Have you been in an abusive relationship?
I still remember my first relationship. I was 17 – unsure of what a ‘relationship’ even was but completely sure that this is my one true love. Completely sure that this is the only thing I want in life. Completely sure that this is going to last. And completely sure that I should do everything in my power to make it work.
I remember the day of my 17th birthday. I had planned to go on a romantic candle light dinner with him, but before that, my friends wanted to go bowling together since it was one of my favorite activities.
He never really liked hanging out with my friends but I wanted him to be there with us this one time because it wasn’t just any other plan. It was my birthday…
I had just completed my turn at the game when he grabbed me by the arm and pulled me aside, demanding that we leave immediately.
I tried to convince him to stay but he reminded me how all the other teenagers there are so boring. Not at all like us. No, we were special. We were different. We were much more mature. At least that’s what he kept making me believe.
I felt angry and he was acting grumpy. That was never a good combination. He told me how boring my friends are and how lame bowling is and how the day would be much better if it was just the two of us together.
I almost agreed with everything he was saying because I was 17, because I thought I was in love, and because that’s what good girlfriends are supposed to do. But it was also my birthday, and I wanted to be with my friends and I really liked bowling, so I dragged him back to join everyone else.
He didn’t talk to me for a week after that.
I remember when we went to a party at his friend’s house once. It was late in the night and I was only welcome there because I was his girlfriend. He made sure I knew and appreciated that.
I left the party to go for a walk outside because all the other teenagers there were so boring unlike me and him. No, we weren’t the same as the others. We were different. We were special. We were much more mature.
He came running after me and everything felt so amazing. We were walking under the stars, talking about our lives. And with each sip of the drink in my hand, I got more and more drunk.
I didn’t realize when we had walked so far that I had no idea where we were anymore. We had reached a dark alley and it was almost midnight. Somewhere between the talking and the walking, my shoes had come off and my tights had been pulled down. I muttered something about wanting to go back to the party, but before I could be more assertive, he started to kiss me all over.
His kisses were passionate. They were fierce. And they were harsh. His kisses were exactly the kind of kisses all those movies I saw and all those books I read had portrayed as romantic.
So I kissed him back even though we were in a dark alley, even though I felt extremely drunk, and even though something didn’t feel right. I kissed him back even though I wanted to go back to the party, to see some familiar faces and to just lie down for a bit. I kissed him back because I was 17, because I thought I was in love, and because that’s what a good girlfriend is supposed to do.
Things started to progress and he pushed me to my knees as he began to undo his zip. I could clearly see where this was going and I didn’t like it one bit.
I said no; he said yes. I said no; he started to pull me fiercely towards him. I said no; and he finally walked away angrily, leaving me crying in a dark alley all by myself.
Something horrible was almost about to happen, but it didn’t…
Now that I’m older, now that I really am more ‘mature’, and now that the relationship didn’t end up passing the test of time, I recollect all those moments, and weigh them up against the many checklists that keep coming up in articles, in stories, in therapy sessions, and in many more things as serious warning signs.
Sexual force? Check
Threats of leaving? Check
Belittling your beliefs and interests? Check
Trying to control every situation? Check
But even though I can check out so many of these warning signs, I still feel unsure if I can label the things I went through as abuse.
Because it never really felt like abuse.
What it felt like was love. What it felt like was passion. What it felt like was everyday teenage behavior. What it felt like was everything the movies, the books, and the TV shows told me love would feel like. It was a constant rollercoaster ride. There were ups and downs, and there was pain. But love is supposed to be painful, right?
So today, even when I’m older, and even when I know how it actually feels to be in a healthy and loving relationship, I still feel unsure if I can label the things I went through as abuse. They only almost felt like abuse.
And I worry that this almost might just be worse.
Worse, because I feel confused if everything I felt was only made up, if all his actions that always felt like threats and manipulation were actually just in my head.
Worse because I can never really claim being a survivor or even a victim – because I’m not sure if anyone will even understand.
Worse, because there’s still a part of me that believes I actually deserved all of it. And that part makes me wonder whether he might have stayed if I had been a little less loud, a little less opinionated, and just a little less me.
Worse because, despite everything that happened, I still know that I was truly in love with him once!