It’s 11 pm and you’re at a party. You’re only at the party because you’re his plus one. He makes sure you know that.
You’ve left the party to go for a walk, because other teenagers are so boring and you and he are so special. So different. So much more powerful.
He makes sure you know that too.
At first, it’s great. You’re drunk and happy and talking about the future. But most importantly, you’re drunk. Very drunk. Two bottles of wine drunk.
You need to remember that.
Suddenly, it’s midnight and you’re in a suburban back alley. Somewhere along the line, your shoes have come off and your tights have been ripped. You mutter something about wanting to go back to the party, but before you can protest too much he kisses you.
He kisses you passionately. Fiercely. Harshly. He kisses you in all the ways that the movies told you boys should kiss.
And you kiss him back. Even though you’re in an alley and very drunk and really quite cold. Even though you want to go back to the party and see your friends and sit down. You kiss him back because you’re 17 and in love and that’s what good girlfriends do.
Things progress and suddenly he’s pushing you to your knees and grabbing your head, pulling you towards him. He’s undoing his jeans. It’s clear where this is going.
You say no; he says yes. You say no; he grabs you harder. You say no; he walks away, leaving you there crying in a suburban back alley.
Something terrible almost happened, but it didn’t.
The almost is almost worse.
It’s 6 pm and you’re giddy with joy because your best friend is turning 18. It’s December, so you’re all going ice skating because that’s what you do when your best friend is turning 18.
He’s only with you as your plus one. You both know that.
You’re stumbling about on the ice – like Bambi, only less cute – when he grabs your arm and pulls you to the side.
You protest, but he reminds you that other teenagers are so boring and you and he are so special. So different. So much more powerful.
You leave the ice and go for a walk. You’re pissed off and he’s grumpy. Never a good mix.
He tells you that your friends are boring and ice skating is stupid and everything would be better if it was just the two of you.
You almost believe him, because you’re 17 and in love and that’s what good girlfriends do. But it’s also December and you’re giddy with joy because it’s December and your best friend is turning 18, so you drag him back to join the others.
He doesn’t speak to you for three days.
You recollect these moments – and others like them – years later, and weigh them up against the countless checklists you’ve found online.
Sexual coercion? Check.
Threatening to leave? Check.
Ridiculing your interests and belief? Check.
Refusing to do anything unless it was his idea? Check.
But although you can put neat little ticks against the neat little boxes, you’re still not sure if what you went through was abuse.
Because it didn’t feel like abuse.
It felt like love. It felt like passion. It felt like normal teenage behavior. It felt like what all the books and movies and TV shows told you love would feel like. It was a rollercoaster. It hurt – but hey, love hurts
And so although you’re older now and you know what it feels like to be in a healthy, loving relationship, you’re still not sure if what you went through was abuse. It only almost felt like abuse.
And the almost is almost worse.
Worse, because you’re never quite sure if you made it all up – if everything that felt like manipulation and threats was really just in your head.
Worse, because you can’t claim the label of victim or survivor – because you’re still not sure if it even really happened.
Worse, because you still wonder if you deserved it. You wonder whether he’d have stayed if you’d been less loud, less opinionated, less you. You over-analyze every conversation you ever had, trying to pinpoint the exact thing you said that made him turn.
Worse still because, despite it all, you know you loved him once. You loved him so much that it took moving across the country to forget him. You loved him in a way that only teenagers can love – messily, angrily, and with total, utter abandon.
So although you’re older now and know what it feels like to be in a healthy, loving relationship, you’ll never be quite sure if what you went through was abuse. Because it only almost felt like abuse.
And the almost is almost worse.