Introduction

The title may evoke thoughts of both “The Story of O” and the Marquis de Sade, but if you were seeking something titillating, you will not likely find it here.

While there are some rather explicit sexual details, this is my memoir of loving someone who has a mental illness.

It is also about the destructiveness of lying. As I became more aware of Michael’s problems, I became more willing and able to cope with them—except for the lying.

I am Sara and this is the story of my relationship with Michael.

I love Michael. I did not “fall in love” with him, nor am I “in love” with him. I consciously chose to love him. And my love is always unconditional.

I recently read Jessie Close’s Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness, a memoir about her history of mental illness. Ms. Close was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her early 40s, after many years of struggling to cope with an often out of control life. She was much later diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features, as well another undiagnosed disorder.

My late sister Roberta was first diagnosed with multiple personality disorder in her late 30s or early 40s, and much later correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My most simpatico friend, Ann, was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder late in life.

What I gained from reading Resilience is not so much a deeper understanding of what bipolar disorder is or what it is like to live with it, but how difficult it is to diagnose and treat mental illnesses and how prevalent they are.

Ms. Close’s book quotes her sister Glenn’s line in a public service announcement they made together: One in six adults has a mental illness.

I was—and am—flabbergasted by that statistic. The National Institute of Mental Health’s statistic is closer to one in five.

My on and off relationship with Michael that spanned eight years has now ended. Not long after we met, he told me that he had difficulty with interpersonal relationships. He was often in conflict with colleagues and patients at work and was unable to sustain a “significant other “type of relationship. He said that most people think he’s an asshole.

A Jessie Close journal entry: I’ve been known to complicate my life.

When we first met, Michael told me he didn’t want any drama. It took me quite some time to realize that his life is full of self-created drama. He complicates his own life.

But for most of our time together, I chalked what I considered to be his “difficult” behaviors up to him being immature, stuck in adolescence.

It was only in the last year that I realized he is mentally ill.

From Resilience again: One of the symptoms of mania, according to the American Psychiatric Association, is overindulgence in “enjoyable behaviors with high risks of negative outcomes.”

Unstable moods and impulsive actions are symptoms of both borderline personality disorders and bipolar disorder.

What I saw clearly early on was Michael’s inability to communicate openly and honestly and his lack of empathy. I saw that he was moody and unsettled, but not that he was unstable.

Now I see that he is emotionally immature, manipulative, and a pathological liar; he lacks empathy, feels no remorse or guilt, and accepts no responsibility for his actions. He makes poor decisions because he is impulsive. He is pleasure-seeking and sexually promiscuous.

 

He lies, he cheats, and he put my health—and other women’s—at risk.

He engages in “behaviors with high risks of negative outcomes” in all areas of his life.

Michael is now 70. He was forced into retiring last year after he refused to attend communication training, which his employer, Kaiser, deemed he needed. He was not ready to give up practicing medicine. It is all he is and he feels he is nothing without it. But he was unwilling to do what was required of him to continue working.

He precipitously sold both his home in Oakland—where he had lived for 20+ years and had a sense of being part of the community on his blockand his vacation home in Grass Valley, and moved to Hawaii in 2014, after signing a five year contract with Kaiser.

He is now forced into retirement, and planning a return to Northern California.

I suspect, as Jessie Close was considered a “problem child,” Michael has been throughout his adulthood considered by those closest to him to be a man with “issues.” It took me a long time to realize that he is mentally ill.

There is no doubt in my mind that I could have lived with Michael and all of his problems except for his compulsive lying.

The last time I saw him, he was convinced that he was experiencing the onset of dementia. I had already decided that I could commit myself to standing by him through failing health, including the loss of mental faculties.

Nothing on my part precluded continuing my relationship with Michael other than his lying.

It pervades my memories of him. Occasionally a thought arises that evokes amazingly wonderful feelings in me. I quash those feelings quickly by reminding myself that it was all a sham for him. I was never more than one of his many dalliances. He is always coldly calculating.

This “story” consists of my correspondence with Michael during the latter years of it. Because the earlier exchanges were deleted, I’ll give you a brief history of that time, and will then keep my comments to a minimum.

