Two Dicks at a Bar
| Narcissism, Harem-Building, Triangulation and Gaslighting | Updated | September 2016 |
I witnessed and experienced things when in Tina’s company I’d never come up against in any prior relationship. It got bizarre in some cases and I wondered how it was that Tina attracted such trouble. Some of it was just happenstance and perhaps she and I went to some questionable establishments on occasion, but some things were so strange and outrageous, I sometimes suspected that she was bringing them about by subtle signals or just by way of being a magnet for trouble.
She and I had gone to a local bar that had changed hands a few times in my life and with each new owner, the establishment, now called the Howe, became more gentrified.
Sitting on the back patio to sip our drinks with cigarettes in hand, we engaged in friendly chatter with some fellow patrons. One was a platinum blonde woman who made a comment here and there but mostly looked at her phone. Another was an obese, twenty-something man overflowing his black metal chair, legs posed how some radicals might call ‘manspreading.’
After some time, which I say so as not to give the impression that it was the first thing my eyes were drawn to, I noticed that not only was his fly open, but his bits were plainly visible in the yawning opening. Maybe it was laundry day or maybe he had a grudge against undergarments. Maybe he was simply deranged.
I’ve never seen a penis exposed at a bar or anywhere in public before, so I denied I’d seen it at first and had to look again. Yup. his little beige dick was plainly visible.
Tina was chatting with a girl off to her side and I wanted to subtly share this unusual experience, so I texted her, “OMG. Dick out!!!”
After she read it, she glanced around and her eyes settled on the thing. She nudged me and stifled a giggle, mischievous eyes twinkling. Tina absolutely delighted in any form of naughtiness. After a few moments of consideration, she decided to dive right in. “Excuse me, but your fly is open,” she said.
The man glanced down, but probably couldn’t see his crotch over his belly. He shrugged.
“Um. We can see your uh, package,” she said.
Unperturbed, he shrugged again, saying, “OK. No big deal,” and he took a swig of his beer.
“Aren’t you going to…”
“Nah. I don’t care.”
Tina and I looked at each other, wordlessly acknowledging that this was another moment destined for our pending great memoir of strange and funny anecdotes.
The overweight exhibitionist excused himself to the restroom, shuffling back inside the bar. Tina followed after him, excusing herself to the restroom shortly after. She was gone for quite some time. I was beginning to notice she frequently disappeared into restrooms for excessive spans when we were out drinking.
After a while, Tina came back to the table and lit a cigarette. We were shortly joined at the table by a man with longish wavy two-toned hair. He seemed to be acquainted with the platinum blonde girl Tina had been talking with and joined our little conversation. We learned that he was a partner in a new recording studio that had opened up the road. Since I was trained and experienced as an audio engineer, we pleasantly talked about the changes in recording tech over the years, with Tina chiming in about instruments.
Rather abruptly, and to my great surprise, the man turned his face to Tina and asked, “Can I buy you a drink?”
This is going to be interesting, I thought for less than half a second.
Without the slightest hesitation, she just replied, “sure.”
The man stood up, gestured for her to follow and the two disappeared into the bar before I could even wrap my head around what was happening, let alone speak.
I flashed for a moment on our first date in Farmington, where a drunk and drug-addled dilettante with a trust fund offered to buy both Tina and I a shot of “good brandy” if we’d drink it with him and write “because drugs.” on his forehead in sharpie. This was not that.
I sat there, stunned, looking at the empty table in front of me. I guessed that they must be soon returning, so I lit another cigarette while I waited alone on the patio and pondered the situation.
After finishing my smoke and not seeing my fiance or her new benefactor, I went in to the bar. I noticed the two of them sitting together at the corner of the bar, backs to me, leaned in to talk to each other, fresh drinks before them.
I went to the restroom to relieve my bladder and to take a pause. When I came back out, they were still seated at the bar. I was apparently just forgotten about and abandoned. The flash of wounded ego was fast replaced by indignation and anger. I glared from across the room, arms crossed, considering how to comport myself. The recording studio guy glanced over at me and Tina followed suit. She saw me icily posed, staring daggers, but just turned back to her new company without even so much as a wave in my direction.
I’d thought up a few rejoinders to address the situation, like “are you going to buy a drink for her fiance, too,” or “Thanks for your generosity, but I can afford to buy the drinks for my date,” but seeing Tina’s non-reaction to me turned everything red and my impulse was to turn around, walk out of the bar and drive home, leaving her behind with her new friend. Maybe he’d drive her back to Buffalo when he was finished with her, I thought.
I stalked up behind and leaned in between them. “I’m leaving,” I seethed. “Now.”
