Cupid is a Sociopath, Part 2

Continued from Cupid is a Sociopath, part 1

Over the next six months, Cupid's poison-tipped arrow continued to sting, and I still thought of Clay each day.

I tried multiple antidepressants (to little effect) while I tried to make sense of my heartache. There was so much I didn’t understand.

How could I fall so hard so fast? Is this what they called love at first sight? If there were a God, why would he introduce me to my soul mate, for just long enough to wave goodbye?

More importantly, like a fungus or a venereal disease, I wanted to know how in the hell to ensure this would never happen again. I needed to understand what was wrong with me.

I knew I was vulnerable, and needy, and had such low self-esteem that I’d been craving unconditional love my entire life. I was obviously suffering from anxiety and depression, and trying desperately to treat it.

I wondered if I would ever get over Clay... Why could I not let this go? For Christ’s sake, we had spent less than 24 hours together!

Yet still, I was an emotional train wreck.

I came to accept that Clay wasn’t just everything I ever wanted in another person. He was the person I had always wanted to be.

I wasn’t even mourning a relationship, only the idea of one.

Yet despite all of the introspection, analysis, dissection, and recollection, none of it seemed to offer much consolation. Nothing seemed extraordinary enough to explain this irrational sense of loss. I had accounted for just about everything I unwittingly brought to the table, but was that really enough to understand what happened?

Was all of this simply the poisonous sting of Cupid’s arrow?

And then, exactly six months to the day I fell for Clay, I ran into Phil.

Phil was Clay’s friend from the Halloween party. I didn’t recognize him at first, but soon the memory came flooding back. He asked if I wanted to call Clay and say hello. I declined, and explained I kinda had feelings for Clay, and I was having a tough time getting over him.

Phil admitted that he kinda did too, and was experiencing the same thing.

This was the last thing I expected to hear. I asked if we could go somewhere to talk.

We walked to Phil’s nearby apartment, and he recounted his own experience.

Phil remembered the first time he met Clay, that weekend Clay was up with the two drug-snorting roommates. Phil didn’t even remember what he looked like. But when Clay called about coming into town for Halloween, Phil thought, why not? It was that weekend that Phil fell for him.

Within a matter of days Clay went from not even being on Phil’s radar to becoming the sole object of his affection.

Except Phil didn’t quite meet Clay the way I’d heard.

Clay had been in town with two friends who were partying it up in the hotel room with ecstasy and G, but instead of walking out, all three of them were online searching for a fourth. That fourth became Phil, who joined them for an afternoon orgy of sex and drugs. That night, they went to a sex club. The night before, in a seedy bar South of Market, Clay received an anonymous blowjob on the back deck by an anonymous leather daddy.

Clay and Phil continued to be fuck buddies for the next nine months, with Clay even flying Phil down to L.A. on multiple occasions. On one sex-filled weekend after we met, Clay paraded Phil around his business and openly made out with him in public.

Phil confirmed that Clay had a daughter, but he wasn’t celibate for her, nor did she live with him. She was just his excuse to keep guys at bay, so they wouldn’t expect anything more than casual sex. He used the same ploy with Phil, so Phil knew not to come off too clingy, as it would just push Clay away. Phil didn’t want to lose what he had with him, so he never confessed his feelings.

Phil knew Clay lived online and hooked up with multiple guys a week, his latest being a ranch hand where his daughter rode horses. It was the best of both worlds, as Clay pretended to spend time with his daughter, but was really rolling around in the hay with some hayseed.

Apparently, Clay never came to the Bay Area for work either, just for weekends of sex parties with his other fuck buddies. His friend Gordon was the one always traveling for work, Phil explained; Clay just tagged along.

I had never heard of a Gordon. Phil explained he was their friend who resembled a young Val Kilmer.

Somewhere, at four in the morning, a needle scratched a record.

Apparently, Gordon was a fashion model and actor most known for his Kenneth Cole campaigns, Budweiser ads, and national shampoo commercials.

Phil pulled out a book to show me a photo of Gordon on the cover. He did look faintly like Val Kilmer. But he looked nothing like Clay, not even through the filter of beer goggles.

