I had this friend once who had dozens of stories about women who had done horrible things to him. It seemed that he had the worst luck in the world when it came to women. Every woman he happened to befriend or fall for turned out to be completely psychotic. I had known a couple of these women too, and they seemed so great! It was always surprising to find out that they were predatory and abusive. And when he’d call them stupid or silly, I’d chalk it up to anger and hope that he wouldn’t have said those things to their faces.
And then I was talking to my husband about this friend, and he suggested that maybe my friend was an asshole. I mean, I’d caught him in dozens of lies myself. I’d written off those lies as foolish but harmless. But maybe he was a liar just telling me stories that he knew would make him look good, or at least telling me only the parts of the stories that would make those women look bad. It wouldn’t be the first time that someone I considered my friend, who I spoke to every day, who I defended to everyone, who I believed in spite of their lies, turned out to be an asshole.
I’d been excusing my friend’s bad behaviour for years, so why was I so quick to believe that my friend was great and that every woman he met was psychotic?
I had introduced him to another friend of mine, and she’d instinctively disliked him. And later, when I told her the stories he had told me about these women, she very wisely replied: “well duh, he’s a manipulative asshole”. Not to excuse the bad behaviour of the women, to the extent that his stories were true, but what woman doesn’t know the experience of being lied to and neglected and hurt to the point of breaking?
I never want to blame the victim for their own victimization. Abuse is never acceptable. Everyone deserves to feel safe at home and safe with their domestic partners. That’s not what this is about. This is about the fact that I had relied so heavily on my limited and biased perspective that I had completely neglected to realize that my friend was an abuser; that the hero of the story I was being told was in fact the villain. I had fallen into the trap of conspiracy thinking: that the whole world was against him through no fault of his own, and that if only everyone knew the Truth (as described by him alone) then he would be redeemed.
This realization caused me to end a friendship. But more importantly, it caused me to look at my own relationships from the perspective of the other party. To think back on my relationships, romantic and otherwise, and question to what extent the “suffering” I’d experienced was just people taking away the privileges of our relationship – to which I’d felt entitled – because I’d been neglectful or careless of that person and of our relationship. It caused me to show some extra caring and gratitude for the people I still have, and to achieve some closure for the relationships I’ve lost. It caused me to realize that in some cases it was I who’d been the asshole instead of the other way around.