By Tammy Scileppi
Today, women are tougher and more empowered than ever, and they don’t take guff from anyone. So why is it that so many have found themselves embroiled in messy, sometimes abusive relationships with manipulative, controlling partners?
As Domestic Violence Awareness Month approaches, it’s important to keep in mind that this devastating issue has become a national epidemic, and that it encompasses more than physical abuse.
Women are much more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence, making up 85 percent of domestic abuse victims (15 percent are men). So many women, especially mothers, find it difficult to leave these relationships that involve physical, emo-
tional or financial abuse, or all three.
Unfortunately, “happily ever after” is hard to come by and sometimes people aren’t always who they seem to be.
In fact, any relationship can go south in a New York minute. Just ask author and former New Yorker Jen Waite. The strong, vibrant and intelligent single mom from Astoria will tell you that love can sometimes be “A Beautiful, Terrible Thing” – the title of her new memoir. It’s a heart-wrenching, real-life story about romance and marriage, betrayal, emotional abuse, healing and new beginnings.
Luckily, there was no physical abuse, but plenty of emotional trauma, according to Waite, now 32. She spoke about her harrowing experience during a recent phone interview from her residence in Maine, where she has been living with her 2½-year-old daughter.
The author found herself in a nightmare situation back in 2015, just a couple of years into her fairy tale turned emotionally and psychologically abusive marriage to Marco, who was once the man of her dreams.
She now describes him as a true psychopath.
Writing with raw emotion during a period of profound pain and turmoil, Waite shares her deepest, most private thoughts with the reader through a dual-narrative approach, shifting back and forth in time from the past and fast-forwarding five years hence.
“It was therapeutic,” Waite said. “I was writing almost in real time … so I could function, as I was discovering my husband’s secret life. After a few weeks, I realized I was writing a memoir. I would be stuck until I understood why my life had blown up so badly.”
For 20-something Jen, it seemed as if the sun rose and set around her boyfriend, Marco. They met at a burger restaurant in Astoria, a few blocks from her apartment. The pretty blonde waited tables there while pursuing an acting career. One day, she saw the sexy Latin bartender from across the room. He smiled back at her, and from then on their love affair seemed like a Hollywood romance … until it became a horror film.
What if everything you believed in turned out to be an illusion?
The unraveling of Jen’s marriage took place just three weeks after her daughter was born.
Was her husband really having an affair? A strange email one day was only the tip of the iceberg, as she would soon uncover a shocking web of lies and deceit that would turn her world upside down.
When Waite first shared the details of Marco’s betrayal on Today.com in 2016, she wrote, “This pain came from a place so deep within me that I could not determine where the pain ended and I began. We were intertwined. It was all-consuming. It felt as if half of my DNA had been ripped out of my body and I was left with a dangling half strand. Half a person.”
It all happened during what should have been the sweetest, most precious time in a couple’s life — the birth of their child. But sadly, that’s when the emotional abuse started.
Nearly half of all women in the United States have experienced at least one form of psychological aggression by an intimate partner, according to the American Psychological Association.
Expressive aggression is when your intimate partner has called you names (e.g., fat, ugly, crazy, stupid) insulted, humiliated or made fun of you; called you a loser, a failure or not good enough; acted very angry in a way that seemed dangerous.
During the interview, the author recalled the cruel mind games that her ex used to play. The new mom was muddling through a fog caused by sleep-deprivation and confusion, what with caring for a colicky newborn, while playing detective, so she could make sense of the lies and deception.
As a master manipulator, Marco played on his wife’s vulnerabilities and state of mind.
Waite said it was like a “master class in gaslighting” – his favorite technique. He would insist he wasn’t cheating on her and that she was crazy. She started to believe she was imagining things even though she kept finding evidence to the contrary.
“I’d catch him in lies and he would just adamantly deny them; always had a good excuse. It’s a scary thing, the crazy-making that went on and goes on in a lot of these relationships, where you end up not trusting yourself or your perception of reality,” she added. “I think that’s the goal. Someone like him has no remorse and takes pleasure in playing mind games.”
As she started to connect the dots, the ugly truth about her marriage (it was a sham) was revealed, thanks to a digital trail left by Facebook, Instagram, Uber and Seamless.
Jen had to come to terms with the sickening truth: She was living with a psychopath.
Contrary to popular culture, most psychopaths aren’t murderers or serial killers, Waite noted. Experts believe as many as one in four people in the United States are on the psychopathic/sociopathic spectrum. They’re usually charmers and narcissists (take wife killers Scott Peterson and Drew Peterson). Their immediate goal is control and they always have an agenda.
Like many abused women, Waite suffered from depression, anxiety and low self-esteem during her traumatic ordeal, but it was only temporary; she said she was finally able to free herself from her abuser and put the pieces of her life back together, thanks to her writing and her supportive parents and amazing therapist, who also helped her understand her own role in the relationship. Looking back, Waite acknowledged her lack of boundaries, and a series of red flags, which were ignored in her quest for love.
They say love is blind, and like so many people stung by cupid’s arrow, a naïve Jen allowed the affair to progress too quickly. That was the first warning sign. Waite’s advice: Look out for “love bombing.” It’s super intense in the beginning; lots of flattery. Marco made her feel adored. She yearned for that and was searching for it.
“He made me feel as if I was the center of the universe, and he said all the right things,” Waite recalled.
Yet she felt there was something off about it. Ask yourself: Could this be real love after a week?
Another glaring red flag: Marco was coming out of a messy relationship. A couple of months in, she remembered feeling “sick to my stomache” when she knew he still hadn’t ended it.
“If you see they’re treating someone else badly, you should run away. They’ll do it to you as well. A big one is if they have a really sad story; it’s called the ‘pity play,’ where they use their past to justify bad behavior.”
Her ex also stripped the author of her savings; it’s part of the emotional financial destruction.
“He instinctively knew there was a lot to gain from our relationship,” Waite said. “He opened a business; had a family, friends, and a reputability he hadn’t had before. My parents liked him a lot; he won them over. Now everybody shudders at the thought of him. He’s dead to us.”
Indeed, there are plenty of insincere and abusive antisocial types out there who can’t connect with anyone on a true emotional level. And far too many unsuspecting ladies (and men) in search of true love, who have fallen prey to their charms and empty promises.
Waite has moved on and is starting anew. In July, she returned to her old stomping grounds for the launch party of her book at The Astoria Bookshop.
Currently working in insurance to pay the bills, Waite spends her free time with her daughter and family, and is considering a career in psychotherapy.
“I feel grounded; happy with my life right now. Internally strong,” she says. “One day, I’ll tell my daughter what happened.”
Waite’s blog on Today.com got 500-plus views and it was clear that her traumatic experiences had struck a collective nerve with so many disillusioned women.
“Now, I’m facing my insecurities and vulnerabilities head-on and I’m not ashamed. Trying to build my self-worth and self-respect and form boundaries for the first time,” she said. “So, as much as I sometimes want to scream and rage at my ex-husband, I also want to thank him: For forcing me to become the person I was always meant to be. For showing me that I am a fighter and that I will never give up. And most importantly, for allowing me to become this person before my daughter ever knew anyone else.
“When you begin to truly trust yourself and like yourself, you tap into an immense amount of power. You’ve always possessed this power, you just never knew how to access it.”
Waite’s book is available on Amazo