Spurred by Olga Khazan’s chronicle of G-chats called “A Diary of Toxic Love,” readers open up about the emotional abuse in their own relationships. To share your story, send us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org. (If you’d like to supplement your story with screenshots of texts, we’ll make all redactions necessary for full anonymity on both ends.)
That feeling ate away at John, a pseudonymous reader:
There were certainly parts of Olga Khazan’s account of Laura’s relationship that resonated with me, mostly the complexity of something like emotional abuse. I think in some ways I conceive of myself as both a recovering emotional abuser and victim—an idea that Khazan’s article begins to approach near the end, when it discusses how Lauren would “push back” against her ex. Not that I think she was an abuser herself, but certainly in her ex’s memory, there were plenty of times where Lauren perhaps behaved in a manner that could be described as abuse, though not to the same magnitude.
After my ex and I split, I would describe some experiences with her to other people (mostly women, actually) who identified them as forms of emotional abuse against me. The constant fight-picking, threats to leave the relationship over minor disagreements about things like my opinion of news articles, belittling of my feelings, and the dredging-up of old arguments got to the point where I fantasized about cheating on her and keeping it to myself. Not because I actually wanted satisfaction elsewhere, but because I knew the pent-up guilt would make me feel like I deserved to be treated how she treated me.
Perhaps that qualifies more squarely as toxicity—something where both people are at fault—than it does as abuse. (I’m sure my ex has some choice stories about things I have said or done that would qualify as abuse.) I don’t think either of us met the other and said “I’m so excited to waste years of my life making yours miserable.” That kind of dynamic develops over time.
I long ago deleted the anxiety-inducing texts and emails and chats that my ex and I exchanged, especially near the (very bitter) end. In my final analysis, I think we were both so happy to be with someone that we ended up trying to force a relationship that should have ended before. There were certainly good moments—of which I am reminded by Facebook’s “on this day” feature—but I think our fears of being alone and not wanting to blow up the life we had built together made the relationship drag on past its expiration. Being in our early 20s and being relatively inexperienced with things like communication and conflict resolution, and living in a city in which it is a lot more expensive to live alone, also didn’t help things.
Though I regret my mistakes and mistreatment of my partner, and I’m still not perfect, I am thankful for an experience that revealed my faults, so that I could understand myself better and become the all-around better man I am today.
Here’s the first of two readers owning up to emotional abuse:
Even before I read Olga Khazan’s account of a toxic relationship, I have recently been having some revelations and self-realizations about a relationship that have made me finally accept the role that I played as an emotional abuser.
The relationship ended five years ago, and I feel ashamed that it has taken me so long to see the situation clearly. But I think that I was in a kind of denial about accepting the label of “emotional abuser” because I had never actually been physically abusive, and the examples of domestic abuse that we see and hear about in the media always seem to be examples of physical abuse. So it was pretty easy to tell myself that I was not an abuser because I had never caused any “physical harm” to anyone, and it was easy to dismiss any complaints or concerns as my ex just being “overly sensitive,” like Lauren’s ex told her.
I think I was so oblivious to my role as an abuser, or so unwilling to accept that I was anything other than the “nice guy” who looked “good on paper” to my ex and to everyone else in my life, that I was frequently able to recast my guilt as a form of victimhood, or to split the blame by labeling the entire relationship toxic. However, when I look back on the relationship, I can see now that it was toxic because I made it toxic. I was overly critical about almost everything, and I failed to maintain a proper sense of perspective on both the relationship and on life in general, so that a “dent in the floor,” or a banana peel in my car, became things that enraged me and justified my criticism and emotional abuse.
In my case, everything came to a head on the night we broke up.
I’ve always struggled with depression and anxiety, and when my ex decided to leave me, I convinced myself that I was suicidal, when in fact I was trying to manipulate her into remaining in the relationship. My ex called the police because I threatened suicide, but when they arrived, and found out that I had impeded her from leaving the apartment by putting myself between her and the door, they arrested me for false imprisonment.
In retrospect, this was something necessary and deserved, and I have learned more from that than from any other single event in my life, but even that took me years to accept. In the immediate aftermath of the arrest, I was still convinced that it was an overreaction by the police, and that because I had not physically harmed my ex, there was no way I was guilty of any actual abuse. My friends and family helped me to maintain this delusion by defending my actions and encouraging me to hire a defense lawyer, and so it has taken me around four years to be able to clearly see that I was an abuser, even if it was “only” emotional.
In my case, my life kind of fell apart because of that one moment, and that has brought a welcome check on my ego and the arrogance that I used to tell myself that it wasn’t my fault. Unfortunately for most victims of emotional abuse, the average abuser probably never experiences this kind of reckoning, and I think that the absence of this allows many emotional abusers to continue to justify their behavior to themselves, and consequently, to continue to act in the same way without learning from their past mistakes.
