It’s been fifteen years.
I’ve tried writing about it multiple times, but it’s an uncomfortable topic. Why now? Above all, I’m a mom. My son and daughter will both need to know their worth and be stronger than I was. I also hope I can help someone else see this behavior as abuse. It took me until I was trapped in the relationship to really figure it out.
It started in middle school. He was the attractive, hilarious, star quarterback. I was an athlete and his sweetheart. We looked great together, and from the outside, we were the perfect couple. We dated for 4.5 years. We were going to get married right out of high school. This was his plan, and I was a part of it. We had it all figured out.
Then things slowly got worse. He became possessive and controlling. At first, it seemed cute. He wanted me all to himself, and I was flattered, but it soon became unhealthy. He started viewing any guy friend of mine as a threat. At first, he started saying I shouldn’t be anywhere alone with another guy. Then I was kept from groups of friends. Later, if I even looked at a guy friend to say hello, he would be staring at me from the other side of the room, angrily watching.
He started stalking me after about a year. I remember running in P.E. class with a friend, only to see my boyfriend standing in the double doors, watching me, shaking his head. Another time, I was in science class, and I had turned to laugh at a friend behind me, only to see him walking by, watching me from the entrance of the classroom, fuming. I knew I would be dealing with his anger all afternoon.
Out of all the rules he made for me, the rules never applied to him. He could talk to girls whenever he wanted. I remember walking into a room with him with his hands around another girl’s waist, lifting her into the air, and I got so upset. He blamed me for everything and wouldn’t even let me make the comparison.
I had to make excuses when he wouldn’t allow me to go to parties or hangouts with other guys present. Prom wasn’t an option. He told me it was just an excuse for me to go look pretty in front of the other guys. We went out for dinner instead. Again, I made something up for an excuse.
After a couple of years, I was told what I could and could not wear. A bikini was no longer an option, and I certainly couldn’t wear clothes that were too revealing. If I did, I was accused of trying to cheat on him.
Our sexual relationship became intense and controlled. If I wasn’t comfortable or wasn’t in the mood, he would do anything he could to change that. I remember hearing him say that he was “in so much pain” because I wasn’t satisfying him, and he would remain angry until he would force me to touch him. That was my job as his girlfriend, and if I didn’t, he was furious. I remember crying in the car many times, feeling guilty and miserable. How had I become that girl?
It got to the point that he was jealous of my best girlfriends. He no longer wanted me around them. He didn’t even trust me around their boyfriends. He started saying horrible things about them. When I was with them instead of him, he would sulk and angrily call me. He would ask where I was, who I was with, what I was wearing, or even what music I was listening to (he didn’t let me listen to anything other than Christian music).
Lastly, he tried to take me from my family. He would put down my brother, and my parents, making my home feel unusual and uncomfortable. He always wanted me to come to his house, his church, and his family dinners. My church was never good enough, and my family didn’t fit his vibe.
I was becoming more and more isolated when it came to a head. I told him I wanted to be able to hang out with my friends, and even my guy friends. He said if I wanted my friends, I had to choose between them or him. And for the first time ever, I found courage to stick up for myself and what I wanted. I was seventeen years old when I yelled at him and told him to get out of my house. Yelling was the only thing that made him leave.
To this day, people ask me why I stayed with him for that long. Well, it was my first long-term relationship. I was self-conscious, and he seemed confident. We looked the part, and for the first year or so, it was hard to see anything negative. He was also very good at winning me back. He would spoil me with lavish gifts and big gestures. It was easy to forget the bad moments when I was treated like a queen. He was also hilarious. He could make anyone laugh. I would look at how other people viewed him, and I would almost feel guilty that I thought poorly of him. And then the cycle would begin again.
Although I have forgiven this person, I will never forget what he did to me and what could have been. He left me with trauma that extended into future relationships and even my marriage. I had an incredibly difficult time trusting other men for years. I remember getting mad at my husband for trying to be intimate with me, thinking he was taking advantage. He was just showing affection, but my gut reaction was to assume that all men were forceful and animalistic with their needs.
With all of this behind me, it is my goal to educate my kids about what a healthy relationship looks like. They will eventually hear my story and proceed with caution in their own relationships. I need them to know that an abusive relationship is very possible, and they should never be the abuser or allow themselves to become the victim.
I also need them to know that real love, an imperfect but real love, is out there, and I have found it in their father. It’s a love that lets me be free. It’s a love that praises my body and wants to show it off. It’s a love that trusts me to enjoy a night out with friends. It’s a love that allows me to talk with other men and know I am not looking for more. It’s a love that remains patient through my trauma and baggage. It’s a love that, above all, wants me to be happy, and allows me to explore the world without limitations.
We need to keep tabs on our kids’ relationships. Keep the communication open. Teach them how to treat others. Make sure they take “no” seriously. And if the relationship isn’t healthy, get out.
It’s unfortunate to carry the weight of this experience, but if it means my kids can avoid one like it, it’s worth the discomfort.
The author of this article is a teacher, writer, and mom of two.
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