In college, we get involved in many forms of romantic relationships. Some of these are easy and straightforward, while others require more effort. Moral of the story: dating in college is hard.
Of course, I am not here to tell you that college relationships are doomed and you better get out of yours right away, because I know this not to be true. I have seen friends in all types of relationships; maybe I don’t see all of these relationships lasting past college, but they are healthy, fun, and exactly the kind of relationship everyone should get the chance to experience at one point or another. A lot of hard work, patience, and listening have gone into these relationships to make them what they are today—just like anything else in life. We all know those couples we roll our eyes at, the ones that are grossly head over heels in love, the couples that we are jealous of because they really are best friends, and the ones that maybe argue a little too much of the time.
While these relationships certainly exist and I have been lucky enough to experience them myself, I have also been in a relationship that was extremely unhealthy. Now, after almost a year of reflection, I can comfortably say it was abusive. So while relationships can look different for everyone, I am here to tell my story of the not-so-pretty kind, in the hopes that it will help someone else.
A couple of months ago, I decided to crack open the journal my mother had bought for me with the hopes that I could use it to help get my thoughts out. Like many other nights, I had found myself lying awake at 3:00 AM with my thoughts racing. So, I thought this might be the perfect time to finally listen to my mother’s advice. Helpful hint: ALWAYS listen to your mom. Surprisingly, I started writing and could not stop. This was a few days after I had ended things for the final time. What I wrote illuminates how I was feeling in a situation that seemed unrecognizable:
I’m a survivor, they say. I’m strong, remarkable, incredible. That’s what everyone is saying. I don’t know if I quite agree. Maybe I will see myself as a survivor one day soon, but not today. Instead, I think I am gonna toss that one up for the universe to decide. I can no longer force my feelings along and suppress the others. About a year ago, I had no idea what these roads I’ve now walked had in store for me. I was not aware of what I was about to put myself through. I want to say that this was all for LOVE. Maybe it was because I had conjured up a falsified image of LOVE? I had never wanted something so badly in my life. But love wasn’t what the movies had always made it out to seem.
As I say that though, it seems to be the movie for so many that surround me every day. I know I shouldn’t, but I sometimes resent the few in my life who have in fact found “love” straight out of a movie. Maybe it’s not forever, but at least it’s real. “Why not me,” I say, “when will it be my turn?” I hate to hear myself say this. I know this person. This is my old self creeping in. I was told once that “Comparison is the thief of happiness,” and I couldn’t agree with a single quote more. It’ll only drive me crazy, over the edge, push me to the head space I have worked so hard to leave behind. But he tore down the hard work I put in. He made me question myself and my abilities. Question the things I value in life. He took my insecurities and shook them up as if they were sitting in a snow globe. Finally, they had all begun to settle at the bottom, but he walked right in and created a snowstorm. This snowstorm has become my life.
I never saw this coming from him. And I am confused as to how this has happened to me.
A little background for all of you; I had been debating my happiness in this relationship for the past two months and had finally come to the realization that this was no longer the best for me. After weeks of back and forth, I was finally ready to focus on myself and cut off all communication.
Every day is a little different. I was fine, even happy, with my decision when I made it just two days ago. My decision to end it with him—this time on my terms. I closed a chapter of my life. I closed the door on the possibilities of him every sneaking his way back in. It is over. Yet, I feel as though he is still finding a way in. Not literally, but figuratively. I left him as a better version of myself, I think. A more understanding version of myself. Yet, he left me scarred. I cannot just ignore the scars that I, and only I, can see.
It all began late last year. The two of us, sitting back, driving, listening, speaking. Never before had I been so comfortable talking to a guy. I don’t know what it was about him. I had overlooked him before, but in hindsight should I have gone with my gut that he wasn’t for me? I have always believed that there is no point in thinking about the “what-ifs,” but now reminiscing on what actually went on behind the doors I slammed shut in the face of every other individual in my life, it’s something I find myself saying more often than not. I ask myself, “what if you had stopped him, what if you didn’t let it get this far, what if you had stood your ground instead of backing down and pleasing his every want and wish?”
From the beginning, I was caught up in the whirlwind that was our relationship. Looking back I realize that I rushed into something without stopping to consider the red flags that I did in fact see. It seemed too good to be true and everyone that knew us seemed to feel that we were a perfect fit.
He was the first one. The first one I thought I loved. Did I truly love him? Was it all real, or was it all an illusion in my head? I ask myself these conflicting questions all day and all night. I tell myself to stop. To stop letting him take energy away from me. I’m not sure if this constitutes as something he is still doing to me? Or if this is something I am doing to myself? No matter how many positive things I say to myself when I wake in the morning, his dark, angry shadow somehow always seems to creep its way in. Maybe this isn’t the shadow of him, but instead the shadow of a girl I do not recognize. The girl he turned me into. When I look at this shadow, it’s one that I ask to leave me alone. But this shadow does not cooperate with what I am asking, and instead it creeps up on me every single day.
