In theory, Rob was a catch. In practice, my emotions were telling me two things at once: This person is terrible, and this person is incredibly sexy in some screwed up way that validates your insecurities.
After the museum, Rob declared, “Let’s get a drink.” Note: He did not ask. And, in fact, I really didn’t want to get a drink — I had a migraine and was on the verge of getting a cold. I had been dreaming of heading home and watching Netflix.
But I said “yes” instead of “no” because, quite simply, I was afraid to assert my needs. Plus, he was bizarrely into charming me with nostalgic expressions of chivalry (holding doors open, paying for me, and so on).
As a feminist, I was surprised and somewhat disgusted with myself that I was falling for these totally superficial expressions of care. And why was I acting so passive? Rob had caught me at a weird time.
It was the end of August. I was in the midst of an uncomfortable transition. I had left a full-time job to pursue freelance writing. I was about to move into a new apartment. I was getting over a breakup. And I was feeling a resurgence of body image issues and other psychological crap coming to the surface.
Everything in my life at that point felt so uncertain, and I was dealing with crippling self-doubt. In a weird way, I felt somewhat addicted to confirming my own insecurity, and dating Rob certainly heightened my insecurities. At the same time, it also provided me with a sense of potential security — at least theoretically. Amid all of the chaos in my life, at least I could have a boyfriend — even if he made me feel like shit.
After many (read: five) mezcal cocktails, Rob had another idea. “Let’s go to my apartment,” he said. I smiled, and responded “Okay,” even though I wanted to say “no.”
Sure, I was drunk. But I’ve also always overvalued the idea of being easygoing and chill, someone who can just “go with the flow.”
When we got there, it was clear that sex was going to happen (note the passive voice). I didn’t want to have sex, but I figured that Rob expected it, and that giving him what he expected would guarantee continued approval.
I asked Rob if he had a condom. He told me no, he didn’t like them, but he was STD-free, and was really good at “the pull-out method.”
I told him his response made me feel uncomfortable and pressured — and I was proud of myself for speaking up. I was ready for the tides to turn. Rob smiled, told me there was nothing to worry about and cursorily convinced me that everything would be fine if we slept together sans condom.
I was unconvinced, but I found myself leaning on the reliable response of “okay” to avoid ruffling feathers. If I were to say what I need, I reasoned, I’d be making “a big deal.” It would mess with my idea of myself as someone who is hyper-laid-back. So I went through the motions.
After that night, Rob always wanted to spend time together. He texted me every day throughout the day. If I didn’t answer immediately or my responses seemed slightly curt, he’d call to make sure that nothing was wrong.
This might sound “sweet,” but the irony is that Rob didn’t really seem to care whether everything was actually “okay.” Once, when I was a little down, Rob offered to come to my apartment to cook me lunch. When he arrived, he spent the entire time asking me why I had roommates, why I lived in Brooklyn (as opposed to Manhattan), and critiquing my furniture.
Another time, when we were having the closest thing to a “deep” conversation we'd ever had, I told him about a traumatic sexual experience I’d had years ago. He immediately changed the subject to a meeting he’d had earlier that day.
I can’t say for certain that Rob didn’t care about me at all, because I still don’t really understand his psychology. But I’d guess that he cared about having someone there to want his approval. And there I was — doing just what he wanted, and still somehow attracted to him, even though he made me feel, quite literally, like a crazy person.
After about three weeks of our spending time together, I found myself admitting to my therapist that I actually didn’t like Rob at all. I didn’t even really like sleeping with him — so I knew my infatuation wasn’t even about sex.
But I felt drunk with desire, especially when we weren’t together. The combination of his pseudo-obsessive way of letting me know he was thinking of me all the time and his total disregard for what I actually wanted and needed from a partner resulted in my feeling completely obsessed.