We acknowledge that emotional abuse exists, but often have trouble calling it out acknowledging it’s actually happening in front of us. Its damage is insidious; slowly eroding away your self-esteem until it’s too late.
It was so easy for me to label my friends’ exes as assholes, dips hits – They cheated on them. They lied to them. They never called. I was the lucky one, My guy gave me his attention, all the time.
All the time meaning too much time.
I thought I finally found the kind of love every tumblr girl reblogging obscure 19th century poetry dreams about. Every day was an adventure. We didn’t have a lot of money, but he nourished all of my youthful fantasies by feeding me with compliments like I was some miraculous work of art. I became a glutton for his praise. He called me the most beautiful woman in the world, his dream, his queen – His EVERYTHING. It was all-consuming. It was like a drug, and the high was to exist on the pedestal he built for me. But this was dangerous territory to stand on. Living up there meant I would always be viewed as the greatest insofar as it was according to his terms. And the very fragility of his own ego coincided with how easily he could tear me down from the top.
And at 19, I thought this attention I had been deprived in past relationships was what had been missing. If only I knew.He maintained this vague picture of the “perfect woman” in his mind , and made it a consistent point to remind me when I didn’t measure up to it. I chalked up his bitter jealousy of my friends to him “being concerned for my safety” when I wanted to go to a party. When he said he was deeply offended finding a tagged photo of me from 2008 at my high school prom with my ex-boyfriend, I deleted my account so he would have “no reason to worry”; no reason to think I’m not perfect.
And every time I coddled his need for validation (and my own) , I gave him more power. His romantic gestures were far and few between. I became accustomed to the sound of my own breathing through the phone receiver, because I feared saying something that might upset him.I felt deprived and empty, longing for sweet nothings that once sustained me. I was hanging by my nails on to that pedestal for dear life, terrified of falling.He never cursed at me, but he manipulated me like a child defending their right to bad behavior.
Instead of “you raised me this way”, though, it was “your lack of attention MADE me this way”. I remember there was one particular time where he guilted me just before my sorority initiation. He was angry that I felt the need for more friendships beyond our relationship. He criticized the women and their lifestyles as “corrupt” and believed they would harm my “image” as his good, sweet girlfriend. I stood sobbing quietly in the bathroom stall, with mascara dripping down the dress I had bought just for the occasion. I finally had something I could call my own, but he tried with all of his might to prevent that. If it wasn’t “ours”, he didn’t think I deserved to have it at all.
Still shaking, I snuck out of the building, too embarrassed to show my face in front of anyone. I was exhausted. I released my grip and let go of the pedestal, only to look up and see how far I and fallen. It took him finally leaving ME, and several years of being single before I was able to comfortably look back on that relationship and see it as abusive. He had seized every part of my life and made me feel like I wasn’t giving enough. His cruel ways exposed my flawed view of a perfect love – a love where women exist only in their ideal form to their partner. Fantasy. No. Delusion.
It took me years to accept that two-year moment of weakness as a wake-up call. This moment taught me to fall in love with the person I actually was, not some persona that I tried and failed to be. It taught me the dangers of romantic idealism and how easily one can be lured in by its pull. It taught me to be understanding of how this could be happening to so many others, with their pain hidden in Skype chat conversations and the black hole of archived 5150 level voicemails.
It taught me our bruises are more than skin deep.
But most of all:
It taught me you are not supposed to be perfect to them, you are supposed to be equal.