By Molly K. Lichtner, 5/7/17
“You know, it’s funny; when you look at someone through rose colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.”
— Wanda the Owl, Bojack Horseman
In theory, recognizing an abusive relationship is easy. In actuality, recognizing an abusive relationship that you’re a part of is hard. The signs are all still there, but you’re blind to them; it’s easier to ignore and make excuses for them and you than it is to stand up for yourself.
I’m Molly and I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for six months. There, I said it. Now everyone knows. Now we can get on with it.
In retrospect, I never thought it could happen to me. In the beginning, it was nice and normal. He checked all my boxes. Smart (check), funny (check), mature (check). Likes cats, loves his mom, no kids (check, check, and check!). On paper, it was a perfect fit. I was lucky though; I got out before it completely took over my life.
I feel like I’m re-watching my life through a screen to see the warning signs pile up: when he looked down on my job at the water toxicology because of the work I did, when he told me he would break up with me if I got any more tattoos, or when he said it was depressing that I became a science major instead of pursuing art after high school. He tried to turn his life regrets into my problems.
But it was more than that. It was personal things too: when he made me use the hall bathroom in the in the hotel, when he would point out that I was wearing pants instead of a dress, when he called everything he didn’t like about me “annoying.” When he told me not to talk to my therapist about him.
I started to have my doubts when we ran into someone he knew and introduced me as a “friend.” The day after my birthday, the day after we spent the night in Cape May together, and I was just a friend. I felt like an embarrassment. I felt like I was something shameful.
The penultimate straw was when he questioned my ability to teach because we had a difference of opinion on a complicated issue. The final straw was when he insinuated that I don’t care about the treatment of farm animals like he does, and because of that I’m a bad person. I’m not a bad person; I’m just not vegan. This may not seem like a big deal on its own, but it was a turning point for me. It caused a realization: “He doesn’t want to be with me; he wants to be with someone just like himself.”
And like that, I was free. No more tears. No more shame. No more anxiety. I had my favorite tattoo redone without fear of recourse. I went to his apartment and said “I can’t date you anymore. You make me feel bad about myself.” I took my things, said goodbye to his cats, and left.
Abusers will do anything to get back at you. They will make excuses to see you again. They will blame you for not speaking up sooner. They will claim you faked the whole relationship. They will be angry; you will be free.