Recently, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about bad things that have happened to me in the past. Mostly to do with both my relationships, as both partners were emotionally abusive. Mistake #1 was worse, but Mistake #2 was showing the same type of behaviour after only two months or so. Ever since I’ve realised something horrific about that first relationship, something which I talk a little about in a previous blog post, I just keep getting these horrible flashbacks to bad stuff that has happened to me. After reading some wonderful blog posts on the same topic from my friend Around the Ward in 80 Days, I thought I’d also commit my horrific memories to print in the hopes that it will help someone else realise what they’re going through isn’t right. I would also recommend taking a look at Holly Bourne’s “How Do You Like Me Now?”
The thing that really niggles about emotional abuse, is you don’t really notice it’s happening at first. You’re the frog in gradually boiling water; suddenly your skin is constantly being scalded and you think it’s all your fault for staying in the water in the first place. You want to get out of the pot, but you just can’t – you think if you’re stubborn and sit it out, the temperature will cool down to that blissful bath it had been at the start. But it won’t. This person who you are trapped with doesn’t respect you enough to treat you as you deserve to be treated.
As I’ve mentioned in my post about consent, I was 19 when I met Mistake #1. I had no experience with romantic partners, so seeing as he appeared to be a nice guy, and we got on well, I thought I was on to a winner. Oh, how wrong I was. I was pressured into doing sexual stuff I didn’t feel comfortable with virtually straight away. I just thought that was me freaking out because of my lack of experience, but it was very clear I wasn’t comfortable and he damn well knew it. Then little weedy statements started to creep in, trying to control what I did, what I said. We had been going out for barely more than a week when he said to me, “Please don’t put on any weight – I’ve seen photos of you before you came to uni, and you don’t look the same. I don’t think I could cope if you were like that again.” I have never had an issue with my weight. Never. I am very comfortable in my own body, but it actually made me feel very uncomfortable to hear him say that. Surely he should like me for who I am, and it wasn’t as if I was morbidly obese! I refused to let it bother me, but deep down I knew what he’d said was wrong. I also made the mistake of saying that I didn’t think my glasses suited me: “No, they really don’t.” I then wore my contact lenses from the minute I woke up, until the minute I went to bed; even if my eyes begged me for a break.
Then he started trying to tell me what to wear. It would be said in the form of a question, but from the way these were said it was blatant they were rhetorical. You were made to feel unreasonable if you said no. A brilliant example is when he tried to persuade me to wear a thong – I said no, I’d heard they were really bloody uncomfortable, and I didn’t want to. “But how do you know if you haven’t tried it? And you’ve got to try it several times so that you get used to it…” I stuck to my guns with that one. No. I suggested that if he wore one, I would. Funnily enough, he didn’t seem too keen on that idea.
Next he moved to controlling how I acted. I love reading. If you read this blog, you’d have to have been living under a rock to not notice how much I love reading. But I wouldn’t be allowed to read around him, because it reminded him of when his Dad wouldn’t give him attention as a child as he was too busy reading. I wouldn’t be allowed to do any writing, or drawing, because if I was with him I had to pay all my attention to him.
Another thing I love is films – I devour films by the dozen, and love to watch my favourites repeatedly. Not when I’m with him, because he doesn’t like films. He doesn’t like pretty much anything, but especially films. Watching a film is my go to social interaction, as you both bond over the same experience. Nope, not with Mistake #1 – if it wasn’t something he liked, I wasn’t allowed to watch it. That eventually broadened into television programmes, too – I had to record my programmes to watch when he wasn’t with me, otherwise he would spark an argument over it. I was allowed to play video games though, because he liked those. Never mind the fact that the last proper games I’d played were Pokemon on my Gameboy because I couldn’t afford to buy the newer consoles that kept coming out. He bought me a beat up Xbox 360 because he liked the idea of going out with a gamer girl, as she wouldn’t complain when he wanted to play games. That’s not a double standard, apparently. I also have a rather long standing relationship with the wonderful elixir that is Dr Pepper. He would try to stop me buying it if I went to pick up a bottle. He would try to snatch a bottle out of my hands if I picked it up to drink it. That one I remained stubborn with, because I absolutely fucking hate people trying to control me. Sadly, that’s the only thing that I noticed outright as being controlling.
