Rob* and I met when he was 19, and I was 17. I’d just moved from London to a new school in Devon, and was shy and unconfident.
Rob worked for his uncle’s building firm and played in a local rock band with the brother of my new schoolfriend. She took me to their gig.
A lot of the girls in the audience had eyes on Rob. He looked like Jim Morrison – all sexy and intense on stage. I don’t know why he singled me afterwards to chat to, but he did. It turned out he was sweet and funny, and surprisingly awkward.
He looked like Jim Morrison – all sexy and intense on stage.
After each gig from then on, we’d talk for hours, about books and music. One night, he drove me home in his cool old Land Rover, and kissed me. I was amazed. I think he liked the fact I was different. I was quiet, and secretly wrote poetry.
We fell in love quickly. In photos from those two years together, I look deliriously happy, flushed with laughter, wrapped in his arms. We made bonfires on the beach with friends, and drove in music-blaring convoys to remote pubs. It was so romantic, I felt like we were characters in our own love song.
Adjusting to real life
My plans after A levels had been to work in a Paris bookshop, then go to university. Instead I started temping in a local office, so I could stay with Rob.
Boredom, however, quickly set in. My school friends were at university or travelling. I was stuck in a small town life I didn’t want. So, I applied to a nearby university. Rob and I agreed to take turns to visit each weekend.
But over the next six months, it felt hard. Rob wasn’t interested in connecting with my new university friends.
Signs of an affair
Then, on a weekend visit home, I noticed a new girl called Sarah* watching me in the pub. Rob always seemed to disappear when she was there, to ‘change her tyre’ or ‘give her a lift’.
I began to feel uneasy, and confronted him. He was incensed. He said I was ‘mad’ for suggesting he liked Sarah.
I began to feel uneasy, and confronted him. He was incensed. He said I was ‘mad’ for suggesting he liked Sarah. Yet on weekend visits, I’d see more evidence. We began to argue about my ‘delusional’ accusations. Eventually, I felt I was going mad, and stopped going to lectures.
Then one weekend, I arrived to find Rob had stayed at Sarah’s the night before because his ‘car had broken down’. On the phone, he said he’d have to stay over again tonight, too, as it still wasn’t fixed.
Finally, the penny dropped. Rob was with Sarah. He was just too scared to destroy the romantic dream we’d created together, so he was forcing me to dump him instead.
There was nothing more to say. I got in my car, and never went back.
A victim of gaslighting
Rob was right. I was completely devastated, but less by our break-up, and more by his gaslighting. It felt like a terrible betrayal of our gentle love story.
To get over it, I went to Paris. Free from paranoia, I quickly recovered. I transferred to university in London. There, I met and married a gorgeous, kind-hearted man, who has no time for sentimental romance.
I was completely devastated, but less by our break-up, and more by his gaslighting.
Even today, 25 years into our marriage, with a teenage daughter of our own, he is more likely to write me a shopping list than a love letter. Yet, he makes me feel safe and loved every day with his kindness and thoughtfulness.
What would I advise my daughter to do, if she met a Rob? I’d tell her that sometimes people accuse a lover of ‘being mad’ because they can’t deal with the hurt their unfaithful actions will cause that person. Or because they are not yet ready to lose control of that person.
I’d tell her that all we can do, therefore, is trust our own instincts, and get on that train to Paris. If we’re wrong, they’ll follow. If not, we’ve had a lucky escape.
*Name and location has been changed to protect identities.