They don’t punch you in the face on the first date. They don’t call you ugly. They don’t tell you you’re fat. They don’t make you feel worthless, insist that nobody else will ever want you or ramble on and on about how you talking to their friends makes you a slut. Oh no … that would be too easy … too convenient. Not very many women would put up with that and some might even punch them right back … I might have.
Abusers don’t work like that. It’s a slow process. They do it all the time. They’re masters at it.
I had two boyfriends before him. Nothing serious. No major declarations of love. In fact, he insisted I break up with the guy I was casually dating so I could date him. I found it kind of cute. He was sweet and kind and took care of me … until he didn’t.
It started with anger at something I did. Some minor misstep he didn’t like. I didn’t fix my hair the way he liked or wear the shirt he bought me to school. That got me a punch in the arm. It wasn’t the last one. Never in the face though. Oh no. Nothing visible. Nothing where the outside world could see how he really was.
To everyone at school he was the class clown, the funny guy who made everyone laugh. How could they know he took me out in the woods with a shot gun and threatened to “blow my fucking head off” when I was caught talking to a boy I’d known since kindergarten about an English assignment? How could they know that he always took my shoes and my car keys as soon as I walked into his house so I couldn’t run away? How could they know the daily lectures he gave me about how fat I was so I never ate in front of him and hardly ate at all (down to 140 pounds at 6′ tall … so skinny you could count my ribs through my skin)?
They didn’t know … until they did.
A teacher happened to be standing in front of the school when he clasped his hand around my arm, pushed me into my car, grabbed me by the back of the head, his fingers woven through my hair and screamed into my face about how I wasn’t allowed to give my Senior pictures to any other boys and then ripped them all up in front of me while my younger sister cried in the backseat.
The teacher saw it all. She had suspected it for a while. The bruises she did see. My behavior changes when he was around. She had been watching. I was her helper for a Freshman class and all she said to me the next day was “what if you are missing something so much better, because you are hanging on to the idea you can change him?”. I excused myself from the room, went into the bathroom and sobbed.
I broke up with him just long enough to go to prom with my friends then I believed his bullshit all over again. His promises to change. How he wouldn’t do it again. How he loved me. How it was all my fault and how he wouldn’t get so mad if I would just act better.
and then one day I realized I deserved better. I asked a friend to go with me and we went to his house, while his parents were home. I calmly asked for all of my stuff back. I told him I never wanted to see him again. I didn’t shed a tear … not a single one.
A week later I started dating D and I had to learn what a real relationship was like. He was patient. He was kind. He didn’t freak out when we had our first argument and I screamed, ran away from him and begged him not to hit me. Of course he wouldn’t hit me. Real men don’t.
It’s been over 25 years since my abusive relationship and I can still remember it vividly.
I tried to warn my daughters about bad relationships, but it wasn’t enough. I pray that every woman doesn’t go through this as some sort of strange rite of passage, but it seems to have been passed down in my case. I knew we couldn’t forbid them from seeing the boys they thought loved them in this awful way, because it would only push them closer. We watched for signs of serious abuse and we made them very aware that we knew what was really going on. We knew they had to see it for themselves and come to the realization that I did so many years ago. They deserve better.
I pray every day for people in abusive relationships. Pray they finally realize enough is enough. Pray they realize that life is too short to live like that. Pray they realize that being abused is NOT love, no matter what you call it. Pray they realize they DO deserve better.
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