This next reader dissents over “Diary of Toxic Love”:
I felt the article was very heavily biased towards the woman’s experience, and the conclusions seemed massively overstated, particularly given the strong emphasis on abuse in the preamble. I feel that the previous and subsequent relationships of the individuals involved should have been described, to establish if there was any pattern consistent with emotional abuse or personality issues. I felt the article needlessly pathologised (or “therapy-ised”) what sounded to be simply two people with different expectations of how to behave in a relationship.
If you identified with Lauren’s ex in any way and would like to share your own story, please drop us a note—all perspectives are welcome. Here’s another one from a self-described abuser:
As a male sufferer of borderline personality disorder, I wanted to give a perspective on my own abusive relationship. We met three and a half years ago in college. At the time I frequently abused alcohol in an attempt to deal with constant depression and anxiety, mostly stemming from a childhood spent under physically and emotionally abusive parents. She had a history of low self-esteem and self-harm, including cutting and anorexia, and had also grown up in an environment that negated her own emotional life. In short, we were a match made in heaven.
Lauren’s ex described her as “oversensitive,” which really resonated with me. I can’t diagnose him, but I often felt this way during my own relationship with my ex. It’s not because it’s true, and to be honest I don’t think there really is such a thing as being “oversensitive.” What was really happening was that when my ex made any kind of emotional demands on me, it was simply too taxing for me to bear if I was not already in a stable place—which I rarely was. I didn’t have the coping skills or emotional strength to deal with someone else’s negative emotions on top of my own, so I lashed out. At the time I genuinely believed that me lashing out was OK because I was “finally making sure my own emotional needs were met”—but this was happening because I had no healthy way to satisfy my own emotional needs.
Sufferers of BPD often think in black/white terms: Having a stunted range of emotional expression, we think of people and situations as entirely good and pure or else passionately hate them, often switching between the two modes of thinking like a light switch. I went through cycles of valuing and then devaluing my ex almost constantly: thinking of her as an angel, someone entirely perfect and the only person who could ever love me; then without warning she became a harpy that was ruining my life, and I believed that this had always been the case and I was just too blind to have seen it before.
This switch could happen with almost no warning—most often it was triggered by a fight, but sometimes it was simply because I felt like she didn’t express positive emotions enough! When I felt that she “wasn’t appreciative enough” of favors I did or that she “didn’t show enough love” to me, even when she was being appreciative or loving, I would experience negative emotions such as self-hatred that quickly spiraled out of control. This latter “not enough” feeling is also a hallmark of thinking in sufferers of BPD.
When I abused my ex, I genuinely believed that my emotions reflected reality and that my actions, even if heinous, were justified. The hardest part of BPD to deal with, for me, is simply not being able to trust your own thoughts and feelings. In our fury we break things, the people around us, and ourselves, and then when the wave of self-hatred washes away we are left to pick up the pieces. When this happens time and time again in life, we doubt everything we think and feel, remembering what happened the last time we “went with our gut.”
It’s important for me to remember that, yes, some of the things my ex said or did towards me do count as abuse. But this does not justify or mitigate my own abusive behavior, and it did not make it acceptable for me to reciprocate.
She ended things about six months ago, originally with plans to get back together if we could work out our problems individually. Recently she has told me she has moved on, and although I am hurt, I understand that sometimes there is simply too much baggage to make things work. For now I still think of her fondly and wish the best for her no matter where her life takes her. I want nothing more that for her to experience the kind of loving, stable relationship she should have had.
As for myself, I am exorcising my demons, developing healthy ways of thinking, and letting life guide me one day at a time.
When I read Olga Khazan’s “A Diary of Toxic Love,” it was as if I was reading about my own marriage. I am a young American, and I got married to a Central African man a couple of years after moving to West Africa after college. The emotional abuse was rampant, but I continuously told myself that these were just cultural differences that I needed to deal with through open communication.
The problem was, it was totally impossible for me to communicate with him. Any mention of feeling bad meant that I was hysterical or overthinking things. If he stayed out all night drinking instead of helping me take care of our newborn, I couldn’t bring it up in the morning without being told that I was ruining his day and having a door slammed in my face.
I was told routinely that I had no right to feel the way that I did, and that if I ever told anyone about how much I was struggling, it was a direct betrayal of my husband and his family. I was not allowed to “talk badly about them.”
He convinced me to quit my job when he got a well-paying one, then refused to give me access to his bank account and only let me use the money that he gave me, shaming me if I ever asked for more than I was given.
