Natalie is a single mother to an amazing toddler, a part-time teacher and writer, and she tries to keep up her running in her spare time (what spare time?!).
Let me ask you a question: have you ever asked the person you’re dating to show you their passport? No? Or asked to see their bank statements? Have you gone to see the properties they owned? If your answer is yes to any of these, then you’re far more suspicious than I ever was.
When I met my ex, I fell in love with his charm; his generosity; his wonderful, mesmerising stories; his magically long eyelashes and his cute accent.
I never checked up on anything he told me. I didn’t need to.
For two years, we were very happy and very much in love. Okay, so he was a little controlling. He was very jealous – sometimes he could lose his temper violently and unexpectedly, but for these faults I loved him too as I was the only person who could calm him down. I believed he loved me so much, he couldn’t bear to see me talk to other men, or check my work emails, or go out with my friends without him.
This might sound familiar to lots of you. Apparently, many people put up with behaviour from their ‘other half’ which is humiliating and intrusive, and they believe they are loved, almost unconditionally, in return. So, checking people’s phones, emails, diaries, and demanding passwords to do all of the above is accepted. If not ’normal’, then it is at the very least seen as ‘tolerable’. We need to bring up young people to understand what is healthy in a relationship and what isn’t.
In the end, my ex controlling my life was just the start. What happened later on was beyond anything I could have imagined.
Fast forward to when our baby arrived, we were due to get married in the July and move house in August. With a baby under one, both of these things were no mean feat. However, my ex was absolutely and utterly reliable. When I was pregnant, he cooked, cleaned, washed, ironed and drove me around, and once I gave birth, he continued to do everything he could. I felt so lucky, I bragged about him to my friends – what other man was like mine?
But as our rental contract was coming to an end and the wedding loomed nearer, his behaviour became erratic. I sent invitations to my family and friends but he did not. I looked for houses to buy, but he did not. When I brought up the wedding, he said it was all under control and his mum was helping him organise a big surprise in his home country where we had decided to hold the ceremony. Every time I found a beautiful house to view, he either outright refused to go, or came along and found all sorts of things wrong with it.
And then he started drinking.
I know there are many people who have sadly experienced their partner relying on alcohol because they are ill or it’s their way to escape. But we had a gorgeous baby, were just about to get married and move into our own beautiful home – all a little stressful, yes, but exciting and magical, too, surely?
Finally, we chose a house to buy – we put an offer in on a place, paid the surveyors, and the solicitors began to do the necessary work. He told me the wedding plans were in motion and he sent money home to pay for it. Finally, things were moving forward.
And then I got the phone call. The solicitors told me the flat he was selling in order to provide them with proof of funds for our new house didn’t exist.
“What do you mean, ‘it doesn’t exist’?” I asked, gobsmacked.
Apparently, there was no flat fitting his description and nothing on the land registry in his name. I confronted him. He screamed at me, saying the solicitors were lying and that he would prove it.
I had waited with the hope he would get better – I was going with him to AA meetings, going to doctors’ appointments and therapy sessions, doing my best to support him, but this was the news which finally broke my heart. I cancelled the wedding. My family and friends had to cancel their flights. He was on the verge of a breakdown, telling me his mum would have to cancel all the plans and it would cost a fortune and I was the most selfish person he’d ever met.
And yet still, he did not leave us. Still, he said he loved me and our baby.
There was something very wrong; I could feel it.
I thought about hiring someone to investigate – but could not afford it – so I did it myself. I made phone calls and wrote emails to his sister and visited places to gather as much information as I could.
And all I discovered everywhere I went were lies.
- He was not who he said he was. He was already married with a child.
- His family had no idea we were engaged.
- He had been in massive debt when I met him and had lived in a tiny flat just around the corner. He then got me massively into debt by using my name to apply for credit cards and loans, all behind my back.
- And most likely, he had done this many times before.
What on earth was I supposed to do?
I did some research and read that the only way to force a pathological liar into a corner was to confront them – so I packed all his belongings and did just that. Perhaps it sounds easy but I was utterly petrified and told the police I was going to do this and could be in danger. A close friend of mine also came to sit in the pub around the corner just in case I needed him. To my surprise, my ex denied nothing and left with barely a murmur.
At first, the euphoria I felt was incredible – to not have to fear for your own safety and that of your baby every single minute of every single day, to be free to come and go as you please, to do your own thing with the person you love most in the world, someone you can trust totally, and to be able to say: I am in control of my life.
I had to regain control of my finances, which my ex had completely destroyed (to the point I couldn’t even rent a house without my father acting as guarantor). Everything he’d done to us had been in my name, because his, of course, was fake. I made to-do lists every day and just kept attacking each task. I needed to put it all behind me.
If it sounds like I was totally calm and proactive, I can tell you now, I wasn’t. Often, a kind of panic set in. Why had this happened to me? Did I deserve it?
I knew the stigma attached to being a single parent. Yet here I was now: a single parent. How would others view me? My family? My friends? Would they judge me? And if I fell down the stairs and died, would anyone know for a day or two? What would my little boy do? And who would look after him? Could I even look after a baby on my own?
But as the weeks went by, I realised: single parents have a phenomenal strength, and so did I. My boy and I had very little money, but we had time, and that’s all you need. We went on walks to parks and playgrounds, looking around shops and markets. We went to small farms, fed the ducks and the horses, and went to visit our neighbours’ dogs. I just did everything I could that was either free or inexpensive that I knew would bring a smile to his face, and therefore to mine.
When my ex continued trying to visit us, including when drunk, I told him he was no longer welcome. He left the country a few months later when he finally realised I would never take him back.
I started to travel around a little, seeing friends, making new ones. I joined Gingerbread and started chatting to other single parents too.
While I have been helped through PTSD, and legally and financially I’ve been given support by family, friends and very kind people out there, I’ve learned two key life lessons:
- A baby is the most beautiful blessing and anyone who ruins their chance to spend time with their own should be pitied. There is no need for anger.
- “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus
One other thing: some days are really, really hard. Some days, I make mistakes. Some days, I wonder if I can do it. But I know now: “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” (Mary Anne Radmacher)
My number one victory as a single parent? Every single day. We are safe, we are happy, and we are free of lies. In fact, I consider us a blessed and very lucky family indeed.
If you or someone you love, is in a similar situation, Natalie recommends the following organisations to access advice and support: