TRIGGER WARNING: Emotional abuse.
I never thought it would happen to me.
I was strong, independent, and confident in my sexuality. When I read books I could not empathize with the characters that could not leave abusive relationships. “Why don’t they just go?” To be honest, I thought I was “stronger and better” than them.
The end of my senior year of college was a maelstrom of emotion. The economy crashed. I started looking at the Navy because there weren’t any jobs left in my field, and I had four years of enormous student loans waiting in the wings. I got involved with guys who were only using me because they could not get the girl they really wanted. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing with my life. Frankly, I was a mess.
Along came “J.” I had known him for the past several years; we were in the same theater. He had just gone through a messy breakup and needed a friend as badly as I did. Friendship grew into something more, and we started dating that summer. It was blissful in the way that all new relationships are for the first few months. Then my roommate got a job in Texas and left almost overnight, leaving me struggling to pay the rent alone. It was a mistake to move in with J so early in our relationship, but it made sense at the time. We were sleeping in the same bed almost every night, and it seemed like a waste to pay for two apartments.
I can look back now and see that we rushed things; that moving in together triggered a lot of our later troubles at the same time that it convinced us that we had to just work through them. It created a commitment that neither of us was ready for, and it led me to become emotionally dependent on him.
The fights started almost immediately after we moved my stuff. They were little things at first, the sort of thing that an hour of space and some make-up sex could fix. Soon, however, they were big enough to interrupt my job — a data-entry position that I loathed. We decided that the job was to blame, and I quit. The freelance work I was able to pull in at the time was only enough to cover my loan payments, but J said he was happy to help. I was now financially dependent on him as well.
The fights did not stop. I should point out that they were never physical fights; they were screaming matches, mostly. Because I was raised in a household where you had to raise your voice to be heard, I usually walked away from these fights feeling like the bad guy because I had been louder, more aggressive than he.
Meanwhile, we moved several times, got a cat, and got close to a group of my friends from college. We met each other’s parents, talked about the future, called our apartment a home. At least, that’s what we showed the outside world.
Behind closed doors, we were a mess. We fought. He withheld sex. I lost jobs. I lost contact with my old friends. I even began to see hanging out with our local friends as an ordeal. We were both convinced that our shared misery was my fault because of my depression.
The few times that I considered leaving, I thought better of it: Our friends preferred him over me, as did my parents. No one would believe me if I told them the truth, and I was convinced that no one would help me otherwise. I started referring to myself as “broken.” Any self confidence that I had was wrapped up in how he saw me, and I was convinced that he was only with me out of pity, and that I should have been grateful.
I know when the turning point was; the point where I realized that it wasn’t all my fault…
I can pinpoint it exactly. We were hanging out with old friends after a wedding, and I found myself constantly pushed to the outside of the group so that J could flirt with an ex-girlfriend. I would have written it off to keep from appearing jealous, but the groom, who had been a close friend of mine in college, noticed it and asked if everything was okay. It was the first time anyone had noticed that anything was wrong. I said everything was fine, of course, but the moment stuck with me, and on the car ride home the next day, I confronted J about it.
I don’t know why I stood up for myself that day, but we had never had a fight so big. At one point I got out of the car and walked aimlessly off into some Connecticut suburb, just knowing that I had to get out. But nothing was fixed that day. He apologized, so I apologized, and we went home, presumably where things were going to get better. I really believed that they would get better from that point.
Then things hit rock bottom. J took four days off of work to “try to mend things between us,” and spent them trying to passive-aggressively crush me back into the subservient little broken thing I had been before that wedding. I did not have any emotional energy left to fight with, which, consequently, meant that I didn’t have any emotional energy left to fear calling up my parents and asking to move home. Even then, I could not bear to tell them the truth.
I’m living in my old bedroom in their house now, trying not to fall back into high school habits after having an apartment for the last eight years, and trying to come to terms with the past four and a half years of mistakes.
Five years ago, I would have scoffed and said “I’d just leave a relationship that was not working out, never mind one where I was being emotionally or physically abused.” Back then, I was confident in myself and my judgement. No more.
You never realize just how thoroughly your world can be turned on its head, how easy it is to find yourself willfully trapped in a position that you swore you would never get taken in by. I never realized it.
In a way, writing this is an affirmation of sorts; it’s forcing me to admit the truth, despite the parts of me that would rather just bury it and start over. I’m lucky that the scars will be emotional instead of physical. I’m lucky that I was able to get out, lucky that I was given a chance to heal. There are so many other people who don’t get that chance.
You hear so much about amicable breakups, or the angry ones where everyone moves on with their respective social circles… but this? This is the sort of thing you expect to see on Lifetime original movies, not in real life. Not in your life.
I never thought it would happen to me.