Trigger warning: abuse
I wasn’t ready for my last relationship, but sometimes life hands you things you aren’t ready for. Occasionally, my ex would tell me he didn’t like it when I made funny accents or spoke in Pig Latin. He told me that it was traumatizing for him, and if I didn’t stop then I wasn’t respecting him. I would tell him that he needed to work through these triggers instead of avoiding them, but that advice would get me labeled as patronizing.
If I would play certain songs that reminded him of trauma in his past or use certain words that he didn’t find acceptable, he would shut down. When I would try to engage with him during this time, he’d just pull away, claiming that I was smothering him. I would then get anxious, because I felt like something was very wrong and would reach out to try and fix our problems. But it would be met with disdainful words and threats of more distance, until he had enough time to stop feeling so angry.
If I shut my phone off too quickly, or if a male friend texted me, he would insinuate that I was cheating on him; which, for the record, I never did. When I would tell him to not suggest I was a cheater, he would tell me he was “only joking.” Sometimes his moods would change drastically within a short period of time, like someone turned a light switch from on to off. He would blame the change on something I did. Then I would get scolded and told to learn not to do that behavior again, because it made him “xyz.” If I proceeded to still act that way, he would tell me that he needed a girlfriend who was more supportive and didn’t know if this was going to work out.
Eventually, while we were hanging out, an argument would start. I would feel disrespected by the way he treated me and would try to leave to get space. He would call me bitch, or cunt, or slut, and would tell me I just wanted to leave so I could fuck other guys. He would tell me if I left, I shouldn’t bother coming back. I would leave anyway, because who the heck was he to tell me what to do? But then I would return to his apartment begging him to take me back. He would tell me (through his locked front door) that he would call the cops on me if I didn’t get off his property. When I would finally leave dejectedly, he would call me freaking out to beg me to come back. Once I got there, we would have sex and everything would be better until it wasn’t again.
When I began to reciprocate some of the negative ways he was treating me (not that that was the right thing to do), he would tell me he would not stand for that behavior; end of story, period. His boundaries were walls of stone, where mine were made of straw. I had no idea how to convey my needs in a way he would respect or understand.
The relationship consumed my life. When we would argue, almost every time he would eventually threaten to call the police. Nothing would ever get worked through or solved. However, there were some good days too when there were no arguments. These days were filled with laughter and intense chemistry. I felt like I’d never connected to anyone as deeply as I had to him. These days made the horrible days somehow easier to get through. When we were good, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world; I couldn’t believe that someone so understanding and intelligent wanted to be with me. But that didn’t stop me from gaining more weight than I had worn since middle school due to the pervasive stress. Worst of all, I had no idea how to talk about what I was experiencing to anybody.
He once told me that I wasn’t really in love with him but a fantasy version I’d created in my head (and he couldn’t be with someone who didn’t love him completely). I guess that was partly true. I couldn’t allow myself to love all of him because that would mean loving the part of him that mocked me when I stood up for myself, that told me my mental illnesses were causing all of the problems, and that would joke about my insecurities to make me get over them. But then it also meant loving another part of him that got me Michelle Obama’s book Becoming because he wanted to help me be a stronger woman. That part that told me I was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and that I was his everything. I’ve honestly never been through something so simultaneously soul-crushing and worth all my energy.
There is this idea that when people experience abuse, they will know what to do. I had no idea. I wish I could say I left after the first time he blocked me on Facebook, Instagram, and text, only call me via *67 to swear at me. I wish I had just left instead of calling him back on *67 to apologize. I wish I had left when he told me that his mom thought I was crazy and that he shouldn’t be dating me. I wish I had left when he took all of my sopping wet clothes from his washer and threw them at me, then threw all of my belongings into the snowbank outside his apartment. But the thing is, this kind of abuse doesn’t happen all at once. It started after we had already said I love you. After I had told him things about myself that I hadn’t told anyone. After we established that shared vulnerability that I’d so craved from someone for so long. After he had told me he wanted to marry me and have that happy family life with the picket fence and big family holidays.
I wish I could say I wasn’t as naive, that I was that heroine in the story that saw through the false promises of change and realized he was in no place for a serious relationship. But I wasn’t. After every reconciliation, I would tell him I couldn’t do this again. He would promise me that this would be the last time and that we just needed to work harder to make things better. I couldn’t understand how someone who loved me could treat me so badly; it had to be something in me that was making him act that way.
I would reconcile with him because part of me believed that overtime, once he healed more from his own traumas, the kind, compassionate part of him would become more of who I experienced. I also thought that after I’d experienced enough of the trauma, I would eventually figure out how to make our relationship healthy. But no amount of therapy could change me enough to change him. It doesn’t work like that.
So, after a dysfunctional two years, he finally broke up with me one December night over text. Then he told me that he loved another woman and dropped me, just like that. In a way, I’m grateful. For if she hadn’t come in the picture, I’d probably still be trying to figure our relationship out. In that way, I let myself down by not believing that I needed to leave. I also lost some of my self-respect by allowing that treatment of me to continue. But, through this whole experience I learned some valuable lessons:
My gut “knowings” are always right; I just need to trust them.
No amount of hoping, wishing, and praying that things could be different will be the catalyst for real change.
Red flags are friends who exist to save me from negativity.
I need to believe in myself and who I am, especially when others tell me that there is something wrong with me.
I need to delegate the time in my life in a way that puts my needs first, so that I can be there for others in a healthy way
And lastly, some endings are a real blessing, even if they are painful in the moment.