This is a picture of me.  Being a dad to the world’s most amazing 12-year old boy, I’m generally the one behind the camera.  But, every so often, albeit rarely, I find myself in front of the lens.  So why did I post this particular picture?  Because a good friend of mine recently saw it and commented, “There’s just something about that picture.  You look so…happy.”  Well, truth be told, on that specific day, I was happy.  Quite happy, actually.  You see, on that day, I was with my narcissist.

It was July 26, 2017.  The previous day, Julia, my narcissist, and I had gotten back together after yet another discard phase in what had grown to be a seemingly endless parade of discard phases.  So, that day, July 26th, was indeed a mini-celebration, of sorts, as it saw us reunited.  We had decided to spend the day together at one of our favorite parks where we’d hiked many, many times together.  However, today, we simply went for a picnic and to spend time together relaxing – no hike.  It was a bit warm that day, but then when is it ever cool in the South during July?  Our saving grace was that we were on top of the mountain and beneath a nice canopy of trees.  I forget everything we brought to enjoy that day.  I do remember some hummus, pita bread and crackers (gluten-free, of course), some (dairy-free) cheese, and a few other healthy snacks (Julia is vegan).  We simply lay under the trees – her head on my chest, my arm around her – talking, laughing, sharing.  It was a nice day.

But, as is the case with all days, invariably it had to come to an end.  Begrudgingly, we packed up our things and walked back to my vehicle.  I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the drive back to my house, where she’d parked her car, so I took the long way home and drove slowly.  As we continued our conversation, one of the things that Julia brought up was a proposal.  No, not that kind of proposal.  It was more of a suggestion, really.  “If something happens and we’re no longer together, what would you think about us still ‘getting together’ and having sex every few days, maybe once a week?”

Needless to say, I was more than mildly shocked.  Not so much over the suggestion itself but more so from whom it had come.  You see, Julia is a staunch Seventh Day Adventist.  And, as such, one of the things that was a constant point of contention in our relationship was sex.  She was of the conviction that sex outside of marriage was an abomination whilst I was of the mindset that it is a very normal and healthy part of any healthy, committed, monogamous relationship.  Consequently, anytime we partook of that succulent forbidden fruit, caving to our carnal cravings, there was always a price to pay in the way of guilt that lasted for several days.  Guilt which, most usually, was comprised of her berating me for not having the fortitude to say, “No,” because, as she put it, “I don’t have the strength to say no to you.”  In other words, as is so often the case with narcissists, there’s no legitimate culpability. It’s always someone else’s fault.

So, here she is, sitting in the seat next to me, holding my hand, asking if we can continue having a relationship, albeit purely physical, if something happens and we’re no longer together.  Of course, me being the kind, understanding, and compassionate person I am, I told her that I knew such a relationship would go against her core religious beliefs.  That a relationship based solely on physicality, rife with all its pleasures, would only cause resentment to manifest between us over time.  Not to mention how deeply it would resonate with her moral convictions.  Ha!  I’m just joking.  That’s not what I really said.

Of course I told her, “Sure!” although not so enthusiastically as to seem too eager.  But don’t misunderstand, it was never about the sex, per se.  We’re all adults here so let’s be honest with each other and with ourselves.  Sure, the sex was exceptional.  But then isn’t it supposed to be?  What was so uniquely amazing about physical intimacy with Julia wasn’t so much the sex itself – the fornicious placation and satiation of want and desire – it was what we did before and even after sex.  (No, I don’t mean the foreplay.  Come on, keep your mind out of the gutter.)  We talked.

Yes, you read that right.  We would lie in bed, her head on my chest, my arm around her, her petite feminine frame pressed against me, and we’d just talk about anything and everything.  From cooking, to hiking, to her jogging while I cycled, to the mundanity of our work, to the arduousness of her nursing school – we just…talked.  I’ve never felt such a deep and unabiding connection with someone like this before where we could be that physically close to each other, in terms of proximity, and be even closer emotionally, soulfully!  And that soulful feeling of unity was absolutely amazing!  So, yes.  Of course!  When she asked if we could still enjoy each other and all of the bountifully beautiful aspects that go along with our time together, I didn’t hesitate to embrace her suggestion.  However, needless to say, my Spidey-Sense immediately began tingling and that little voice in the back of my mind said, “You do realize she’s only suggesting this because she doesn’t see a future with you outside of the bedroom.  Right?”  Shut up, voice!

But it wasn’t just the silent realization that this was completely uncharacteristic for someone who preached piety.  As was discussed in our article, Morals of Convenience, if it wasn’t for double-standards, narcissists would have absolutely no standards whatsoever (an epiphany I had yet to experience at this juncture in the relationship).  You see, as mentioned a few paragraphs above, the narcissist never accepts genuine accountability.  It’s always your fault or, at the very least, someone else’s fault that things have transpired and unraveled as they have.  But it wasn’t just the fact that we had sex which was “my fault.”  Arguments were generally “my fault.”  She would say things such as, “I wouldn’t have gotten so upset if you hadn’t said/done this or that,” or, “The only reason we didn’t talk for three months [her giving me the silent treatment] is because you made me mad.”  She seemed to repeatedly (and conveniently) forget that the reason I was upset was because I had caught her in yet another lie, and or she was entertaining the attention and affections of yet another interested suitor or suitors to whom she “conveniently” forgot to disclose that she was (supposedly) in a committed, monogamous relationship with someone as she giggled and reciprocally flirted, basking in their attention.  So, yeah.  I’ll admit it.  I was jealous.  And yes, I got upset.  She knew exactly how to manipulate me to get a reaction.  And such is the power of triangulation.

The thing is, as detailed in Let Freedom Ring, after 4-½ years of being surreptitiously controlled, gaslighted, triangulated, emotionally and psychologically manipulated and abused by my Russian czarina, I finally walked away.  And over the course of the next year, I began healing, ever-so-slowly rebuilding my life.  A life that had grown to center around Julia and what she wanted, regardless of how it disrupted or impacted a life that was now devoid of her presence and control.  And part of that healing and rebuilding was removing her from as many facets of my everyday life in which she had become so deeply intertwined and engrained.

That picture, the one at the beginning of this article, isn’t the original.  This is the original picture of Julia and me from that day in July.  And as I took ten minutes to remove my narcissist from that picture, thusly erasing her photographic presence via Photoshop, I found myself reflecting on how it took me almost a year to heal enough to get to the point where I could even look at that picture, remembering that day and our time together, and it not sting.  And I found myself thinking, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just as quickly and easily remove our narcissist from our heart and memories as they can be removed from a photograph?”