Dating An Emotionally Abusive Man

Fool yourself. A lot.

Pretend that his neglect is a side effect of a busy career. Be consoled by his sudden bursts of affection, which you tell yourself just might be the first glimmerings of love. When he compliments you, believe it. Hoard the sweet words like gold dust.

Stay awake at night, listening to his breathing. Wonder why you love him so much.

Tell your friends that he’s a good person, just damaged because of his ex-girlfriend/ dead mother/ broken family. Tell your friends that you love him like you’ve never loved anyone else, and then spend the next hour debating whether he loves you, why he doesn’t love you, whether he will ever love you.

Quote Sun-Tzu a lot.

Fuck him every time he asks you over, although in your mind it is making love. File away every gesture, every nuance, every smidgen of what could be more than disaffected nonchalance. Wax lyrical about the time he tucked you in and kissed you on the cheek when he thought you were asleep, or perhaps the time he stayed up all night with you as you worked on your Sociology paper.

Excuse his insensitivity in any way possible. Create a tag for him on your blog so that you can re-read all the entries about him whenever the mood strikes you.

When he calls at 3AM, drunk, pretend that it’s because he needs to hear your voice and misses you; and not that he’s selfish.

Stay on the phone to listen to his complaints and stories and wishes, never once talking about yourself. Ignore the fact that you have an 8AM meeting, and talk until 6AM.

When he says he wishes you lived nearer, pretend that it’s because he misses you and it’s not a thinly-veiled booty call.

When he issues thinly-veiled booty calls, hope that maybe this time – perhaps, just maybe, you pray – this time, it’s for real. It’s not about sex, it’s not about your body, it’s about you.

Re-read his old texts from when he was courting you, listen to all the music he sent you for the fiftieth time, even though you don’t really like Ash or Band of Horses or The New Pornographers.

Overanalyse the music he sent you – especially Geraldine by Glasvegas.

Marvel at how well he knows you, how he can push every button, how he understands your motivations. Wonder at how, despite all this, he doesn’t know you love him and that he hurts you – because if he knew, he wouldn’t act this way, would he?

Buy him presents that you think will move him, like that XKCD comic book, or An Education, or maybe that tiny book of proverbs you saw at a flea market two weeks ago.

Take his insults in the hopes that he doesn’t really mean it. Shrug it off or hide your tears when he says that you’re not pretty enough for him, that you’re a mediocre fuck, that you are a self-righteous do-gooder, not intelligent enough for graduate school, wonderful to talk to but not much else.

Listen to Taylor Swift.

Pretend that the screaming matches over what setting the microwave should be or which side of the bed to sleep on are just indicators of how intense your relationship is.

Lash back a few times. Insult his ex-girlfriend, his career, his likes. Regret it immensely, not because you’ve stooped to his level but because he made you regret it with every single word and action for the next twenty-four hours, or however long he felt like.

Tell yourself his superior attitude and constant need to put you down just stems from his insecurities, which you can help him get over by just loving him enough.

Ignore the mood swings, the broken promises, the manipulation, the mind games. They’re just bits of him, after all; and you love him unconditionally – right?

Find out he slept with another woman while on holiday. Grit your teeth when he tells you he misses her, ignore it – because you’re just dating, right? You’re not exclusive?

When he invites you over and then leaves to go drinking with his friends, nap. Wait. Say hi to his dad, who hates you just as he hated every woman his erstwhile son has brought home.

Pretend that it’s okay to be a thirty-year-old wannabe author who has never written a word of his book. After all, he’s had a hard life. Pretend that it’s okay he dropped out of university after seven years of study and a few months shy of graduation. Pretend that it’s okay he’s slept with more women than you have fingers and toes – sometimes at the same time – but preaches monogamy, faithfulness and loyalty as his best traits.

Look for hints and hope in every marginally positive gesture.

Cry every time you listen to music by spunky, waif-like songstresses like Feist or Laura Marling or A Fine Frenzy.

Tumblr a lot.

Read Thought Catalog obsessively, sharing particularly heart-wrenching pieces on Facebook or Twitter and being comforted by the fact that you are not alone, there are girls just as ridiculously, stupidly in love. Emphasis on stupid.

Look up ‘fractionation’. Wonder if he’s doing it on purpose.

Act tough when he breaks up with you because you’re not his type, you don’t move him, you’re not pretty enough. Wonder why he did it to you the day before you start at your new job.

Realize you could make him pay in pain, but you could never make him stay. Blame yourself. A lot.

Hate yourself for loving him. Hate yourself for snatching up the phone when he calls, for listening to his sweet words and apologies.

