It all started unbelievably well. I met Z through a friend while I was dating someone else. Z waited patiently for a good couple of months – and asked me out the day after I became single again. He looked every bit my type, came from my much adored region, and had a unique sense of humour. I had nothing more to wish for.
Things progressed very quickly. Our first date was beautiful; they usually are. On the second date, we kissed, and the relationship was sealed. Z was working minutes away, and we could see each other several times a day. I met his family after just two weeks. He fitted my matrix perfectly: just like me, he hated the usual obsessions of this world such as television, drunk late nights and loud companies – and instead preferred such important small things as cosy evenings at home, romantic dinners, sweet nicknames and spending time together. He made an impression of someone stable, reliable, sensitive and faithful. In short, Z really seemed to be that faraway, hazy dream my mind had developed a long time ago. He was perfect; my darling little Z.
End to paradise
The first setback came very soon. A humorous message of the sort “the guys here are sticky” sent from my lone photo-session trip to Barcelona arose a massive stir. Showered with aggressively far-reaching accusations, I cried on the phone. Z apologised. He thought I was trying to make him jealous, that’s all. He missed me a lot even though we had been dating for a handful of days only. I overlooked that first quarrel, thinking that we were still getting to know each other and that things would improve.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Amidst momentary cosiness over daily mid-point encounters, the arguments only accelerated. I am known for being quite a Facebook regular (an innocent addiction I have had for years), but was urged to change my behaviour beyond recognition. Firstly, I had to delete several people in some way related to my romantic past. This was more or less understandable. Next, I was ordered to reduce my contacts’ number from 650 to 400 at most, as the former seemed such a high number. Shedding male contacts was particularly encouraged. I duly removed around 100 individuals; the person I was doing this for seemed well worth it.
Next came the photos on the internet. Many of them fell victim to Z’s eagle-eyed censorship; nobody would have the pleasure of looking at his girlfriend. A seemingly innocent photo picturing myself with a mouth open and a shocked expression on my face was christened “sexual” and had to go. I still struggle to understand why.
Eventually, Z knew all my 58 photo albums by heart and kept throwing in random questions about specific snaps. One particular example had me hugging a middle-aged man – the head of the Norwegian family I have known through church for seven years and visit regularly in Norway. Hugging older men was absolutely unacceptable. The fact that the person was as dear to me as my father did not seem to matter, either; the photo made my boyfriend feel uncomfortable and had to go. Honestly speaking, removing the photos did not bother me too much. After all, the photos were mere expressions of life, and I was not being asked to erase my personality or particular people from my life altogether.
Goodbye, lone travels
That’s what I was thinking; unfortunately, my life, too, was subject to change. After years of lonesome backpacking as an amateur photographer, I was no longer allowed to travel anywhere alone. Even the idea of me visiting my parents would make Z cringe. All my arrangements had to include him, too; knowing his temper, I signed off on seeing any friends other than an occasional girl friend during lunch. I kept convincing myself it was all fine. No guy ever wanted to accompany me during my (occasionally) mindless adventures. I finally seemed to have found a life companion; it was a positive change.
We went on to plan our first holiday together – in the faraway and hot Hong Kong. Despite the anticipated heat, I was warned not to wear anything tight or above the knee. My favourite summer dresses and shorts were ruled out without the right of parole, my initial resistance being met with suspicion. Was I trying to seduce men? Wouldn’t longer clothes protect me from the heat better? And, apparently, every man gets gallons of sexual pleasure from looking at certain parts of a female body. Clearly, Z’s girlfriend’s body was a taboo to look at and had to be covered up. Non-compliance would be punishable by separation with immediate effect. Discussion closed.
Summer clothing was not the only problem. My pitch-black tights with a checked pattern were deemed “provocative”; my ring-shaped earrings reminded Z of Bosnian whores; my sweatpants were apparently still too tight after 10 years in use; my cycling gear did not meet the minimum decency requirements and had to be covered with loose shorts. I did my best to cooperate, but meticulous control over my style was admittedly getting tiresome.
Then there were countless “little things”. Criticising his mother’s food in front of Z was faced with revolt; what kind of manners did my own parents equip me with? Surely I knew silence was better than expressing non-positive opinions. Going alone to a theatre performance (something I used to do all the time before) was not an option because “men would look” at me. Attending alumni conferences by myself was no longer acceptable, either; why would I want to spend a weekend without my boyfriend? A trivial status update on FB was seen as an attempt to attract male attention. In the end, I was no longer allowed to update statuses. I could of course restrict Z from seeing them, but I still resisted concealing things in a relationship – even if the latter was beginning to wane.
The nightmare end
Meeting my male friends was Z’s undisputable weakest link. I was told that no man would meet a woman unless he wanted to sleep with her, so what’s the point? I tried to convince myself it was true and even wrote a piece about that. Things kept getting more restrictive; not even mentioning men in a conversation was eventually possible. With my habit to chatter away happily about everything and everyone in the world, I wasn’t handling the situation too well. Male acquaintances kept jumping out from every corner of my mind in relation to any part of the conversation – with consequences getting uglier by hour.
The breaking point of our relationship may sound trivial. I was brave enough to send a text message to a good male friend, asking a simple, unassuming question. I still shiver at the recollection of Z’s reaction. He smashed his hand on the wall (the sight I would see on many subsequent occasions). He cried out loud. He gasped and held at his chest. He called me “retarded” and “f***ing stupid”. His eyes seemed to be falling out of his face as he shook his hands in the air, screaming, “How could you do this to me?!” It was scary. I swallowed the insult and promised I would never send a message to any man in the world. I was hoping it was just me being wrong and disrespectful. Deep inside, however, I knew everything between us was over.
The foundation of the house shaken, it was pointless to stress about the fine china. Initially cooperative to a fine detail, I loosened up. Firstly, I asked some contacts Z had asked me to remove to block him instead and disappear from his sight forever. Then I “converted” some of my colleagues from males to females and could now freely mention them in conversations. Finally, I invented a fictitious female colleague to accompany me on every past and present business trip to avoid Z’s suspicion paranoia.
For a short time, the situation became close to manageable – until one morning when, coming into work, I bumped into my ex-boyfriend. He smiled and asked how things were going. The contrast with Z’s heavy, uber-paranoid look could not have been starker. Heartsick, I broke the capital rule: before leaving to meet Z waiting by the door outside, I knocked on my ex’s glass office window and waved goodbye. He was a true friend; Z was no friend at all.
We finally split up after a few days and a string of escalating arguments. I apologise to all friends I have removed from contacts or otherwise neglected during this time. I wish I could say that it was worth it – but that would be lying to myself. The good thing is that my life is back. My life goes on!