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3.07.2012

gaslighting.

back this fall i was feeling a bit undone. you see, there was a boy and he made me feel beautiful, or rather it was that around him i didn't feel beautiful or not beautiful. beauty was a non-issue. beauty didn't exist where he was concerned, it wasn't important.

does this make sense? i'm not making sense.

my affection for him stretched far past caring what he thought i looked like. but i didn't want to admit this.

and so i looked to others to give me the standard social cues. suddenly, for the first time in my life, i craved long glances from men. wanted to know that men found me attractive on the physical level. wanted to gather as much evidence into my basket so that when the one egg rolled out, as i knew it would, i'd survive with the rest, not happily no, but i'd survive.

i was at work late one night, standing at the front in my black cocktail dress (and a pretty modest cocktail dress as that). the evening was winding down and a young gentleman cut away from his group and headed up the long, spiral-staircase to use the bathroom. on the way up, he stopped, mid-step, turned around and looked at me. really looked. for a moment we both froze. and then he turned back-round and headed up the stairs.

did you see that? tell me you saw that? i said to the other girls, turning round behind me to make sure it wasn't something else that had caught his eye.

i'd never been looked at like that. so openly.

flagrant.

and then he came down the stairs, and curved towards where us girls were standing.

and he looked right at me.

i'm still shocked sometimes that a man might ever wish to look at me--and when i'm next to two exceptionally beautiful women and the guy still looks at me?

what time do you finish work tonight? the audacity. it was strangely appealing.

men can be such fearful creatures that the boldness of his swagger made me weak in the knees. it didn't hurt that he looked like a younger, taller, better looking version of ed norton.

around midnight. and without giving it too much thought, here's my number. 


he took the slip of paper, promised to call, and went to collect his friends.

my friend whitney who had witnessed this turned to me and said, i've never been flirted with like that.  she then proceeded to drive her point home by saying something very crude and actually quite funny, but not appropriate for the likes of this forum.

ten minutes later ed (let's call him ed, shall we?) returned. i'm not sure where we're gonna end up tonight, so let me give you my number as well, and that way we'll be sure we won't miss each other. i handed him a pen and paper and he began writing when something caught my eye, and started me round the edge of the desk.

what, um. oh, huh, what's that there? 


oh, this? he said, drawing up his left-hand, gold-wedding band and all. oh, that's not a problem for you, is it? 


deep intake of breath on my part. small nervous laugh.

yeah, yes. it is. deal-breaker actually. 


oh, umm, rapid backtracking on his part, oh, yeah for me too. it's a problem for me too. no, come one, no. it's not like that. my friend thought you were cute, i'm doing this for a friend. 


well, that's nice, but no thanks, and from there i turned away to carefully collect my bottom-jaw from off the floor.

around midnight i tucked myself into a cab. homeward bound. and my phone rang (you do remember i gave him my number?).

meg, come on, just come out with us. 


no, thank you.

do you know who this is?

yes, it's a number i don't know and you know my name, so yes, i've figured it out, i know who this.


i knew you were a smart gal, that's why i liked you. 


i am a smart gal, ed. among the smartest you'll ever meet. that's why i'm in a cab, going home. 


no, just come out. 


listen, i am so flattered (i was really trying to be nice to this truly undeserving man {and keep in mind he was all of 29, maybe, a young guy, probably newly married}). i think you're extremely attractive and you have a certain charm about you, but you've got a wife at home, waiting for you, trusting that you are on this business trip of yours doing only that, business, and honoring those vows you made to her. 


no, it's not like that. really, this is for a friend, it's for a friend, i would never cheat on my wife.


okay then, ed, have a good night. 


let me tell you why i found the whole thing tremendously offensive. adultery aside. cheating aside (i mean, really, don't get me started on that. or the fact that he looked at me and thought i'd be okay with those things) nothing makes me angrier than when the man tries to make the woman the fool. for a friend? really, for a friend? gas-lighting on a grand scale. do not play me the fool. and do not make a fool of me. do not make me feel as those i misread the very clear signals. do not make me feel like i was the one who should be embarrassed for being so presumptive as to assume you were flirting. because the thing is, i want to take what you're saying at face-value. but by believing that, i undermine what just happened on the experiential level and find myself at odds with myself. don't lie to me and do not insult my intelligence.

i keep thinking about this because it happened on a much smaller scale recently. and what kills me, is that men think they can do this (and it's a pride and preservation thing, i get it)--but they think they can do it (sacrifice you) and then continue on and pretend as if life should continue normally.

good news is, the more it happens, the better i get at identifying it, and doubting them, before i doubt myself.






don't know what gaslighting is? look here. and here

49 comments:

colleen said...

oh this was written so well. and i can't believe his gumption. truly quite sad that he lives his life that way. for him and his wife. way to be true to yourself.

sharlyn emily said...

woman, I adore you. really and truly adore you. I adore your reaction to this man both before and after you realized he was married. some man is going to be mightily lucky you happened to look his way while he was looking. someday, someday.

sharlyn emily said...

