Tainted Love: My ex’s bragging banter painted him as a hero, but there was zero follow-through

Our columnist, writing under the pen-name Hope Shields, reflects on her former partner’s humorous bragging as an indicator of his general lack of commitment.

Relationship Resilience

The first time I interacted with my ex was in the local pub after I’d been at a play rehearsal. He butted in on the animated conversation I was having with the other cast members.

We were talking about how the play was in jeopardy because we were still short two men to play British soldiers. “I can do that, no problem,” my ex piped up. “I lived in England for years.” He promised he would come to the next rehearsal and audition.

He didn’t show up. When we next bumped into him he said he couldn’t do the play because he did shift work and had to mind his children as well. Why not say that in the first place?

I didn’t pay much heed to this at the time. Now, though, I see it as an example of something he did over and over during our relationship: bigging up what he could or would do with no substance or intention of ever following through.

I used to find it entertaining most of the time and slag him for the stuff he came out with. We’d be watching a comedian and he’d say, “I’d be better than him.” Or he’d come up with inventions to pitch on Dragons’ Den and talk about how he could be a successful entrepreneur.

He often painted himself as a winner or a hero when telling stories. The hurling team he played for as a teenager “never lost a game”. His mother believed he could have swum in the Olympics because he won every race. Whenever there was a major problem in the workplace, he was the one who solved it. He even said he would never go on Tinder because he would be “too successful”.

I actually found this inflated self-confidence attractive and would fuel it by encouraging him. If he said something witty, I would add to it and say how the finished gag would work really well in a stand-up routine or sketch show. One of my favourites was someone giving their takeaway order to a bin at a drive-through with the tagline ‘Should have gone to Specsavers’.

I dealt with entrepreneurs in my job so whenever he came up with a business idea, I’d tease it out with him. I’d often point out, though, that the ideas were pretty niche. I couldn’t see his ‘Divorce Sweets’ (like Love Hearts but with insults) taking off, for example. However, someone did run with a similar idea since, as I have found ‘Hate Hearts’ online.

How I wish I had listened early on when he said, “I can’t commit to anything”. When he moved in with me and told me he was “in it for the long haul” I bought it because I was hooked. But, just like him becoming a stand-up comedian or the next Richard Branson, it wasn’t going to happen.

He never did set foot on a stage but I now see him as the best actor I’ve ever come across. He created a role for himself – ‘pretend husband’ as we affectionately called it – and played it so convincingly. My relationship with him unfurled like a Netflix limited series, and in the end it was very limited indeed.

Hope Shields
Writing under a pen-name, Hope Shields shares her experience of having a relationship with a covert narcissist for over 12 years to help others come out the other side with their sanity and dignity intact, and feeling a whole lot better about themselves.

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