None of us was cheating, but we had an eternal third-wheeler in our (toxic) relationship
Updated: Jan 2
The story of my ex-fiancée and I could be the new setting of a"traditional 21ˢᵗ century modern love tragedies". Thanks to my parents, my gaming friends, and my gut instinct, this is my story of how I was able to gain courage to break off my engagement for good in October 2019. I hope my story would save yourself as victims without regard to any gender. (VERSI BAHASA INDONESIA)
BY "MR. T" (not the one from A-Team), 30
Illustrated by Wai Santy
What would you define a kind of relationship where you’re always reminded that you’re not good-looking (I admit that I’m not) and you’re fat (but yet you’re being discouraged to go to gym)?
You would think it’s a relationship between a bully and a victim.
Imagine if the word ‘bully’ was replaced with ‘girlfriend’.
She was my ex-girlfriend. Or, make that ex-fiancée.
I was about to get married to this person this coming Spring 2020.
It never occurred to me that I’d be in this kind of relationship of two and a half years, followed by being engaged for a year and was about to get married with the very person that subconsciously pulled me to her own depths of despair where both of us were unmotivated, ugly, un-maintained, and became a complete mess together.
I never knew there was even a term for this type of relationship until I could write this story for #PTTMerdeka20 and reflect back.
What Is Love?
How do you guys feel if the opposite sex asks you out first?
There are various answers to this, but whether you’re embarrassed, uneasy or feel it’s something to be disgusted about, well, if it’s coming from me, I’d say it’s something to be proud of.
That dopamine effect of the tingling feeling of “is this too good to be true?” is mixed with “Am I a little too desperate and lonely?” ran around in my head. However, if a lady did ask you out, it was because she couldn’t contain her feelings that she more attracted to you than you to her at the time.
Try to put yourself in her shoes = it's really something - for I’m a gamer, I’m a geek, and I profess myself to be a late bloomer as a shy guy growing up. I never had a ‘dating life’ until I was 25.
Don’t take me wrong that I feel sorry for myself. I’ve been happy that I went through the process of discovering myself first from high school to university. I know that I’ve always preferred to be left alone with my games, computers and my best buds. I’m also an audiophile.
You can call it my support system to keep me going on with being single when accompanied by these three. I know myself that if I feel lost, this is my self-love - I need to come back to my foundations to not lose my sights in life.
I only started to consider dating only when the quarter-life phase started to kick in: friends started settling down and led to my circle of friends dissipate as they adopt the new husband role. It made me reflect back to myself, what do I want?
I arrived at my contemplation that to stabilize my business, I need to settle down with myself first, and one way to settle down is to find a partner. I know that I’d love to have my own family, to go through my self-growth process becoming a full-fledged adult. If I’m responsible enough to have a family, then my mind for business gets more stable as well.
And of course, like all other Indonesian children that I’ll get a nudge from time to time from my parents saying “Son, you sure don’t want to be alone all the time like this, go find one”.
Alright then, I thought. I needed to put myself out there searching for ‘my other half’.
Is This Love?
It came to my surprise that an opposite sex could ask someone like me out.
When you least expect it, I got into this long-distance relationship – it simply began when I decided to close my OKCupid account for good. But on the day I decided to deactivate my account, this girl messaged me there.
Her profile stated that she’s from Singapore.
I did have a little thought that her profile is odd, why did she, a Singaporean set her location to Jakarta? Unless… she is willing or is open to the idea of moving here, right?
Yes, I was looking for an emotionally available and exclusive relationship, therefore, I do think about the long term. And so, to debunk the crappy theory of how all guys are using the ladies – I exist, and so are other guys. The fuckboys are ruining the game for the rest of us who are serious when we know what we want.
Not thinking about it too much, I just straight up took the initiative to start the chat. She did caught my interest; she was truly unique. She could speak Mandarin very well, and at every kind of Chinese dialect available on the Mainland – this is a plus point for my parents, too. I was equally impressed as I like a life partner to form her own intellect and mind. Her face was quite attractive, too.
This Singaporean girl was assertive. By the first week we were video calling and text messaging not having even met face to face, she initiated to go steady, and I was very happy that she initiated.
Does Loving Mean to Accept it All?
The first time we actually met in real life, it was quite a pleasant meeting. I’ve only got to see her physically at this time, and I’ll admit it was not as attractive as I had first had.
Six weeks later, my second time meeting also went well, although minor red flags started to spark in my head. I consciously chose to ignore it, being Mr. Nice Guy that no one is perfect. I focused on her good aspects.
A milestone was reached when she invited me to go to her house to rest for a while before going to the airport and I took upon that request. By chance I met her family – meaning that she too, was invested in this relationship because introducing your family means to know a step closer to a person's inner world.
