When Love Hurts
Many of my friends and family are unaware that I was in an abusive relationship prior to Ryan.
He didn’t hit me, so there were no bruises to cover.
He yelled at me, screamed for things I had nothing to do with. Made little digs that weren’t quite insults, but stung like they were.
And this is why they didn’t know- there was nothing for them to see.
It’s something that’s been on my mind lately. Nagging a little since I told one of my friends a few weeks ago- one of the people who had known us both and had no idea until more than two years later.
And I thought “This is really something that needs to be talked about more often.” Because I’m sure there are others out there with similar stories. With all the people who keep mum about physical violence, how many others say nothing about mental and emotional abuse? How many don’t even know it’s happening?
I was one of those girls who even in my early teens knew I wouldn’t stand for an abusive relationship. I had seen the women who weakly put up with it, making excuses for why they stayed with their black eyes and anxious twitches, and I knew there was no other choice but to leave if you were in those situations. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with the women who didn’t go- my mother included. Her second husband abused all three of us in varying ways, and she stayed with him until I was in college, despite everyone around her telling her he was bad news. It drove me crazy- because I knew she should leave. I knew it; and her staying cost our relationship dearly.
I told all my boyfriends I was forgiving and believed in second chances, but if they ever laid a hand on me, I would be gone. Didn’t care if we were down the road, married with kids- the day they hit me would be the last time they saw any of us.
So how did I end up putting up with abuse for almost two years?
Because I didn’t see it. I just didn’t. Looking back, I understand why. It’s because it starts when the rose-colored glasses are still on; the early days when everything is sweet and your affection and the heady whirl of a new relationship blind you to everything else. And by the time you catch on, you’re so tied in you feel trapped. You have excuses for everything they do you know they shouldn’t, or a “yeah, but-” for everything.
Sure, he’s blown off a promise for the third time this week alone, but he’s just really busy and it’s important to him.
I know he snapped at me for that, but he’s just stressed right now, and he said he was sorry.
He’s got a bad temper- breaks things sometimes, but he’d never hit me.
YOU should be important to him.
Is he always stressed? ‘Cause he’s always snapping!
He says he won’t do a lot of things, doesn’t he?
I didn’t see it. And don’t get me wrong- I loved the boy. Loved him so much I didn’t want to leave when I figured it out because -get this –I didn’t want to hurt him. I cared for his well-being so much mine didn’t matter even when I knew it should. I would drop everything in an instant to run to him when he needed me- and I never really did the math on the fact he could barely bother to keep commitments when they were planned, let alone drop anything for me.
And then I had two life-changing moments in short succession, and I knew I had to go.
The first was after he bombed his GRE (an examination you need to get a good score on to get into any sort of decent graduate program in the US), and in the phonecall afterwards screamed at me for suggesting he retake it or perhaps look at some different schools than the ones he’d previously planned on applying for. Outright screamed at me over the phone for something reasonable. And I said to him “Don’t you yell at me-” I don’t even remember what the rest of the sentence was going to be, because he proceeded to do just that- yell at me some more. Even then, I didn’t manage to hang up on him, like I should have. I just stayed on the line and took it, thinking “I should have known better- that was stupid of me to say,” until I had to clock in for work. I wasn’t even angry at him anymore- and it got to me, finally. I should have been angry, but it was such a common occurrence I’d already stuffed it away with all the others and let it pass.
The event wasn’t that conversation; it was a conversation with a dear friend of mine that night. It was at a gathering of other friends, and, as usual, I was leaving early because my boyfriend wanted me to spend the evening with him. Eddie, the dear friend, walked me out to my car (which I protested, because I had parked right out front on the street and just really wanted to get out of there before I was in trouble), and he asked me one, simple question: “Why are you still with him?” And I paused. And the way I paused told him I knew I shouldn’t be. We stood there by my little red car for some time, and he managed to get it into my head how important it was that I walk away from that relationship.
But I still wasn’t convinced. I went back to the boyfriend’s and endured the scolding for my tardiness, and time played on.
The second was that I had a nearly identical conversation with Ryan (who had been a mutual friend to us and seen the relationship closer than anyone else) soon after. I remember it well- we were having dinner at Owen, the graduate hall next to our dorm. And between the two identical conversations from people I trusted and respected deeply, I had no choice but to come face-to-face with it: I was being abused.
I struggled still- hemming and hawing over not wanting to leave because it was terrible timing (for him-always for him) or because he was so fragile, and then not wanting to do it at all, and then I admitted the final truth to Ryan one afternoon: I was afraid he would hit me when I broke up with him. And he said, gently: “Mandy…do you know what you just said?”
And I did. And I knew- I had to go. I woke up, finally, and shortly after, the relationship ended.
I kick myself now that I struggled for so long to leave- even reading journals from that time, I say to myself “What were you thinking, you silly girl- you knew all along it wasn’t right…” But I know, having lived it, how hard that really is.
It’s insidious and conniving, and you find yourself caught without even really knowing- like you’re seeing it out of the corner of your eye the whole time, and it never properly comes into focus.
And it needs to be talked about. Not only because emotional/mental abuse is its own terrible animal, but because it so often leads to and accompanies physical abuse.
Long after bruises will heal, the damage done by emotional abuse remains. I still suffer a great deal from the wounds he inflicted.
I can’t take people yelling anymore- even if I hear a mother snap at her misbehaving child in the store, I cringe and shudder.
I struggle every day with my self-worth, with my worthiness of being loved on equal terms.
I can still hear his voice when I knock over a glass of water or spill something in the kitchen, yelling- I see the furrowed brow and tight frown of disapproval.
I am still working today to open back up to the friends I had before him, to return to the relationships being with him had damaged.
I fight not to burst into tears any time a door slams.
Please…if you have a friend, a coworker, a family member- who you suspect is in an abusive relationship, please talk to them. Even if you don’t think you’re close enough for the conversation…you never know what will turn on the lightbulb. Your just asking about it could start them thinking, and it could get them out.
I shudder to think where I would have been without Ryan and Eddie in my life at just the right time.
It is not only the weak who find themselves trapped. Abuse can happen to any of us- man, woman, straight or gay or poly or whatever.