Tell your friends that perhaps he’s seen the light, that maybe it’s going to be okay.

Feel like you’ve been punched in the gut when he calls you a night later explaining that he’s changed his mind again.

Two months on, marvel at your own stupidity. Laugh it off, pretend he’s a great drinking story. “I met a man who tried to cut off his own thumb and refused to take medication for bipolar disorder because he thought it’d make him less special.”

Find somebody else, with kind eyes and a sweet smile, with curly hair and warm arms. Someone who treats you like gold and thinks the world of you.

Wonder if you’ll ever be able to reciprocate those feelings.

Make believe you’re brave.

Slowly fall in love with him, his kindness. His generosity. Your stopped heart shudders and groans and starts up again.

It works. It runs.

Be happy. Sand the hurt smooth, cover it with putty.

Be happy. Oh God, please be happy. TC mark

image – Kill Hannah


More From Thought Catalog

  • mrm

    absolutely fantastic

  • Julene

    Sounds like every long term relationship I've seen in NYC. This is great.

  • Aja

    Another piece that's easy to relate to.  Fall in love.  You deserve it.

  • Hussainiw2

    I see this a lot in Asian relationships unfortunately.

  • Abby

    I wish you've written this sooner. Almost everything is relatable to my previous r/s. 
    Wish I saw it coming.

  • Erik Stinson

    how did it get a point where t i have more likes than comments

  • puspa

    I love this story.

  • Ana

    those things like fractionation are REALLY scary, because they really do work. it's fucked.

    • mopey P

      I think I suck at googling bc I'm still not clear on what it is other than being related to pickup artists??

  • sg

    kind of marveling at how you're just across the straits

    relating to this on so many counts, especially with the over-analysis of songs ugh

  • anonymous

    Wow, so harsh to be treated that way. And to allow it to happen.

    Not “erstwhile,” though, unless he is no longer the man's son. Ne-er-do-well, maybe, I dunno.

  • Luke Bourassa

    Hmmm. I'm afraid that I am this man.

    • White Rabbit


      The women you DON’T abuse will appreciate it without ever realizing.

      Look into the EMERGE program for abusive men.

  • Maddison

    This is perfect. Spot on.

  • Fernanda Cortes

    After more than a  year in a relationship with an abusive and so damaged man, I'm happy we never got to the insults part. At the end he told me I deserved better. How didn't I see it coming… I knew from the very first date that it'll be difficult to ask for emotional stability to someone whose mother abandoned him at the age of 4, left his house at 16 and when his mother died from cancer he didn't go to her funeral. At least I learnt that my love will never change someone, that isn't my fault and it doesn't depend on me. Pretty easy right? Now I feel stupid for letting this happen but at the same liberated.

  • klutz

    Just got dumped by this guy. Awwwyeah never felt happier, life's good. Thanks for this article ;-)

    • mopey P

      Lucky. I keep trying to leave mine but it never sticks.

    • luckygirl

      Me too! He told me that I went off on him. Guess he didn't expect me to fight back. I told him that dumping be was the best thing he could have ever done for me. Here's to the good life!

  • hunter ray

    god dammit, thought catalog makes me cry again.

  • monkey

    heartbreaking. i love you, monkey.

    (and you must know i really am sorry for being the seed of sin, the genesis, of this.)

    • banana

      – i also totally meant to post as 'banana' :(

  • Kathrynahiggins

    Touching, very well written and courageous.  I wish  you had explained what fractionation is — also, I balked at erstwhile — used incorrectly, I agree.

  • Colleen Farrell

    i know a male who is like this over an emotionally abusive female.
    i wish i could send this to him and he would realize it.


    • White Rabbit

      You CAN send it… he may not see it right away, but every little bit helps… it took me MONTHS to leave my abuser, but I couldn’t have done it without the support of my friends and family.

  • Elyse

    Painful and enlightening. I wish I had an award to give this article.

  • sadpanda00

    This isn't a guide on dating an emotionally abusive man — this is description of a dysfunctional relationship, one where both parties seem incapable of communicating what they're actually feeling.  Just because a relationship isn't working right or you two don't understand how to talk to one another does not automatically make the other party “emotionally abusive”.  Conflating emotional ineptitude with emotional abuse is a disservice to victims of genuine emotional abuse.

    • mabel

      'Take his insults in the hopes that he doesn’t really mean it. Shrug it off or hide your tears when he says that you’re not pretty enough for him, that you’re a mediocre fuck, that you are a self-righteous do-gooder, not intelligent enough for graduate school, wonderful to talk to but not much else.' 

      it's a descriptive piece, yes, but how is this not emotionally abusive?

