What Happens in the Heart Stays There

What Happens in the Heart Stays There

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my abuser. She was the first person I ever dated, but more and more I’m reluctant to call what we had a romantic relationship. I used to think I was in love with her. But I’m starting to think it was more of an infatuation. I was obsessed with her. With getting to know her. With being in her life.

And she took advantage of that. She used that to her advantage. She held it over my head. Even if she didn’t know what she was doing. She abused me. She refused to commit knowing I would stick around anyway. She sucked up all my emotional energy to fuel her ego. She flushed herself up on my concern and my care. And she gave me the bare minimum in return–checked in just enough to keep my energy up, touched me just enough to make me tingle. But she withheld real intimacy. She tallied up my weaknesses and methodically touched each trigger when she needed to set me off, needed to steer me a certain way. She held labels hostage. She set all the expectations knowing I had never done this before. She ridiculed my concerns, making it clear that my requests for clearer boundaries, better times, a stronger connection were unfair and selfish. She told stories of healthy relationships with the side note that those relationships were unrealistic, clingy, and gross. I kept most of my ideas for myself. I trusted her too much. I trusted that she knew where to take us. I trusted that what she said was true, that it was normal for couples to refuse to acknowledge they were together, to refrain from making long-term plans, that it was okay and healthy for her to refuse to invite me to her gatherings with her “other friends.” It was fine that we never held hands, even when we were alone.

I was not allowed to ask for more. I was not allowed to expect more. I was not allowed to feel resentment towards her restrictions. If I complained, she gaslighted me or guilted me into taking it back. I had to follow her rules. I had to stay on her track.

She could talk about the man she was in love with even while she claimed she wasn’t attracted to men. She could spend all her time with me talking about him, how perfect he was, and how much she missed him and couldn’t stop thinking about him.

If I mentioned my self harm, it was treated as trivial and unimportant. Not worth her time to discuss or try to help me. Apparently I just did it too often for her to care anymore.

I could not be weak; I had to monitor my emotions by myself and take her for her word without breaking down. I was not allowed to self-deprecate, because comforting me was just too inconvenient.

And yet I could not be strong: I couldn’t stand up for myself, I couldn’t question her, I couldn’t begin to stray away or do anything that indicated I knew I deserved better.

I had to stay exactly where she wanted me, while at the same time she berated me for not growing up, not taking care of myself, not being the person she wanted me to be.

She never said “I love you” until she was blackout drunk.

She never thanked me for staying with her the night she lost her grandmother and drank herself into a stupor.

She never apologized for making me miss the obligations I too readily gave up for her sake.

She never asked me about the scars or the lowering grades, the skipped classes, the guilt spirals, the emotional distress, the self-abuse (mental, verbal and physical).

Everything was fixed with a tight hug, a mumbled excuse, a reminder of how shitty her life was.

I clung so desperately to what little she gave me because I didn’t know anything else. I was used to being taken advantage of, abused, neglected. I was used to being consistently invalidated and mocked. My parents had been doing it to me for 20 years. When she fell into my life, it just seemed natural to let her do to me the things she wanted to do.

She never made plans; I had to deal with her last-minute texts asking me to drop everything and come to her. When it was my idea, the timing was bad, the idea was wrong, the details were illogical. When it was hers, I had no say but followed along because I thought I loved this person.

For four months I did everything she wanted, everything she asked, everything she needed, because I though that’s what I wanted, I thought, that’s what you do for the people you love.

I thought I loved her.

I never really did.

It felt like love at the time, but since then, I’ve felt what love truly is. I understand the difference now.

I was infatuated with her, obsessed with breaking down the wall she’d so viciously built up. I was sure I could get through to her when no one else could. I was intent on learning every detail of her life so I could examine and cherish it.

Since then I’ve felt real love from my friends, my chosen family, the amazing girl I dated for two and a half months, and the incredible people I’ve filled my life with since the abuse.

I thought I had no regrets. I comforted myself with the belief that everything happens for a reason.

I’m sick and tired of excusing her. I’m sick and tired of refusing to admit the regret I feel for every time I let her shove me down. I’m furious that my society had me convinced that in the long run my abuse was worth it, because everything happens for a fucking reason.

Sometimes things just happen.

And you can be angry as hell.

And that’s okay.

Because sometimes there’s no good reason for things to happen. All the lessons I leaned from my abuse, I could have learned from having loving parents and a secure support system. I could have learned it from a better social life growing up, from a few casual dating experiences I was never allowed as an adolescent. I could have learned it from so many other events.

There is no good fucking reason I had to suffer at the hands of a selfish cunt for a year and a half because society allowed me to be stupid enough to believe that I DESERVED IT AND IT HAPPENED FOR A REASON.