I lived in absolute terror of the consequences of my actions; I would talk myself up for hours before attempting to talk to him about any problem, then enter the conversation practically shaking with fear. When I witnessed him beat his 5-year-old nephew to the ground and aggressively called him out on it, he told me that I had no right to say a word about it, that he knew what he was doing, and that I should have known what I was getting into when I married an African.
At the time, I thought to myself, “right—cultural differences about child rearing.” Now I think to myself, “I should have taken my son and walked out the door on the spot.”
But I was too afraid to do that. Because he told me daily that I was crazy for feeling the way that I felt, I no longer trusted my own instincts of emotions. I thought that I was wrong for feeling or reacting the way that I did. I struggle with that lack of self trust to this day.
Without ever hitting me, he rendered me totally powerless. I believed that I had no option but to stay with him, and that by marrying a man from a different culture, I had chosen to put up with certain differences.
It was only when my son and I left the country where we had all lived together, with the intention of bringing him to the United States, that I began to rediscover myself. Away from him, I noticed that people liked me—and this absolutely shocked me. Away from him, I realized how little he valued Skype calls with me and our son. Away from him, I noticed how happy I was, how capable I was, what a good job I was doing at work. With him, I routinely had emotional breakdowns at work and openly wept when anything went wrong in my job.
Now I’m going through an ugly international divorce and desperately trying to gain sole custody of my son. Even as I pour emotional, mental, and financial resources into this process, I am grateful every day for the insight I had that allowed me to get out. The cultural differences may have been real, but I was under no obligation to live in fear, no matter what the reason for his behavior.
We paused our reader series on emotional abuse last month when the results of the U.S. presidential election came down, both because of the overwhelming number of timely emails we posted over Trump’s victory and Clinton’s defeat and because posting stories of emotional abuse right after an especially toxic election seemed a little, well, abusive. This reader also felt the strain of the election:
This summer I left my husband, kids in tow, because of his continued treatment of me. The drinking, the constant attitude, the belittling, the constant commentary (“are you really going to wear that” / “you sound like you are flirting with that guy when you talk like that” / “you can’t be friends with a man; he just wants to fuck you”) and the second-guessing built up and was too much to endure.
It all came to a head during our annual vacation. My husband got it in his head on the 13-hour drive that I was being rude to him, so he refused to sleep with me all week. He started drinking every day at 11 am, and by midweek he was screaming at me that I was a cunt, a bitch, a whore, frigid, an asshole, stupid, and a sheep. He said he wanted a divorce in front of his parents and our two small children. And yet he says he remembers none of it.
Leaving him was a shock. A real shock. He had no idea, he said, that I felt that way. Certainly he “never meant to hurt me and would never hurt me.”
I eventually came back for the kids, and because I really couldn’t break his heart—although I do not love him or want him. He has been true to his word and not cursed at me since the trip, but the other behaviors still exist (and totally exacerbated by this election, believe me).
An older woman writes:
During my 30-year marriage (now ended for five years), my partner blew up inappropriately, belittled me, insulted me, threatened me, bullied me, and isolated me from family and kept friends from visiting. Over the years he became so upset over my two grown, married sons, he even banished them from visiting as well. He was also careless with money and had a disability that nearly ruined our finances.
My innate gift as a singer-songwriter always threatened him, so I kept it buried during our marriage. When I finally resumed playing music at age 60, he tried to make me stop with insults, belittling my vocal abilities and my character for starting music again. But I kept with it and decided to end the relationship. At the same time, I began dating the person I was playing music with.
This next woman “definitely never thought I would be in any relationship like the one I’m in now”:
I did wrestling and football in high school, being the only girl on the team. A lot of people thought I was brave. I’m currently in an Army ROTC program to be an officer in the National Guard after I graduate.
I met my husband three years ago. Our relationship moved very quickly. Within three months, we were living in an apartment together. Almost a year after that, three weeks before I went to Basic Combat Training, we eloped. My family really didn’t like him, but he had me convinced that was because they were bigots (he referred to them as “hillbillies” a lot).
When our relationship went downhill, the constant criticism, belittling, and anger over my career choice in the military chipped away at what I thought about myself. I didn’t even realize that it was emotional abuse until I instant-message chatted with TheHotline.org about it. They confirmed it was emotional abuse.
He is currently enlisted in the same National Guard that I will commission into. In the past six months, our relationship has dissolved. He made constant remarks about how mediocre of an officer he thinks I will be. He has stated that I “don’t belong in his uniform.” I am 12 out of 14 in my class, as printed on the accessions sheet, and he would constantly tell me how he “had to call around to get favors” to get me a good placement, because “Do you know how hard it is to vouch for a 12th seed cadet?” There were also threats that if we divorced, he would do what he could to wreck my military career, and by extension my civilian careers.