      • sadpanda00

        That's not emotional abuse, that's verbal abuse.  And while ultimately any abuse is bad, the author doesn't describe an environment of fear or domination or control; nor does she describe her efforts (or inability) to stand up to this man.  Yes, he called her names, but emotional abuse is more than just name-calling.  Emotional abuse is the use of emotions to control another human being, and there is a big line between verbal abuse and emotional abuse.

        All that I get from this piece is that the author had a shitty boyfriend and instead of standing up for herself or leaving him, she laid down and took it.  But nowhere in the piece does she describe anything that he did to prevent her from standing up for herself or prevent her from leaving.  He just called her names, and while that's certainly not OK, unless he was actually doing something that made her fear for her life or her safety if she left him, she should have left her verbally abusive boyfriend a long time ago.

      • ...---...

        I think that in some ways this article speaks to dating an emotionally unavailable person.  However, this is not always clear until it is too late.  You have fallen for them and they begin abusing your love for them – taking what they want, when they want it.  They offer attention so to keep you around and carrying, etc. etc.  You pity their emotional unavailability and their clear insecurities and their shitty jobs and their troubling family lives.  They resent you for it, but they keep letting you rub their back and talking them through it.

        You don't stand up for yourself because they are troubled and you love them and you don't want to loose them.

        They know this. but they wait to end it. they can see that you aren't strong enough to let them go, but they don't have the mercy to do it kindly or swiftly or honestly. They push you to a breaking point and blame it on your “unreasonable reaction.”  They make it your fault and leave you to dwell on it.

        The sad truth is, yes they are emotionally abusive, but you let yourself get abused.

        They are emotionally abusive. You are an emotional masochist.

      • sadpanda00

        All those are problems that can be solved by clear communication, instead of playing these cat-and-mouse games of “did he really mean that?”.  In some ways, what you describe is actually emotionally abusive on both sides because it is an attempt by both parties to control the other through what you call being “emotionally unavailable”.  But let's ignore that for now.

        Let's be clear: emotional abuse is a systematic use of verbal abuse and emotional aggression for the purpose of causing fear or trauma in another person.  Unlike sexual and physical abuse, emotional abuse is widely regarded to be more than just a one-time thing.  That is, just because your boyfriend or girlfriend treats you like crap here and there does not make him emotionally abusive.  It makes him or her a bad relationship partner, and it's the other person's responsibility in a relationship to bring up these issues or get out.

        Hiding behind a veil of “you love them and you don't want to lose them” fails to get at the heart of the issue.  Regardless of whether or not you want to lose a person, if they treat you like shit it is your responsibility to say or do something about it unless they've created an abusive environment.  If you're afraid of speaking up because your partner will hurt you or yell at you and demean you simply for speaking your mind, then that's emotional abuse.  Having a crappy boyfriend isn't emotional abuse.  It's just a bad relationship.  But the author doesn't describe any of these features.  She just describes an “emotionally unavailable” boyfriend who eventually left her because she didn't have the guts to on her own.

      • ...---...

        Here's one definition: “Psychological abuse, also referred to as emotional abuse or mental abuse, is a form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.”

        Here is another: “Emotional abuse is any kind of abuse that is emotional rather than
        physical in nature. It can include anything from verbal abuse and
        constant criticism to more subtle tactics, such as intimidation,
        manipulation, and refusal to ever be pleased.”

        An another: ” Emotional abuse is any nonphysical behavior or attitude that controls,
        intimidates, subjugates, demeans, punishes or isolates another person by
        using degradation, humiliation or fear. 1Yelling,
        screaming, and name-calling are all forms of emotional abuse, as are
        more subtle tactics such as refusing to be pleased with anything,
        isolating an individual from family and friends and invalidating
        another's thoughts and feelings.”

        The thing is, it's personal, complicated, and can be subtle.  So if someone feels emotionally abused (“convinced that they are worthless that they
        believe that no one else could want them”), are you really in a place to tell them otherwise?

      • sadpanda00

        If they choose to write about it on a blog that purports to be about creative writing, yes, I most certainly am.

        The article is poorly written, formulaic (see 100 other Thought Catalog pieces that read as simple descriptions of things or events without any commentary or analysis, such as “How to be Boughetto”) and claims to be about more than it really is.  And because it's the internet and comments are enabled, yes, I get to say what I like.

        Besides all that, this is a blog about writing, not about emotional trauma.  Thought Catalog has turned into a support group instead of a place to find good, intriguing prose about life events.

      • ...---...

        Indeed you are. 

        Though, you seemed quite focused on asserting your clinical understanding of “emotional trauma” from the get go. Thank you, doctor.

