The Monsters We Become: What Power Does to the Formerly Powerless

a closeup of a silver spoon loaded with green peas
Image by Martin / CC BY

“There,” I said, wrapping a thick bundle of duct tape around both our wrists.

“Duct tape?” Matt said. “But it bonds to the skin.”

“I know,” I said. “It just means we’ll have to go fast.”

He shuddered as I sank down onto him.

*

I’d started dating Matt because of a promise I’d made to myself. “You’re dating the next person who likes you. No exceptions.”

I was tired of chasing people who only had marginal interest in me. The hot and cold I’d experienced with my ex-boyfriend Greg.

No, this time it would be different. I’d be with someone who adored me… even if that meant I had to develop a taste for them.

I could do that, I decided.

Then Matt showed up, and it was even easier than expected. He was shy. A psychology major who was so neurotic that he made other people uncomfortable. But he was tall with smooth olive skin. A good kisser. Well hung.

And more than that, he was so hungry and eager. He’d been a virgin before me, but what he lacked in experience, he made up in enthusiasm. We had sex five times a day on his dorm twin, a miracle made possible by the coordination of our class schedules, his short refractory period, and his roommate’s superhuman level of patience.

I could do no wrong in Matt’s eyes. He followed me around like a puppy. I quickly learned that he’d do whatever I ask. It didn’t matter if the requests were reasonable.

And one night while I was sleeping in his bed while he struggled to get comfortable on the floor (because I’d arbitrarily insisted he sleep there), I realized I’m in charge here. 

It was a completely new feeling. And it terrified me.

What Power Does to the Formerly Powerless

I grew up in a dysfunctional family — one of those families that look pretty decent from the outside but can dissolve your soul if you’re not careful. You know. A high-functioning dysfunctional family.

It was a strict upbringing. Every aspect of my life was controlled. Scrutinized.

My mother was very clear: I was her representative. People would judge her on how I looked and behaved. So I was never to do anything that would bring her embarrassment.

And I wasn’t any freer at home.

And now here I was with Matt. In charge.

I’d like to say that I used this new power to improve both of our lives. That I was even-handed, fair, protective.

But I wasn’t. I was petty. I didn’t respect that power and treated it (and him) like a toy.

Of course, Matt never complained about it, but I can’t honestly know now whether it was because he enjoyed that treatment… or if he felt like he couldn’t complain.

Instead of complaining, he asked me to marry him. We’d  only been dating 6 weeks, but I said yes. Not because I was certain about marrying him but because I didn’t want to say no.

The Pea, or It Could Have Gone the Other Way

After the engagement, I took Matt with me to dinner at my parents’ house. They were all there: Mom, Dad, my sisters Alice and May, my brother David.

Mom and Alice doled out veiled insults (their standard treatment for anyone, old or new). Matt dealt with it all with astonishing effectiveness. A timid shrug here, a timid shrug there. Emotionally crumpling in on himself in a way that inspired pity and caused them to back off.

But at the end of the meal, my sister May took me aside. “Whatever you do, don’t marry that man,” she said, with a sternness completely uncharacteristic of her.

“Really?” I asked, shocked to hear this from her. My sister May was a person who always saw the good in people, sometimes when it wasn’t even really there. She made friends with people that others wouldn’t. May had always been supportive of my other relationships, and I’d never heard her say a harsh word about anyone. Her kindness had kept me sane for years. “Why?”

During dinner, Matt had dropped a pea off his plate, May said, clearly noticing when it fell. And instead of picking it up or just leaving it there, he had taken his foot and ground the pea into the rug.

“You can never trust someone like that,” May said. “You don’t know what they’re capable of.”

I’d turned into a monster because with Matt I finally had freedom. Control. But at that moment, I realized it could have gone the other way.

“Call Me Later?”

I broke off the engagement with Matt not long after that. Moved all of my things out of his dorm room while he was at class. Left the diamond engagement ring in a box on his desk.

Waited outside of his residence hall in the bitter cold waiting for him to come back from European History.

“It’s over. I’m breaking up with you,” I said to him. “I put the ring on your desk.”

He pulled me to him in a hug that was so tight it stole my breath. Hugged me for what felt like forever. When he let me go, he looked into my eyes.

I thought for a minute that he was going to argue with me. But he didn’t.

“Call me later?” he said instead.

“Okay,” I said.

Not What We Agreed On

And I did. We talked on the phone a few times a week. It was curious. Neither of us had uttered the cliche “I hope we can be friends,” but there we were anyway, doing the friend thing.

Until one night, it all cracked open again.

“Page,” he said. “I miss you.”

“Well, we can have lunch or something,” I offered. “You have calc tomorrow afternoon, right? I have a half hour there before I have to go to Spanish, maybe we could –”

“No, not like that,” he said.

I waited.

“I miss you physically,” he said.

My chest ached at those words. I admitted the truth. “I miss you, too. That way.”

“Could I come over?” he said.

“I don’t think that’d be good for either of us,” I said.

“Please. It’d just be physical. Nothing more,” he said.

“You’d come over, we’d have sex, and you’d leave?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “That’s it.”

“Okay,” I said. “Come on over.”

He did. We had sex.

“Okay,” I said. “Time to go.”

He looked stricken. “Oh c’mon, Page, can’t I at least stay the night?”

“That’s not what we agreed on,” I said.

“I know,” he said. “But things change. I can’t be the only one who felt something.”

“You said you’d leave after,” I said. “We can talk about this tomorrow if you want. Lunch?”

He started to cry.

“You need to leave,” I said, firmly.

“I hope one day you understand what a monster you are,” he said.

“And I hope the same for you,” I replied as he closed the door behind him.

I Hope He’s Happy

These days he teaches psychology at a state university. He looks basically the same. I’ve considered reaching out to him countless times to write to him, apologize for my part in things, let him know that I really hope he’s happy. Tell him all the things that I couldn’t back then, when I didn’t have insight about my past.

It wouldn’t be difficult. We have mutual friends on Facebook. And there’s a clear path from his old blog to his newest one.

But everyone I’ve floated the idea by has told me that it would be a terrible idea. Selfish. That it’d be about me and my sense of closure and not him.

So I don’t.

*

My book is out!

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory

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