Ok. Here we go.
Raising a child inherently comes with all sorts of worries. Raising a girl child adds another layer. My thoughts tied to this weighty subject are not indirectly related to things that are going on in the world right now. It’s pretty direct. It’s also directly tied to my own experiences that, until recently, I didn’t really discuss with many people.
I’ll start by laying this out & jumping right in: I was in an abusive relationship in college. I didn’t call it that for many years, but that’s what it was. I’m not saying this for sympathy, I’m just putting this out there for context & to share where some of my worries come from. If you’ve known me for a long time and are shocked to find this out, don’t be. Most women don’t talk about these things; I’m not a rarity. Hashtags like #MeToo, #IBelieveSurvivors and #WhyIDidntReport go viral quickly, but this has somehow still become a political issue that people feel like they need to pick sides for. I should also note from the start that I don’t blame anyone but myself for staying in the relationship for as long as I did. This post might be tough for some people to read. Not only is it long (ha), but there are some rough details. I’m sorry.
That said - given the tumultuous times we live in, here are some things I want my daughter to know. I’m not sure how to teach her, but I’m hoping it’s just one of those things we figure out. I just want her to know better than I did and if (God forbid) something does happen, she knows what to do and that she’s safe.
He is not the only boy who will ever love you.
Love feels so intense when you’re young, but it’s not a rare thing you’ll never find again. You’re going to pick wrong a few times. That’s ok, move on.
The good parts don’t negate the bad.
It was never bad all the time. In fact, there were a lot of fun times. That doesn’t make up for bad stuff that happens.
Obsession does not equal love and it’s not normal.
There are times when love feels so intense that it seems like your relationship is the only thing that exists on earth. That can be adorable and fun. That’s ok. It’s not ok when it turns into obsession and turns threatening. Often, when I wouldn’t answer my phone (especially after we had a fight), he would show up to my apartment and yell at me through my window (which was accessible from a nearby landing), and bang on it over and over again. It was terrifying. I often remember waking up to 50+ missed calls in a row. I dreaded looking at my phone in the morning.
For years, that’s the only way I understood love. If a guy wasn’t full on obsessed with me, I didn’t think it was real. That thinking got me into ANOTHER unfortunate relationship (luckily not as bad & I got out much quicker, but still an ordeal).
Talk to your friends. Talk to your mom.
I didn’t talk to my friends about things that were going on. I wasn’t absolutely sure that the things that were happening and things he was doing were wrong (they were SO wrong) but I knew that my friends wouldn’t approve. Because of that, I didn’t want my friends to judge me for being with a person who would treat me so badly. I stopped hanging out with them as much and spent more time with him - which only exacerbated the situation. I also didn’t want to tell people some of the things that happened because I knew that it would hurt them that I was being hurt. So I just kept it all to myself. Just for me to deal with. Don’t do that.
In turn, check on your friends.
As I withdrew, very few asked what was up. Instead, some friends got mad at me and shut me out further. As a girl who has also been on the friend side, I get it. It’s annoying to lose your friend to a relationship; especially one you think sucks. As an adult with some perspective from both sides, I have learned that you have to do more than just saying “he sucks.” You need to say “this is wrong, you deserve better, I am here for you no matter what and when you need me.” Maybe your friend won’t come around today, but she will be so grateful to you when she finally opens her eyes.
His talent does not excuse bad behavior
It doesn’t matter who he is or what he’s good at. Don’t stand for anything less than awesome. At points, I was the source of blame for a decline in his performance (he was an athlete). I remember as clear as day sitting in his car and him telling me that his parents told him that “they wished they could murder me” for messing with his potential. I obviously don’t know if that’s true or not, but at the time, I was pretty scared that I had really messed up his life and that I was the actual cause for his life going awry. I wasn’t.
He’s not worth saving.
I thought that I was the only one who could fix him. He clearly had undiagnosed alcoholism and anger issues. Yes, people that need help should get it, but leave it to the professionals. Even after we broke up I felt a tremendous amount of guilt and responsibility to take care of him. This notion got me in a car that drove head first into a cement wall on the interstate. He was still drunk from the night before, called me incessantly to come pick him up, and then aggressively grabbed my arm (that was attached to the steering wheel) which sent us flying across three lanes of the interstate and into a wall. When I saw what was in front of us, the seconds seemed to slow down and my brain told me “You are about to die. It’s ok.” It was so clear and so sad. By some miracle, we walked away from the flipped over & totaled car with just a few bumps and bruises. As we were leaving the hospital I remember his mother saying that we all needed to sit down and talk about what to do and how to address everything. I remember saying “No. I don’t want anything to do with this anymore. I think that it should just be you who talks to him.” It was the very first time I felt in control and strong.
It’s ok to leave.
It doesn’t matter the reason - or if there even IS a reason. You can leave whenever you want to. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Go ahead and get yourself out of that situation. Obviously, I should have left the instant something seemed off, but I always thought I could fix it.
He does not deserve your protection.
Even now, writing this out and not naming names, I feel a little bad that I’m “telling on” him. In one instance, after I broke up with him, he broke into my apartment when I wasn’t there, ransacked my room, flipped over my bed and pulled everything out of the drawers (and oddly left up a cryptic AOL away message). I wanted SO bad to believe that it wasn’t him, but I knew it was. I said “no” to the police when they asked if he had any anger issues or might do something like this. Of course he did. And of course he would.
It doesn’t have to be illegal to be wrong.
I’m not sure why there is even discussion around this point, but apparently there is.
These things are wrong even if it’s your partner:
Physically fighting you in any way. Someone telling you they will commit suicide if you leave. Sex when you say no (even if one or both of you have been drinking). Berating you for any reason; verbal abuse is abuse. Not trusting you to have guy friends. Not trusting you to go out with your girl friends. Making any attempt to keep you in a place against your will.
Unfortunately I experienced all of these things and wasn’t sure what was wrong or how wrong these were on some invisible sliding scale that I had invented in my mind. let’s be clear: they are all wrong. No scale needed.
You don’t have to be perfect to not deserve abuse.
I am not proud of the way I acted the entire time, but under no circumstances do my negative actions mean I deserve how he treated me.
Things can shape you, but not define you.
All of these things shaped me into who I am, but they aren’t the defining thing. For a while they were. It manifested itself into an eating disorder, self harm, and destructive behavior in my next relationship. All of which I’m incredibly ashamed of but have come to terms with. I’ve made peace with it and am lucky to have found a way to calm my mind and my heart. I can now honestly say that I’m incredibly proud of who I am and what I’ve accomplished. I love myself despite all of this nonsense and that’s pretty rad. So on that note…
Fall in love with yourself.
No matter what happens here on Earth, you are the only YOU there is. Find out who you are and protect that.
I don’t expect to shield her from all heartbreak or hurt. But Lord knows there’s plenty of that to go around without dealing with abuse of any kind. There are some characteristics of mine that I desperately hope she doesn’t have. Ones I’ve learned to deal with as an adult, but were hard as a younger woman. My parents did nothing wrong and were the best kind of parents there are. As an adult, I’m completely obsessed with them. So I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to teach her these things without being preachy. I don’t know how to teach her things that society will support in theory, but not always in practice. I’m just going to do my best.