I want everyone to take a minute to reflect.

You don’t owe the universe anything.

Sometimes shitty things happen.

And it’s okay to be fucking angry about it.

Because there was no good reason. It just happened.

Allow yourself to feel the extent of that pain, because no matter how shitty it may feel to know you were hurt without there being a positive outcome, it’s so much better than lying to yourself and excusing the actions of your abuser to defend the idiotic idea that people getting hurt is okay.

Getting Back Together as Friends

I think the most interesting thing about my second relationship is how much my perspective changed afterwards. After dating someone for two and a half months who was so incredibly different from my ex, I had to wonder: was my four months with her even really a “relationship”? Were we actually “dating”? Or was it simply a toxic friendship that became too intimate, too personal?

Because after dating C, I realized what a romance should really look like. It should have everything we had–comfort, support, communication, humor, closeness, mutual respect and affection, and the willingness to try new things, to always ask first, and to discuss every feeling and every reaction that could affect things. My other relationship had almost none of that, even though it was twice as long.

But just as I am now reluctant to call my relationship with my ex a dating/romantic one, I am also very averse to the idea of calling C my ex. The term “my ex” has been used so exclusively for that first person and is, in my mind, intertwined with the memories of her abuse and neglect. The first time I called C my “now-ex” girlfriend, it felt uncomfortable and wrong.

Continuing our streak of impeccable communication, the two of us met up to discuss how we wanted to handle the breakup a few days after the fact. Even though I’d only had the weekend to recover, asking to see her, waiting to see her, and subsequently seeing her did not send me into a panic or an emotional downward spiral during or after the fact. We were both slightly awkward but relatively chill about the whole thing, which was incredibly reassuring as we talked about ways to maintain our friendship.

She even agreed with me about the whole ex thing. “I don’t really consider us exes,” I finally said. “I see us more as friends who dated for a little while.”

I didn’t kid myself. I knew it would be hard. I had dramatic ups and downs, as usual. There were times I wanted to call her, text her, snap her, facebook her, during the time we agreed to be silent. Those feelings, and telling myself not to do it, were extremely difficult.

But in the end, the best feeling was knowing that when I chose to reach out, she was going to be there.

Because C is not like my ex. She understands me. She cares about me. She’s willing to work with me. And she loves me.

More than anything, she’s my friend, and for that reason I see no need to call her “my ex.” I’m going to call her my friend. I hope I can call her that for a long time yet.

Things My Ex Taught Me

During that awkward time we tried to be friends, my ex kept telling me I’d taught her a lot in our time together and she knew she’d taught me as well. But she never specified what it was we were supposed to have learned. I came up with this list the other day when I was feeling especially vindictive. I realize a lot of my distress stemmed from the fact that I was too afraid to speak up or share my real emotions, but there was no doubt a power play in our relationship, and she absolutely had the upper hand.

Things my Ex taught me

  • It’s unnecessary and excessive to be open about a relationship
    • Ignore each other in public
    • Don’t talk about each other to others
    • Refrain from referring to each other affectionately
    • No physical contact unless we’re alone
    • No couple selfies
    • No profiles pics of the two of us
    • Because only gooey, mushy, clingy couples do things like that
  • The person with the most relationship experience has authority over the relationship
    • They get to decide what’s okay
    • They get to tell you how you should feel about things
    • If this is your first romance, you don’t know what you’re doing, so anything you think and feel is likely wrong
  • It’s okay to dwell over your ex with your new partner
    • And it’s okay to constantly compare them
  • It’s okay to hold your partner hostage emotionally by:
    • Refusing to commit to the relationship
    • Talking openly about other crushes
    • Insinuating that if your partner asks for “too much” you won’t want to date them anymore
  • It’s okay to exclude your romantic partner from your friend groups
    • All of them
  • It’s okay to deny your partner the labels they want and reject all labels rather than coming to a compromise
    • And then go around using your own label without your partner’s consent
  • It’s okay to refuse to admit you might be together for a while
    • And normal to assume that you won’t
  • It’s better to be roundabout with emotion
    • If you’re upset, don’t tell your partner—wait for them to find out and ask you about it
    • If you think your partner is upset, don’t ask them about it. Wait for them to tell you exactly what’s wrong up front
    • If you start talking about emotions stick to the theoretical and avoid the practical
  • Ignore patterns of behavior. Get hung up over the little things
  • Your partner’s concerns and fears will become unimportant if you treat them like they’re not important
  • It’s okay to simultaneously take advantage of and be irritated by your partner’s lack of experience
  • Even though you’re more experienced than your partner, and they’ve never had sex before, and they’re really self-conscious about it, don’t be the one to bring it up or open the discussion. Wait for them to make the first move.

