the cut on tuesdays

When a Dream Relationship Becomes a Nightmare

Photo: Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images

The Cut on Tuesdays

A weekly podcast from the Cut and Gimlet Media, with host Molly Fischer.

On this week’s episode, we’re talking to Carmen Maria Machado about her new book, In the Dream House.

It tells a story that begins when Carmen was an MFA student at the University of Iowa. That’s when a friend introduced her to a woman who would change her life.

CARMEN: I mean, she was beautiful, really sexy, and she felt really worldly, even though we were roughly the same age. But she spoke French, and she had lived abroad, and she had gone to Harvard … And she was just gorgeous. And she was funny and smart. And I was just completely taken with her.

Describing the feeling of meeting that woman for the first time, Carmen writes, “She touches your arm and looks directly at you and you feel like a child buying something with her own money for the first time.”

Carmen was into her and, to her shock, the dream woman seemed to be into her, too.

CARMEN: She really liked me and liked me in a way that was obvious to me, which is not — it’s just not a thing that happens very often with me. So I noticed it and I was really caught off guard by it. I had always been … not necessarily the pursuer, but I feel like I was always an active party.

And with her it felt like the opposite. She was just very attentive and did that stuff that people do — where they touch you a little bit, but just a little, not in a weird way. It was this thing I’d always wanted: like, somebody loved me and was sort of chasing me.

MOLLY: It’s fairy tale–ish. 

CARMEN: Yeah. I mean, it’s a thing that if you haven’t had it before or you don’t have it as a matter of course, it’s like the — as it turns out — the most intoxicating drug.

They became a couple — but before long, Carmen started to notice things that seemed strange. Like the way her girlfriend always wanted to know where Carmen was. Or the way she’d accuse Carmen of cheating with friends, students, teachers, strangers … anyone. Then there was the time after a fight when she grabbed Carmen’s arm hard enough to leave a bruise.

Carmen didn’t know what to do.

CARMEN: I mean, I think it was something probably akin to an addiction. I feel weird saying that because I know addiction is a kind of disease, but I feel like it was hitting some note in my brain that I needed, and the idea of being without her was unthinkable.

And then the other problem I was having was because she was so experienced … As things got worse we would have these really bad fights. She would scream at me, and I would be crying so hard I was dehydrated. And then she’d be like, “This is just what it’s like to date a woman. It’s more emotional; it’s more intense.” Like, basically, “Get used to it.”

To hear what came next — and to learn about the hidden history Carmen found when she went looking for answers — click above, and subscribe wherever you listen. (And you can read an excerpt from In the Dream House here.)

When a Dream Relationship Becomes a Nightmare