I had a disturbing dream last night and it brought my ex-boyfriend to the forefront of my mind. I am happily married now, in a loving and secure relationship, and yet memories of my past relationship can still come careening through. Even dreams, like the one last night, can unsettle me and take me right back to that girl I used to be. I broke up with him (we’ll call him Michael) shortly before I left my hometown and moved to Dallas. It took a long time, and a lot of love from Luffy (and myself), to help pull me out of the place I was.
Before I go down this path, I want to start off by saying that I’m not writing this story for sympathy. I am writing this story because it needs to be told. A story like this should be part of the discussion of abusive relationships because for five and a half years, I did not recognize that it was indeed abusive. I always told myself that I would never let myself be in an abusive relationship, and yet I did, because I didn’t understand what “abusive” meant. I didn’t understand that hurtful words were just as abusive as a slap and that the damage those words could inflict would last far longer than a bruise or broken bone.
Michael* and I went to college together and started dating in the fall semester of our first year. He was my first relationship, my first boyfriend, kiss, everything. We had fun through the years, attending football games and helping each other with homework (actually, it was more me editing his essays than him helping me with any of my accounting work). It became understood, as it does in long-term relationships, that we’d get married after graduation. When it became clear that he was going to attend law school and I would attend graduate school, we decided we would get married after he graduated law school.
In May 2011, a series of events unfolded. First, I graduated from school with my master’s degree and accepted a position with a large accounting firm in Dallas. Second, I adopted a tiny 10 week old kitten, naming her Jasmine. And last, Michael proposed to me (two years earlier than expected). On a sunny day in June, Michael got down on one knee in my childhood bedroom and asked me to marry him. I enthusiastically accepted and rushed off to tell my father. I remember us synchronizing our status updates on Facebook. I also remember being very tipsy because of his failed attempt at a proposal at a vineyard earlier the same day.
And then something changed; a switch flipped. To this day, I’m not sure what exactly brought it about, but a few triggers stand out in my mind. First, my cousin got engaged almost at the same time. I saw a Facebook update from her, saying she was so happy to be engaged to the most wonderful man in the world. I remember thinking that while I certainly loved Michael, I would never label him as “the most wonderful man in the world.” I decided that I was being a realist and that it was healthy that I could recognize the faults in our relationship. A nagging voice at the back of my mind said that as a newly engaged bride I should be over the moon and exceedingly romantic, but I ignored that voice.
Second, Michael did not get along with my aforementioned new kitten. He seemed to resent the intrusion she presented, even though she was an animal. He constantly picked at me, making demands on how to discipline her or train her (hello – she’s a cat! Have you ever tried to train a cat?!). I thought it ludicrous that he disliked her and attributed his callousness to the summer heat.
However, my most startling realization revolved around my future, our future. I have always wanted children and even at the young age of 23, I was ready to get started on a family. With a ring on my finger, I eagerly looked forward to a pregnant belly and little toddlers waddling around the house. A few days after accepting his proposal, I knew, in no uncertain terms, that I did not want Michael to father my children. I did not want him to teach my children anything for fear that they would learn his habits and ways, his beliefs. I did not want my children to grow up anything like Michael.
This forced me to take a hard look at my relationship and, suddenly, I saw it for what it was and saw Michael clearly for the first time in five years. Our relationship was one-sided and abusive; he was self-centered and manipulative.
This post is going to get lengthy, so I’ll pause here and resume tomorrow.
*Some details have been changed a bit more than unusual.