When to Walk Away

2016 has been an astonishingly two-faced year, punctuated with professional successes which were immediately followed by enormous personal tragedies, one after another, for months. I will eventually write about them all, here or elsewhere, but most of them are too close at the moment. So I’ll start with the one that I’ve been able to distance myself from the most: the abusive relationship.

We were together for 3-and-a-half years. It was the longest and most committed relationship I’ve ever had, and it, along with its end, was… messy. Undignified. Disrespectful. Petty. Cowardly. It left me shattered — imagine someone you’ve shared your deepest self with for over 3 years dumping you on your own doorstep in a matter of 30 seconds. At 9 pm, after you’ve just gotten home from your first day at a new job.

Shitty, right? Yeah. Here’s the thing: every single thread that led to the end of that relationship could be traced back to some point within the first six months of dating. Here are some of those threads, and some advice to go along with them:

If your partner is chronically late, DUMP HIM. 

Chronic lateness is a power play. Do not brush it aside, and do not allow excuses and apologies to mitigate that gut feeling of “I am being disrespected right now.” You absolutely are being disrespected, and it’s intentional. Making someone wait is one of the hallmarks of emotional abuse, and it’s one of those things that is so easily explained away that you may not notice it’s happening until it’s too late.

If your partner humiliates you in public, DUMP HIM. 

Loud and senseless ridicule is a weapon of choice for the intellectually insecure. Which makes it a favorite of emotional abusers.

I got a trivia question wrong at a White Sox game. I was just wondering about the answer out loud—I knew it probably wasn’t correct. And it wasn’t. You know what he did? He crowed about it. I was shocked. And wounded. I asked him to stop, and he immediately tried to cover his ass with some bullshit about him calling me an idiot in front of an entire block of White Sox fans being a Rick and Morty impression (which, if we’re talking about abusive relationships… well. Rick and Morty is another post for another time.).

If your partner embarrasses or humiliates you in front of ANYONE—friends, family, strangers—it’s NEVER a joke. Even if he says it is. It’s a way of stroking his own ego and establishing dominance over you.

If your partner comments negatively on any part of your body or appearance, DUMP HIM. 

I don’t shave my legs in the winter. This is known by all of my friends, and now also by the general reading public. One night, he squirmed away from me while we were in bed and commented on my legs being fuzzy. This, by the way, is coming from a man who has hair on every inch of his legs, torso, junk, and arms, plus a beard. BECAUSE HE IS A HUMAN. AND HUMANS HAVE HAIR. Like… are you fucking KIDDING me?

Literally, I thought he was joking. I even said, “You’re joking, right?”

You know what he did in response? He whined. HE LITERALLY WHINED. LIKE A BABY.

In retrospect, I should have left him then and there. Because that tiny little interaction spoke volumes regarding his assumptions on a whole host of subjects, double standards being the least of them.

If your partner comments negatively on your body shape or size, your hair, your makeup, your clothes, your ANYTHING, he is trying to mold you to an image he has in his head. And no matter what you do to appease him, it will never be good enough. He has no business asking you to change anything about your body, ever. Ever ever ever. Your body is yours to do with as you please. Never allow that agency to be taken from you.

If your partner harms you, threatens to harm you, and/or raises the faintest possibility of thinking about potentially harming you, DUMP HIM. 

Two months after we started dating, he stood, framed by my bedroom doorway, looking at me with kind of a weird gleam in his eyes. I was sitting on my bed in my PJ’s. He said, “I could destroy you.”

I thought it was an odd thing to say. Since then, I have realized that it is not “odd,” it is pathological. IT IS NOT NORMAL TO EXPRESS THE DESIRE TO DESTROY SOMEONE YOU CLAIM TO LOVE. IT. IS. NOT. NORMAL.

He would also casually mention that he thought he had abused his previous girlfriends. I would say, “No, no I’m sure you didn’t.” And then we would usually have sex and his guilt complex would be temporarily assuaged. There’s one thing worse than an abuser: an abuser who has a conscience—and uses it as a manipulative tool.

If your partner regularly pulls the rug out from under your feet, DUMP HIM. 

Abusers derive pleasure from watching you fall. Then, they become the hero of their own twisted narrative of control: they pick you up again, nurse you back to health, make you feel safe, tell you they love you, and promptly drop you from a great height. Again. And again. And again. It’s literally textbook.

He and I were supposed to move in together; we had been talking about it for about a year. In retrospect, thank the Pantheon that didn’t happen. In the moment, however, it was awful.

We had found an apartment. On the very night that we were going to submit our application, he came over and greeted me like it was any other night. Then, over dinner, he promptly dropped the bomb. “I can’t move in with you,” he said.

Now, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with being nervous about moving in, or even backing out of an arrangement. But usually, there’s a conversation—or five—that leads to that point. This, however, came out of NOWHERE. He had shifted our move-in date up by a full two months. He had repeatedly voiced his excitement and his joy; he told his family about it. He led me to believe with my heart and soul that this was good. This was right. This was new and exciting and a bit scary, but we were both ready to take the risk.

And then, he collapsed it all with six words, leaving him with two cushy roommates and another six months on his lease and me with no apartment and 2.5 weeks to find one, with the alternative being homelessness, in February, in Chicago. (Note that he repeated this pattern when he broke up with me. He chose a time when I would be at my most joyful, excited, and also vulnerable, and he twisted the knife.)

At this point, you’re probably wondering why I stayed with this person, why I didn’t walk away. Why I crawled back to him and allowed him to continue degrading me.

Honestly? I don’t know. I was scared. Which… ladies. Gentlemen. Everyone in between. If you’re ever afraid of leaving a relationship, leave the relationship.

If your partner doesn’t listen to you during sex, DUMP HIM. 

I can’t tell you how many times I wasn’t really in the mood, but I fucked him anyway. How many times I wasn’t really comfortable doing what he wanted, but I did it anyway. If you feel pressured sexually, in any way, ever, get out of there. Get out of the room, get out of the house, get out of the relationship. Get out.

If your partner tries to use what his exes used to do as a “persuasive” tool, DUMP HIM. 

See above.

This guy really sounds like a douche when I lay it all out, right? And yet, I was somehow blind to it. I didn’t want to believe it. Because he was so… seemingly nice. He held doors for me. He bought me dinner. He was affectionate and intelligent and kind. He was charming and well-read and funny. We could talk far into the night about topics ranging from botany to Borges.

But he was only that person when it was convenient for him; the rest of the time, he either behaved as described above, or he was “too busy” to spend time with me (read: I wasn’t worth making time for). He also took advantage of my readiness to forgive by saying things like, “I’m sorry, I’ll be better about this in the future.” And then not being better about it. And then apologizing again, for the same “mistake,” after it happened two, three, four, five, six more times.

For every kind action, for every sweet boyfriend-y thing he did, there was a little something, sometimes barely noticeable, that chipped away at my emotional health until I was a depressed, anxious shell of my former self.

Only after the relationship ended was I able to right myself and see what he had done. In the future, I will not be afraid to walk away. Because next time, I might not be “lucky” enough to have an abuser who has a habit of walking out on relationships because he feels guilty about his abuse.

I’ve been picking up the pieces for a few months now, and even though it will take more time to get healthy again, I am fortunate in and incredibly grateful for my family and friends, all of whom continue to nurture the best in me. Here’s to a MUCH better 2017.

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