There was also some sexual abuse. He would tell me he wanted me to walk around with a very uncomfortable dildo in myself so that I could feel the way that I made him feel all the time. He also got angry enough at me one time to hide all the modest underwear I had, leaving me to wear a thong in my army uniforms for about a week.
He has experienced some traumatic events in the military, all of which he blames on the officers involved. Ergo, he took it out on me through impossible expectations.
At the same time, he expected that I be the best officer I could, but still fulfill all the obligations as a wife. He was enraged when I told him I had a mandatory four-month training after I graduate because he wanted me to “pump out a kid” for him as soon as possible.
As recently as two weeks ago, I proposed divorce. After taking my phone (thank goodness my mother sent me an emergency one), he started to spread a false rumor to people in his unit that I cheated on him in our marriage [which is actually a crime within the military]. (I didn’t. He actually cheated on me and gave me an STD). He also threatened to post up very intimate photos of myself in my uniform. (He put one up on Whisper and, thank goodness, I was able to flag it for bullying.) I had addressed this manipulation of my esteem and career with my commanding officer long before this incident, and he has been very supportive of me while I go through this.
My husband is getting better through counseling, and I am getting better too. But while we are currently only separated, I think it is best to go through with a divorce. So much has happened to me that, while I may forgive, I don’t think I will ever be able to fully forget.
One more reader shares her story of toxic marriage:
I’m a 35-year-old teacher with a master’s degree and 10 years of experience in my field. I recently divorced in September after discovering that I was in an emotionally abusive marriage. I recognized there was something off early in on the relationship, but even with my education, experience, knowledge, family, and friends, I didn’t fully realize it until everything finally started to unravel after six years of marriage and two children.
Two years ago, my now-ex told me he wanted a divorce. He said he had been unhappy for a long time, and he was upset that I was prioritizing other things above him. This was not the first time he brought up the D-word. He’d done it once after a trip out of town, because I didn’t reward the trip with having sex with him. He’d done it previously because I wasn’t “excited” about a 14-hour road trip on Christmas Day to visit his daughter from a previous relationship.
In all, divorce came up about once a year. This particular instance, though, it felt different. Thus began our spiral into destruction, where for three months we tried to fix things but they unraveled faster. He would claim he didn’t really want a divorce, and he would beg me to stay when I began packing to move. Then the next day he’d scream at me that he wanted a divorce again, or leave divorce papers on the kitchen counter for me. In this three-month time period, he told me he wanted a divorce nine times; and then talk me into staying again, giving him just “one more chance.”
He would disappear for days then show up angry that I had a (female) friend over. He monitored all my accounts (emails, texts, social media) without my knowledge. He told me I could only talk about our relationship with people he approved (his friends). He cut off my phone service so I couldn’t contact anyone. He harassed me online. He stormed out of counseling appointments cussing at me. He repeatedly locked me out of portions of the house. He drove away in a different vehicle and left me alone in the car 10 miles from home with no keys in February. He changed the locks on the house altogether to keep me from being able to enter.
That was what made me finally face the fact that this was not normal relationship behavior. I ended up moving out and finally taking the time to work on myself. And I finally admitted that I was in an abusive relationship.
Honestly, I knew before. I remember within months of our whirlwind relationship—we dated only six months before he proposed—googling “emotional abuse” and “verbal abuse.” The escalation in behaviors forced me to really look at it. I can check off so much of the abusive actions on any checklist, but like he said to me: He didn’t hit me. I do wish he had, then I would have known. But since he didn’t, it was easy to justify away or leave it as a gray area.
The abusive behaviors were mainly about control and manipulation. There was a constant criticism of me and my “unwillingness to change” myself to be better for him. If I complained about the criticism, I was told I needed a thicker skin.
He told me the reason I was a bad wife is because I didn’t grow up with a good female role model. My mom died when I was 10.
He would get upset about the words I used or the tone, and either scream at me or ignore me for 3 to 5 days until I apologized. If I cried, he told me I was trying to manipulate him.
He once asked if I wanted to go to restaurant A or B. When I said, “I prefer A.” He screamed, “I didn't ask which one you preferred; I asked which you wanted to go to. You can’t even answer a fucking question correctly.” I always felt like I was playing a game without knowing the rules. And when I screwed up, the punishment was way too severe for the so-called “crime.”
After initiating the divorce last year, I discovered the financial abuse: He had accumulated over $100,000 in unsecured debt. He drained my personal IRA (he works for the company). He also has forced litigation, and continues to use the legal system to punish me for leaving him. He forced it to go to trial. We were finally divorced in September.