        She expressed a thought. She reflected in writing. She articulated emotions to which many can relate. That seems like an appropriate piece for Thought Catalog?

      • sadpanda00

        Yes, I am focused on “emotional trauma” because as I asserted originally, calling something “emotional abuse” when it is not so does a disservice to victims of emotional abuse.

        And no, it does not seem like an appropriate piece for Thought Catalog.  Simply expressing emotions in words to which other people can relate does not make for a good or interesting piece of writing.  If I wrote “OMG my boyfriend just broke up with me so sad :((” and submitted it to Thought Catalog, would you think that was an appropriate piece?

        As the “about” page (… states (among other points):

        1. Thought Catalog is illuminating and informative.

        3. TC contributors are smart. They’re at the vanguard of their respective fields and have published everywhere from The Paris Review to Maxim.

        7. Our content is always vetted and (most of the time) edited.
        According to those guidelines, I don't believe I'm mistaken in expecting the writing on Thought Catalog to be good, or at the very least well-written.  Just because something is “a thought […] reflected in writing” does not make that writing good.

      • White Rabbit

        Sadpanda00, if you don’t like her writing, GO ELSEWHERE. As for who is responsible for the abuse in an abusive relationship – the ABUSER is responsible for the abuse. There is NOTHING the victim could EVER do that would make him/her responsible. So while two people ARE in a relationship together, the victim is NOT responsible for the abuser’s abuse. This is only one of the reasons why couples’ counseling is NOT advised for abusive relationships. Now take your abusive/abuser-defending hostility elsewhere. Maybe there’s a sociopath blog where you can mingle with others who share your views.

      • White Rabbit

        Sadpanda00 is going pretty far in his/her defense of abusers – methinks we have an abuser in our midst. I would normally advise ignoring the abuser-troll, but if these arguments help clarify what abuse is for readers, all the better. (And for what it’s worth, the arguments Sadpanda00 is making sound a LOT like what my lying, manipulative, cheating, cruel and emotionally abusive ex would say about this topic.)

      • mopey P

        ” If you're afraid of speaking up because your partner will hurt you or
        yell at you and demean you simply for speaking your mind, then that's
        emotional abuse.”

        But isn't that what she tried to do?

        The problem with guys I've known like this is that even when you attempt to do the clear communication thing (of which I am a big fan), they won't engage with that. They counter with dismissive or sarcastic or otherwise punishing responses and make you feel bad for bringing it up. Then if, like she describes, for a change you call them out on things, they will make you feel guilty or otherwise punish you.

      • sadpanda00

        You make it out like men are the only ones responsible for attempting to maintain these clear lines of communication.

        The author does not describe her attempts to speak out; she describes conversations where it's clear that she's not speaking her mind to her partner.  

        Quote: “Find out he slept with another woman while on holiday. Grit your teeth when he tells you he misses her, ignore it – because you’re just dating, right? You’re not exclusive?

        When he invites you over and then leaves to go drinking with his friends, nap. Wait. Say hi to his dad, who hates you just as he hated every woman his erstwhile son has brought home.

        Pretend that it’s okay to be a thirty-year-old wannabe author who has never written a word of his book.”

        The author doesn't describe her attempts at communicating with this man; she just describes sad scenes where she takes shit from her partner and does nothing to speak out against it.  She does not describe her internal struggle, she simply describes how she doesn't say anything.  Not to mention her misuse of the word “erstwhile”.  As I said before, Thought Catalog is supposed to be a site dedicated to creative writing, not emotional support.

      • White Rabbit

        Nice victim-blaming. You clearly aren’t educated on the subject. Nice job feeding the abuser-troll.

      • Kat Anderson

        “Lash back a few times. Insult his ex-girlfriend, his career, his likes.
        Regret it immensely, not because you’ve stooped to his level but because
        he made you regret it with every single word and action for the next
        twenty-four hours, or however long he felt like.”

        I think this (among other things in the piece) is a pretty good indicator of what happened when the author tried to stand up for herself. And what she describes — the systematic way he sabotages her confidence, the setting himself up as hard-to-please so that she becomes dependent on his approval, the hot-and-cold behavior that keeps her off balance because wait, he's really sorry this time! — sounds an awful lot like classic emotional abuse to me. I'm also pretty sure that fearing for her life and safety isn't a necessary criteria for classifying it as such; it's enough that she's been systematically manipulated to depend on his approval and doubt her own judgment. At that point, this situation crosses the line from “shitty boyfriend” to “controlling, abusive behavior”.

