Imagine being told no one else would want you. Imagine being told that everyone else thinks you are ugly and you are lucky to be with your significant other. Even if he's a liar and a cheat. Even if he's insanely jealous, unjustly critical, and loves to argue. Imagine being told you aren't allowed to go out with friends or talk to certain people while the person applying all of these restrictions is allowed to do as he pleases with no remorse. Now imagine going through this as an adolescent, still trying to find her place in this world.
For many girls, the teenage years are hard enough to endure. From the gossip and rumors that circulate to the body and self image struggles that plague every developing young woman's mind, middle school and high school can be difficult. Your body is constantly changing, your friends are betraying you, you're falling for the wrong boys and you're handling all of this while balancing school, extracurricular activities and a social life.
I never would have admitted that I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. Mostly because I never saw it that way. Even now, it seems silly to claim because I do not see myself as a 'victim'. I truly believed that all relationships were like the one I was in. But the older I get and the more education I receive on subjects like domestic violence, the more I realize that I may just fall into that category.
For a total of 10 years, I was put down, mistreated and made to feel I deserved a love like that. As my first boyfriend, I didn't have much else to go off of. So I just assumed that everyone argued and fought in the unhealthy ways that we did. Our family and friends would tell me over and over that I was kind, beautiful, and loving. They would try to persuade me to find someone who saw these qualities in me and appreciated my selflessness. And repeatedly, I would defend him. I would tell them they didn't understand him the way I did. That the good times outweighed the bad. But looking back, even my most fond memories are tainted by an argument, nasty comment, or disappointment.
Eventually, he betrayed me in a way that was unforgivable and life changing for both of us. Of course I was devastated, but in a very confusing way. I felt like I was mourning a person that never really existed. I felt foolish for wasting so much of my time, money and energy on someone so undeserving. I was embarrassed that everyone else saw it long before I did and I refused to take their advice. I also felt extremely lost. I had been with this controlling man for 10 long years and now I was on my own. Free to make decisions for myself in a way I never really had before. And yet, after an extremely somber and zombie like week, I felt liberated. Towards the end of our time together, I had begun to realize that I didn't actually love him the way that I pretended. It was all a facade that I kept up because I didn't know how to escape. So when the opportunity presented itself with an "easy" out, I stuck to my guns and finally put myself first.
Needless to say, a relationship like that leaves an imprint. And unfortunately, I took a lot of that emotional damage into my next.
Within six short months, I had met someone new. The polar opposite of my first relationship, this new man was kind, attentive, respectful and everyone that I introduced him to approved. From the very beginning I was hesitant. I knew that I wasn't necessarily ready to move forward, but with much persistence, he proved to be the man I could see a future with. It was like a whirlwind. Everything happened so fast. We went from a few dates to seeing each other every day to living together within months. I had fallen quickly and deeply in love with him and it scared the hell out of me. I found myself waiting for the other shoe to drop so to speak. I was wary of the consistent happiness that had entered my life. As sad as it sounds, I was expecting something bad to happen.
I also reverted back to closing myself off to others, simply out of habit. I devoted all my time, energy and money into my new relationship leaving my family and friends behind once again. My new beau encouraged me to go out, do things with friends, have a life outside of him, but I was so used to being restricted that I rarely enjoyed my time with others if he wasn't present. My confidence was low, I thought he was too good to be true and I often felt like I was walking on eggshells because I didn't want it to end. I was very emotionally dependent on him.
Eventually and for various reasons, it became too much. He came home one day to say that he was unhappy. Being a few years younger than myself, he expressed that he wasn't ready to be in a serious relationship and couldn't provide what I needed. Once again, devastation hit. Although the duration of this relationship was shorter, it hurt far worse and took much longer to heal from. I thought I had done everything right. I loved him much more than the first and he was who I wanted to be with.
In reality, I had spent so much time trying to be the perfect person that I was never truly myself. We were both good people, just not good together anymore. And while he said he didn't want to be in a relationship, I believe that what he meant was that he didn't want to be in a relationship with ME and that's okay.
I am still working through lingering baggage. For example, anyone that knows me well knows that compliments make me extremely uncomfortable. I find myself to be a beautiful person but it's hard for me to believe that others do as well. I also comprehend now that I never allowed myself to heal from the first relationship before jumping into another. At the time I wasn't fully in control of my own emotions yet. I should have never projected them onto another person.
I've been single a full year now and while I am not opposed to dating, I am still not sure if I'm ready for anything serious. My new found independence (emotional, financial, and intellectual) is a thing of beauty. I harbor no resentment for either man and I am conscious of the fact that I made several mistakes myself. The biggest mistake that I've made is that I wasn't honest with myself in either relationship. While some blunders are bound to be repeated, this is one I vow to learn from and correct. I'm also determined to never take myself too seriously again and dedicate time to any and everyone that continuously loves and supports me.
Relationships are hard. No matter the type. But with every failure, the opportunity to improve is presented. You will understand more about yourself with each drawback. Just make sure you allow the time to reflect and interpret these aberrations.
Keeping it Real: If you or a loved one feel a little lost and would like to talk to someone, Leah Swindle at Open Door Counseling is there to listen (913-276-0572 / Theopendoorcounseling@gmail.com)