What about Men’s Health? I asked. Phil said that Clay had told him he was in a June or July issue of Men’s Fitness, although Phil had found no proof.

Then I remembered something else.

In February, I was at a San Francisco birthday party and met a group of guys in from Chicago. We talked about guys who broke our hearts, and I said the last guy who stole mine was named Clay, and he recently moved from Chicago. Two of the three guys had both fallen for a Clay in Chicago, and their Clay had moved to Orange County recently too, where he had turned into a total nymphomaniac. However, it couldn’t be the same guy, as their guy had two or three kids and had never modeled before.

I guess our Clay was the same person after all. I’m sure he lied to each of them about the number of kids he had, since facts and stories seemed to be pilfered at random to suit his needs.

But what was the point of so much fabrication? It’s as if everything was orchestrated to push my buttons that night. He knew exactly what I needed to hear, at a time I wasn’t aware myself – the modeling stories, his tortured soul, the burden of being gay, the discomfort of being drug free, passing up casual sex, etc.

I had never known another human being capable of such deceit. Still, what was the point? It was a given we’d hook up that night. He packed a bag and arranged to stay in my hotel room. What could have been gained by all the lying? Was he some gay Ross Jeffries or Tony Clink – a professional pick up artist living his own twisted version of The Layguide?

All of these months of torment and anguish funneled into anger and disgust. Most disturbing of all was that he told Phil that unlike all the fake guys in L.A., Clay liked guys from the Midwest and the South because they were more genuine, and it was my innocence that attracted him most.

***

It was weeks before I had one more brush with serendipity. It came as I thumbed through an issue of Psychology Today I had borrowed from my therapist’s office. After reading the cover story on growing happier with age, I tossed the magazine aside.

On the cover was a callout I never noticed: How to Handle Charming Predators. I joked to myself that Clay, the metaphorical pain in my ass, might just qualify as a charming predator.

I had no idea just how right I was.

I flipped to the article by Martha Stout, who had just written a book called The Sociopath Next Door. This was where I found the solution that had escaped me for months.

Dr. Stout defines those living amongst us with no conscience and no emotions as sociopaths. They are incapable of love, yet are the most charming people you will ever meet. They lie, cheat, manipulate and deceive effortlessly to achieve their ends, generally aimed at sex, money, or power. Hallmarks of sociopathy include predatory charm, superficial glibness, unwarranted flattery, and a pity play. They lie compulsively, usually unnecessarily, with stories full of gaps. They have an utter lack of remorse, are incapable of feeling shame or guilt, and they show no concern for victims of their misfortune.

It was as if Martha Stout were speaking directly to me, writing specifically about Clay: charming, handsome, full of flattery and falsehoods – the type of person that makes you feel like you are the only one in the world.

With a killer smile, the sociopath charms with an intense sexual attraction and focused attention that immediately disappears upon gratification. As a result, they leave a trail of broken hearts wherever they go.

Sociopaths are professional in the art of seduction and bombard their objects of affection with language and nonverbal signs that a normal person reserves for extremely intimate encounters. It may read as an unparalleled chemistry, an instant rapport, with feelings of intense magnetism. But make no mistake; it’s coldly calculated.

Sociopaths have little sense of commitment and accountability and frequently engage in promiscuous sexual behavior, with many brief, superficial relationships, including affairs.

For the sociopath, sex with a stranger allows incredibly quick access to another person at their most intimate and vulnerable, making it easier to take advantage of them. Those that are lonely, depressed, or emotionally lost are most susceptible to the sexual advances of this charming predator, even when their basic instincts try to caution them.

The sociopath’s charisma is almost hypnotic, and they use it to their advantage, as such excessive charm is only used to manipulate. The sociopath creates an immediate, deep connection with his target, even a fated sense of destiny. His personal questions target emotional weaknesses, searching for cues that indicate vulnerability. Victims in the grip of alcohol or other drugs are even more likely to fall prey to the sociopath’s tactics.

If it suits their needs, sociopaths may play the part of a wounded puppy seeking pity. They want you to feel sorry for them, as a perverse appeal to our sympathy. This power play preys on our better nature, a quality they lack.