Just today, we had yet another hearing because he is moving towards appealing the divorce judgment. I, with the help of family, have spent over $15,000 in legal fees so far. I’ve been told to defend an appeal, which will be an additional $5,000. I have maxed out my credit card and sold off belongings to try to pay for the attorney fees. I am currently driving a vehicle that was donated to me.
He makes twice the income that I do and yet hasn’t paid any of the court-ordered child support. He owes me nearly $12,000 currently in arrears.
I’ve been in therapy now for over two years. I’m not going to claim to be blameless. There are many things I did that contributed to the dysfunction of our relationship. I have a lot of brokenness from childhood that was not properly dealt with, and I was in no way ready for a marriage. However, nothing I did warranted the treatment I received from him.
Even still, I struggle to know what is healthy and what isn’t. I think that maybe it wasn’t as bad as I’m making it out to be. All it takes is rereading some old emails or messages, or reading over a checklist of unhealthy behaviors to remind myself just how toxic our marriage was. And then be grateful I was able to get out.
Update from another reader with a happy ending:
I wanted to contribute to the series because in my own years of healing from an emotionally abusive relationship, it was reading stories from other people of their own experiences that convinced me that it wasn’t “just me,” that I wasn’t “overreacting,” and that the relationship I had been in wasn’t normal or or okay or “just fighting like all couples do.”
I spent 10 years married to an emotionally abusive man, though it took me most of those 10 years to be able to recognize it as abuse. To this day, he would say that although he did some things wrong, he wasn’t “abusive” toward me.
He would alternate between telling me he admired my intelligence and berating how stupid I was. When he was angry, which was often, he would throw a fit—screaming at me, breaking things that were important to me, sometimes physically abusing a pet that was dear to me. He’d point a gun at me. He tried to run me over with a car once. He liked to start fights with me in public places because he knew it would embarrass me. He would abandon me at the store or lock me out of the house. He would drive recklessly to scare me, including the time after I was in an accident and he drove me to the hospital (he refused to let an ambulance take me because he wasn’t going to pay for it).
Our finances, which he handled, were always a mess. He’d overspend because he felt like he’d “earned it” being stressed out with work. Then he’d call me on the phone when I was out to eat with friends and tell me I wasn’t allowed to spend a dime on dinner because he thought I’d spent foolishly on something and now we didn’t have any money. I never knew if we had money to spend from day to day. He’d pay for expensive vacations and meals for us, then get angry with me when I needed to buy groceries. We found money to pay for his master’s degree but he spent years convincing me we couldn’t afford for me to get mine. His parents bailed us out of huge financial debt more than once because of his spending, though he always blamed me for our financial troubles.
Because I worked for a religious organization, I knew I would lose my job if I divorced. He knew I loved my job and used this as leverage anytime I considered leaving. He also knew that my family didn’t believe in divorce, as was also true of most of the people in our religious community. He told me that no one would support me if I left, and largely he was right. He also leveraged my faith to convince me that I was not forgiving enough when I’d try to hold him accountable for his actions.
After we divorced, I came across an article on “gaslighting.” It took me several days to read all the comments and stories after the article, but I was absorbed—it was actually a thing! The way I’d spent years doubting my own perceptions of reality because he kept telling me that I had misunderstood, misremembered, or was just “wrong” about my own memories … it was a thing that other people had experienced as well!
The best decision I ever made in that relationship was not having kids with him. I’m now deliriously happily remarried. Five years in and we have never had a fight. We’re also expecting our first child.
For this reader, the line was difficult to see at first:
Thank you to Olga for publishing her compelling article on emotional abuse. Normally I would post a Facebook comment to convey my appreciation for a great article, but much like the woman in the story, I am not keen on having my own struggles go fully public. Also much like Lauren, I’m an alumna of an Ivy League university, I grew up with parents who have been happily married for 30+ years (they are still married and in love with each other), and I could not see from the inside that my last relationship was abusive.
I was completely in love with my ex, who is an active-duty member of the U.S. Coast Guard. My own career is in animal rights. I have a master’s degree and spend my days investigating cruelty to animals, doing research and writing as well as handling animals directly in an office that doubles as a shelter. Most of the animals who come to our shelter have been abused by awful humans.
My ex has been a vegetarian for several years and acts compassionately toward animals and humans. He is exceedingly liberal, leaning toward socialist. He’s been a Coastie for nearly 20 years and looks fantastic in the uniform, he’s in charge of maybe a dozen people on board his (relatively small) ship, and he loves the search-and-rescue aspect of his job. How could I have possibly found the one member of the military whose philosophies and ethics align so closely with mine? Dream come true!
