Wifeys & Gentelmen,
I actually started writing this post on June 1st, 2016. I got really far into it, came back and revised it almost 13 times, and then ultimately decided that the timing was wrong, that I wasn’t ready to share this part of my story, and worse, that it would make me look weak, stupid, or dumb to anyone who bothered to read it.
In a lot of ways, I think sharing the reasons why I didn’t post this blog speaks very truthfully to the topic of mental and emotional abuse. While I have been on a long and positive journey of healing and forgiveness, my mind still (sometimes) tricks me into thinking that everything that happened with my ex was my fault; that if I hadn’t been so needy, stupid, desperate, etc, I never would have gotten into that mess to begin with. And that simply isn’t true.
I guess that’s why the video (linked below) struck such a deep cord in me. Surfing around social media one afternoon, I came across a Buzzfeed video (about 14 minutes long) that tackled the issue of emotional abuse in an extremely accessible way. I thought a lot about the video, the signs that I never bothered to notice in my own relationship being so closely reflected back to me in this piece of fiction. Sometimes, it’s easier to forget about him and push forward with my life, but in the days that followed, articles surfaced with scores of women (and some men) telling their stories about the kind of abuse that goes unnoticed. Thus, the hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou became a mini obsession of mine. I kid you not, I must have read over 500 tweets, short stories/vignettes, and Facebook posts all detailing the ways that non-physical abuse can be just as damaging and demoralizing as any other.
Moreover, what I found oddly amazing about this hashtag, in addition to the stories and videos that followed, was how timely it was and how closely it fit into the current structure of my life. Tiffany*, a dear friend of mine, was struggling with some pretty intense relationship problems at the time, and it was striking to me how much her relationship paralleled my own previous one. I thought again about the signs I was too stubborn to notice and accept. I thought about how I wish someone could have knocked some sense into me. I thought about how hard people tried, and how much I refused to listen. It inspired me to share my story, as briefly as possible, for anyone else out there who might be going through something similar and believes that there is no way of getting out or overcoming it, for those who are convinced that it “isn’t that bad” just because they aren’t being hit.
Believe it or not, I was in a physically abusive relationship at the young age of 12. My middle school boyfriend, Matt*, who I later learned was both homosexual and struggling with racial identity issues, liked to torture me in ways that you wouldn’t think an 11/12 year old boy was capable of (he was both cruel and aggressive, if that helps). He was terrible and looking back on it, I believe he hated me, he just didn’t know/understand why. Still, despite having positive relationship models in my life (my parents), despite all the stuff they told us in “Life Skills” class or on TV about self-confidence and staying away from people who hurt us, I began to feel like this was the kind of relationship I deserved. Struggling with my weight and self-esteem, I began to feel like pretty girls deserve nice guys & fat/ugly ones must take what they can get. This narrative kept me involved with him off and on for 5 years, only ending it when he left me with no other other choice (the abuse became more dangerous as we got older).
To be fair to myself, I didn’t know that any of this stuff was abuse or assault. & it wasn’t until about 5 years later that I even began to understand that I had a lot of healing to do and a lot of pain to recover from. Still, that relationship informed upon the 6 years I spent with David*. David was the first man I’d seriously dated since Matt. I met him on a popular dating website and although I wasn’t attracted to him, he was sweet and funny and a perfect gentlemen. We went out for sushi on our first date (though he didn’t really like sushi much) and I was impressed by how much he made me laugh. While I wasn’t initially interested in a 2nd date, my friends/family convinced me to give him a shot! As luck would have it, his personality made him more handsome to me, and for the first few months of our relationship, we’d go on fun dates and laugh and stay up all night texting until 6am. He was fun. More fun than I’d had in years, and he told me that I was special and different. All things I needed to hear.
Of course there were red flags. On our 2nd date, he told me that I had “terrible taste in music” and went on a very long, uncomfortable rant about how much he hated female singers (like all of them, he hated all female singers). On our 10th date (or so), we ran into one of his friends at a bar and David was visibly nervous. He introduced me as an “old friend”, and while it hurt my feelings, I shrugged it off, convincing myself that he was caught off guard and couldn’t be embarrassed by me! He really liked me. He was a kind and amazing person and would never do anything to make me feel bad about myself…right?
