How To Love
Lessons from my psychopathic ex-boyfriend
He was gentlest when the night was retreating. His brown eyes soft, holding my gaze for a beat too long. Seeing me, urging me to see him.
‘Do you know what it’s like to be me?’ He’d whisper, pulling me closer. His embrace comforting us both.
I didn’t know what it was like to be a high-functioning psychopath but I knew how it felt to play the latest heroine in Levi’s theater of love. His presence left me feeling as if I’d glugged one too many champagnes on a Summer’s afternoon. Giddy and warm all the way through.
He created the optimal conditions for deep connection and rock-star intimacy. He elicited the kind of easy, soft and generous love I aspired to give. I heaped this outpouring of love at his feet, asking him to take it all. To use it to redeem himself.
That window in time provided a glimpse of the pure love and fearless intimacy we’re all capable of. So when it went down in flames, I mourned not for the lost love, but for the lost me in that love.
Levi was charming in precisely the way I liked to be charmed
Psychopath’s are adept at knowing what you want and reflecting that back to you. They mirror your hopes and dreams and focus on making these come true. At least in the beginning.
As Jessica Brown writes in This is How Life Feels As A Normal Psychopath, psychopaths are “here to bring exquisite fire and fury into the lives of the terminally bored”.
Levi was an old-fashioned wonderland. He recited poetry in the early hours of the morning. We’d take walks after dinner where he’d point to the constellations, connecting dots and helping me make sense of the world. There were door openings, recipes he’d only cook for me, and promises of prosperity.
I felt wonder and awe whenever I was around him, and I longed for more.
This spilled into the bedroom where he brought his A game every time. All the time. Multiple times at a time.
‘Why is this so good?’ I’d wonder aloud.
His response was always the same, ‘because we love each other.’
Now you and I both know that love does not maketh an incredible lover but it seemed legit at the time because I wanted to believe romance was the cure.
His intuitive meeting of needs and textbook romantic moves would have fostered deep satisfaction and contentment, if only it didn’t involve my gradual dehumanization in the process.
Levi was impressive
Although a junior doctor, Levi secured a teaching post at the local university and was part of a special research project in Sydney.
He’d often regale me with feats of difficult cannula insertions and other cool-headed, save-the-day decisions. ‘If it wasn’t for me, the patient would have received the wrong medication and become very sick. He may have even died,’ he’d say.
He’d log into the hospital system from home and check records to make sure his patients were on track. He was essential to their care you know, even when off the clock.
The details of his medical life were vague but the status was not. I liked it. What can I say?
I felt like we were going somewhere. Doors were opening and adventures were waiting.
Levi expertly identified my insecurities and longings and used them to create a sense of closeness
Cognitive empathy is a psychopath’s super power.
Cognitive empathy is not to be confused with emotional empathy. Cognitive empathy refers to the conscious act of accurately identifying someone’s emotional state and understanding why they might feel that way. Psychopaths use this not to sympathise with their target, but to calibrate their emotional torture and get what they want.
Empathy is seductive. To be deeply understood is what we all fundamentally crave and here was a man who within a few months of dating, knew me better than anyone else in my world. This completed the trifecta. Provision of needs. Check. Creator of magic. Check. Understanding and total acceptance. Check.
Here was someone who filled in the blanks. Who revealed my motivations, beliefs, and values to me. I knew myself better just by being around him. He probed my unspoken fears, saw my failings and accepted them with the same good grace as my strengths. Levi seemed to be a wise, capable man who could help me rebuild from the ground up after my divorce.
Being lovingly shown the shameful or not-so-nice parts of yourself you’ve long kept hidden, helps you grow in ways you could only dream of. It was like having my own resident psychologist who also loved and adored me.
The connection (and attachment) that forms in this safe, generous, knowing and growing space is the stuff of heart-fizzing love songs. I could be a better version of myself with and through him.
For a time that feeling seemed reciprocated. More than once, in those early morning moments when the weapons were still sheathed, he would say, ‘we need each other Brooke. I need a girl who can see like you can. We’re good for each other.’
His seduction was one I couldn’t, and didn’t want to, resist. I was right where he wanted me and I’d willingly put myself there by chasing my own reflection.