Not to mention the Forbidden Topics: doctors, his self-diagnosed depression, food, activities he didn’t want to do, and the fact he was hanging around university societies even though he’d left uni. Doctors were banned because he was convinced he had a stomach problem, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. This of course means that doctors haven’t got a clue what they’re doing and obviously he knows more than they do even though he doesn’t have a medical degree and blah blah blah. Food was banned because of the “stomach problem.” Uni societies was filed under “But I don’t get on with older people as well,” – never mind the fact that everyone he knew bar me had graduated.
Depression was a tough one, because obviously it does affect everyone differently. But I was in the doctor’s room when he talked to them about it. “I just feel really sad all the time. I enjoy things like my uni societies when I do them, but afterwards I just feel really sad.” The doctor asked if he had suicidal thoughts, and the answer was no. He never self-harmed. He never had days when he physically couldn’t get out of bed because of depression. He never, ever cried in front of me about how tough he was findings things. He was a fully functioning human being and the depression card would come out to play to excuse the shitty way he treated me. Because you can’t argue with that one; he’s got depression, he can’t help it. Whenever you even hinted at something that disagreed with him, he would come out with some really condescending bollocks about the fact you didn’t understand, because you didn’t have depression. Even if what you said didn’t relate to depression in anyway whatsoever.
Break the rules, and you’ll get burned. So you learnt to tip toe around the egg shells; one crack, and you’d be sent spiralling into tense, hateful silences for days. You do something he didn’t approve of, and he would start simpering at you as to why he didn’t want you doing that in the first place. You carried on, and he would blank you, and make it very obvious he disapproved of your behaviour. There was no point in arguing back, because you were always the one in the wrong. If he did something to upset you, it would always be turned around as to why it was your fault in the first place. One of his absolute favourite jokes was about how useless I was. “But I’m happy,” you tell yourself. The lie burns as you ignore the truth.
Remember, I had no experience with romance. I had no idea what he was doing was wrong, because he wasn’t outright saying “You’re a shitty person why don’t you curl up and die?” He would just make you feel that way with other words. Curled lips at behaviour that was deemed inappropriate. Pleading with you not to do something he didn’t want you to, just to play on your guilt. God forbid if you showed anyone or anything more attention than you showed him. When I met one of his brothers, I said that he was a funny guy. Mistake #1 snarled, “Why don’t you got out with him then?” I thought that you were meant to put up with this shit, because no one had told me otherwise. I thought you were meant to make these sacrifices, even though it never occurred to me to expect the same things of him. I stayed because I thought it would get better, and because I was in love with the idea that someone could actually love me back.
Being my first proper relationship, three little words were a very big deal to me. Three little words that I said to him after seven months or so, but were never said back to me. “I love you,” I’d say. “I know,” came his reply. The idyll soured in my mind; why wouldn’t he say it back? I’d never heard anyone tell me they loved me romantically. I brought it up once, and he said he didn’t like saying it because he felt it was overused. His last and only previous girlfriend had said it all the time, and expected him to say it all the time, too. I frowned, because that’s what I thought a normal relationship was meant to be like. Instead I was left to feel unloved both by his behaviour and by his words. I wouldn’t let it drop, saying that if he did love me then it was a normal thing to expect to hear it at least once. “I love you.” Later that week, he admitted in an argument he’d only said it to shut me up. “I love you,” joined the list of Forbidden Topics.
My God, there are so many details I can delve into to show you how I was wronged. So many snapped retorts over something so ridiculously irrelevant. So many glares thrown my way when I dared to disobey. It never occurred to me that I could just leave, though – because I’d convinced myself that this was normal. I was fine. If I pretended hard enough, everything would be fine. This all happened between the span of five and three years ago, but these little snapshots have been appearing in my head more and more. I was traumatised by what happened to me. The disgusting way this man treated me has forever haunted how I will view relationships. Admittedly I was able to recognise this toxic behaviour in Mistake #2 and end it before it got anywhere near as bad as it did with Mistake #1, but it still hurts to remember what I went through.
