TW: Physical and emotional abuse
“I was 18 and in love. I was desperate to do anything to make the relationship work. I believed he was the person I would marry. In the beginning, there were small things, like being upset if I devoted attention to my friends or family. Then he became jealous of my male friends, and started to brandish words like ‘slut’, ‘randi’, everytime we fought. It was easier to appease him than to fight. The little losses felt inconsequential in the wider picture of what felt like our little universe of love. In our all consuming relationship, I didn’t recognise that he was isolating me. I just believed that we were an intense couple, who fought as hard as they loved. The first time he hit me, he cried harder than I did.
I had shared nudes with him. He would threaten to show it to my parents, especially my dad, when we would fight. He’d say, “let your dad see what a slut you are”. I never felt like he would actually do it. I was more consumed by the hurt and betrayal in the threat, than the threat itself. At 19, when we both left for college in different cities, we continued to be together. Long distance only exacerbated things, and the control he exhibited intensified. He wanted to hear from me all the time, and know what I was doing at all times. If I didn’t respond to a text for even 30 minutes, my phone would blow up. He was afraid of me drinking, so he asked me not to, and I said yes because he would threaten to kill himself, or hurt himself, if things didn’t go his way. He had shared pictures with me of him cutting himself before, when he was upset by something I did. He knew my Facebook password, but I didn’t know his. He told me he needed the “extra assurance” because he was an anxious person, and it was the only way long distance could work. He would look at my chats, and because I was very lonely that year, I’d often talk to some of my male friends from school. I would delete my chats and make sure they were hidden. One time, he discovered chats with a male school friend that I accidentally forgot to delete.
A month later, I went to visit him. He cajoled me into believing everything was alright, and when we were in bed together, he physically held me down, and made me look at nudes of his ex as retaliation for the chats. He would often compare me to his ex in a fight, and say that I could never understand him the way she did, but I always knew it was more to hurt me. But the insecurity about her festered. When he showed me those images, comparing my naked body to hers as I lay next to him, forcing me to look at them, I was in such shock. My only focus was getting out of there, out of that moment, and so I just looked at the images in silence, praying for it to get over. A few months later, I was out with some friends, when he followed me to where I was and a friend saw an instance of physical abuse. The friend told me that everyone could see what was happening, and that I needed to get out while I could. It was like I was shaken out of a stupor, when I realized that others could see what I was going through. I ended the relationship.
A few years later, he was in a serious relationship. We were friends now because he had assured me that he had changed. Though he denied that our relationship was abuse. He agreed that when he and I fought things got physically violent, but he always claimed it wasn’t abusive, and that it was just a case of us both fighting. He said that he and his new girlfriend did not fight in the same ways, and it never got physical.
I was convinced that it was something about me that had provoked him.
Then one afternoon, I received a Facebook message from the girl he was dating at the time. She said “I know we’ve never spoken, but I thought you had a right to know. Normally when XXX and I would fight he would use you against me and it wasn’t till today that he used a naked photo of you to show me to hurt me back. I thought you would want to know because I too have shared photos like that with him and I would hate to know that he was sharing those photos with anyone else.”
When I received this message, I knew immediately that if he was doing this, he was doing everything else too. I called her, and told her about the abuse, and she told me that he had been abusive towards her too, both physically and emotionally. After a few months, when she and him broke up, she and I spoke at length using Facebook. Though we lived in different countries, and were completely different people, we discovered that our experiences were exactly alike. From threatening to tell her father about the intimate details of their relationship, to telling her it wasn’t abuse because she fought back, it was eerie to recognise how similar his manipulation, gaslighting and abuse was. But it was also comforting, and deeply affirming, to have someone to talk to who went through the exact same things. Speaking to her was deeply integral to finally accepting that what happened wasn’t my fault.”