The Vagenda

I’m Not Scared of You Any More

I met my ex-boyfriend at sixth form college. We sat opposite each other in History class, and we shared cans of Vimto during lectures on the Russian Revolution. One time, he got hauled out of class for surreptitiously eating a tupperware case of olives – yes, the most middle class of all acts of rebellion. Our teacher was livid. I was hooked.
Just before we started going out, he went on a solo trip around South East Asia. I assumed, from his previous stories, that he would spend his days in the various embraces of women far more exotic and adventurous than I, on a beach at a Full Moon party in Thailand, in between soaking up the sun and admiring the seven wonders of the world. Instead, he sent me long emails every day about how much he missed our conversations. When he came back, we made it Facebook Official, and the following year we would travel round Asia together.
Sounds idyllic, right? Or at the very least, exactly what you want in your teenage years. Throughout university, him and I were inseparable. He cooked me fancy dinners in shitty university halls and we ate them in his tiny single bed, listening to Bob Dylan. We smoked joints out of my window and planned further trips abroad. We met each other’s families, and our parents went out for coffees together. 
Fast forward four years, to our break-up. It’s a crowded London street. It’s 11pm. It’s my birthday. A group of my horrified friends are looking on, as a passerby holds my boyfriend back from taking another swing at me. Unable to reach me with his hands, he spits repeatedly in my face. The words coming out of his mouth include ‘slut’, ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’. The reason for this is that I wouldn’t leave my own birthday party early to have sex with him. All the more shamefully, this scene had been played out before, but in private – and what motivated me to break up with him in response to this was that it had now become a public matter, one that my friends wouldn’t forgive or forget the way that I had so many times.
This dramatic final scene makes my ex sound like a monster, but for four years I was very much in love with him. Most of my friends liked him, and hung out with him. The first glitch in our relationship was when he wanted us to move in together, straight out of university halls; when I told him it was too soon, he went on a tirade about how I was out to ruin his life. It was such a confused and emotional rant that I felt sorry for him; protective, even. His father had beaten his mother before leaving when he was a young child. He told me that he was still dealing with the fall-out from that; that he was ‘just trying to be a good man’, and sometimes getting it wrong. During his childhood, he told me, his mother had more than once seriously threatened to kill him.
So when, a few arguments later, he held me against the wall so that I couldn’t move or leave the flat – but did it while he whined, ‘I love you’ – I forgave it. And when he didn’t want me to go out partying with my friends, I thought it was because he wanted to spend all his time with me. And when he suggested that we have each other’s passwords for social networks, I thought he was just clumsily expressing a desire for solidified mutual trust. Finally, when he first spat at me (because I was wearing too much eyeliner), I told myself it was a one-off.
Our travels in Asia were a lot of fun when we were admiring the sunset at the temples of Angkor Wat and he was holding my hand. But they weren’t so fun when we were at a bar and a guy we’d met leaned over to repeat something in my ear. My ex took that to be evidence of flirting, and, as punishment for my crime, promptly picked up my passport, my credit cards, my keys, my money and my hotel card, and threw them into the shallows of the sea. Later, after I’d gone to the hotel room to escape from him, he would empty a bucket of water over my head to wake me up, all the while sobbing, ‘Why would you make me do this?’
It was the unhinged way in which he conducted abuse that made me forgive him. The everyday man was sweet, thoughtful, intelligent. He bought me presents ‘just because’, and he texted me throughout the day to tell me that he loved me. In classic abuser style, he constantly apologised for his actions, and because the violence was infrequent and low-level – hair-pulling, for instance, even when it was so hard it brought tears to my eyes – I always felt like I would be overreacting to cast it as genuine abuse. Meanwhile, he told me that I was a disgrace if I drank alcohol when I was out with friends, but when we were alone, he encouraged me to get absolutely obliterated. One apocalyptic argument happened because he accused me of ‘not getting drunk enough when we’re alone together’. To placate him, I drank six pints on an empty stomach the next time he was there.
What made him grow into the person who flew into violent rages? He had become increasingly alcohol- and drug-dependent over the years – and would use inebriation as an excuse often enough – but I was never too convinced by the connection. He was cripplingly insecure, prone to cheating and therefore plagued with paranoia that I would do the same, oddly vulnerable, chronically lacking in positive childhood role models, weak. And, predictably, the excuses that he came up with for his actions centred around how unreasonable or manipulative I was. I ‘played mind games’ that made him do things. I ‘wasn’t supportive’. I ‘acted weird’. I ‘didn’t understand’ him. Meanwhile, in my mind, his actions were badly expressed declarations of passionate love, rather than straightforward abuse. He ‘couldn’t help himself’. He ‘didn’t know what he was doing’. He was ‘vulnerable’.
The truth is that many bullies are vulnerable. But they are on a mission to transfer that vulnerability to their victims, and abuse always escalates. My ex’s main technique of control would be to quietly whisper in my ear during a social situation that he wanted to leave now, and that if I wouldn’t leave with him, he would embarrass me in front of all of my friends. He threatened to tell people secrets that I had previously confided in him. He told me that he would tell my very best friends that I bitched about them, didn’t like them, wanted to steal their boyfriends. He spoke evangelically about a time in the future when us two could ‘disappear’, emigrate to another country, live off the grid, never mix with anyone again. Although he cast these daydreams as romantic and idealistic, I now see them for what they really were: a future he saw as necessary to tighten his control over me; a situation where I was isolated and he was in charge.
Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. I’m left now with the confusing ruins of my relationship with him; a lot of my friends, having witnessed the final parting shot, now prefer to act as if I was never with my ex at all. This has left me in love-life-limbo; on the one hand, I want to talk about the good times as if I had a real long-term relationship – on the other, his actions almost entirely invalidated four years of my life. If I had known what I do now about the nature and the warning signs of abuse, I might have been able to avoid this strange fate by finishing my association with that man a lot sooner.
And after he spat in my face, that birthday night two years ago? He ran off into the night, then expected to see me again a few days later. He saw it as ‘just another argument’. Needless to say, I never saw him again; a year later, having heard about the success of The Vagenda, he left a drunken voicemail on my phone saying that he was going to ‘fucking fuck [my] career up’ if I ever mentioned him in the media. I changed my number, but I still believe that he reads every one of The Vagenda’s articles.
So, if you’re reading – yes, I did decide to write about you after all. 
Because it’s been a long while now, and I’m not scared of you any more.
You can read more about the warning signs of abuse here and access help here

