I see you. So young and sweet. Long golden hair and a tiny waistline. You haven’t had your children yet. In fact, you are fresh out of college. 15 years younger than him. You have big wide eyes and rose-colored glasses. The world is a big exciting place and happiness is all around you. You are overwhelmed by a charismatic man who seems stable, established, and living in a big beautiful home. The kind of home a family buys “second” — not a starter home but a real, long-term, live-there-forever home. It’s full of light and my personal touches and you moved your things right in. You sleep on my pillow, sit on my spot on the couch, cook meals in my kitchen, and wash your face in my sink. Can you feel my ghost? Do you know that the dried flowers that decorate the sofa table is my 15-year-old bridal bouquet?
You don’t know what it’s like to be married. You don’t know what it’s like to be in a 20-year relationship with another person — you’re only 25 years old yourself. We are so different. I have lived most of my life with this man. We grew up together. We changed together. No one knows him the way that I do, and no one ever will. No one has loved him the way that I did, and you never will.
Do you know that I didn’t want to leave? I loved my family. I loved him. Did you know that I was abused? These walls are filled with secrets. I didn’t want to leave; I was forced to leave. Pushed out by hate disguised as love. I see your posts on social media. So hopeful and full of love. You think he is romantic; you think he will adore you; you think he is your future. I thought so too. So much so that when the newness wore off and the abuse started, I didn’t believe it. I believed him when he told me it was all in my head. I believed him when he told me it was my fault. So, I stayed. I believed I had to fix myself for him. I had to be better for him. After all, he was so good to me, wasn’t he?
Remember when you told me that he once said to you that you needed to start working out because your body won’t always look that way? Why did you tell me that? I know that he told you he was just joking. Did you think it was funny? I think, deep down, you knew it was a red flag. Perhaps the first one. It’s true, sweetheart. You won’t always look this way. You will age, just as I did. You may have children and your hips will spread, your breasts will deflate, and your stomach will hold a new shape. Lines will form around your eyes and your mouth. You cannot stop it from happening. Do you wish to spend the rest of your life with a man that will love and celebrate these changes? Or one who will expect you to stop them? One who will tell you that other women will line up to be with him in order to remind you of who you need to be for him?
I wonder if you want children of your own. I did. It was all I ever wanted, really. Children, a family. A loving, supportive husband. I wonder if he will support you the way I wanted him to support me. I wonder if he will stay by your side after the birth of your children. If he will help you change your diapers when you are bleeding and unable to bend down to change yourself.
Will he help you change your clothes when your breasts are leaking and you smell like vomit but you can’t pull your arms over your head? Will he get up in the middle of the night to feed and change your baby, allowing you to get some sleep? Will he come home from work and cook dinner because you are exhausted from taking care of a newborn baby, toddler, or small child? Will he thank you for all you do to contribute to the family? Will he surprise you with flowers and take you out on a date just because he loves you and wants to spend time with you? Or will you fall to your knees begging him to notice you?
My counselor tells me that a man like him is not capable of change. I believe her. I want so badly for your dreams to come true. For you to find happiness. The kind of happiness I see in your eyes is the same kind I had in my eyes when I was your age. It’s possible for you, but not with him. I know you want it to be. I did too. I was a fool, and so are you. You have already stayed too long. You are invested and you are in love. Little do you know that he is not in love with you. He doesn’t know what love is. He doesn’t know how to love. He knows what love is supposed to look like and sound like, that’s easy, he watches TV. His heart, however, is completely void of real feelings.
Pay attention young one. The day will come, tomorrow, next week, next year or 10 years from now. You will look back and remember our coffee shop conversation. My subtle warnings. You knew it was coming, and when it does, I will be here for you. I will help you pick up the pieces while you watch him move on to the next one. But you will be okay. From this experience, you will learn what love isn’t and from there you will be confident when true love finally finds you.