When I first met him, I was over the moon, and he apparently was, too. Things moved so quickly that within a month or two, we were discussing moving in together. I was dealing with PTSD that came from a violent rape two years before we met, and I had a few physical triggers that would send me into hour-long panic attacks. He was patient with me, telling me he wanted to help me heal and recover from the PTSD.
We are both into the BDSM lifestyle, and he was both my boyfriend and my Dom. He would test my limits, and I would tell him “please don’t do this without verbally warning me beforehand.” He would abide by that for a while until he “forgot” and did it again without the verbal warning we’d agreed was necessary.
He would tell me things like he was being supportive and patient with me to help me heal, and I felt like nobody else would ever be that kind or compassionate with me. I felt that I was too damaged for anyone else to be willing to deal with me.
I now realize that he systematically, slowly, broke down my self-esteem and sense of self-worth until I was fully dependent upon his approval. I compromised who I am as a person and the basic tenets of what makes me happy.
He spends two months in port and two months underway. He was at sea in September and we were keeping up our communication, emailing every day and speaking by phone when he was in a port of call. When he went 36 hours without emailing me, I wrote to him that I was worried; it had been longer than usual and I hoped everything was OK.
He wrote back and broke up with me, without any warning whatsoever, because he found that he was not as excited as he used to be about making plans with me returning home. I was completely devastated and suicidal. My friend took me to the emergency room and I was committed to the psych ward at the hospital. I was there for a week. I didn’t eat for the first four days because the stress triggered a relapse into a decades-long eating disorder. They threatened to put me on a feeding tube after I passed out while the nurses took blood one morning. I began eating again, but since then (for maybe six weeks) I have been caught in this full-blown eating disorder, struggling to find footing, unable to run like I used to because of debilitating physical side effects from the medications they put me on in the hospital. I am an endurance runner, and when I can’t go for my daily runs or my long runs on the weekend, it messes with everything from my mood to my eating habits.
It took at least a half-dozen mental health professionals telling me that I had been emotionally abused for me to realize what had happened. I had so much anger following my hospitalization that I felt shocked at myself. I am a pacifist Buddhist who rarely feels that much anger. After a few weeks, it dissipated and left me with the deepest sadness I’ve ever felt. I am grieving the loss of the man I loved while I recover from the abuse he inflicted on me. The person I loved never existed.
Now I feel ashamed, humiliated, lonely, and worthless. I am unable to enjoy what I used to do for fun. Several men have approached me and flirted, expressing interest in dating and/or sex. Normally after a breakup I would jump at the chance for a rebound boning. This time, though, I panic at the thought of anything sexual. I cannot even touch myself in that way.
Friends have since told me that what I thought was special treatment from my ex is actually the absolute minimum for how a Dom should treat his sub, and he consistently transgressed the limits we discussed and negotiated. I trusted my ex enough that I allowed him to (consensually) tie me down and hit me with things. The depth of trust required for that is immense. That trust has been betrayed and I struggle every single day to comprehend how I will ever recover from the betrayal and abuse.
I had to get my locks changed because I felt unsafe in my apartment and he has a spare key. A friend actually called the cops one evening after I flaked on our plans to get a beer together. They found me cowering in the corner of my kitchen, unable to communicate. It took several hours before I was able to speak with her and hold a conversation. That is how terrified I was. She offered to go with me to the magistrate’s office and swear out charges for a protective order, but she is a prosecutor herself and knows that emotional abuse does not break any laws (at least not here in Virginia). I never swore out charges because there is no hard, physical evidence of the abuse and I do not want to stand in front of a judge and explain everything in humiliating detail.
When I was raped a few years ago, I also chose not to swear out charges because a) I felt that it was my fault and b) I could not bring myself to describe in detail in court what had transpired.
He is back on land until next month. Despite my final email to him telling him not to contact me (after I got out of the hospital), he emailed me several days ago to tell me he has what he calls an STD. It’s not really an STD—more of a virus that anyone can contract anywhere from direct contact, and it clears up on its own without treatment. It’s kind of like warts or ringworm except you don’t have to treat it at all. A close friend told me he’s trying to continue the abuse and manipulation. I panicked when I saw his name in my inbox and deleted it without replying. I don’t have the virus, and I was not going to give him the satisfaction of replying.
Every single day I struggle with the effects of the abuse. I feel that because I have no physical signs of trauma, nobody would even believe that it’s real. When I read Olga’s article this morning, though, I felt less alone. I felt validated. I felt that yes, this is a real thing and other people have survived and healed from it. The article was very hard for me to read and it made me cry. But it makes me feel like victims of this type of abuse matter. What we are dealing with is real and it’s painful and we can recover from it.
