I was sixteen when I first started seeing him. Only sixteen, and as fragile as a flower not yet blossomed.
I’d dated before, this was the truth. I’d survived my fair share of arrogant pigs or tyrannical jocks, and I’d learned in my sixteen years how to recognize the signs of someone who you thought would be destined to hurt you in whatever way they saw fit. I think that this is why I didn’t run from you.
You were different. You liked to read to me over our four hour Skype calls or watch movies with me in the quiet of the three a.m mist. You opened up without asking, telling me that you trusted me with all that you had, all that you wanted, and all that you were going to be. So, as any sixteen year old girl would, I fell for the pretty words that you whispered in my ears. I fell for the way your eyes widened when you smiled, or how you found everything that I did fascinating, beautiful.
We were like a movie couple, they said. Our first romantic encounters meant for stories that I hoped to someday write. We were two beautiful birds, soaring and circling around each other in our own complicated dance that ended in a warm embrace underneath the constellations that I taught you the names of. We were two individuals, different and the same, with a love that seemed to break the bonds of all adversity that was thrown our way.
“My miracle…” You’d call me, brushing my stray hairs from my eyes as you’d lean in to taste my lips. I can still hear the gentle, longing whisper in your voice. The way you told me you wanted me; and at sixteen, all we ever want is to be wanted.
I should’ve listened though. I should’ve listened the first time that I heard that gentle whisper grow rough with dissatisfaction. I should've listened to the first time you told me that you didn’t want to see me because you were far too tired to make the journey down the stairs as I stood out in the cold December wind. I should’ve listened to the silence I was met with when I told you that I loved you and you could only gruffly murmur “okay.”
So I tried to leave. I left and headed for the hills and high roads, not turning back to meet your eyes in my rearview mirror but then I heard you. I listened to you shouting and pleading for me to come back. I listened to your empty promise that things were going to be better. I listened to your artificial apology.
Before I knew it, I was back in your arms. I was the queen of your castle. “Never again…” you’d murmur as your hand traced down my thigh. “You and me until the end of time.” Your embrace was warm and your heart was cold but I tried to make myself comfortable with the chill. Relationships were supposed to change, right? This had to be normal, right? The way you constantly asked where I was, or the way you confessed constant jealousy against other members of the male sex that struck up any kind of conversation with you were only ways of showing you that he really cared… Right?
I was like a marionette puppet of yours. You made me dance with strings, never breaking to actually touch me or show me compassion, but forbidding that anyone else dare make me feel I was more than a toy. I thought love was meant to be something worth fighting for, and I told myself everyday that it was a valiant cause for me to fight for; your affection, like being cared for was something that had to be earned, rather than given for the sake of truly mattering to someone else. It was a cycle, a terrible dance that you and I were trapped in. Every time I would try and cut my strings, you would pull on them even harder, those pretty words slithering back into my ears like snakes to their prey.
I was your punching bag. You’d be damned if you were to let me go, try and be free. The longer I stayed praying, begging, pleading for change, the more I forgot how to stand without your strings. The more I forgot that without this show, I was still me. I still existed. I still had people in my life that actually cared for and about me; people whose affection did not require begging or having to deal with emotional manipulation.
Love that did not require abuse.
Abuse that I didn’t even really notice until the day you kissed me and told me that I was replaceable.
There were no more pretty words. There were no more soft silences between the outrage and pain. There was just pain. Pain I’d become so accustomed to that now all that I was was numb. I was so numb that I hardly noticed when you started talking to your friends about me and sending me the photos of your conversations with them, reminding me that I was not only a joke to you, but to everyone else as well.
Even though, having finally slammed the final brick in the wall between you and I, sometimes I can still hear your voice and those pretty words that you used to whisper, playing like our old slow dance song on a record in my head over and over again.
The hardest thing about abuse is not the abuse. It's the moments when you are not being abused and you begin to fool yourself into thinking that it can be like this “honeymoon” phase all the time if you’d only work hard enough. As if you weren’t doing enough to maintain the love that you indeed deserve all the time. Feeling valued must be earned.
This is false. All of it is. Pretty words should not just come around when you’re afraid of losing your puppet on strings. Love has its ups and downs, but if you spend more time crying in your room then wrapped in a warm embrace, you must recalculate whether or not it is truly love you’re in or just a lustful teenage relationship that starts and ends with the hormones in your body seeking another. I admit that at sixteen I did not understand love, which is likely the reason I allowed myself to stay in something that was not in fact love at all. Hell, even now at seventeen, I’m sure I don’t have the faintest idea of what love really is.
But I do know what it is not. It is not control or manipulation or constantly aiming to please and receiving nothing. It is not the lacking of a promise or the cowardice when it comes to being mature. It is not even the pretty words he said or the pretty whispers you wish that he would’ve. Love is a bond, and a powerful one at that.
I was seventeen when I stopped seeing him. Only seventeen, and now as brave as the lioness I’d repressed to fit in his grasp. I’d dated before, this was the truth. I’d survived my fair share of arrogant pigs or tyrannical jocks, and I’ve learned in my seventeen years how to recognize that we are all masters of disguise and we cannot simply base our claims about people off of a simple string of first events. Time is the best healer, and perspective the soother of all things burned and broken.
I think that this is why I know now to run from men like you.
Poulson is a contributor for The Millennial Times.