You will come to know us both intimately through our correspondence. I am hoping that I will come to better understand us both too.

The Early Days 2007-2011

When I first met Michael in 2007, we both lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. We learned early on that we both had an affinity for a small town in the Sierra foothills, and we both eventually—and independently and at different times—moved there. He lived there on a part-time basis for several years, while I retired there in 2011 and live there full-time still.

In February of 2007, I posted a personal ad on Craig’s List titled “Lookin’ for a Lover.” I was seeking a long-term monogamous partner for sex. I was not prepared for the avalanche of responses I received. I had recently turned 59, had not posted a photo, and expected the pool of responses to be small.

Sorting through the replies proved to be daunting, frustrating, mostly disappointing, and it felt futile. I quickly weeded out most of them, declining politely to each. I then exchanged several emails with the half-dozen left and weeded a couple more out. Michael was at the bottom of my list of potential partners at that point, admittedly for what seemed at the time like somewhat petty reasons.

I have a passion for words, for language, and for mechanically correct writing. Michael used only lower case letters in his email messages. It bugged me. And while his clever humor often made me laugh—and that’s a wonderful thing—I like some boyish charm in a man—it was also sophomoric. I wondered if he’d been the class clown as a youth.

I met the others and ticked each off my list after one date; they all seemed to be too needy and controlling for me. That left Michael…

We had been exchanging emails throughout this time and he had been begging me to give him a chance. He seemed like a good match for me intellectually and, as I told him, I thought it would be nice to have someone worth talking to while we were catching our breath from our physical exertions. I figured I had nothing to lose.

I figured wrong.

We met. At the time, there seemed to me to be an intense mutual sexual attraction. I realize now that it was not reciprocal. He played me from beginning to end.

We were in complete agreement about the terms of our relationship, which hinged on mutual trust to protect each other from STDs. My instincts told me he was honest, trustworthy.

My instincts were wrong. He entered into our agreement in bad faith. It is clear to me now that he never had any intention of being my sole partner. In fact, in all likelihood he was already sexually involved with other women.

Thus began a roller coaster of a ride… a roller coaster that spent more time going downhill than up. It swung from being beautiful, joyous, and rapturously intoxicating, to being toxic.

I was somewhat forewarned. As I mentioned in my intro, early on in our relationship Michael told me that many people think he is an asshole, that he has a lot of problems with interpersonal relationships. He admitted to having conflicts at work with both colleagues and patients and he told me that his significant other type of relationships with women were short-lived.

This is how our assignations typically went:

He would invite me over for a weekday morning tryst. He would give me little notice and our visits always required that I take time off of work. I would make my way from my home in the Outer Richmond District of San Francisco to Michael’s home near the Rockridge neighborhood and BART station in Oakland. The door-to-door trip took about an hour-and-a-half on public transportation, so I invested three hours in transit every time I visited him.

Our assignations ran almost without exception from 9:30am until 11:30am. I was spending more time in transit than I was spending with Michael. And I was using up my accrued sick time, which I took as mental health time with my employer’s blessing.

He was working 3-4 days a week, and mostly on weekends.

I would walk in the door and we would hug and kiss. We would immediately go into his bedroom, undress, get into bed, and commence having sex. We would laze in bed briefly after we were done and I would get up, get dressed, and leave.

After a while, I felt like a call girl. I felt like I had to sneak in and out of his front door so his neighbors wouldn’t see me and told him I felt like I should be using a servant’s backdoor.

I now realize his front door saw a lot of activity, with different women coming and going at all hours.

We never talked about much generally and I realized that he never shared much of anything personal and he never listened to me when I did. He met my rare questions with a stony silence so I stopped asking him anything personal. And I stopped telling him anything personal because he wasn’t listening.

My suspicion now is that he was involved with too many women to keep all of our stories straight, and maybe had problems keeping his own straight, too. It was safer for him to keep his mouth shut.

I saw within the first few months that Michael was unable to communicate openly and honestly, that he would get pissy and passive-aggressive instead.

When, again within the first few months, he brought up the possibility of us living together, I responded negatively. I told him that it was not because I did not love him. The reason I gave then, which was also valid and compelling, was that he was too unsettled, too unpredictable—that he might pick up and move to Hawaii, or wherever he took a fancy to, in a heartbeat. He acknowledged that he might well do something like that.

