In the summer of 2015, I was in a stalled 18- year relationship and approached each day with a “will today be the day?”…the day I might meet the new and exciting person for whom I had been looking. Intimacy was not happening at home and hadn’t for many years. I was primed and ready. I was bored, frustrated and, in many ways, lonelier than I had ever been — a bit ironic since I shared a home with my partner and our pets. To the outside world, my life was the perfect picture.

I chose to have an affair.

As many men are now doing in our community, I turned to the online cruise bar known as Grindr. Being partnered, I had to be careful and, for some odd reason, thought that Grindr was the perfect solution — not careful and not smart. I was aware of all of the negative feelings and comments about the app but thought that it was the safest option.

Toward the end of the summer of 2015, I met Mr. Right, or so I thought. Within 10 minutes of meeting in a shopping center parking lot, we were engaged in a sexual encounter right there. The spark was ignited and a 16-month relationship was begun. He was charming, funny and very handsome, and I had “it” bad.

From the first meeting forward, almost all of our time together involved money. From monthly student loan payments (supposedly) to car payment, rent, insurance, meds and day-to-day living expenses, my wallet experienced a full-on attack. Since our relationship ended, I have learned that he enjoys regular cocaine use. I can only imagine how much of my money went up his nose. Various supposed realities were stated to me that required me to pay the money directly to him.

Our connection grew to include more than money. Risky behaviors became part of the norm — public sex, unprotected encounters and regular encounters at my home, running the risk of being caught by my partner. At the time, I thought it was quite the adventure. Now, I can see that it was performance art on his part, and he was doing what he thought I wanted. It is a tactic called mirroring. He was always trying to “please” me. It got him what he wanted.

Bob (not his real name) was keenly aware of the image I presented to the world — decent dresser, kind, intelligent, nice car, monied. In fact, he entered my name in his contacts as Topher Martin based on the car I drove at the time. He would not enter my real last name, even when I requested that he do so, because it might have been seen by his friends. He studied me and learned what I liked and wanted with someone, and he proceeded to give my desires to me.

The next 16 months were fun, adventure-filled and happy, but I quickly allowed the good times to cover up the unhealthy aspects of our connection. We traveled a lot, spent luxurious nights in the suites of some of Charlotte’s best hotels, dined in nice restaurants (while traveling), gambled (25k+), and lived out the adage “shop till you drop!” All of this was at my expense. He never spent one dime on anything involving the two of us.

During our time together, we regularly fought over our being seen in public together. He would not go to any bars with me, even demanding that I call or email him if I was going to one. It was an on-going battle. Shopping had to be done away from any of the shopping places in the middle of Mecklenburg County. Almost all eating-out experiences were away from the center of town and at chain types of restaurants that did little to provide unique and interesting menu options. He faked illnesses and created some to keep from being seen in public with me. I asked him to change his relationship status on Facebook to “in a relationship” rather than “single.” Mr. Employed by a Tech Sales Company could not imagine how to make this change — one that even a computer idiot could figure out. Bob was also caught in a number of lies surrounding trips he had made — trips for which I paid, including a two-night stay in New York while he was supposed to be at his mother’s home for Thanksgiving. Bob is in an organization, and I was never allowed to attend one of their events. It would have broken his rules.

Now, for the point of this piece, I have several goals. Everything that I have stated is factual, and I have hundreds of text messages and banking documents to back up my claims. With all that I have, I want to be clear that there is no blame in what I write. I made some very bad choices and I accept my responsibility in all that happened.

To put it simply — I got played, and I participated in the game for way too long. From my experience with Bob, I have spent countless hours learning about various behaviors and how they apply to this situation. Some thoughts and realizations:

1. Gaslighting — Bob would carefully spin our day-to-day activities, and if I questioned anything, I was regularly told that I was wrong, that I did not listen to him or that was crazy. I speak from experience: this plays with your head, and you do begin to wonder if you are the crazy person. Run if you find yourself in a gaslighting situation. You are not crazy.

2. Read and learn about sociopaths — I want to be clear, I am not diagnosing Bob and his mental health. I am simply providing a possibility because Bob fits the textbook definition of a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath. They are in it for the control of their prey and they manipulate them out of their fear of exposure (bar story above). Their deepest professions of love are empty as they are incapable of loving anyone other than themselves. The sociopath will say and do whatever it takes to get what they want or think that they need. They lie with great ease. Be alert: they will often try to come back, usually when it appears outwardly that you are better and over the sociopath. Again, this is a major form of their ever-present need for control. I fell for it.

3. Extreme Behavior — People like Bob will go to any lengths to get what they want. The last night that we were together, Bob stole from me and denied it. After the police had retrieved by property from Bob, he went to great lengths to cover his tracks and lied for more than a week about having my property. Be careful if they come into your home.

I am not stupid. I am responsible for my decisions. They were fed by a sick individual who has no ability to live in a right-or-wrong world. If you find yourself experiencing anything that I have described, then please get out as soon as possible. Protect everything that you have, but, most importantly, take care of yourself. Ending things is not an easy process. I speak from experience. You will hurt like Hell. You will want one more chance to “fix” things. You will seek one more phone call, a text to say “can’t we work this out?” or a chance to say “I’m sorry” even if you have no reason to be. You will only remember the good times for a while.The aftermath is still a form of control by the sociopath. A return to a relationship will only bring more severe manipulation and lies.

Clarity will begin to come to you and you will realize that you have been living within a nasty and fake fairy tale without a happy ending. You will not live happily ever after with someone like Bob in your life.

The fog will lift. Whether gay, bi, straight or transgender, do not accept this as normal. Trust will be a distant and meaningless word for a while. Breathe. It didn’t take a day for you to get into the mess, and it won’t be over in a day. You will be okay. It may not feel like it today, but you will be okay.

He, or she, is not everything that you have ever wished for.