When I was 18, I got the opportunity to date the boy I’d had a crush on since I met him, when I was 16. He was one of my best friends, the person I turned to for everything, and super caring and protective of me. We talked about everything and anything, and got along perfectly. I couldn’t have been happier.
For about a year, we had the fairytale romance. We were “that couple.” The ones who are always together, who are so cute it’s nauseating.
Then, when I was a freshman in college, things changed. One night we got in an argument, and when I tried to leave and go home, he blocked the door and threw me against a wall. The next day I was shocked by the large bruises on my arms, and he promised never to hurt me again.
For two years, the cycle of violence, empty promises, fights, and belittling continued. The violence got worse and more frequent, and I became an expert at hiding it. Here’s what I learned in two years of being abused, after finally saying, “Enough.”
1. It’s not at all like the movies.
Already, being in an abusive relationship fails the rom-com cookie cutter relationship. Those guys would never hit a woman. But being in an abusive relationship also isn’t all drama, yelling, and running away in the middle of the night either, like Safe Haven or episodes of Glee might lead you to believe.
Just like ordering pizza and watching Netflix, violence becomes part of a routine. You get upset, he raises his voice, you try to leave, he throws you into the wall. It becomes a carefully choreographed dance, but if you try to stop it, it just makes the abuser angry, because their control is slipping, and it gets worse.
2. You will feel lucky.
Yes, even when he hits, throws, shoves, or verbally degrades you- you will feel lucky. Lucky that, with how undeserving you are, he even chooses to date you. Lucky that it was “only” that bad. Lucky that HE forgave YOU. At first, you won’t even believe you’re being abused, because he will convince you so effectively that you deserved it.
3. You don’t “choose” to stay.
Throughout my abusive relationship, if friends or acquaintances would see the bruises, they’d inevitably ask me why I didn’t just leave. Some would get downright aggressive as they did everything from lecturing me on smart choices to insulting my intelligence.
Here’s the thing. Women in abusive relationships don’t “choose” to stay. Between psychological factors, threats, and physical violence, it honestly does not seem like leaving is a choice.
Every time my abuser and I would have a fight, I’d try to leave, and he would stand in front of the door, throwing me and shoving me every time I tried to get around him. If I tried to call 911, he would grab and hide or throw my phone. If I screamed, he’d find a way to shut me up. I was terrified of my abuser, and he was most violent when I tried to leave. I honestly feared for my life if I even attempted to end the relationship.
4. You will always feel scared and on edge.
I still jump every time someone enters a room. I jump when doors slam, flinch when people curse, and even scream if someone touches me unexpectedly. As weird and jumpy I am now, it was even worse while we were still dating. Anyone who raised their voice or got frustrated with me would then see me basically dissolve into tears, because I was SURE that they were going to try to throw, push, or hurt me.
5. People will try to shut you up.
After I left my abuser, after I was safe, and after I began to admit what had happened to me for so long, something weird happened. I found my voice. I posted on Facebook to family and friends who were wondering why a three-year relationship had suddenly ended. I didn’t hesitate to tell my OR his friends who asked what had happened. I tweeted about being a survivor.
Almost immediately, the threats, harsh words, and complaints started rolling in. His brother sent me a downright threatening message calling me all kinds of awful things, and belittling my experience. My ex sent me texts begging me not to let others know that he used to beat me. Most shockingly, a female friend of his, who I thought was my friend too, sent me a message telling me I shouldn’t tell others what happened to me.
Bottom line is, people don’t want to believe that people they know could be abusers. They don’t want to think someone in their social circle, someone like them, could be abused. And they don’t want to hear honesty.
Do not let them silence you. Find someone who supports your decision to talk about what happened to you.
6. People will try to relate.
After telling my friends what happened, I got a fair amount of shocked, uncomfortable reactions. I also got a ton of people trying to relate to me. Like, “Oh I understand, my ex yelled at me once while we were fighting” or, “I totally get it, because in 10th grade this guy dumped me over a text.”
Without trying to belittle any woman’s experience, let me just say this. Shitty, rude guys do not equal abusive guys. A guy who dumped you, who got sassy with you, or who flirted with your best friend is not comparable to a guy who throws women into walls, slaps them, and sexually assaults them. Don’t try to relate. Just feel blessed that you can’t.
7. Leaving will be the hardest thing you ever do, and so, so worth it.
First of all, leaving is hard logistically. You need a plan, a safe place to go afterwards, a couch you can crash on if things get scary or real. Honestly for me, I needed great friends, something I was lacking up until the very end of the relationship. Shelters can be very hit and miss- a lot of them run out of room- so if you are looking for a safe place to stay, have backups.
Second though, it’s hard to leave because you WILL love him (or her) and you will be absolutely convinced that he (or she) loves you too. You will feel like you deserve abuse. You will feel like you’re throwing away something beautiful. You will feel like you aren’t worthy of anyone else.
Saying those words, “I’m leaving” or “It’s over” will be heart-wrenchingly painful, but staying, going back, or keeping him in your life is even worse- it is dangerous, and potentially fatal.