I do not believe my head and my heart are on the same page. It is hard to decipher what is real and what is not. I am so confused as to what I am supposed to be feeling.
I believed that he was sweet, funny, worldly, engaging, and so much more. I thought that he was perfect. He was perfect to me. But then suddenly, when I was least expecting it, there was a flip of the switch. He became someone I did not recognize any longer. But what was I supposed to do? I couldn’t believe it to be true. I ignored the signs, I ignored my friends, and most importantly, I ignored the importance of taking care of myself. I believed instead that he was taking care of me.
Quickly after the honeymoon phase ended, the fighting phase began. It felt as though we spent more time fighting than enjoying the time we had together. On top of this, the reasons for these arguments seemed to have been blown out of proportion inside his head. No matter how hard I tried to reason with him, it felt like a losing game in which I always found myself in the wrong. Although I knew I had this wasn’t the case, the only way to end the feud was for me to apologize and to take all the blame.
I now realize that the only thing I did wrong was stay with him for as long as I did. I was desperate for him. He had painted himself out to be my perfect guy. But all of a sudden, he was gone. He left me all alone to handle this stranger who did anything in his power to tear me down. After long nights of screaming, tears, and beating down my confidence, the boy I knew would reemerge. The guy that was my kind of perfect. He would come crawling back, weak and emotional from what he had just put us through. It was as though the angry version had sunk back into his hiding place, and the sweet boy I loved came back to me as if he had just been held hostage trying so hard to break loose and ward off the stranger who was hurting his girl.
“Is it a cycle?” they all would ask. It wasn’t, I thought. It couldn’t be a cycle. I wouldn’t let it be a cycle. I could fix this. I could change him. I could understand him. Yet another mistake by me. In my effort to understand who he was, I began to stop understanding who I was.
At this point in the relationship, everyone in my life who had my best interest at heart was telling me this was wrong and unfair. That I should walk away and put this all behind me. Although I knew they were probably right, I could not find it in myself to do so. There was a still a part of me that wanted to hold on to the idea that I could change him. After everything he had put me through, the only person that had changed was me.
I knew he would never see me for me no matter how hard I tried. I was just a liar and a slut to him. His property. His territory. His possession. His to do whatever he pleased with. Instead of ending things right then and there like I should have, I decided to do anything to make him happy with me. I began walking on eggshells, locking myself in my bedroom until he said it was okay for me to come out and “play,” ignoring my friends who were so worried about me. My anxiety grew larger and larger as if I was a balloon. It was only a matter of time before I would pop. But I refused to acknowledge popping as an option. Instead, I did everything in my power to please him; after all, isn’t that what love is?
I no longer want him to take up my thoughts, but I know this is not realistic and I am okay with that. I am happy that he can no longer hurt me, but there is a great amount of time I am going to need to heal—this is what upsets me. He took months of my life and tore me down, and now I am left alone to build myself back up again. They say that only time can heal a heart and soul. I know this is true and am prepared to take this time to myself. To foster the relationships in my life that are worth fostering instead of trying to save a relationship that has no hope.
I will be okay. I will be more than okay. I will be amazing. I will accomplish incredible things. I will meet extraordinary people. I will travel and make endless memories. I will live a remarkable life.
I will be a survivor.
I know many of you will find this article to be sad, gloomy, or maybe even a little disturbing. But that is the hard truth of any form of abuse. It is a disturbing act that one inflicts upon another. An act that I will never truly understand how one could do. This issue is happening across all generations, around the world, and most importantly on college campuses. Thus the reason why I wanted to write this article.
To any of you who feel as though you have a friend in a similar situation, please stand up and say something. Tell them that what is happening to them is not okay and if they don’t listen, tell them again. Reach out to parents and other forms of guidance, but most importantly be there for this friend. Remind them that you will be next to them the entire way, because as odd as it sounds, an emotionally abusive relationship is one that is extremely hard to walk away from.
If you see some similarities between my experience and your relationship, I want you to know that you are not alone. I know the loneliness this relationship makes you feel, but what is happening to you is not okay. There are people in your life who are ready to help you. If there is one thing I have learned most from my experience, it’s the true power of friendship and the importance of cherishing those who love you for you. Begin to love yourself again, because, as you will learn, loving yourself is in fact what true love is.
If you or anyone you know can relate to any of the experiences in this article, reach out to CAPS at 504-314-2277. There are people who are ready and willing to guide and support you.
COVER PHOTO: Donna Farrato