Thankfully, it all ended after university. I was stumped as to what to do for a living, and was panicking about getting a full time job to do with my degree. Mistake #1 begged for me to move in with him, and I originally said no, because living in North Wales would have limited my prospects. When the amazing post graduate job didn’t fall into my lap, I relented and decided to move in with him. Even though he had begged me to move in, he then said to me “You’ll be on your own a lot though, because of all the volunteering I do in the uni.” Another forbidden subject – don’t ever talk about the fact he graduated two years ago and was still trying to desperately cling to uni life. We had an argument the day before I moved in, and I can remember crying in the bath in my parents’ home afterwards asking myself why I was doing this. He made me feel utterly miserable, but I was afraid to admit it. Even to myself.
So I moved in, and he hated it. He made it very clear he didn’t like me in his space, and true to his word he was barely ever home. I was absolutely fucking miserable. I was trapped in the middle of somewhere unfamiliar, with no friends or family close by. Mistake #1 would be volunteering to drive university societies around in his free time just so he didn’t have to spend time with me. In the whole two months I lived with him, we spent a grand total of two days together by ourselves on the weekend. He would be constantly moody around me, and I’d have to watch what I said for fear of sparking his wrath. He would stay out at another girl’s flat until the early hours in the morning when he had work the next day. One morning he didn’t come back until 4am, and mocked me when I said I’d been worried.
I had been living there a week when he said he didn’t think it was working out. He then dragged this shit out for the next two months, pressuring me to leave my job because he wanted to get rid of me, though he wouldn’t admit that. He started to hide what he was typing on his phone, which made me immediately suspicious. On the one weekend we actually spent time together at a food festival, I saw the message “Won’t your girlfriend be gone by then?” scroll across his phone. Eventually he left me, and I moved home to my relieved mother who had been waiting for the past two years for this to happen. I then found out he was going out with that girl – really, she did me a favour. I didn’t have the guts to admit that the way he was treating me was wrong, and that I would be okay on my own. Everyone pushes this mentality on you that you’re not happy or complete unless you have a partner, and I learnt the hard way how toxic that was. I would much rather be happily single, than in a relationship that makes me miserable.
It’s been three years or so since then, but I feel that it’s important to tell my story so that others who might be experiencing the same shit themselves will have the guts to do what I didn’t. If your partner treats you like this, you dump his ass and run for the hills. Very, very fast. He might not hit you, but he is damn well abusing you. It is still abuse. A partner should be loving and supportive, not making you feel worthless and useless. They will do caring things for you, like make you a cup of tea when you’ve had a bad day, or run you a bath to make you feel better. They won’t try to control or manipulate you. They will love you for who you are, and won’t try to change anything about you. I will tell you exactly what 19 year old me needed to hear: you DO deserve to be loved. You deserve someone who will love you and show you that in the way they speak to you and treat you. You deserve to be happy!
And don’t you worry about me – I’m tough as old nails. I was furious with myself for not standing up and leaving him. You can’t think in ‘what ifs’ though, you have to deal with the hand you’ve been dealt. Mistake #2 started to throw a strop whenever I did something he didn’t like – this would be even about the fact I’d chosen a film he wasn’t interested in watching. It would be about silly stuff like I didn’t find a joke funny, or I wasn’t glued to my phone replying to his messages every two seconds. Thanks to my experiences with Mistake #1, I was able to recognise “This is wrong!” and put a stop to it. He didn’t last more than 6 months. I got my vengeance on Mistake #1 in the form of rejection, too. After about three months or so, he started trying to message me. “Hi Leah. How are you?” Fabulous, was my sarcastic reply. He didn’t like my humour. I politely, and then not so politely, told him to piss off when the messages kept coming. “You’ve got a new girlfriend now,” I pointed out, “You don’t need me.” She’d broken up with him about a month previously, and he must have realised that no one would put up with half the shit I let him get away with.
You learn from your mistakes, and you know that actually the way you were treated was wrong, and you don’t deserve to be made to feel like that. If this helps even one person realise they need to escape their abusive partner, that would make me immensely relieved. You deserve to be happy, and I deserve to be happy, too.