She’s not a typical Singaporean living in HDB, she comes from a much more privileged family. Her family owns a big house with a big garden, the dad owns a top-end Merc, the sister is one of the top students in Singapore’s most esteemed U, and the mom runs a gold shop with her extended family. The family owned a few properties around Singapore and a big patch of land in Johor Bahru. It was a surprise to find that they are very humble and down-to-earth. I left Singapore with a good impression and a warm heart.
Alas, the sayings that the third time’s a charm rings for a reason.
My girlfriend told me she’s been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and bulimic behavior. She receives regular checkups with her psychiatrist. It came as a result of bullying and mental torture from her exes and friends.
Me, as a “Mr. Nice Guy” felt that that she can be saved and changed for the better. As a human being, I believe that everyone deserves to be loved, even though you do have a disorder or disability or other ‘flaws’ – you’re still human.
Somehow pushing further support to my thoughts, her father had entered the scene, added that I should be patient about her diagnose and put faith that she will change. After her painful past of exes, I was determind to shower her with the actual care she deserved.
“A Vicious Cycle of Nightmares”*
Her symptoms started to get awry when I met her for the fourth time in Singapore.
Her BPD flared up, experiencing serious delusions. Some of her symptoms were not taking care of herself, didn’t do her skin care and workout routine or having a social life, and chose to live in this delusional world she created; I’ve received its negativity when she tersely remarked that other guys want to sleep with her and she can easily find a replacement for me. Although she was delusional, I felt extremely offended.
All the while this happened, her father coaxed my feelings so that I wouldn’t leave her, repeating:
“She can be saved, she can and will change as a person”;
“It’s just a phase”;
“She’s having stress with her studies so please try to calm her down and love her more”;
“It's not a permanent thing, you need to be patient and comply with her needs”.
Her father is a discerning, diplomatic and shrewd. Strong in character; protective of both of his daughters, he has a real charm with words. I could’ve never guessed how my life would deeply intertwined with him.
Looking back, perhaps, it was at this point where manipulation began.
Her disorders become apparent and occur regularly then her father came to tame me, assuring that her tantrums and emotional turmoil was just a phase that I should understand why she has her disorder.
Wait a minute - what happened to my relationship (just one man and woman)? Oh, we had a permanent third-wheel. The gatekeeper. Her father.
Every single time. It’s as if I was under his hypnosis.
To put in other words, he became too involved in our relationship.
Our problems became his; my girlfriend never dared to face our problems directly, and I felt like I was dating an indecisive 14-year old rather than an actual adult two months younger than me. It felt rather strange to resolve all our matters through the gatekeeper.
Throughout my relationship, I’ve experienced her darkest side of delusions that lasted six months; it was one of the most difficult and painful period. Her continuous BPD relapse during our relationship was less of a struggle, simply because I became experienced in handling her. The gatekeeper ironed her issues neatly with his words, and I always felt terribly guilty if I ever had a silver of thought of leaving her.
He was gentle in this chiding, where I accepted his blame that all of her disorders was for me to accommodate.
Yes, I knew that breaking up with her would give me the liberation my mind had craved for so long. However, it was impossible for me to have thought about it at the time; I’d lost all confidence in myself - she had slowly damaged my self-esteem by mocking me and calling me worthless; I'd be a lonely and hopeless guy if I left her. I’d been made dependent on her validation.
It’s as if she has planted a wild beanstalk of irrational fear that I would be forever alone, the beanstalk was too high up for me to overcome as I looked at it from the worm-eye view. I felt helpless by seeing it continue to grow in my conflicted thoughts.
Meanwhile, the gatekeeper kept a watchful eye during our relationship; he was pleased with how our relationship progressed. My hunch tells me now that it was this very reason for him to start the “Why don’t we set a date for you two?” conversation because “his man can handle my daughter and didn’t run away all this time” to get me on board for a lifetime.
I was engaged by October 2018.
“The Turned-Off Exit Light, Get Away From Me Now”*
You might think it’s strange that the proposal was as casual as agreeing on a date, got the rings from her mum’s gold shop, and didn’t have an official celebration – it was just simply done at home with no pictures taken at all. I didn’t do a proposal on one knee or anything romantic to prepare or figure out. Although my mum remarked the oddness of no pictures from the engagement made her particularly dubious, indicating clear verbatim that this union doesn’t look sunny, I somehow passed on this premonition.
In December 2018, she came to Jakarta and met the extended side of my family and friends, now introduced as my fiancée. Everyone was praising her. As her fiancé, I felt very proud – only deep down inside, I knew in reality that it’s all her fake acts to gain good impressions from the public.
By April 2019, I didn’t think I could ever get a logical answer from her.