Meritocracy prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable. Maybe there’s a way out.
In the summer of 1987, I graduated from a public high school in Austin, Texas, and headed northeast to attend Yale. I then spent nearly 15 years studying at various universities—the London School of Economics, the University of Oxford, Harvard, and finally Yale Law School—picking up a string of degrees along the way. Today, I teach at Yale Law, where my students unnervingly resemble my younger self: They are, overwhelmingly, products of professional parents and high-class universities. I pass on to them the advantages that my own teachers bestowed on me. They, and I, owe our prosperity and our caste to meritocracy.
Two decades ago, when I started writing about economic inequality, meritocracy seemed more likely a cure than a cause. Meritocracy’s early advocates championed social mobility. In the 1960s, for instance, Yale President Kingman Brewster brought meritocratic admissions to the university with the express aim of breaking a hereditary elite. Alumni had long believed that their sons had a birthright to follow them to Yale; now prospective students would gain admission based on achievement rather than breeding. Meritocracy—for a time—replaced complacent insiders with talented and hardworking outsiders.
He understands men in America better than most people do. The rest of the country should start paying attention.
Every morning of my Joe Rogan experience began the same way Joe Rogan begins his: with the mushroom coffee.
It’s a pour-and-stir powder made from lion’s mane and chaga—“two rock-star mushrooms,” according to Joe—and it’s made by a company called Four Sigmatic, a regular advertiser on Joe Rogan’s wildly popular podcast. As a coffee lover, the mere existence of mushroom coffee offends me. (“I’ll have your most delicious thing, made from your least delicious things, please,” a friend said, scornfully.) But it tastes fine, and even better after another cup of actual coffee.
Next, I took several vitamin supplements from a company called Onnit, whose core philosophy is “total human optimization” and whose website sells all kinds of wicked-cool fitness gear—a Darth Vader kettlebell ($199.95); a 50-foot roll of two-and-a-half-inch-thick battle rope ($249.95); a 25-pound quad mace ($147.95), which according to one fitness-equipment site is a weapon dating back to 11th-century Persia. I stuck to the health products, though, because you know how it goes—you buy one quad mace and soon your apartment is filled with them. I stirred a packet of Onnit Gut Health powder into my mushroom coffee, then downed an enormous pair of Alpha Brain pills, filled with nootropics to help with “memory and focus.”
On his 73rd birthday, the former MVP of the Democratic Party has been sidelined—perhaps for good.
In the summer of 1996, as he prepared to turn 50—and win a second term in the White House—Bill Clinton took to musing aloud that he now had “more yesterdays than tomorrows.” If that sentiment seemed maudlin for a man still in the prime of life, it was rooted in fact: The men in Clinton’s family died young—his birth father at 28, his stepfather at 59.
Today, Clinton turns 73, having exceeded Psalm 90’s allotted three-score years and 10, and having survived impeachment, open-heart surgery, and more than enough personal and political scrapes to exhaust nine lives, much less one. Unless he lives to 150, the 42nd president really does have more yesterdays than tomorrows. But what should have been these golden years are turning out to be leaden.
The president is reshaping Americans’ political views, just not the way he intended.
One of the most enduring descriptions of presidential power comes from Teddy Roosevelt, whose description of the office as a “bully pulpit” reflected his conclusion that its true worth was not its constitutional powers, but the ability to speak with and persuade voters. A century later, political scientists had largely debunked Roosevelt. It turns out, Ezra Klein wrote in The New Yorker in 2012, that presidents don’t actually possess much power to sway public opinion.
But maybe Roosevelt was right after all. Recent polling shows that Donald Trump has managed to reshape American attitudes to a remarkable extent on a trio of his key issues—race, immigration, and trade.
There’s just one catch: The public is turning against Trump’s views.
I want to respect her wishes, but I feel hurt and confused by her request.
My closest friend of many years is battling a very deadly diagnosis of Stage 4 breast cancer. She is single, childless, and not super close to her family.
She is generally a very private person, and I’ve always been the one who knows her best. About four months ago, I traveled out of the country; around the same time, she decided that she needed to disconnect from our friendship in order to stay focused on her own situation. There was no issue between us that caused this, and she’s confirmed that. She has told me that she just needs to deal with this stuff on her own and that it’s too difficult for her to talk about.
I suspect that she’s had more bad news, because that tends to cause her to retreat from others, and I worry that things are going downhill. I miss her deeply, and I’m also kind of angry with her. She has apologized to me for “it having to be this way,” but asks that I don’t contact her at all, and says that she’ll connect when she is ready. Although I know her so well, I can’t relate to this state of mind. I am so sad that we may not have much time left to spend together. I have respected her wishes, apart from a couple of texts to let her know I’m thinking of her. She has asked that I not even do that.