      • sadpanda00

        I disagree with your analysis.  His systematic behavior is neglect, not manipulation.  If he was actually manipulating her, the author fails to convey that in this piece.  Yes, he sabotages her confidence; but this woman clearly has a support network of friends and coworkers with whom she has regular contact.

        Not only is this man obviously not the only figure in her world, his behavior is not dominating — just shitty.  He did not isolate her from her friends or her coworkers, he did not make her afraid of reprisal if she left him.  The only reason that she didn't leave him is because she didn't want to, not because he made her stay.  Sometimes a bad relationship is just that.

      • Kat Anderson

        And I disagree with yours.

        What I'm taking away from your argument, and your previous posts, is that the author doesn't fit the description of the quivering, terrified, isolated victim, and therefore this couldn't be an abusive relationship — that its definition as such depends on how she reacts, not how he acts. That's not an acceptable premise to me. Abuse is in the actions of the person perpetrating it, not in the response of the recipient. It also exists on a spectrum: physical violence, or the threat thereof, is at the far end. Further down, you have rage, jealousy, isolation, manipulation, sabotage, and (as described in this case) neglect and insults followed by affection and promises to change. Classic emotional manipulation, and universally acknowledged by professionals as abuse.

        Describing the most extreme cases and then dismissing the rest as “just a bad relationship” is also incredibly dangerous, especially when escalation is not uncommon in these situations. Imagine if a person reading this, seeing her own partner in the description, stuck around to become precisely the sort of terrorized victim you describe, just because she didn't think the less-extreme behavior she was witnessing was worth being concerned about? And technically, no victims of abuse are “made” to stay (with the horrific exception of those who are literally imprisoned by their partners.) Technically, they are all to blame for their situation. All of them, whether they're isolated and terrified or not, have always had the capacity to leave — but they're threatened into staying, or coerced, or gaslighted, or otherwise convinced that their better judgment is faulty.

        And given the proliferation of comments like yours, it isn't hard to see why. It's especially appalling that in this case, you're using the fact that the author's boyfriend left her — rather than the other way around — as evidence that she wasn't *really* abused. Abusers love to use the threat of leaving as a power play; when they do leave, it's either as a tactic to further mess with the head of their partner, or (and it's quite possible that this was the case here) because they're not getting the level of subservience and dependence that they're looking for.

        Finally, recognizing “lesser” forms of abuse for the insidious, damaging behavior that it is doesn't do a disservice to “real” victims of abuse. This isn't a zero sum game. Isolation and threats and violence are bad. So are emotional manipulation and sabotage and power plays. It's all bad. And many of the people you seem to think worthy of the victim title started out just like this woman, who you consider a whiner who's just in a bad relationship. If you really care about putting an end to what you consider “real” abuse, then I'd suggest you start by taking them seriously before it gets to that point.

      • White Rabbit

        Great post/replies. Thank you, Kat!

      • White Rabbit

        Great post/replies. Thank you, Kat!

    • White Rabbit

      You sound just like my ex. Those of us who’ve educated ourselves on the topic see right through you. You’re at best an abuser-apologizer, but much more likely an abuser yourself. No one else would NOT see this as abuse, and no one else would COMPLAIN so loudly about the matter. Funny, I think you’re my sad, pathetic narcissistic ex, KM. If so, know that arguing with people online about what does and doesn’t constitute “abuse” does NOT change the fact that you are an ABUSER.

  • lrr

    Am I the only one who thinks this form of writing is getting somewhat overused?

    • dRa

      … the thing is it feels good to read, and even better to write.

  • ...---...

    I'm almost two months out of mine.

    I'm seeing my own someone else with curly hair and warm arms, but I don't think I can reciprocate his feelings.

    I can marvel at my own stupidity, but I can't laugh it off.

    I miss him and he wont wash off or sand away.

    How could I have let myself love someone like this?  How can I still love someone like this?

    • guest

      i promise you it'll get better. i'm a big believer in saying no's quickly and not wasting someone's time… but i think this time around, you need to give it a shot. healing takes the time it takes. just make sure curly knows what you're going through.
      mine did/does, and while it does hurt him, he wants to be with me on any terms. 
      (AND he's a colleague of the ex. i've never met someone so sincere in intention.)

  • douchegirl

    I relate to this story 100%. Even though the man in mine never insulted me or mistreated me, I still went through everything you mentioned. 

    Tumblr a lot, read TC obsessively. Done and done. 

    I also met a nice man in the end. Be happy. Please, be happy.

  • xra

    aka how to get a girl to go crazy for you

    take notes, guys.


    • Katgeorge


  • holly k

    i needed to read this. thanks.

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