I later told him my most compelling reason: that I was concerned that he would be unkind to me, treat me badly.

And he was treating me badly, although I didn’t see it then.  Throughout our time together he was gaslighting me. I suspect that is one of the reasons he cannot sustain a long-term relationship with a woman.

Not long after we began our relationship, Michael complained about my dry, flaky skin making a mess of his bed. I was chagrined. I started using moisturizer daily.

I visited once or twice after that and nothing seemed amiss. Then the next time I visited, he opened the door and immediately spun away from me and swooned on his couch, with his arm thrown over his forehead.  I now picture it and find it sadly comical. I see what a diva he was being. But at the time I was very concerned. He seemed ill. And he said he wasn’t feeling well and that I should leave.

He later told me that the scent of my moisturizer was making him sick. We had already established that we both have toxic responses to some smells. I asked him why he hadn’t simply told me what was going on. He said he thought I’d figure it out. Geeez! I told him that I don’t read minds. I told him that I am not easily offended and don’t get defensive even when criticized. I asked him to be honest with me in all things.

I realize now that he was never honest with me about anything.

Michael often uses something of a familial nickname as part of his user name on websites. I Googled it at some point in the earlier years and turned him up on a dating site. When I told him, he said the account was not active, that he hadn’t used it in a long time. I believed him.

I later found him on a second site.

On June 21, 2016, I put Michael’s nickname in quotation marks, Googled that, and came up with this Plenty of Fish link from 2009: https://forums.plentyoffish.com/datingPosts13033483.aspx

He is listed as planning to attend a gathering of dating site members at a restaurant in Oakland on September 19, 2009.

I can’t believe how disheartened and dejected I felt, and still feel, about that.

I take full responsibility for the damage I incurred.

I am writing this to try to understand why I chose to stay in a relationship I knew was detrimental to my well-being.

I have no written exchanges between us left from these early days. I purged them at a point when I thought it was well and truly over.

So… a couple of sidebars for now, and I think later emails will help to fill in some of the gaps well enough.

My recollection is that some time in our first few months “together,” Michael and I talked about some of our past relationships.

I’ll cover “Michael’s Women” on another page later.

I married a fellow student and we dropped out of college in the middle of our sophomore year at San Francisco State University, when I was just shy of turning 20. [To be accurate, I dropped out to help pay for him to go to a private school.] We were married 8 years, from 1968 to 1976, although we were separated for a year or so towards the end. It was amicable and we remained friends for many years. Divorcing him was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. Nuff said…

Not long after I filed for divorce, I met Bill while out for an evening with friends. Bill and I danced and talked most of the evening. We moved in together as a couple within a few months and lived together for 2 years. We got along beautifully—from beginning to end. He was a wonderful man and we were great friends and lovers, true partners in the relationship. We split up in 1978, when Bill met someone he wanted to date. We parted on the best of terms and within a couple of months the flames of his new romance had died and he asked if he could move back in. I was causally dating several men already and having the time of my life.  I had never considered Bill to be a suitable long-term partner for me, so told him we could date but he could not move back in. He was fine with that and we continued to see each other until he moved back to New York—late 1978?/early 1979?—having been born and raised on Long Island. We kept in touch and I visited him in NYC and met some of his family.

I grew to love one of the men I was seeing casually, got pregnant, and made the choice to become a single mother. My daughter was born in 1980 and I chose to eschew men for the next 25 years and focus all of my time and attention on her. And I have no regrets about that choice.

So… by 2007—when I met Michael—I had not had many partners. And I was always honest with all of them about everything, and I think, excepting my husband, they were honest with me.

Michael told me about several former partners. He said the love of his life—I believe her name is Jacie—was in a sexless marriage, and my impression was that he still hoped she would come back to him. I came to find out that she and her husband were in fact still lovers and she worried about him finding the emails she and Michael were exchanging.

But Annette is the ex-girlfriend I know the most about. I met her once toward the end of this story and will leave that for later. Here is a bit of what I knew about her in those early days.