Dr. Stout postures that as many as one in 25 people could be a sociopath. She advises that if you catch a person in three lies, it’s a sign you are dealing with someone who cannot be trusted.

It’s only when the sociopath abandons the relationship so flippantly that the victims finally seek mental health treatment. Healing from such a relationship usually requires the victim to clearly understand the sociopath’s unique psychological profile.

If ever I experienced an epiphany, it was at this moment.

My boy next door was the sociopath next door.

With this enlightenment I could properly contextualize the entire Clay story, and at long last begin to heal.

Sure, my vulnerability was at least 50% at fault, but the real culprit – the enigmatic magnetism, the implausible heartache – these were all predatory machinations of a sociopath.

I’d been ensnared in a web of deception woven specifically to my unique vulnerabilities.

Not only was I finally at peace, I was less hurt and less angry, with no more feelings of resentment or betrayal.

I wasn’t manipulated because of any ill will. I wasn’t rejected because of any perceived flaw. I was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, at a low point that created the perfect storm for an emotional wreck.

The reason for my suffering had nothing to do with being unloved. Love or compassion in Clay’s eyes was just sexual attraction. He saw something he wanted, and he plucked the words, sentences, and stories necessary to get it. This was his currency. But I paid the price.

Cupid’s poison-tipped arrow was indeed shot by a sociopath. But it was anything but random.

***

What it must be like to be born without conscience. To have no concept of love, to be free of those pesky emotions that define the highs and lows of the human experience.

Fortunately, Clay never behaved outside of the social norms enough to land in prison, at least, not as far as I know. Clay had a proper upbringing, and he knew to obey the laws of society. Otherwise, the experience could have been a hell of a lot worse.

Thankfully, his pain was only emotional, not physical, like a full-blown psychopath of the Dexter or Hannibal variety. Clay was just a sexual predator, more of a snake in a suit: highly functional in society, but lacking the scruples that rule better men. Think Wall Street CEOs, not street robbers.

The term “snakes in suits” was popularized by Dr. Robert Hare, the leading expert on psychopathy and the FBI’s top consultant on psychopaths. Dr. Hare is the author of more than 100 scientific articles on the subject, as well as the widely-referenced Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us and Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work.

Dr. Hare has studied those without conscience for over four decades, even extending his research into the business and corporate world, where a higher concentration of “successful psychopaths,” or “white collar psychopaths,” lurk. These non-violent criminals use their deceit and charm to pull off embezzlement and fraud. (Bernie Madoff, anyone?)

If you’re wondering what the difference is between a sociopath and a psychopath, it depends on whom you ask. The terms are often used in the media interchangeably, even by psychologists and criminologists. Others use “sociopath” to describe less dangerous people without conscience, like those who steal money and hearts. “Psychopaths” usually refer to more dangerous offenders, like Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. Some even theorize that sociopathy may result from environment, or nurture, while psychopathy may result from genetics, or nature.

Dr. Hare devised a checklist to rate a person’s psychopathic tendencies, particularly useful in the courtroom, prisons, and institutions in assessing violent criminals’ potential danger. The Hare Psychopathy Checklist includes many of the traits covered by Dr. Stout, such as superficial charm, pathological lying, manipulativeness, lack of remorse, lack of empathy, and sexual promiscuity. Dr. Hare also includes impulsivity, need for stimulation, grandiosity, parasitic lifestyle, poor behavioral controls, juvenile delinquency, and criminal versatility. One can see why Dr. Hare’s checklist is often used in prisons to determine an offender’s level of psychopathy.

There is no disagreement that psychopathy is the most dangerous of all the antisocial personality disorders. Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) is the broad classification found in the D.S.M. that covers sociopathy, psychopathy, and dyssocial personality disorder. Its essential feature is a pervasive pattern of disregard for, or violation of, the rights of others.

According to the DSM-5, this includes many of the behaviors covered in Dr. Hare’s checklist, as well as a failure to obey laws that would warrant criminal arrest, aggression that manifests in assaults or fighting, and a blatant disregard for the safety of others.