33 thoughts on “I’m Not Scared of You Any More

  1. Really brave article, it took me a long long time to realise thatI was in an abusive relationship and how I was manipulated into thinking it was because I was at fault. Even longer to get out and get over it. The best thing I can take from that is I am a much stronger person now. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Made me reflect on my past and how you’re not always aware of the bullying at the time. How refreshing being happy is. Well done for getting out. Took me a hell of a lot longer. X

  3. Nothing anyone ever does will invalidate any part of your life. Not even him. Well done for getting out, for carrying on with your life and for writing this.

  4. Completely agree with Tonia, (above).
    This made me think of my last big relationship and how easy it is to dismiss the signs. My ex used to tell me I was stupid and useless. He, just as yours did, expressed disgust and dismay at my drinking with friends but encouraged me to drink a lot when at home with him. He was quite controlling, always telling me what I should do and if I did something of my own accord he said I was being ridiculous and clearly hadn’t thought it through. He used emotional blackmail to guilt me in to having sex with him if I wasn’t in the mood and in the end it felt like a chore, something I had to do or he would sulk and accuse me of not loving him. He occasionally would smack my thigh like a naughty child to stop me doing something or in an argument, and during arguments would throw things at me. I always had this feeling that one day he could snap and really hurt me. If I called him out on any of this he would get defensive and angry and say he wouldn’t allow me to say those things about him, would never accept his behaviour was unacceptable. Luckily I left him before anything more serious happened but reading this made me see that it’s so easy to brush things off and pretend that things are okay.

    Thank you for sharing this. Hopefully people will read this and realise that they don’t have to accept abusive partners.

    Claire x

  5. This is the most moving thing I have read so far on this blog, and whoa, is that saying soemthing.

    The part I appreciate the most about your courageous story, is that is shows how your boyfriend was always the victim in his own head. When someone ele is completely convinced – not pretending, but TRULY CONVINCED that they are the abused party in every situation; when that person is someone you love very much; when it’s so easy to believe that your faithful constant love could heal those irrational insecurities over time… that is when abuse happens. That is when victims protest to themselves and everyone aroudn that it’s not so bad, and that their abuser has it way worse, and that nobody else understands how it really is.

    I’m so tired of watching TV shows where abusive partners are painted as pure evil monsters at heart who calculatingly pretend to be loving and romantic at the beginning. It only reinforces the idea that victims are morons who get tricked by smart people. This, the way you’ve painted it above, THIS is how it is. The abusers really are squalling helpless infants, thrashing around havign toddler tantrums and lashing out because they’re afraid of everything and desperately want to be in control of something so they can feel safe. It’s the protective instinct that fucks us up. It’s not a matter of smart or stupid. It’s a matter of learning not to feel responsible for another person’s feelings, and when that person is someone you love, that’s practically impossible.

    But you did it. Well done you. You are awesome.

  6. Thanks for sharing this, I’m glad you are free now and can be happy and feel safe. I do worry for humanity when stuff like 50 Shades of Grey is promoting the idea of being able to love someone better when they are abusing you, when this is clearly not possible. I hope your writing and others with similar experiences helps to get the message out and show people how it really is.

  7. This is a fantastic example of an abusive relationship. I too had an ex who I would allow to mentally and occasionally physically abuse me until I saw what was really happening. When I look back at the things he’d say, I feel angry at myself for allowing this but I remind myself how easy it is to happen and I’m not the first person and certainly not the last to experience this.