A few weeks later, as he was telling me about an upcoming Halloween party he was hosting (he had a good amount of money and a really nice house), he explained to me that I couldn’t come because he wasn’t ready to “explain me” to his friends. Of course, this really really hurt my feelings, and when I finally got up the nerve to ask if he was embarrassed by me, he never said “yes” but he didn’t say “no” either. Instead, he said:
- he’d never dated a black girl before and he wasn’t sure how they (his friends) would react to me
- I didn’t look like some of the other girls he’d dated in the past, or the girls he was currently friends with, and he didn’t want me to feel insecure about myself
- he’s been hurt by other women and he didn’t want to bring someone around his friends/family before he was 100% sure that he wanted to be with them
- he wasn’t comfortable labeling our relationship
I accepted this, and I accepted his resistance to meeting my family and friends as well. He marketed himself to me as damaged and in need of patience. So I gave him that, thinking that if I could just be better, he’d see that I was worthy of being taken seriously. I’d like to think he didn’t know how much power he held over me. I’d like to think that if given the chance to do it again, he would have told me the truth about his feelings. Still…I spent several years in a secret relationship, I told myself it was okay. I told myself that I could earn my place in his life. I was told to never post pictures of us together, I was never invited to the parties he would throw or asked to tag along for the fun things he would do with his friends. I was never mentioned to his mom.
We lived in two different states and he’d only come to visit me every other weekend (a 2 hour drive). Each weekend that I’d spend without him, he’d text me constantly, wanting to know where I was or what I was doing. He’d get annoyed if I had any plans to go out with my college or teacher friends. He would always suggest that I stay home and “rest” when he wasn’t around. The weekends he would visit weren’t much better; he would make it a point to tell me about all of the cool stuff he was missing out on to be with me, reminding me of how lucky I was that he liked me better than whatever fun event was happening in his hometown. When I was losing weight, he would insist that I didn’t need to impress anyone else since I already had him and encourage me to gain it back. He’d pick fights with me about not “sharing his interests” (ie: watching what he wanted to watch on TV or refraining from listening to my ‘crappy’ music) or accuse me of being “selfish” if I wasn’t in the mood for sex (this included when I was on my period and not feeling well). We’d fight about holidays or gatherings with my friends/family and he’d call me “crazy” if I got upset at him for blowing me off or refusing to participate.
He’d say mean things about my “gaps” in knowledge, always reminding me of how much smarter he was than me, and laughing at my ignorance when I didn’t know as much about a particular subject he’d researched or studied in school. He’d tell me that I couldn’t “pull off” some of my outfits, or give me backhanded compliments which included things like “I know most men wouldn’t find you attractive, but I like your unique look”, “I don’t think you should wear your natural hair, you look slimmer when it’s longer”, or my personal favorite, “I am so happy that you’re not like other black girls. They are so annoying!” He’d often be very harsh and critical of me and if I’d cry or try to calmly tell him that he hurt my feelings, he’d tease me and tell me to “deal with it”, insisting that I’d been coddled for too long and needed to learn about the “real world”. The problem was that I was too sensitive. The problem was I just didn’t “get” him or his humor. The problem was that I needed to learn that he wasn’t going to “sugar coat” anything just because we were dating. The problem was I spent way to much time getting upset over little things instead of working on myself.
When I tried to break up with him, he cried and promised me that he would do his best to be a better, more attentive boyfriend. He would tell me I was his angel and that I was too good for him. He would tell me about all of his damage; how hard it was to grow up without a father, how hard it was to have a mom who worked 2-3 jobs, and how he was bullied in school. & when I gave in and took him back, the “change” lasted for maybe a week until he was right back to his old self. This happened several times and each time, I would do everything I could to be “better”. I would try hard to dress well, not wear too much make up (or any at all), say the right things, be modest and grateful for his time and money, have sex even when I didn’t want to, hold my tears/tongue when he would say mean things, and workout in secret so he didn’t think I was trying to impress anyone else.
For our 2 year anniversary, I spent ages putting money aside to take him on a trip to Disney World (he’d never been as a kid). I thought this was the answer! I fantasized about how this trip would show him how good and kind I could be, how much I deserved to be with him, how hard I was working to earn his affection and vulnerability, and as luck would have it, we had a great time!