 

I was so shocked that anyone would want to spend any amount of time with me at all, let alone even entertain the idea that she might want to spend the rest of her life with me–that when she refused to commit to me, refused to commit to a long-term relationship, said it was unrealistic for me to expect that of her–or of anyone–I believed her. I believed that no one would want to be my life partner. I believed that she was totally in the right to keep her commitment hanging over my head. Emotional blackmail. I thought it was okay. Because I loved her. And I was waiting for the day she’d say she loved me back. It was worth waking up every morning afraid today would be the day she left. It was worth the emotional tug-of-war. It was worth consistently being told that I was wrong. It was worth the pain of never knowing, only guessing. At least I thought it was. I felt lucky she was giving me anything at all. I thought it was okay. Because she said it was. And I believed her. Because I loved her.

 

Mysterious Ways

Someone or something does not want me to forget my ex.

We’d agreed not to speak to each other outside of our jobs at the end of October. After weeks of silence on her end and me finally giving up, she somewhat randomly (from my perspective) confronted me about all the little things she hated about me. How I acted. How I ate. How I talked. How I interacted in different groups. I’d previously just been upset, but now I was mad. I was fucking pissed. For the first time since we started dating, since we broke up, I stood up for myself and fought back. She was taken off guard and we both fled the scene in anger.

I resolved not to contact her again, and this time she was the first one to reach out, proposing a solution I was not thrilled about. I told her we both needed space, we’d both be traveling soon anyway, and once we returned, maybe then we could see if it was still worth sorting things out.

She agreed.

I was remarkably relaxed about the whole ordeal. This time I’d been the one to break ties, and it gave me a sense of power, rather than the helpless despair I’d always felt before. If I saw her I smiled and said hello and went on my way rather than stopping to chat or pretending I didn’t see her. At first she seemed shocked that I was acknowledging her and refused to respond, but after a while she started saying hi back and smiling. We even managed to sit next to each other at an event (by accident) without getting mad at each other. We managed to have a civil conversation.

Then on one of my low days I happened to see her upset and suddenly I was worried about her all over again. Coincidentally, the next day we bumped into each other in the hall, and stopped to catch up. She was overwhelmed but fine. And so was I.

Then, though, she came to my apartment to visit my roommate. I didn’t feel like talking to her so I pretended I didn’t see her, but she kept throwing words my way till it was too rude for me not to say hello. But I was irritated.

Then we passed each other in the hall again and she waved and said hi but stopped in her tracks as though shocked when I waved and said hi back.

“Wait, what?” she spluttered.

“I said hello,” I snapped, wondering why she had to make a production out of every time we crossed paths.

Then one day it randomly occurred to me that she has been dating her current boyfriend for longer than she’d dated me. The fact hurt more than it should have. Maybe it would have been easier to deal with if she hadn’t started dating him only three weeks after breaking up with me.

As I ruminated over this I remembered something she’d posted on her Tumblr, which I’d read before deleting my account. She’d said something about not understanding how he could think of such nice things to say about her. That no one had ever done that for her before.

At the time I’d just been a little upset reading about her boyfriend, but thinking back on it, I realized what that meant.

It meant that all those things I’d said to her didn’t mean anything.

All of my compliments, all of my encouragements, all of my critique, all of my praise. None of it had meant anything to her. None of it was good enough.

It made me feel like I had wasted four months’ worth of words on someone who wasn’t listening.

Two nights in a row I tried to block out these thoughts by binge-watching “Once Upon a Time” on Netflix. It was starting to work–I was getting caught up in the story, though the constant references to “true love” were a bit depressing.

Then I spent a morning with a friend and we went to his apartment. He lived on the same floor as my ex. Randomly, I had just found out that he knew about us, when I’d thought he hadn’t. He was taking me to see his cat. We took the elevator.

When the doors opened on his floor there she stood with her arms full of laundry.

I was too shocked to muster up some sort of fake hello and didn’t even step out of the elevator until my friend did first. She stared back at me with a startled “Hello” directed at both of us.

I’ll forever be grateful to my friend for what he did. He went up to her and gave her a huge hug. I knew it was mostly because he was happy to see her once more before she moved out and left the country, but whether he knew it or not, he was also blocking me from her view until I could get out of her view enough to excuse the fact that I wasn’t looking at her. He then engaged her in conversation until she boarded the elevator and threw a generic goodbye to both of us.

Thank God she didn’t hug me, text me, or ask me how I was doing.

