The other day, I received an email that could have been a threat, a case of mistaken identity, a prank, or a strategy by some slick operator. The sender warned me to stay away from their boyfriend – let’s call him Mr XOX. They’d even created an email address expressly for this purpose — ‘Mrs XOX’ was their chosen pseudonym. Considering that I don’t know anyone by that name, I had no initial clue what to make of this. Bizarrely enough (and this is where the slick operator suspicion comes in), Mrs XOX told me, in explicit terms, that women crave her boyfriend due to his impressive appendage. She also told me to delete a particular number (which, I never had to begin with). Yup, my poison penpal gave me the phone number of a well-endowed man.
First, I laughed. And then, just in case this sender was real, I felt sorry for anyone who’s been driven to such insecurity in a relationship. So, Mrs XOX, if you’re reading this — I want you to know that I don’t know and have never met your boyfriend. I’d never want to meet him either, because something tells me he doesn’t treat you right. And I don’t like to be around those who disrespect women. Maybe you’ve written to me because your boyfriend put the idea into your head that he’s involved with a stranger. This tactic is called gaslighting. It’s when someone controls you by convincing you of a false reality, wearing away at your reason and intuition, until you can no longer trust yourself. As a result, you become paranoid and are driven to extreme behaviours. Gaslighting is one of the most common tactics of emotional abuse.
I want you to know, Mrs XOX, that emotional abuse is abuse. Don’t be afraid to call it by its name. It happens to the best of us. You’re not crazy. You’re not possessive. You’re not desperate. These may be words you have been called. But they are not who you are, they are just the effects of this abuse. But those harsh words are not what other women are either. If he has cheated on you, remember – that was his decision. The fault is entirely his and you can blame no one else. If he has made you hate and punish other women, he has made you hate and punish yourself. You must look squarely at him and see him for who he is. And then, freed of the need to possess or belong to him, begin the process of rebuilding who you are.
Most of all, Mrs XOX, know that I don’t mean to insult your intelligence. You probably know all these things already. I’m only here to remind you: you deserve so much better. This is not what love is supposed to feel like. Maybe you’re Mrs XOX. Or you’re someone like her – pushed beyond your pain threshold out of love. My wish for you is this: walk away. You will heal. You won’t need to be Mrs XOX when you can truly be your own person.
(The Chennai-based author writes poetry, fiction and more)