Let’s get this straight: doesn’t anyone want to be at their very best as a future bride and groom? We were arguing about how she refused to take care of herself, becoming lazy and complacent and had excuses that nearby the marriage date she’ll change and become a beautiful bride.
It finally dawned upon me: this person will not honor her words once we are bonded together. The last couple of visits she made to Indonesia proofed my suspicions correct.
If this was the moment you’ve been waiting for me to tell her I wanted to give up on this relationship, I did.
Or, I really tried my best to no avail. When I told her that I wanted to break up, the first thing she did was to call her father and made him confront me. Answering him with my well-practiced poker face with rage inside my heart. It is a lather-rinse-repeat situation over, and over again.
Wedding preparations ensued.
She decided to go for a private banquet party for the ceremony in Singapore, and told me to start preparing the Indonesian ceremony.
Only on that very day in October 2019, I vividly remember the day my volcano erupted: it was a hot day in Jakarta; it was very hot that I had a headache. Furthermore, my parents looked for me to deliver the interrogation to my head that I truly needed to have in a long time.
My mom started, “Son, are you sure you want to be with [ex’s name]?”
“Yes, I’m sure."
“Are you sure?”
“Are you really sure? All this time I’ve never seen you genuinely happy, you just look… different.”
Mum repeated this like a hammer pounding the nail, in which I was still standing my nail sharp and tall. The turning point came at one point when my dad said the same words, yet it came from him: “Are you really sure that you want to be with [ex’s name]?”
My brain halted. I registered it in.
“Son, I see that you’re unhappy. Are you sure that you’re sure? I’m going to straightforwardly tell you that if you do have a life partner, you not only have her for spiritual and emotional matters, but to relish, enjoy and love your partner in her physical form. Son, if she can’t take care of herself, how can you continue to love her that way?”
And then it hit me: my brain gathered its courage when the person I could confide in has given the support to only speak of the truth.
I told them the truth about everything.
I told them I wanted to end this vicious cycle.
Both of my parents strongly assured me that this was the best decision.
The next day, I went to my dad and said, “Let’s end this now. I don’t want this to continue… Dad, could you be with me? I mean, just sit there, I’ll do it.”
My dad was taken aback by my immediate initiative, and adding how proud he was that I have gathered my courage to make a stand this fast. He was in favor; he sat across me while I awaited the call that would be the response from the break-up message I sent.
Within 15 minutes, the video call came in from Singapore and of course, there he was, the gatekeeper’s face – remind me who was I dating again?
He was trying his best to play with my mind and emotion, but I could see that his mask fell off. I could see and hear the sound of desperation. He knew that his daughter will not meet another person that could understand her for this long again.
When he finally gave the phone to her, I saw my ex-fiancée was crying. Simultaneously, our video call became unsteady, it was a sign to end it once and for all – “Find yourself a better guy” were the last words I told her.
It was the last time I saw her face.
If it’s No, then It’s a No
We weren’t born unto this world to suffer for a person that is too selfish to empathize with us – there are professionals who are trained to handle that.
A relationship takes two to tango where problems should be solved together, not with another third person, a family, a cousin, a friend, even perhaps, a stranger (It’s common with anonymous apps such as ‘Whisper’).
Problems will always arise. Love is a verb that you have to work on it, together. And it’s great if you have problems to work on together. It’s stimulating to receive a challenge to overcome it, together. Do separate family-related and personal-relationship matters.
Maybe all of this happened because I was inexperienced in dating and been in the dating scene, because only after I ended my relationship, I’ve realized that we were never ‘two-gether’. We always had an eternal third-wheeler, her father.
He was the gatekeeper, and I was his captive to keep his mentally-unstable princess company.
My three pillars have become the comfort corner to take shelter during the relationship. If I didn’t have access to it, there could be two options: I would get out of this toxic relationship faster that I didn’t have access to my ‘love’, or I would have suffocated for good.
When it comes to relationships and mental issues, no one is to be blamed, whether her diagnosis with BPD, or her over-protective father. There’ll always be a mental master puppeteer giving you a role, and the only way to exit is for your own conscience to save you from the stage you’ve been set on and get your own grip.
“Am I happy with this relationship?” is the question that you should keep on asking to yourself at any stage of your relationship. It took me two and a half years to be honest with myself.
If the answer in your heart is no, then you should stop. Even if it’s the smallest whisper of ‘no’. You should start respecting your own feelings.
*) The subtitle has been taken from Artist: EXO, Song Title: Obsession, released on 27 November 2019
“Thousand nights, I repeated so many times
A vicious cycle of nightmares, I’ll end it now
The turned-off exit light
Get away from me now
Blacken my heart… staining my soul”