New relationships: “love” is in the air, or so we often think. We’re smitten. Excited to have a hand to hold.
I must say that at first I was extremely hesitant to date this friend who had never been anything more than a friend. I remember in college he made me this kind of amazing “mix-tape,” so I guess you could say that I had suspected for a long time that this guy who would soon be known as my boyfriend (publicly) and abuser (privately) had liked me for a while.
I think I knew. I pretended not to – because I didn’t like him in that way. But like I said in my last post, my list of whether I ever thought about dating him or not ended with “Whatever.”
Not only “whatever,” but nothing else I tried in the dating realm had worked out. I thought of “those” love songs with a guy singing to a girl about how he was just a friend but perfect for her and was right there all along! (Think Vertical Horizon “Everything You Want.”) It really began with a “what do I have to lose?” mentality.
And I was excited. At that very specific point in my life, I felt flattered to be admired. He would say things like “I never thought you would ever consider dating me.” At that time, it was flattering. But now?
Now. Now I am an independent woman who does not find being “coveted” flattering. In fact, I am insulted by any man who gives me his opinion on how I do or should value myself. I cannot explain this feeling well. But it is akin to the “don’t tell me to smile” movement.
And I am going to emphasize this here because I think it is extremely important in recovery, but not only do I not want anyone’s opinion, but it actually disgusts me. And unfortunately for those men who think I care what they think of me, I’ve found my voice, and I’m not afraid to exercise it anymore. And I would encourage everyone reading this to find his/her voice, and dare him/her to stick up for himself/herself.
It is hard. People do not like being called out. But all of us have the opportunity to change social constructs that are no longer acceptable. And we definitely all have the right to feel safe, comfortable, and autonomous. I know I can go to extremes in this way; but I won’t apologize for that. My answer is “no, I can’t take a compliment, because it isn’t one.” I was not put on this planet for any man’s commentary.
And again, shout out to Gary, love of my life, who three years ago I don’t think would have called himself a feminist or seen these injustices among groups that I can never shut up about. But with all of the feelings we share between us, when I asked him if he thought I should be writing about this, said, “If it is what you feel you want to or need to do, I think it’s incredibly brave.” To my friends reading this blog who have reached out to me and expressed their feelings that I am being strong, brave, or fearless in writing about this – thank you doesn’t even begin to describe my gratitude. I do it for you. And for everyone who cannot.
So right now this guy and I were in the “normalcy” to “fantasy setup” phases of The Cycle of Violence. I was living my life, now with him in it, and we mused about a future. I enjoyed escaping to his apartment and watching Netflix instead of studying. We often talked about what a great story it would be if we got married. College friends who finally “figured it out.” This was like – two weeks in.
The first caution sign that flashed across my brain came in the form a of friend asking me on Facebook, “you’re in a relationship? Who’s the lucky guy?” I so vividly remember not even seeing that “post” until after the abuser answered “it’s me.” Ownership. Before I even recognized it.
Things were cute for awhile, almost. This was the “tension building” phase. He took me to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Something I told him I really never wanted to do, but he insisted. I also got shingles around that time (stress induced in a 25 year old). We went to a New Year’s Eve party that I really didn’t want to go to. I always spent New Year’s Eve with my family. Again, he insisted. I thought, well, couples kiss at midnight, right? That’s a thing? So I went. I was stressed the whole night. A pattern was emerging. I did not want to take part in some activity, I expressed said feeling, I was convinced to do it anyway. And so it went. If I did not acquiesce, it became a thing. Like, I didn’t really care about him. Like, I wasn’t making him a priority. Like, I didn’t like his friends. Like, it was my fault if he was alone.
When I was unavailable, usually due to law school, studying, or previous arrangements, he would make a point of hanging out with girls/women he thought were “super hot,” or he previously liked, or previously liked him. And he really loved to tell me about this too.
I have flashbacks to sitting in my living room during that winter by the fireplace because our heat was out and him texting me that he was going to see someone who he used to hook-up with as a result of my decision to read “Shutter Island” before the movie came out. When I asked his reasoning he said “I have more friends who are girls than guys and you’re too busy for me so what do think I’m going to do? Sit around alone and wait for you?” I thought this was odd (more “tension building” phase), particularly because I thought maybe he was capable of being alone with himself – something I learned was impossible for him. This, naturally, made me feel defensive and insecure.
In fact, I don’t think I was ever an insecure person before this abuser made a specific point of spending time with “some of the hottest girls he knew” when I wasn’t available. This became status quo. This was part of the “abuse” phase. If I was not at his beck and call, another female was – at least so he said. It didn’t matter if it was true or not. It was manipulative and made me feel like I was always doing the wrong thing. No matter what I did or said, I was a disappointment in some way.
When I am told I’m not doing well enough, I try harder. Instinct. So I tried harder. I spent less time with my friends and more time with his. I was not having fun but have always been awkward so I thought I was probably doing what I was supposed to do. Even his friends would tell me things like, “I’ve NEVER seen him this happy before. You are the best thing that could have happened to him.”
TIME OUT. This is a HUGE red flag, okay? If a best or close friend of the person you are dating tells you a statement like this or something like it and you do not feel like you are in a mutually good situation, this is one of those things that people say that should give you some concern. But at the time, it didn’t register with me. But think about it.
If the person you are dating was so different before you, then who were they before? Who are they being now, when they’re with you? Why is this friend sharing this with you? It could very well be a warning in disguise. I remember hearing that from one of his friends in particular and thinking, “you’ve known him about as long as I have, so what could I have done in the last month, month and a half to change him so much?” It’s scary! It’s like when you hear people say you have to know yourself before you can be in a healthy relationship. He had no self. And we were about to become a lot less healthy.
I soon made the “mistake” (read: responsible act) of asking him of the last time he had been tested for STDs. Upon this request, he replied with a screaming tantrum in my ear, “HOW DARE YOU?! YOU THINK I’M DIRTY?!” He hung up. He called back. I was screamed at for maybe an hour, an hour and a half for calling him “dirty.” But I hadn’t.
I was afraid. Never would I sleep next to someone who was not recently tested, especially if we were not in a very monogamous committed relationship. That’s adult-ing, isn’t it? Intelligent non-abusive people understand that. He did not. I felt small. I felt embarrassed. I felt wrong.
But I wasn’t wrong. Because it’s smart to know your partner is clean. Even if you aren’t sleeping together (which we were not), it’s smart. That was probably the second extreme caution sign: how defensive he was. But I felt guilty. I was afraid of how upset “I had made him.” He literally would not stop screaming until I apologized for my request. Welcome to the “blame the victim” phase. So it went. Event after event after event.
To be continued…