As I was walking my dog last night on our pre-bedtime constitutional, a thought struck me. This is not unusual. I do some of my best thinking while waiting for my dog to stop chasing imaginary squirrels and finally pee. What was unusual was the thought itself. It was a rather deep thought, one of great introspection and pattern recognition.
I realized that, in the years following the abusive relationship that I managed to escape in the nick of time, I have surrounded myself with curmudgeonly misanthropes and this is probably as a direct subconscious result of living eight years with domestic violence.
Monster #2, the domestic abuser, was charming. He was funny, interesting and instantly likable by most people he met. He was also a sociopath.
He wasn’t always charming. Over the course of his life, he cultivated a personality that people liked. When he was a kid, he was isolated, because he had not learned the skills necessary to interact with people. None of these people skills, including, oh, feeling human emotions, were inherent in him since he was, in fact, an inhuman sociopath. He could not read people. He didn’t know how they ticked because he didn’t tick that way. So, he set to studying them like most people his age studied history or geometry.
By the time I met him near the end of high school, he had proved to be an excellent student on the subject of people. He could mimic them like a professional actor. He had their facial expressions down. He chose the best traits of humans, or at least the traits that the most successful and likable humans had, and applied them to himself like makeup. When I met him, he was well and truly charming.
His charm nearly killed me. Over the course of eight years, I began to see him without his people-makeup and it was not pretty. Without it, he was a monster, but he did not appear as a monster until near the end. For the first few years, he managed to pretend that he was a real human with emotions and a personality of his own.
After I got out, I didn’t trust anyone for a good long while. Even with visible bruises, a restraining order and copies of police reports, most of our mutual friends–I wasn’t allowed any of my own–sided with him. They still saw the charm, not the monster underneath. That left me alone. I had a difficult time with trust even before I met Monster #2–there was, after all, a Monster #1–but when it all went to hell, I found it hard to trust anyone at all.
I moved out of state and got a fresh start with people who had never met him. I could tell my story and people would sympathize instead of assuming I was lying like my old friends had. His charm had no effect on people he’d never met. Eventually, I made new friends. I trust these friends as far as I can really trust anyone, which isn’t all the way, but at least it’s real trust given to real people.
It occurred to me last night that none of my friends are especially charming, at least, not to strangers. I mean, I think they are hilarious, intelligent, interesting and beautiful, but like me, it took a long time to really get to know them. They are not instantly likable. If you met me or any of my friends, you’d probably either think of us as misanthropic losers or stuck up.
I’ve been called a bitch and an ice queen a lot. I don’t take it personally. It’s a fairly accurate assessment of my interactions with strangers. I am not charming, chatty, welcoming or friendly unless you know me well. And getting to know me well takes time and patience.
Male is pretty much the exact opposite of Monster #2. He is outwardly intimidating. He is very tall and doesn’t have a friendly bearing. He’s not interested in whether strangers like him or not. When we met, I could tell that there was nothing fake about him. He wore his intimidation as a defense mechanism like I wore my bitch label. I liked him pretty much immediately, but it took a long, long time before we knew each other well, before we could cry in front of each other and tell each other literally anything. It took nearly fifteen years.
Most of my friends are the same. If you invite us to a party, we’ll find a place to sit and watch people and mostly talk amongst ourselves. If people come over to us, we’ll chat, but we don’t make an effort to branch out and meet new people. Male says, “I’ve already got enough friends.” And he’s pretty much right.
He’s lucky enough to have a group of lifelong friends that would do anything for each other. He has the kind of friends that would bail him out of jail or donate a kidney. Somehow, through chance and good timing, I was fortunate enough to be accepted into this group of friends. It was not instantaneous and neither side really tried to make friends. It happened naturally and gradually through general proximity and shared interests, but now, I have those kind of friends, too.
And none of them are charming.
And I wonder how much of that is because I spent so long staring at the mask of a sociopath. Did I subconsciously set out to make new friends with people who were nothing like Monster #2? Or was it just happenstance?
In any event, I am still wary of charming and always will be. If Prince Charming came along, I’d probably give him the cold shoulder. He’d mutter, “Bitch,” as he walked away shaking his head and I’d be alright with that. I’ve already got enough friends.