  8. I’m in the process of divorcing an emotionally abusive man. I know it’s the right thing to do and I’m proud of myself for getting out a year ago. My life is immeasurably better now, and I’m happy.

    But the divorce papers came in the post today and I’m a total wreck. This was an amazing article and reading it meant a lot to me, but it’s the way you’ve just put it in this comment, Kate, that’s put a finger on why I feel the way I do. It’s so easy to mistake the searing pain I feel today for regret, but it’s the power of my protective instinct pulling me back. It fucks us up.

    Sometimes I doubt whether I’ll ever be free of it, or of him. But now I’m pregnant with a little girl of my own, and I’m praying that caring for a real child who rightfully needs and depends on me will help me move on, for her sake and mine.

    Thanks for the timing.

  9. bravo! this is a strong and eloquent post from a strong and eloquent woman. well done for having the bravery and strength to get out and to write about it and share your experience. what you’ve written is so true, that abuse really screws you into believing it’s your fault – it really does take immense strength to leave a relationship like this. i hope that women in abusive relationships read this and realise that they are not idiots for getting into this mess, and that their friends read it also so they don’t judge so much. bravo

  10. Crying my eyes out, as a woman who has also experienced abuse from a loved one I hope one day I have the bravery to tell my story x

  11. I can understand both people’s perspectives in this story as I am a man.
    From your perspective, you just want to be happy together. You want him to be happy. But obviously he is fucked up in some emotional way, probably due to people in his past. You dont know how to fix him. So you put up with his behaviour because you love him and it isn’t all bad. But someway along the line the fact that he is messed up plays on your mind more and more and you start wondering whether you should ditch him. So you do.
    From his perspective, I don’t think he intended to hurt you.
    But I think you did the wrong thing, from a moral point of view, by ditching him completely for a year. He still plays on your mind. You are still in a mental tug of war with him evidenced by the fact you spoke directly to him in the article and told him you can’t hurt me anymore. You felt the need to do that because you feel mentally he is still affecting you.

    I think you could have fixed him before you left him or maybe you wouldn’t have needed to leave him at all. But you ask, should I have to fix him, is that the feminist thing to do? This is where I disagree with feminists. Feminism makes out like women are the weak ones with no power and no merit, constantly having to adapt to a situation rather than be in control of it. If you believe that men have all the power, that women have no power or influence over men, and you then find yourself lumbered with an emotionally messed up man, then the only thing to do is to dump him.

  12. I’d argue it’s not the partner’s job to ‘save’/'fix’ the person who spits in your face and hurls abuse at you during violent rages. it’s their fault. I know this myself after spending 18 months being emotionally crushed, belittled and bullied by an ex startlingly similar to this one (thankfully never violent, though I think he used that as a justification for how his actions weren’t wrong – if he’d ever hurt me he’d not have been able to justify it). It took me a long time to break out of the ‘I can save him’ mentality and into an ‘it’s not me, it’s him’ one. And this is a belief I think you’re obstructing. For men, for women…whoever. It’s not a feminist debate here, it’s an emotional one. Nobody’s partner should make them feel this way, and no partner should have to tolerate this behaviour.

  13. Good grief ~dude~, it is not the victim/survivor’s job to “fix” their abuser (regardless of gender). It’s that kind of messed up thinking that shames people into staying in abusive relationships, and why people end up dead.

  14. Thank you this is so great. I pray for you to stay strong, and you will probably need to keep reminding yourself, because my guess is that this will not be the end of the character assassinations even though you have thankfully separated yourself physically and you may not get to actually hear all of them directly. How long do you think it takes to learn to be mortally offended by being called a fucking cunt? And how long to stop being mortified? It is not something that I ever saw modelled in my own young life, and so when on the receiving end of it for the first time, in my late twenties, was so shocked, I could not believe the evidence of my (boxed) ears. I never ever got used to it. I was taught that ‘sticks and stones can break your bones but words will never hurt you’. I found this not to be true and that was a shock as well. But it is better to be separated physically and a very good start. I wish you and other women like you well, and hope you meet someone that you love and who loves you back. It goes without saying that you keep your friends, phone and keys where you know where they are at all times.

  15. James, I think your post is really patronising, but more importantly dangerous. It implies a woeful lack of understanding of how domestic violence works, and puts impetus on victims in a violent situation to ‘help’ their abuser. Firstly, that is NOT her responsiblity. The perpetrator is responsible for his actions as a grown-up human being. Secondly, violence, if un-checked, always escalates. The best thing the author could have done – and thank goodness she found the strength and courage to do it – is to leave the relationship.

    To the author of the article: this is such an inspiring story. Thank you.

  16. Very dangerous post, James. Some abusers can not be ‘fixed’, and they especially cannot be fixed by the people they are abusing. People have been murdered because they felt it was their duty to stay, and not become another person who ran out on the abuser and abandoned them.