Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dating Violence: How I Learned to Spot an Abuser

Love. We all want it at some point in our lives. Women grow up on the fairy-tale romances of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, etc. We want the happy endings we read about as little girls. Some of us go into the dating phase of our lives seeing love in the eyes of every man we meet. I was just like most of the girlfriends around me at the time. I pined over my wants and needs for a man. The only difference with me was that I chose to remain a virgin well into my mid-twenties hoping that true love would come my way.

Love blossomed with a tall, dark, handsome man seven years older than I who worked in the same building as me at the time. He wanted to be with me everyday, and I was flattered. The convenience of working in the same building initially was great for me. For so many years, I’d tried to avoid the type of man who appeared to be a player, a user, or someone out for just one thing. I avoided the player type like he was the plaque, so when I met my true love and he was the opposite of a player— I suddenly felt totally safe. I let my guard down, and fell deeply in love. It never occurred to me that I should be cautious of other things. When he asked to see me everyday and every night, I obliged feeling so thrilled I’d finally landed a fine, attentive, first lover. His constant attention made me feel as though I’d made the right decision.

Three months passed and we were still going strong, but slowly I was growing weary. Our relationship never settled into anything that felt normal. He appeared not to have any friends, and his entire family lived in Indiana. He never went to visit with them or call them on the phone. Once the fog of love lifted from my eyes, I noticed his tiny studio apartment in Lincoln Park and the fact that he had no car began to bother me. I did’t voice any concerns; I just started paying attention. When we first met, his car was in the shop and then just never materialized. This was a man that made quite a bit of money. I saw his paychecks, but later learned he had no bank account. He drank sometimes, but I never thought he might be abusing a heavier drug until he offered me cocaine one night. I never tried it, but it bothered me that he asked. He never asked again, but I began to wonder about his habits and addictions. I really started paying attention.

He worked everyday, but was always broke. He was asking me for my money on a regular basis when I made less than him while working a full-time and part-time job. I began to wonder where his friends or family were, so I insisted we visit his mother in Indiana. We were still seeing each other everyday, but that amount of time was wearing thin on me. I felt like he was suffocating me, but I soldiered on because I believed I was in love. At his mother’s house, she took one look at me and asked if I knew of his cocaine habit. I was in shock. I replied, “what habit?” She just laughed and said ask him. On our way home, I did and he shrugged saying his mom was the one with the habit. I was so naive because I didn’t press him that night. Looking back, I don’t think I wanted to see the truth.

Finally I said I wanted to go home alone. We could skip being together for one night. His reaction was even more depressing. He got all paranoid and suspicious, but let me go home. I had been in the relationship for four months and was growing tired of being in it. To have pined over falling in love, being in a relationship, and finding a soul mate only to want space when I actually found it because I felt crowded by him was a strange moment for me. Be careful what you ask for because you might just get it. I got it all right, and much more. I realized I wanted our relationship to feel more normal. I wanted to miss him instead of seeing him constantly. I didn’t want nor desired an insecure, possessive man that had to be with you all the time in order to trust you. I was so busy looking out for a player that I never saw this coming.

The next day we were back together and it was New Year’s Eve. He came home with me for us to celebrate at my place. As I watched the news he came into the room and just changed the channel without a word to me. I snatched the remote, and changed it back and he turned and slapped me across the face. It was the first time he’d ever raised his hand to me. I was shocked and then my shock turned to anger and I threw him out. It was an hour before the New Year, and I’d just thrown my first love out on the street. I quickly learned that being in a relationship was’t all it was cracked up to be. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPV), nearly one in four women in the United States reports experiencing violence by a current or former spouse or boyfriend at some point in her life. I had many girlfriends with boyfriends, but no one had mentioned anything about dating violence. At the time, I felt all alone in my strange relationship and too ashamed to talk about it.

