I Was The Independent Girl In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

It has been more than a year since that relationship ended, so it could be asked why I’m choosing to dig into this now. But here’s the thing, when you date someone who’s emotionally abusive, you’re left with some baggage (and that takes you a while to sort through, even if you are unlike me and deal with your issues in a healthy, timely fashion). I have put off talking about anything that went on in that relationship out of a desire, still, to this day, not to hurt him—so I won’t name names, but I’m not going to keep my mouth shut anymore. I haven’t spoken about this relationship to anyone but a few of my closest friends, because they are the only ones who know some of how things went down. But anyone else? I get “Stop, that’s mean,” or, “…but you don’t really mean that.” So there’s yet another reason it’s taken me so long to talk about this—I don’t want to be mean, or vindictive, or hurt anyone. However, it’s not mean, and yes, I do really mean that. And so for once, I am putting myself before him. I need to be able to talk openly about that shitshow of a relationship, for my sake, without feeling bad about it.

Things like that never start the way they end, especially when you’re young. They begin with butterflies at the thought of that person, and telling everyone at school that, “No, we’re just friends.” It starts when you fall head over heels for them, without reservation, because that is your first serious relationship and you’ve never really been hurt before. When you would do anything for that person, because you’ve never felt this strongly about someone that’s what love is, right? You’re inseparable, they are your best friend, they can do no wrong—and vice versa.

But no one can sustain being on that kind of pedestal, so inevitably, things begin to fall apart. That puppy dog naivety that used to be so charming starts to drive you up the wall. Your stubborn independence that used to be fascinating becomes an inconvenience. Throw in a move, and an attempt at a long-distance relationship and the snowball really gets rolling. (That’s not how you see it at the time, but you know what they say about hindsight). He drives down for your senior prom, you go to his family reunion—you’re making the distance thing work.

At the time, you don’t see the small jabs that become commonplace. The “Don’t wear that, it’s too revealing—only I get to see you like that,” the “I wouldn’t eat that if I were you,” and the “My family will never accept you until you marry me.” You get so used to it, that when you’re at lunch with his friends in a little coffee shop, laughing over some anecdote you’d just told, and he grabs your elbow and hisses at you to shut up—you do. If someone had done that to me a year before, I’d slap the shit out of them without a second thought. But you don’t see it creeping up on you, like some sort of doormat disease.

So then you graduate high school, and head off to what you thought was your dream college. Except college is definitely nothing like you’d thought it would be, and making friends is challenging, especially when you aren’t willing to settle for just someone to hang out with. Or when your boyfriend doesn’t want you to go out to parties because he doesn’t want people he doesn’t know around you. Even though you’ve traveled throughout your childhood, you did high school in a small town—everyone knew who you were and what you were good at. So when you’re hurled headfirst into what, at the time, is a big city to you, chock-full of artistic talent, insecurity abounds. And the person you trusted to support you took full advantage of that. He preyed on your self-doubt to rebuild that pedestal he once had. He made you feel as though he was the only good thing you had going for yourself.

But then he got into your school, and you guys were finally going to get to be together again and everything would be better. Everything would go back to the way it was. Except it doesn’t. You start to lose touch with the few good friends you had made, because he doesn’t want you to go anywhere without him, but he can’t be bothered to make an effort to get along with your friends. The screaming fights go from once a month to once a day, until you don’t recognize the girl crying in kitchen as he storms out and slams the door because you’d asked why he hadn’t answered his phone all day. You’re a “f*cking heartless bitch” because you tried to hold him accountable for his own actions. You go to him with concerns about the relationship or issues with his behavior, and somehow end up apologizing for them.

Your grades and weight plummet because you’re too anxious all the time to eat or study. You go from a healthy 150 lbs., making As and Bs, to skimming the 120s and struggling to make Cs. You don’t go out anymore because he doesn’t want you going out without him, but you’re too scared to be near him when he’s drunk. And the icing on the cake? You don’t see any of this. You know that you’re going through a rough patch, sure, but you are clinging with every fiber of your being to the belief that the person you fell in love with is in there. You don’t mention anything to your friends or family, because you don’t want to upset them.

Then he decides college is beneath him, drops out, and moves home. And that, my darling, is what saved you. He’s “too busy” to talk on a regular basis (although doing what you’re never quite sure, since he doesn’t have a job and isn’t taking classes), so you start catching up with old friends. You go get coffee. You eat a piece of pizza without torturing yourself over the number of calories wrapped up in its cheesy goodness. And then, you meet a boy on the street with a goofy smile who gives you butterflies—even though you thought you’d never feel them for anyone else. You drink wine with your girlfriends, and join a rec soccer team even though you’re awful. You realize you can live without him. You realize your life is better without him.

I can’t blame anyone else for the eating disorders or depression issues and panic attacks, but I will call him out for feeding into it. On getting some sort of kick from feeling like a knight in shining armor when I called him at 3 a.m. because I needed to hear from someone, anyone that I was worth a place on this earth. For encouraging me not to talk to anyone else about it and flaunting his relationships with other women, about whom I’d repeatedly expressed my concerns over their intentions, then turning around and calling me jealous and crazy and unreasonable. If I loved him, then I should trust him—like I was actually the one hurting him in that situation by doubting his fidelity.

I’m not saying he is the only one to blame in that relationship. I picked at least half of those screaming matches. I pushed buttons. But what I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive myself for is letting it happen. For watching myself turn into someone I didn’t recognize—a scared, useless little girl. For tolerating things that I would practically throttle my friends for letting slide in their own relationships. For letting my relationships with friends and family fall to the wayside.

At the same time, I’m weirdly grateful, because now I know better. I know my worth, and not to tolerate those who don’t. I’m grateful, because I will never let that happen again. I will never let myself become so lost in another person that I can’t quite find myself. I know which walls to leave up, and which I can take down, and I know what to look for in my friends—to be sure none of them ever go through what I did.

I suppose I’ve made my peace with it. It’s not something I think of unless he is brought up. I wouldn’t go as far as to say all is forgiven and we’re going to be BFFs, but I’ve let it go. So no, I don’t actually hate him—but there is no longer a place for him in my life. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I will not swallow up the pleading emails and texts he has sent over the past year begging for forgiveness—and that doesn’t make me a bitch.

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