent has to lose one of the two key supports in his life, so be it. His parents are going to be devastated. I fully believe he will seek greener pastures where he can fool more unsuspecting people to cater to his constant need for admiration, and failing that, manipulative power over their well being. And hence this post. No one deserves this. Anyone overwhelmed by his charm and getting interested should know this with a basic search for information and make their choices with their eyes wide open.
Final note: I have tried to be as coherent as I can. However this is a difficult subject for me to talk about from both grief and rage. I may edit parts of it to make more sense later, if I think of them.