The writer Ben Howe grew up in the world of conservative evangelicalism. When he looks at the religious right now, all he sees is a thirst for power and domination.
Ben Howe is angry at evangelicals. As he describes it, he is angry that they didn’t just vote for Donald Trump in record numbers, but repeatedly provide moral cover for his outrageous failings. He is angry that leaders of the religious right, who long claimed to be the champions of American morality, appear to have gladly traded their values for power. He is angry that Christians claim they support the president because they want to end abortion or protect religious liberty, when supporting Trump suggests that what they really want is a champion who will mock and crush their perceived enemies.
To redeem themselves, Howe believes, evangelicals have to give up their take-no-prisoners culture war.
Is it a cruelty or a kindness to suggest friendship during a breakup?
A weird thing happened to Rebecca Griffith, a graduate student at the University of Kansas, when she began presenting her research findings on “post-dissolution friendships”—friendships between two people who have broken off a romantic relationship—at conferences a few years ago. It was unusual research, certainly; only a few studies had ever attempted to suss out what factors made a post-breakup friendship a success or a bust, and after her presentations, Griffith often took questions from other scientists and peers in her field. But the query she encountered most often was not about her conclusions, or her methodology, or her data analysis. It was, “Should I stay friends with my ex?”
The questions of whether and how to stay friends with an ex–romantic partner are, as Griffith can attest, both complex and universal. Scan through the portion of the internet that’s devoted to crowd-sourcing answers to hard questions, for example, and you’ll find endless iterations of this conundrum: On forum sites like Quora and Yahoo! Answers, as well as Reddit pages like r/relationships, r/teenagers, and r/AskReddit, both dumpers and dumpees seek advice on what it means to want to stay friends, whether to agree to stay friends, and whether to ask to stay friends.
New uses of stem cells and 3-D printing could make baldness obsolete (for the wealthy).
In the tunnels under New York, commuters squeeze into lumbering trains and try not to make eye contact with the people whose sweaty bodies are pressed against theirs. As they surrender to the will of the transit authority, their eyes wander upward to find an unlikely promise of control: Many cars are plastered with ads that say “Balding is now optional.” These ads feature men in various states of elation. The men all have hair—and not simply the errant tufts that have appeared for years in infomercials for “hair restoration.” No, this hair comes in the form of thick, leonine coiffures.
The ads are for a company called Hims, an online seller of the drugs finasteride and minoxidil (known by the trade names Propecia and Rogaine). The marketing copy implies there has been some sort of breakthrough in the science of hair loss. But Propecia and Rogaine have been available for decades. They have proved modestly effective at slowing hair loss, but they cannot entirely prevent or reverse it. Even for people who can afford $44 a month for the company’s hair-loss-drug package, balding is still not “optional.”
Beards, scars, red clothes, and other secrets of attraction
Hot or not? The question of whom we’re attracted to and why has long confounded humankind’s greatest philosophers, scientists, and reality-show contestants.
Scads of studies suggest that those of us looking for Mr. or Ms. Right may actually be looking for Mr. Facial Symmetry or Ms. Ideal Waist-to-Hip Ratio (about 0.7 for women). [1, 2] But other research suggests that whether a trait is attractive depends on the type of connection you’re looking for. For example, women in one study found men with facial scars more appealing than other men for short-term relationships, but not for long-term ones.  In another study, men with beards had an edge among women seeking long-term relationships—a finding that might give clean-shaven guys with scars an idea about how to turn a one-night stand into something lasting. (If all of this sounds heteronormative, it is: Almost all research on attraction involves straight people.)
In the fall of 1997, after I graduated from college, I began experiencing what I called “electric shocks”—tiny stabbing sensations that flickered over my legs and arms every morning. They were so extreme that as I walked to work from my East Village basement apartment, I often had to stop on Ninth Street and rub my legs against a parking meter, or else my muscles would begin twitching and spasming. My doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong—dry skin, he proposed—and eventually the shocks went away. A year later, they returned for a few months, only to go away again just when I couldn’t bear it anymore.
Over the years, the shocks and other strange symptoms—vertigo, fatigue, joint pain, memory problems, tremors—came and went. In 2002, I began waking up every night drenched in sweat, with hives covering my legs. A doctor I consulted thought, based on a test result, that I might have lupus, but I had few other markers of the autoimmune disease. In 2008, when I was 32, doctors identified arthritis in my hips and neck, for which I had surgery and physical therapy. I was also bizarrely exhausted. Nothing was really wrong, the doctors I visited told me; my tests looked fine.