My last year of high school, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship.
We stayed together when I moved to New York to attend NYU, and I spent most of my freshman and sophomore years of college curled up in a ball on my dorm room floor, sobbing into my cell phone. I didn't go out, because he was convinced I would cheat on him if I went out. I didn't make new friends, because he believed other women would just encourage me to cheat on him.
"If you loved me, you wouldn't need anyone else," he said, and I believed him enough to comply. I neither lived my old life nor started a new one. I just cried on the phone, and wrote that I felt at various times "old," "wrung out," and "dead."
The hardest part was never knowing what would set him off. Everything would be perfectly fine, until something seemingly inocuous -- an unlistened-to mix CD, where I chose to sit in the car with my family -- would trigger his rage. I tried to step carefully, but the ground was always shifting. Sometimes, if I didn't do anything to anger him for awhile, he simply made something up in his head -- elaborate stories about what I was doing to hurt him and with whom, the truth of which he was so convinced that my rational responses couldn't make a dent.
If we saw a movie that had infidelity in the story line, or he had a dream that I was cheating on him, he would verbally abuse me for hours, calling me a cheating whore, screaming in my face while I curled myself into a tiny ball on the floor, reduced to chanting "Please stop please stop please stop" in monotone between crying jags.
It's probably a legacy of this relationship that I still shut down emotionally in the face of even mild, healthy conflict, curling into myself like a roly poly after a child's poke. Or I feel instantly unhinged, breaking down in hysterical tears at the slightest hint of anger directed my way. Raise your voice to me, in particular, and I feel immediately unsafe. I just can't engage.
As definitively horrible as this relationship sounds now in the describing, I somehow stubbornly stuck with it for 3 years. More of our relationship was long-distance than not -- meaning I put up with this shit, even took direction on where I could and couldn't go, from 1,400 miles away! Some of these dudes are GOOD, like Charles Manson-level cult good, at getting into the heads of emotionally vulnerable women with low self-esteem like 18-year-old me. Occasionally, I tried to end things, but was always drawn back in by threats of suicide or another tragic story from his childhood that explained why he was the way he was.
He bought himself a few years through sheer tyranny, but college was my ticket out. When I left for NY, I took the first step in a journey that would inevitably lead me away from him.
I broke up with him for good roughly a week after he slipped an engagement ring on my finger as an apology for another of his epic rampages. I saw the bars start to come down around my future, and I ran fast and hard and never looked back.
In retrospect, it's hard to believe I ever let a man treat me that way. I hope I never will again. To that end, here are just a few of the twisted pieces of logic that kept me in that relationship way longer than I should have been there.
I thought I could fix him.
It's a cliche for a reason.
I wrote in my journal in November 2002: "Sometimes I think I'm naive for thinking I can 'fix' your problems, but some days I think I'm inspired. Our love will heal the wounds left over from your past. I can take away the lonliness and pain. I'm going to pull out everything that's black inside you and fill it up with light. You feel worthless because people have hurt you and abused you and left you and won't be able to feel that way when I never do."
I hope it's common sense enough that I don't have to say it, but I'll say it all the same: YOU CAN'T FIX HIM. YOU CAN NEVER FIX HIM. His willingness or unwillingness to change has nothing to do with you or how much you love him. If he is not a good man who treats you well today, he won't be one tomorrow. Find a man you like the way he is, and leave the fixer-uppers to HGTV.
Because I felt sorry that bad things had happened to him.
Maybe my ex-boyfriend had had the truly horrific childhood he described to me. Maybe we was manipulating my sympathies to keep me around. I think it was probably a bit of both -- the most tear-jerking confessions of childhood abuse seemed to come out just when I was at my breaking point and considering leaving him. Either way, someone else's past, if it's still affecting their present, is not your problem. Nothing gives someone an excuse to treat another human being the way my ex treated me. Sympathy is all well and good but you don't have to be sympathetic with your vagina.
Because I thought I "deserved it."
On some level, I had to think I deserved that kind of treatment to put up with it for so long. Additionally, I felt so bad about myself physically that I believed that kind of relationship was the best I could do. From growing up fat and being mercilessly bullied, I had low self-esteem to begin with, then the relationship itself did the work of beating me down so low that I felt grateful to have a boyfriend at all, even one who abused me.
Losing over 100 pounds and starting to get attention from other men was a big part of what gave me the courage to leave. It shattered one of the myths that was driving my participation in the relationship -- that no one else would ever want to be with me, so I better just make do with what I had.
Because you have to work at a relationship.
Sure. But not that hard, girl. NOT THAT HARD.
There are lots of sillier reasons I've kept dating someone after the fire is gone -- Because I liked our lifestyle together, aka we went to nice restaurants and drank a lot together; because I really liked his friends and couldn't imagine not getting to hang out with them anymore; and once, notably, because he showed up outside my place of employment with a car trunk full of presents and like, I really wanted those presents.
Have you ever stayed in a relationship long after its natural expiration date? What dumb reasons did you have?