In 2011, I had an affair with a sociopath. I left my husband for the sociopath. And the sociopath nearly destroyed me.
You’d think I would have seen it coming from miles away, but nope – sociopaths can be smart. He certainly was. And that means he was always a few steps ahead of me. Only after he dumped me was I able to catch up and see him for what he really was: a terrible and twisted human being.
What is a sociopath, anyway?
I always imagined a sociopath was the serial killer in a B-rated horror movie. That’s a psychopath. A sociopath shares some – but not all – traits with a psychopath.
- Lacks empathy and can be cold, unfeeling, callous and overly critical
- Has no regard for boundaries, rules or laws
- Is charismatic and charming; they use humor, flattery, intellect, or flirtation for personal gain
- Is impulsive
- Is arrogant
- Is psychically or verbally abusive
The traits do not show up at once, of course. Even when, say, arrogance appears, you might only see a speck of it before it temporarily vanishes.
My experience with a sociopath
So this guy who I worked with – I call him Ryan (not his real name) – was a very good graphic designer who lived two time zones away. I was the Editor at a media company, and he was the graphic designer. We talked every day via a project management platform. I’d post a message: “I need images for these three articles, please. Could you get them to me by 10am?” “Sure thing,” he’d reply.
Nothing crazy. Just work.
Over the next couple of months, be began texting and emailing me, usually on the weekends. It was just to say hi and see what I was up to, but I kept thinking, “Um, he’s married with kids. What on Earth is he doing?”
What he was doing was worming his way into my life. And sure enough, when the opportunity presented it itself, he swooped in like a knight in shining armor to save me from my eroding marriage.
Unfortunately, when he swooped in, I was helpless. I had just ended an affair with someone else and was in a very vulnerable position. My marriage was teetering. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, who I was or what I needed. I was a hot mess – and therefore a perfect victim for a sociopath.
Like I said above, someone’s sociopathic traits will show up a little here and a little there – and then they’re right out in the open.
Here’s how they manifested in Ryan (in the order in which they appeared).
A sociopath has no regard for boundaries, rules or laws
Ryan obviously didn’t care that he was married or that I was married. He didn’t care that we had a professional working relationship, lived a three-hour plane ride away from each other and had never even met in person.
All he cared about was getting what he wanted – me.
During our intense and tumultuous five-month relationship, he lied constantly about things big and small.
Two FBI agents also showed up at his house when we were talking on the phone once. All I know is that they were investigating a shady real estate investment he was involved with.
Is charismatic and charming; they use humor, flattery, intellect, or flirtation for personal gain
Oh, the emails, texts and IMs Ryan sent me! They would be right at home in a paperback romance novel.
All I heard was how perfect I was. He told me over and over again how smart, beautiful, sexy and wonderful I was. He told me how happy I made him, how happy he was that we met, how o overjoyed he was that I loved him.
He was always smiling, positive and filled with energy.
Until he wasn’t.
Ryan told me he loved me and wanted to marry me four months after we started working together. We had never even met in person.
If that’s not impulsive, I don’t know what is.
His impulsivity was contagious. It seeped right into me and led me to do some horrible things – all of which he encouraged.
It’s why I decided to leave my husband and move out of the house we shared with our small children. It’s why I bought a wedding dress for me and a wedding band for him when we were together in Chicago. It’s why I bought a lot of expensive furniture for our future home together.
Spoiler alert: He never left his wife. He never moved in with me. He never reimbursed me for anything.
Hoo-boy, Ryan was the epitome of arrogance. Not only was I perfect, but he was too. Everyone was an idiot, or worse – living a mediocre life and being Ok with that.
We were not mediocre. Not by far. And our perfect life together was not going to be mediocre either.
Our relationship was a miracle. It was perfect. We were perfect, because we were we.
We would construct these fabulous ideals of what our life was going to be like – the work we’d do, the people we’d spend time with, the places we’d travel, the house we’d live in.
The people who didn’t understand how special our relationship was: fuck ‘em.
Is psychically or verbally abusive
Ryan was never verbally abusive, but he was psychically abusive.
He rarely kept promises. “Yes, I’ll send you the money I owe you. Yes, I’ll figure out a time to come and visit you. Yes, I’ll tell my wife I’m leaving her for you.”
He never intended to keep one of them.
Instead, he just dragged me along.
When things got too hard, he bailed – and placed the blame on me. So yes, he was good at gaslighting. Probably still is.
Lacks empathy and can be cold, unfeeling, callous and overly critical
Like I said above, Ryan cut ties and walked away from the mess he made – and blamed so much of it on me. Yes, I played a part in our ridiculous affair. I completely own that. I’m not proud of it, but I have come to terms with it.
Ryan, however, steered the ship and then tossed me overboard when I became inconvenient.
It was very hard for me to come to terms with who Ryan really was. I was very angry at him for his cruelty. I was angry at myself for falling for him. I was angry that I had trusted him so completely. I was angry that I had been so easily hoodwinked. Anger will eat you from the inside out, so I had to let it go. I couldn’t change what had happened. I could only change what would happen next.
What happened next is nothing short of a miracle. After completely destroying my life – and letting Ryan nearly destroy me – I was able to rebuild it into something better.
If you want to read the full story of what happened – and how I recovered – check out my book Unmoored.