Michael does not drink alcohol, and is judgmental of those who do. Based on what I do know about them both, I assume they met online. I have no idea how long they’d been seeing each other before Michael ended their “romantic” relationship.” I am convinced though that, even though he decided she was not a good match for him, he continued a sexual relationship with her throughout my time with him, and may still.

At any rate, he took her to a holiday party at the hospital he worked for and she got drunk. It no doubt embarrassed him but I suspect the bigger issue was his antipathy towards alcohol and those who consume it.

During the course of their relationship, Michael fought a battle with skin cancer and Annette stood by him and cared for him during that time.

I do not know how the arrangement came about but, at some point before I met him in 2007, Michael began financially supporting Annette, and was still doing so when I saw him in August 2015.One reason he gives for supporting her is that he owes her for seeing him through a very dark and scary time. Another is that she’ll commit suicide if he withdraws his support.

You will see in later email exchanges with Michael, I point out that his motives reek of hubris and that he and Annette have a codependent relationship, which is not healthy for either of them.

I do wonder what he gets out of it but there’s got to be something more going on. My nephew Nate and I used to joke that the termed “cheap Jew” was coined for Michael. Michael, Nate, and I are all—to varying degrees—culturally Jewish. Michael is the epitome of cheap. So I find it bewildering that he has been shelling out a large sums of money to Annette for years.

An aside: I think highly of Nate. He is one of the finest people I know. He deeply disliked Michael.

Another bit relating to Annette:

More often than not, Michael’s phones would ring while we were having sex. His home phone would ring and then his cell phone. Now really, we only had a couple of prearranged hours together and who on earth wants to be jarred out of a lovely mood by the jangling of phones during sex.

It was Annette most of the time, although he once remarked that he did have other friends who called. It’s more likely that if it was not Annette calling, it was another of his conquests. After months of having our trysts rudely interrupted, I asked him to turn his phones off.

This next episode I recount again raised the specter of Annette for me. I write to him again about this incident at the end of my saga and you’ll have a better idea at that point of whether my intuition about what was going on holds water.

I badgered Michael into going out with me one day. He loved touching me, said he couldn’t keep his hands off of me. [Yes, I know he probably said that to all of the women he was involved with.] But he also had told me he didn’t want his neighbors to see me because they were nosy and he didn’t want them asking questions. So… we walk out his front door and start down the sidewalk, and his hands are jammed into his pockets and he’s put a lot of space between us. I instantly regretted having pushed him into taking me out and our outing did not get better. We walked to a new little Indian restaurant that had just opened up on the farthest end of his local neighborhood Rockridge business district. We got there by a route that offered the least chance of anyone he knew running into him and we went to a restaurant he’d never been to.

I figured he was used to being seen with Annette and that he liked for people to assume she was his girlfriend.

I was horribly uncomfortable from beginning to end and never again asked him to take me out to do anything.

Lastly, my birthday…

I don’t make a big deal out of my birthday and prefer not to receive any gifts. But two of my closest friends, Robert and Nobuo, have birthdays around mine and we used to celebrate them together every year, occasionally with another friend, Jeff, whose birthday was also at that time, and Jeff’s partner Gary.

I met Michael in March of 2007. In January or February of 2008, I invited Michael to join us for a birthday dinner and meet my friends. He declined. I invited him again in 2009 and he again declined.

I then invited him to a large going away party for Jeff, who was returning home to Hawaii to care for his elderly parents. Michael declined and I never again asked him to meet my friends.

He did meet my friend David. I don’t recall when that was—2009? I think they liked one another but each was jealous of the affection I bore for the other. Nobuo and I went to visit David in Nevada City during a time when Michael was living and working part-time in Grass Valley (Nevada City and Grass Valley are sister cities) so Nobuo met Michael too. And they liked each other. I suspect all of this happened because it was removed from Michael’s Oakland stomping grounds, so he wasn’t worried about being seen with me.

As I am writing this, I am astonished at how I allowed myself to be treated so horribly throughout my relationship with Michael and I am aghast at how long I let myself feel like an object.

Why? Still working on figuring it out…

I moved into Michael’s house in Grass Valley in late May of 2012 and will pick up the next installment of my story around that time.