Psychopaths all seem to share one terrifying trait: They don’t seem like psychopaths. At least not at first…
Chloe* was 19 years old when she met Ben* at a college party and was immediately swept off her feet by the handsome blond with sparkling green eyes. And by swept off her feet, she means literally.
“I was dancing with friends and he just, like, picked me up and started swinging me around,” she says. “And I should have been mad — normally I would have been furious — but he was just… I don’t know. There was something about him.”
That was the first of many red flags she would ignore as she plunged into what she calls the most intense relationship of her life. Before she knew it, they were spending every spare minute together. Their relationship was progressing at warp speed emotionally and physically — something she wasn’t entirely comfortable with, being a virgin at the time.
“It didn’t seem to matter what concessions I made, he always pushed for more,” she says. “I’d try to draw a line, tell him how far I was comfortable going, and then he’d just jump right over it like it didn’t exist.” Even worse, she says he often blamed her when she spoke up about her discomfort, telling her that she made him do it because she was so sexy or such a tease and he couldn’t help himself.
Other cracks began to show as well. While he was bright, sunny and charming around their friends, she increasingly saw a dark side during their moments alone. He would sometimes go off on long rants, raging over seemingly insignificant things and was constantly paranoid that people were out to get him, including Chloe. He confessed to strange behaviors like killing a neighbor’s cat because it had annoyed him (“like it was just nothing, no big deal,” she says) and an obsession with up-skirt photos. She found herself in the strange place of feeling protective of him, still being in love with him, and also being terrified of him.
His moods changed on a dime and she found herself on constant edge. As soon as she’d try to pull away, he’d reel her back in, telling her that she was the only person who understood him and that he loved her more than anyone else ever could or would.
Eventually they did have sex and while Chloe says she wouldn’t call it rape, she says she did say no over and over again until she realized “it was just going to happen anyhow.” Then, she said yes. Did she enjoy it? “I don’t remember, honestly,” she says. “I just felt really numb.”
The worst part, Chloe says, is how little her friends knew. Her girlfriends constantly told her how lucky she was to have someone so charming and handsome and her guy friends thought he was hilarious. “It really made me doubt myself, doubt my own reality,” she says. “My life had turned into a waking nightmare but everyone was telling me it was a dream.”
So when Ben proposed to her, popping the question in a large public display in front of all her friends (a decision she now says was calculated to ensure she would say yes to avoid embarrassment), she felt she had no choice but to go along with it, just like when they had sex.
“It just felt… inevitable. Even if I wanted to say no he would have said what I really meant was ‘yes’ and I would have believed him,” she says. “I know that sounds crazy but I really thought he knew me better than I did.”
They got married just a few weeks later — Ben pushed for a speedy wedding even though many of their family members couldn’t come — and Chloe hoped that their new relationship status would improve his mercurial temper.
She discovered he’d been lying to her about nearly everything. He was nearly 30, not 22 like he’d told her, and he’d never been enrolled in the university where they met and where he said he was studying to be a doctor.
“I finally confronted him about something, I don’t even remember which lie, and we got into an argument and he started strangling me,” she says bluntly. “And all I could think was, ‘This is how I am supposed to die.’ I didn’t even fight back. I was too tired.”
Eventually he let go and stormed out of the house after yelling at her for “making” him hurt her. They’d been married all of two weeks.
Chloe’s mom noticed the bruising on her daughter’s neck when she went home to get some of her things, and when she questioned her, all Chloe could do was cry.
“I’m so grateful my mom stepped in. I couldn’t have made that decision myself,” she says. “I was just too beaten down — emotionally, spiritually and physically.”
Chloe’s mom ran interference while she got Chloe into counseling. And that was finally when things clicked.
“I still remember the therapist telling me it had nothing to do with whether or not I loved him enough. ‘He’s not going to change. You’ve married a psychopath.’ She explained to me what a psychopath is and I realized she was totally right,” she says.
According to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, psychopathy is a personality disorder and is characterized by scoring high on two scales: “selfish, callous and remorseless use of others” and “a chronically unstable, antisocial and socially deviant lifestyle.” As her therapist read off the checklist items to her, Chloe realized they were so true it was as if they were written about Ben.
Chloe filed for an annulment and a restraining order at the same time, both of which were granted quickly. And while the whole ordeal was over relatively fast — it was five months from the day they met until the day they divorced — she says it’s left an indelible black mark on her life.
“I don’t trust people anymore, and that includes myself. I was such a bad judge of character, I still wonder how I didn’t see what he was before, that I am too scared to trust myself to love again.”
*Names and some identifying details have been changed.