*mighty
oops :)

Alivia said...

You, dear soul, just made my heart so full of knowing, understanding, that it could burst. This, the whole of it, is something I've been trying to put words to for over a year (the second I began reading this my mind flew to a past time in my life).
Thank you for being you, writing about it, and empowering others with that writing.

Jill said...

You did good, lady! The whole idea of gaslighting has just recently come across my radar, and I never would think to label something like this in that way... but once you say it, I think, of course! And he's a butt for trying it.

aubry. said...

ed! sleeeezy, sleezy ed! i'm fuming in my cubicle and celebrating your dignity at the same time!

eddddd!

Jocelyn said...

i love this whole post. not just because of how you acted (amazingly), but also because i think gaslighting is such a major issue in how it messes with women.

Hayley said...

I've also recently discovered the term "gaslighting" and was heartbroken as to how many times I've been a victim. SO NOT OK.

THEY are the fools, not us.

Lottie said...

What a sleezeball! After reading about gaslIghting a few months ago I have realised that two of my male supposedly friends gaslight pretty much everytime they see me and I finally feel validated in my feelings and I don't have to put up with it--such a shame people make us feel like that :)

Rachel said...

Love this post. My god you have a way with words.

And good on you for how you handled the situation. Why do men have to be such pigs!

Abbey said...

Way to go, girl!

Francesca Forzoni said...

this is unbelievable

Megs said...

I spent a whole lot of my life letting gaslighting work on me. Super empowering to know when it is happening and to put an immediate stop to it.

Susie said...

Bravo. Really.

jennyjones said...

i get so so frustrated with things like this because it happens, ALL THE TIME. i love that you stood up for yourself and that you made it clear to him that his actual intentions were very clear to you.

jennyjones said...
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haley said...

So well written, you never cease to amaze and inspire me.

Jenny said...

I cannot tell you how many times I've been the victim of gaslighting without realizing it because I didn't even know it existed. Even writing "victim" just now makes me feel like I'm being dramatic. Wow.

Thank you for making this such an eye-opening Wednesday, Meg.

Morgan said...

yuck. men.
love how this was written; you have a such a way with words!

Celeste said...

wow.

Maria said...

Your words just seem to flow so eloquently. But really, is this guy for real? I'm glad to see you're able to see the signs! Nothing hurts worse than to be played for a fool!

Jennifer M. said...

This is such a fascinating topic. I just read your other post on gas lighting - it's a term I never knew about until today, but I've definitely experienced it. Good for you for recognizing what he was doing so quickly! I don't think I would've realized it until I was too emotionally involved.

The Lewicutt's est 2006 said...

As I clean my lunch off of my desk. What a schmuck.

But, well done. You handled it well. And I'm glad you didn't let him gaslight you. He should feel as slimy as he acted. And he wouldn't have if you humored his "friend" story.

wildchild said...

what a shithead that ed is. so proud of you for standing up and saying no and refusing to let yourself be treated that way. or his wife be treated that way, with you at least.

it must have been mildly heart breaking to experience that confidence that comes with being flirted with like that and then realize nothing could ever come of it, but still, you did the right thing. thank you on behalf of wives and future wives and women everywhere.

Krystle said...

whoa.

i just want to find their wives and save them.

Krystle said...

whoa.

i just want to find their wives and save them.

stefanie said...

oh, what a rotten man.

you, darling, are far too smart for the likes of a man like that. and he wanted you all the more for it.

but don't let it discourage you from the goodness that exists out there.

stefanie said...

oh, what a rotten man.

you, darling, are far too smart for the likes of a man like that. and he wanted you all the more for it.

but don't let it discourage you from the goodness that exists out there.

communikate. said...

ewww... what a jerk!!

i was really hoping this guy turned out to be a winner, but as the story progressed, i was shaking my head and thinking.. "no!.. no way is this guy MARRIED?" way lame on his part.

Mademoiselle Michael said...

I truly believe that when you help to protect another woman's marriage, you get good karma for your own marriage some day.

Just know wherever she is, she's really thankful for you. As are your readers. Good work.

Ana Magdalena said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lcb said...

Excellent essay. I remember reading about this term/practice on Jezebel. I'd like to see the Bergman film. Have you?

