When Toni** was going to leave for NYSC in 2017, she did not think she was going to fall in love, get into a relationship and become stuck in the unsavoury situation she now finds herself in.
But, as with almost everything in life, there were curveballs that ensured her service year was not as fun-filled and undramatic as she had thought it would be. Before the end of one year, so many things had changed for her– body, soul and mind-wise.
And of everything that could have gone wrong, everything actually did go wrong.
“Please I need your advice,” reads the email that piqued my interest and got me curious enough to the point of reaching out to the 26-year old. I got to speak with her to get a little more context to this story and she’d explain how she got into what has now become a loop of confusion and hopeless inconvenience for her.
“I started dating this guy August 2017, when I met him he was the sweetest guy I have ever met, at the beginning of the relationship he was everything I wanted in a guy.” She writes in that email and during our phone conversation, she reiterates how smooth and divine and mind-blowing the early days of the relationship had felt, and how amazing it was to have her “fairy tale” materialize. Her dream relationship was literally playing out and she was right in the centre of it all, the protagonist in her own dream story.
“…When the relationship started, It was what I wanted. It was the fairy tale I’d always wanted,” were her exact words.
A manipulator’s mode of operation
One of the constant, most observable patterns with manipulators is how charming and sweet they are at the beginning.
“[At the early days of the relationship,] the manipulator will bombard you with flattery, love, and charm. They'll make you think that they're the sweetest, kindest, and the most caring person in the world. They would never try to upset you or harm you in any way. They're not going to control you. Only good things will come from the relationship,” according to Talko.com.
By Toni’s own admission, she felt safe in the cocoon created by her lover in those early days, thinking she had finally met the man of her dreams. And she is not alone in feeling this way with a manipulator.
Patricia**, another lady I spoke to for this piece, felt that same way, too.
Although she never got to date the man in question, she says in hindsight that she recalls this same pattern being in play between them, too.
“He was just a colleague [and all the while, I didn’t notice anything because he was just, you know, normal] so I never noticed any of that.
“It was when he became a boss and I started reporting to him that he started misbehaving. Then he asked me out and I said no and this showed me more of that annoying part of him.”
Unfortunately, by the time many women realize that the charm, sweetness and ‘gentlemanliness’ is all a lie, it's usually too late. They're stuck in an abusive relationship and see no way out.
Moni’s dream relationship isn’t so much of a fairy tale anymore
By the time the relationship reached its two-month anniversary, the wheels intended to drive it to a happy ending began to shake badly. And nothing has halted that decline till date.
“Not up to two months of dating after we had sex (he is my first man), I noticed he was changing. He shouts at me at any slightest provocation and I also got to know he has a very bad temper,” Toni writes.
While it’s sure that a manipulator’s toxicity will eventually begin to show, getting out of the relationship or cutting them off is hardly ever as straightforward as that. This is because manipulators are often schemers, players and masters at mind games. They know just what to say to make you forgive their misdeeds.
“When he started showing his real character he had a way of making up… so that still kept us going in the relationship,” Toni adds.
Guilt trips and emotional blackmail
When someone guilt trips you, they make you make you feel guilty, especially in order to get you to do something they want. It is kinda similar to emotional blackmail which, according to Power of Positivity, means “threats and punishments that are meant to control another person's behavior, while not escalating to physical violence.”
These two things are perhaps the biggest tools manipulators know how to handle best.
Toni says in her email that: “anytime there is a quarrel between us he has a way of manipulating the issue and end up making me apologize even when I know he [was] wrong.
“I don’t even have a say in the relationship anymore. He feels he is the man so he should be in control of everything. I have tried breaking up severally but he keeps manipulating, talking about all what he has done for me and all... which makes me feel indebted sometimes and end up apologizing for breaking up.”
In Patricia’s case, her suitor/manager would often try to exploit her Christian beliefs every time he does wrong by her and knows she’s less than pleased with his malicious deeds.
“Ever since I said no to him, he easily picks on me and after five days or so, he comes and tries to manipulatively appeal to the Christian in me, saying: ‘why are we then Christians? or what would Christ do? and all that… what will the holy spirit say? What will the bible say?’
“Every time he f**ks up with me, he comes with ‘please forgive me,’ quoting scriptures and all that. Maybe because he feels ‘this one na church girl.’ Those really stupid things like that.
“Also, I like shoes. I love sneakers and all that. So after messing up, he’d just go get me a pair of sneakers.
Patricia adds that the man’s sneaky mode of operation also involves trying to get to her by saying stuff like “you are to me like the sister my mother never gave birth to.”
Other ways to spot a manipulative partner
Aside being sneaky players and emotional blackmailers, men who try to manipulate you in relationships will also never admit that that’s what they’re doing. They get defensive and sometimes they really do believe you’re the one treating them unfairly by trying to leave or call them out on their toxic behaviour.
“He’s always very defensive. He never accepts that he did wrong by me, and tries to make me feel guilty, always saying I caused it whenever he wrongs me.” Toni says of her boyfriend.
They’re also good at gaslighting which, in essence, is what happens when someone controls you by manipulating, hiding, and distorting the facts of your situation.
For example, in Toni’s case, despite knowing for sure that she’s not getting the right kind of energy she craves from her man and her relationship, he still makes her feel like the material things and good things he has done for her means she owe him an unpaid debt. She now believes that she is being ungrateful and fears that leaving him is tantamount to throwing his affection in his face, even though deep down she knows she has to leave and move on.
In her exact words: “I really want to move on because if I end up marrying him I will be miserable for the rest of my life. Because, right now, I have lost my self-esteem. I am not myself anytime I’m around him.”
Manipulators also try to distort people’s opinion of you. When I asked Dammy, a newly-married friend, about her ex whom she says was so manipulative that she almost ran mad, she tells me that when she eventually got fed up of his lying, emotionally-abusive ways, he went ahead to ruin her reputation with his family, all of whom used to be nice and friendly with her even before she and he started dating.
In Patricia’s case, her boss/suitor, seeing that she was getting pretty close to one other male colleague, went and tried to make that other colleague think he was already having sex with her.
“When I found out and raked hard for him, he began crying, shedding tears,” she recalls.
Manipulation is a form of abuse
Even though it falls short of physical assault, manipulation is abuse nonetheless and could, many times devolve to physical abuse eventually.
However, whether or not it does, the reaction to abuse – whether emotional or physical is to seek a way out. A partner whose way of relating with you only involves toxic, manipulative ways is not your project to try and work on. Abusive men [or even women], especially the ones who are long and hardened in the practice, are not yours to try and remould. It is better to step out of the situation and let them figure out their sh** by themselves.
They might. They might not. But is it worth it to jeopardise your happiness on the possibility of that change happening? If you ask me, I’ll say no.
Ten times out of ten.
** Names changed at the request of respondents who would rather remain anonymous.