My friend led me to his apartment. “Of all the people to randomly be on their way down as we come up,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all fine.” I was in a bit of a daze, not sure if I should have handled that differently. Am I the only one in the planet whose ex still had that kind of affect on me, after only four months of dating and six of breakup? And why, for fuck’s sake, do our paths keep crossing? Before, she would always seem to pop up when I needed her most. Now, she seems to appear when I most want to forget her.

I know the Universe works in mysterious ways but I wish it would lighten up. I can’t wait until we’re in different countries. I need her out of my head. I need to move on. Every time I get close to being okay she pops back into my life. Even deleting her on all my social media can’t keep her out of my line of sight.

Maybe someday I’ll understand and be grateful; there’s still this crazy part of me that thinks whether either of us likes it or not, we’re going to continue to fall into each other’s laps. It makes me wonder how she felt when she saw the door slide open and me standing in front of her. On her way down to her car, preparing for her new life elsewhere. And suddenly I was there.

Whatever device of life this is I hope one day I can look back and appreciate it. But right now I’m left wondering.

I’m Here

I’m Here

The other day I took a bike ride to one of my favorite places on campus, the trail tower. Our campus is lucky enough to be placed right next to a bunch of nature trails, and at the end of one is a three-story tower that college kids use to carve their names, eat takeout, have sex, or enjoy nature.

I was sitting up there listening to my music, and it was really green and windy and a little chilly out. I kept thinking of what my sister told me that day–that I was strong, that I had matured a lot, and that I was going to be okay.

We’d been talking a lot about the breakup and how unfair my girlfriend was being at that moment. My ex has basically cut off all communication with me and sworn off all responsibility for my emotions. It was right in the middle of summer camp I received her emotionless Facebook message; the kids were in bed, and I was in my room alone. Upon reading the short, dismissive message, I broke down and sobbed so loud my supervisor knocked on my door to see what was wrong.

That wasn’t the first time she’d confronted me about my mental health. On the third day of camp, she took me aside to ask about the scars on my arms, which I was convinced no one could see. She wanted to make sure I was okay, but having her scrutinize me like that, and ask me to roll up my sleeves so she could look closer, sent me into a small panic.

Later, one of the campers asked me what those “weird marks” on my arms were. Panicking once again, I told her they were cat scratches.

She looked me in the eye and said “I’m not sure if I believe you.”

She told me she knew what self-harm looked like because she had friends who cut themselves. I couldn’t speak, but stared back at her, fighting down the gasps that were wrenching in my chest. The last thing I needed was a panic attack in front of my campers.

I was lucky; she got distracted when her friend called her to look at something cool, and I was off the hook. She never asked about it again, but there were times I could tell she was looking at me more closely than the other kids.

My sister knows about the breakup, but my supervisor is the only one except my ex that knew for sure about my scars. There were so many times I wanted to tell my sister the story behind my long sleeves and knee socks, but the time never felt right enough or safe enough for me to do so.

My sister does a lot to help me cope with the breakup. She’s helped me process through every step and every interaction, which is amazing because she hates my ex’s guts. She’d never liked her from the beginning, but after what she’d done to me in the past two weeks, I could tell my sister was ready to kill for me.

My sister even called my ex a cunt when I told her what she’d been doing. It hurt to have someone I loved so much be called a nasty name like that, but to be honest, I actually laughed, thinking about it up in that tower. It was freeing. Yeah, she was being a cunt. I was okay. My ex, for whatever reason, was turning herself into a bitch to remove all feelings and attachments we’d had together. But I’m going to be okay. I have a lot to look forward to. I have two weeks of summer camp left; I have a lot of friends who I’m going to start seeing soon. I’ve made plans to go camping with my future roommmate, and another friend and I are going downtown together next weekend. I have my wonderful sister, and a bunch of great new friends through summer camp. I have so much to look forward to once classes start–my mentorship, internship, my tutoring position, my full course load, and my awesome on-campus job.

Because I have done a lot of shit and accomplished a lot. And I got here. One of the last things my ex said to me was to remind me that I’d got to college all by myself. And I fucking did! And I’m here, and I have done so many things, and nobody did any of them for me. I have a lot on my back but a lot ahead of me to and a lot to be proud of. If my family refuses to be here with me during my most successful time, too bad for them. It’s shitty of them to abandon me, to pretend like my uncle’s death won’t affect me, to tell me not to visit–because they have the benefit of distance; it’s easy for them to forget about me and pretend I’m not hurting. Same thing with the ex. I don’t need her, and I never did. It sucked that I’d felt like I had, and that she hadn’t helped make that feeling go away. But standing up on that tower by myself, with the green trees spreading out around me–below me, actually!–I felt so free, and so alive, and this time when I cried, I was laughing too.

Because I was happy.