Like so many women, I slowly began to accept his calls, letters and flowers. The fact that he worked in my building now was an annoyance because I literally could not get away from him. I shutter to think what it would have been like to work in the same office with him. From the outside looking in, you would have thought I had the most romantic boyfriend. I actually had a boss completely jealous of me because of the many flowers he brought to my office. But these weren’t flowers of love, they were apology flowers for something he had said, and now did to me. It was two weeks later when I decided to go back to him…my first boyfriend — the man who had slapped me. Yes, I know what a fool I was. I believed he loved me, and that he would never slap me again. Now I know better — if any man slaps you once, he’ll surely slap you again or even worse. I wanted the happy-ever-after so bad I believed everything would be okay after two weeks apart. In less than one week of getting back together he showed me his true colors because I arrived late to his apartment one night.

Once inside, I clearly could see he was angry. He wanted an explanation as to why I was late. I shrugged off his concerns and turned my back on him to walk into the closet area. Upon turning around his hands were around my throat. He pushed me up against a wall and began to lift me off the floor as his hand tighten on my neck. All I saw was crazy in his eyes. I struggled to catch my breath. Everything happened so fast that I really had no time to react. I kept looking in his eyes in utter shock that this was the man I was in love with that was suppose to love me. When I realized he might kill me over the dumb relationship we were having, I grew so angry that I quickly turned from a wimpy, tearful, victim to a struggling, fighting machine. The first thing I tried to grab was his earring as I started kicking my legs and moving wildly. When I finally grabbed the earring, I yanked as hard as I could, scratching and grabbing for his eyes, hair, and shirt. I couldn’t scream or breath because the grip he had on my throat was tight, but I could fight. I swung my arms at his face and earrings so much I drew blood. When I yanked his earring out, it was as if he woke up and suddenly realized he’d attacked me. He let go of my neck, and as my feet hit the ground his knees hit the floor. Suddenly he was on his knees crying with his arms wrapped around my waist. I felt as though I was in a horrible B-rated movie, but couldn’t press pause to walk away. He started chanting that he was sorry but all I could think about was leaving him for good. All I could think about was getting out of that apartment and away from the crazy man I’d once loved. All the love I thought I had for him left the night he wrapped his hands around my throat.

The FVPF states, “on average more than three women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States. In 2005, 1,181 women were murdered by an Intimate partner.” I knew I had escaped death that night. In retrospect, all of the signs of an abusive, possessive man were there. He was needy and insecure. He wanted to be with me everyday from the very beginning. There was no mystery, except the fact that he had no friends or family around him. He seemed to try and encourage me not to be around my own family. There were other signs he was just a plain old loser. He was a 30-year-old man living in a studio apartment with a car that never came out of the shop and a paycheck cashed at the currency exchange. He didn’t pay his bills on time because I saw threats of disconnect notices around his apartment. He wanted me to do cocaine, and was probably abusing it himself since he couldn’t pay his bills. He was a total loser, but because he wasn’t a player I never saw those huge signs right in front of my face. I saw what I wanted to see because I was a 23-year-old woman tired of being a virgin. I wanted a boyfriend. I wanted to be in that fairy-tale romance; I wanted to be in love. He faked it for two to three months, and no one else had done that, so I fell for him hook, line and sinker. Most of the men I’d known had been so obvious that it wasn’t hard to see why I shouldn’t trust them. This man came off like my prince charming until my love fog lifted. Half the things I should have spotted didn’t become clear to me until that night. In addition to avoiding needy, possessive, insecure men, I also realized I should never date anyone that either worked in the same company or building with me. I even extended that rule to men who worked in close proximity to my building. I truly wised up on how to date in this crazy world.

After this experience, the excitement of having a boyfriend was totally gone. I was also slower at pegging someone as my “boyfriend.” I became much slower at selecting dates than I had been. For the first time in my life I valued my singlehood and understood the gift of those moments alone…of those moments when you’re unattached and your time is your own. Before my first lover, I was always pining for love, writing countless journal entries about my many bad dates and sharing my woes with my single and married friends. After him, a bad date was just a bad date and I understood how lucky I was that the date wasn’t my boyfriend. I had always taken my time with men, but now I really was going to take my time. Receiving lots of attention and franticness would not sway me any longer. I did not let the franticness of a new date make me drop my guard, even when that franticness lasted for months. Meanwhile, my ex moved into a new phase — stalking me at home and on the job. However, I’ll save that saga for another day, another article.

Copyright 2010

No comments:

Post a Comment