Tina wrapped a small hand around the tumbler in front of her. “At least let me finish my drink first,” she replied glibly.
“Bye.” I turned around and made for the parking lot. She didn’t make any immediate move to stop me or follow. I climbed into my van, started it up and lit a cigarette, the lighter trembling in my hand.
I’d dated a sketchy girl or two in my youth, but no one had ever treated me this poorly. I’d never felt so insulted. Ever. I felt humiliated, disposable and rejected. My world was crashing in on me. If any other woman on Earth had done something like this on a date, I’d never have seen her again. But here was the love of my life, my bride-to-be. She’d earlier that very night professed her profound and unshakable love for me, now displaying dismissive disdain. I was still in shock from the audacity of her rude behavior when she stepped up to my open window.
She looked at me wordlessly for a moment.
“I’m leaving right now. If you want me to give you a ride home, get in.” I put my foot on the brake and set the van in reverse. Tina glanced back toward the bar, seemed about to say something, but thought better of it and came around to the passenger door.
“I thought we were staying at your place tonight. What’s the problem?” She fastened her seat belt as I slowly backed out.
My head was spinning. I couldn’t answer her right away.
Once on the road and down the block, words came to me. “What the fuck, Tina?”
“What, that guy buying me a drink? What’s the big deal? It’s free alcohol.”
I stammered incoherently, unable to formulate a response to such glib inanity. Finally, “You don’t realize the kind of signals you’re sending when you accept a drink from a guy at a bar? To him and to me and everyone else?”
“I can’t believe I’m explaining this. That’s how guys come on to girls in bars and you showed him and me that you were receptive.”
“It’s just a drink. It’s free alcohol. You should be happy I saved you some money.”
“I can afford to buy our drinks, Tina. I’ve never been so insulted in my life. You just fucking left me sitting there like an asshole while you ran off to flirt with another guy. I was so shocked I couldn’t even comprehend what I was seeing. It actually took a while to register…”
“He said I shouldn’t be with you,” she interrupted.
“When he saw you staring at us, he said, ‘who is that guy?’ and I told him, ‘oh, that’s my fiance.’ ‘You shouldn’t be with that guy’ is what he told me.”
This was an example of “triangulation,” but I didn’t know about that narcissistic tactic yet.
Head spinning. Wordless spluttering. Then, “Why should either one of us care what some stranger who’s hitting on you in a bar thinks about our relationship? Are you serious?”
“Jeremy,” she said.
My head jerked incredulously. “I don’t give a fuck what his name is.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think it was any big deal. It’s not like I was going home with him.”
You very nearly had to, I thought. I also wondered if she’d exchanged numbers with Jeremy before running out to the parking lot to secure her only sure transportation back to Buffalo.
The situation with Jeremy went from triangulation to gaslighting. She wanted me to believe that either I was out of line for being bothered by her accepting a drink and walking away from me with another man, or that she was oblivious to the connotations.
We argued about it. Tina maintained that she didn’t understand why I was upset. I wondered if there was some generational thing I was missing. Did Millennials think this sort of thing was OK? Tina smoked some weed. I got another drink at home and I eventually decided to chalk it up to Tina’s naivety about dating and the bar scene, but it was I who was being naive. Eventually, I figured out that if I was expending energy explaining something that would be obvious to anyone else, gaslighting was underway, but that night it was working and Tina had me questioning common mores. I forgave her and we had sex and slept in each other’s arms. All was ‘right’ again in the world of Dan and Tina.
For about a year afterwards, every time I drove past the Minnehaha Recording Company, I flipped the building the bird. But, while Jeremy was undoubtedly a dick for reacting as he did when he learned that Tina was engaged (if that’s actually what Tina told him and if he even said the things Tina related), I can’t really lay the blame on him. After all, Tina showed him how easily her head was turned away from me. It’s Tina who deserved my scorn.
Triangulation is a deliberate manipulative tactic of narcissists wherein they invoke a third person to make their victim feel inferior, insecure or threatened. It was clumsily done with Jeremy, since it was nonsensical that either of us should have cared about his opinion, but it was crazy-making, nonetheless.
More often, she’d triangulate members of her family or other people I was acquainted with, but the third-parties couldn’t be too close to me or I might ask them questions. Tina had a way of driving wedges between certain people to prevent too much communication.
Many people have told me that Tina’s abusive behavior that night alone should have been enough for me to break it off forever. Of course, they’re right, but like the parable about boiling a frog, narcissists don’t come on full-flame right away. They turn up the heat slowly. By the time Tina went for that drink with Jeremy, I’d already been inured to gradually increasing indignities.