When you hear the word blackmail, what comes to mind? For me it is a picture in the newspaper of a notable character who has been arrested for extortion. He looks like an overgrown playground bully throwing around his brawn. Yet the words, “emotional blackmail” remind me of a notable character in my own life.
After graduating from a small high school that was not culturally or racially diverse, my path took me to a large university where I was literally identified by my student number (which I still remember). I looked forward to the opportunity of meeting new people and learning about a variety of religions and cultures. During my junior year at school, I met a graduate student from India named Raj. Raj and I would see each other from time to time on the crowded campus saying hello in passing. Summer break came and went and I looked forward to returning to school and sharing an exciting senior year with my roommates.
In the fall, I bumped into Raj on campus and our friendship picked up where we left off. When we would meet up, I began to notice that he always had some type of gift for me- decorative stationery, intricately carved figurines, or ivory jewelry (before the international ban) to name a few. I had to let him know that we were friends with or without gifts and that I couldn’t afford to reciprocate his generous gestures. Raj was aware that I was dating someone and it appeared he accepted our friendship at face value. I enjoyed the time I spent with him and our many lengthy conversations. However, I was the poster child for the word, “naïve.”
As the school year was winding down, I was asked to join Raj and his friend for dinner. Raj had previously introduced me to veggie burgers and I looked forward to a culinary treat. The dinner went well; Raj excused himself from the table, leaving me alone with his friend Rich. I was not prepared for Rich’s comments and they hit me like a freight train full of explosives. Rich proceeded to tell me that Raj was under the impression that he and I were going to be married. MARRIED? Wait a minute- I haven’t even held hands with this guy, never mind have him pass the Introduction to Dad Test. Did I miss something?? How do I let him down gently?
I don’t know what I anticipated as a reaction, but I was blindsided by the one I received when I let Raj know that we would not be walking down the aisle together. I suggested not contacting each other for a while and he angrily told me he would commit suicide. He continued to contact me through letters and phone calls and I was nervous about making a complete break. I anxiously agreed to meet Raj at his apartment; he answered the door with a bandaged hand. I looked around the bare apartment and on the floor sat a shattered mug I had given him for his birthday. When I declined his offer of a piece of chocolate, he asked whether I thought he would poison me? Up until that precise moment, the thought had never crossed my mind.
Raj had created the perfect recipe for emotional blackmail. His powerful ingredients of Fear, Obligation, and Guilt kept me in the relationship. I was afraid he would hurt himself, or me. I felt obligated to stay at this fragile time because if he carried through with his mortal plan, I would live with his actions on my conscience for the rest of my life. I felt obligated to help him. After all, he was my friend.
What do I do now? I had to have both my boyfriend and Rich intervene as I slowly pulled back. I returned home after graduation and thanks to the university’s student directory, Raj was able to locate my address and phone number. He began calling my parents’ house and sending gifts in the mail. It was a long process but eventually Raj stopped calling when his attempts to contact me were unsuccessful. I believe the timing of my departure from campus was critical to the severance of the relationship. I realized that I did not have control over Raj’s actions and I needed to keep myself safe. I only hope that he hasn’t used his emotional blackmail on another unsuspecting victim.