Psychopaths are not insane, nor do they suffer from mental illness. They are often incorrectly referred to as psychotic, which refers to a mental break with reality (as in a schizophrenic’s hallucinations). You can’t have a mental break from a conscience if there is no conscience there to begin with. Because this disorder is so uniquely inhuman, it is no wonder that it is such a popular subject in books, television, and film.

Unfortunately, neuroscientists have yet to unlock the key to psychopathy, although Dr. Kent A. Kiehl is getting close. Dr. Kiehl, a disciple of Robert Hare, has created the first mobile functional MRI scanner used to study psychopaths in the criminal justice system. Kiehl scanned over 500 psychopaths to discover their brains all shared a diminished limbic system, which controls emotional engagement and reaction. This physical abnormality may be present since birth, or could even be the result of a brain injury from sports or automobile accidents. Kiehl documents his 20-years of research in The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience.

Sociopaths and psychopaths are indeed the predators next door. And even when their actions do not qualify as illegal, it doesn’t mean their damage is any less severe.

***

I’ve been over Clay for well over a decade now, but on occasion, he still crosses my mind.

The experience was sobering, and may possibly be the single-most defining moment of my adult life. Like Neo in The Matrix, Clay was my red pill. He opened my eyes to painful truths I never had the courage to see. He put a face on labels I had only read about as a psychology minor, never before fully comprehending. Even when they became all too real, the telltale sign was not the encounter itself, but the emotional residue disproportionate to the actual experience. It was like a bad hangover after only a sip of wine.

Fortunately, the hangover is long gone. But sometimes, I still feel the headache.

It’s ridiculous to mourn something you never had. Yet, when the dating world beats me down, and I succumb to self-pity, my mind still retreats back to this ideal version of Clay.

I have to remind myself that he isn’t the one who got away. The only thing I lost was the feeling that someone like that could be that interested in someone like me.

And even that was something I never really had.

I wonder if it’s poetic, or just ironic, that a tortured writer, defined by his emotional sensitivity, may never love another person as much as the insensitive sociopath who broke his heart.

If there were a spectrum for emotion, wouldn’t the over-feeling writer reside at the opposite pole from the unfeeling psychopath?

The fact that the word psychopath literally means “suffering soul” is itself ironic, considering they are incapable of emotional suffering.

I often think the world could almost be divided into two groups of people – those who have been touched by mental illness, and those who have no idea what I’m talking about.

Without experiencing the frustration, futility, and emotional turmoil first hand, it’s truly hard to comprehend. But make no mistake, sensitive or not, if you are left with what can only be described as an emotional residue, unwarranted and unexpected, you understand all too well how difficult it can be to restore balance.

It’s a reality check that can leave you second-guessing angelic faces who may be hiding inner demons. It adds a level of complexity that a younger, more inexperienced soul couldn’t possibly comprehend. It indeed renders you older, but fortunately, a hell of a lot wiser.

Sometimes I wonder what I would say if I ran into Clay today. It’s a small gay world, so the chances are strong. (Just last week I logged onto the dating app Tinder to find the last guy I hooked up with staring back. He was pictured on the beach with the guy I hooked up with before him.)

Some days I think I’d just want to have sex with Clay, no strings attached. If I could be a piece of meat to him, surely he could return the favor. But knowing my susceptibility, it would only spell doom. I know Clay would not remember me. I’m sure to have blurred with the hundreds of others, some likely still struggling to understand what happened.

I harbor no ill will. There’s no desire for revenge or punishment. In fact, I envy him.

Clay’s unable to experience any of the pain he’s capable of causing, no less understand it. He will never know what it’s like to have his heart broken, or feel remorse, or even shame. Nor will he ever experience love.

I’d like to think I’m in a much stronger place in my life and that I wouldn’t fall for the same empty niceties today. But we are all fragile, we are all vulnerable, we are all human.

Some of us are just more human than others.

It’s only natural to crave companionship, and to desire that elusive soul mate. And that’s the only question left to ponder.

Would I recognize my soul mate if I met him today? Or can no one live up to the false persona I fell so completely for?

To put it simply: would I recognize my soul mate right now, if he weren’t made of Clay?

Have you been taken for a ride?

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