It's great that you're starting to recognize it when it happens. I've found that it becomes more evident with age, and there's been a huge learning curve for me from about 22 to up until now (27). Aside from a few instances I can recall from high school and college, the most blatantly I've ever been gaslit was in my early 20s. At one point I was in--and desperately fighting to STAY in-- a relationship that was so utterly toxic that I accepted (and, for a time, internalized) lines like "There's always one person in a a relationship who's more in love with the other person, and I just don't love you as much," and "How do you expect me to treat you when this is how you behave?" So, his being mean and dismissive was a logical reaction and I was ridiculous to be hurt by it. Solid gold, baby!

I want to write an essay about it on my blog, but somehow his new girlfriend found it (or so I strongly suspect based on outrageously similar content she has posted), and I feel weird about it... But I suppose that goes back to your whole Letter to Yourself post the other day, doesn't it?

Annnnd... This is officially too long to be considered a comment. I'm wordy, what can I say? In sum: Good on you for recognizing that man for what he was. And lovely way of relaying the experience.

debbiecutieface.com said...

ew, douche.

The Lewicutt's est 2006 said...

Pst.... I don't promote my own blog posts to other people, but watch this video on humanity. It's moving. And so important: http://randiroohoo.blogspot.com/2012/03/join-me-on-april-20th.html

Sarah McCabe said...
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Sarah McCabe said...

Ick. How sleezy. I don't understand how someone could so blatently flaunt their infidelity like that.

Magatha-May said...

I love how you phrase your life.

Keiko said...

wow. what a story.

thank you for sharing, meg.

xx

Britti said...

well done.
something similar happened to me a couple of weeks back, where i was flirting with a guy (he wasn't wearing a ring) and the next day when he added me on facebook i found out he is married and his wife is pregnant. i didn't even ask, whether he was in a relationship or not, because, i thought, if you flirt like that, you are not. oh well. live and learn i guess.

jessica renae said...

after your first post on gaslighting i became hyper-aware of it. i couldn't stop noticing how casually it was thrown around.
i'm glad to see you stand up for yourself. you're a strong woman and an example to those who struggle to stand up and walk away when they're being walked on.

Jenn said...

Hmmmm. I was just talking to a friend about this...what do you think? (we had different opinions about the subject)....

at what point do we young women stop referring to them as "boys" and us as "girls" and start saying "women" and "men"....?

A 22 year old guy is a "boy" for sure. But is a 22 year old guy with a child a "boy"? Is a single unattached 30 year old male still a "boy"? When a female turns 30, is she still a "girl"? What does it take to change the pronouns? What are your thoughts?

meg fee said...

@Jenn: i don't know, my father tells me if i want to meet a man i should stop calling them boys and call them men. i think it has to be a case by case thing. some men are older than me, but certainly act like boys, so...

long story short: i don't know.

Susie said...

I commented the other day but I got gaslighted, big time, very early this morning. And I thought of this post. It helped me to realize, it's not me. Thank you.

Erin said...

good for you, meg! even IF this guy was "doing it for a friend," how would you have known who his friend was or what he was like? the whole situation was rude. men can be such pigs... and then some of them, few of them, can be damn near perfection. it's hard to know the difference, but you did exactly as you should have. way to go!

Anonymous said...

I didn't know there was a term for this. I'm so relieved to have finally found a name to call the issue I've been grappling with for a month.

And no, it's not us. It's them.

Brady said...

I absolutely love this post. So, so true. You did so great - both in your reaction to this jerk and with your writing about it.

ANH Style said...

I first read about gaslighting when you posted the article on it a few months ago, but it's sticking with me so much more after reading your real-life example.

I have never been hit on by a married man (that I know of) but I have heard enough stories from others to disgust me.

Good for you.

Robby Spratt said...

Good job Meg! Way to be classy!
From a male perspective, I think a swift knee to the crotch would have been appropriate, had you opted for that option.
After I read your first post on gaslighting, I called up my most recent ex-girlfriend to ask her about it. Amazingly she had also recently read the same article. I asked her if I had ever been guilty of gaslighting while we were dating, and she happily reported that I never treated her that way, and that I was always very kind.
I was glad to hear that, because I was genuinely worried that some of those attitudes are unconsciously ingrained in the minds of men. I guess that isn't the case, and there actually are good men out there.

Anonymous said...

You dealt with this the right way, and I appreciate that you have courage and are trying to bring courage to other women.

However, some of the comments can be so polarizing, pitting women against men. Really, it should be those who strive for healthy relationships against those who do not.

My current girlfriend gaslights. Interfering with the scale on the supermarket self-service machine so that the item I'm trying to scan doesn't scan on any of my eight attempts, then angrily snatching the item off me, pushing me out the way, and showing me how it's done.

I'm trying to find ways to leave this relationship, she's a bitch.

Women gaslight just like men do.