…and the very next week, after not speaking to me much at all (we texted constantly most days), he came to my house for the weekend and broke up with me when he arrived.
“You are too challenging. You make it really hard to love and be with you. We are so different and I can’t be myself when I am around you. I want to be with someone who understands me. I want to be able to go out with my friends and not feel guilty about you not being there!”
It broke my heart, I was miserable and in a fog for weeks on end. I cried daily. But one day, as with any break up, things got easier. Life got better. I got stronger and thought about him less and less. And as I was just starting to really recover, he was back with tears and apologies, saying how miserable he was without me.
He broke up with me again almost a year later and I was so broken that, even after all of that ugliness, I would still allow him to visit once a month so we could fight and he could remind me of why he couldn’t be with me anymore. He’d tell me how much he loved me, but that it was impossible to be committed to me “right now” because I had a lot of growing up to do.
I decided to start therapy.
& it was only then that I began to understand the abuse he was putting me through. When my therapist called him an abuser, id fight with her. I’d lash out and consider not coming back for my next session. I say things like:
“He’s never laid a hand on me!”
“He tells me he loves me all the time.”
“He would never do anything to hurt me intentionally.”
“You just don’t understand how we are.”
“I need to learn how to be a better girlfriend. I have my flaws too.”
“He’s had a hard life! I’m the only one he can turn too for support.”
Through my stubborn insistence, she (my therapist) was patient. She gave me books to read, listened to my thoughts, and comforted me when I cried. She gave me the courage to fight back more often than stay silent. & on the day I snapped and went through his cell phone while he was showering, I could see the genuine sadness and empathy in her eyes as I recounted the dozens of nude photos and sexy text messages I’d found from 2 other girls he’d been seeing (for a very very long time).
While our story didn’t quite end there, it was the beginning of the end for us. I moved across the country and truly found the self-worth I’d been struggling to see in his shadow. I made friends. I went out. I wore make up and clothes that I knew he wouldn’t like. I started taking care of myself again. I started experimenting with what it felt like to really love being me. & even when he tried to come back, even when he really had begun to change and see the error of his ways, I’d already met a man who did for me in 3 weeks what David couldn’t do in nearly 6 years.
I’ll marry him in 43 days <3.
As I sit here, looking at the nearly 2000 words I’ve used retelling this sad part of my personal history, I keep thinking of Tiffany (my friend) and her voice echoing, adamantly in my ear “Oh, I know he would never hit me” , a phrase that she still uses even after they’ve broken up. I keep thinking of all of the other women and girls out there who cling to this concept of not being hit, wearing it like a coat of armor that hides the emotional scars their lovers have caused, the bruises on their spirits, and little band-aids on their hearts.
& I have news for you all…
Yes, #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou, but he/she is hurting you in ways that don’t heal nearly as quickly as a black eye. He/she is beating your confidence and self-esteem to a bloody pulp. He/She is controlling you. He/She is dominating/manipulating your feelings of safety, security, power and strength. He/She is making you feel bad about yourself and who you are; making you 2nd guess your choices.
Maybe he/she is isolating you from friends and family? Maybe he/she has convinced you to quit school or leave your job? Maybe he/she is telling you what you need or how you should feel?
Yes, #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou, but one day, he/she might.
I encourage all of you who read this to take some time and read the articles/watch the video I have included in this post. If you or someone you know is suffering through emotional or mental abuse, you don’t have to do that alone. You are better. You deserve better. There is help and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Not being hit is not enough. Not being hit is not the standard by which we should judge our intimate partner relationships. Believe it or not, not being hit is a very very very basic part of human exchange in most any capacity. For most of us, this is a baseline expectation for anyone we interact with and we need to stop using it as a saving grace or ‘get out of jail free’ card for our abusive partners.
If you’re hurting, it needs to stop! Period. It took me a long time to figure that out. You are not weak. You are not stupid. & You will be okay long after he/she is out of your life. I promise.
Until Next Time,
Carry on, Wifeys!
*The names have been changed, not to protect the innocent, but because I really don’t want to ever be sued. :-p