When I was 19, I dated a co-worker during my summer job between my freshman and sophomore years at college. Let’s call him Tom.
Tom was cute and he was a great athlete. Those were two things that, at age 19, topped my list of essential qualities.
Tom and I spent a great deal of time together over that summer. He was a little controlling and I saw he had a bad temper, but I was flattered to feel so wanted. He begged me not to go back to college (an hour away) in the fall. I told him that it was impossible, so he made me promise to drive back to be with him every weekend. Stupidly, I agreed.
Since funds were low in my own home, I had to work while away at school. I had a great job as a reporter for a newspaper.
For some reason, Tom was petrified of driving in the snow. I was ready to leave for work at the paper one late afternoon when one of my floormates came to my dorm room and told me there was a phone call for me on the hall pay phone. (This was long before the days of cell phones!)
“Are you supposed to work tonight?” Tom asked.
“Yes, I’m getting ready now.”
“It’s supposed to snow. You have to call out sick.”
“I don’t think it’s snowing yet. I’ll be fine.”
“You know how I feel about driving in the snow. You have to call out sick,” he said, raising his voice.
“Tom,” I said trying to soothe him, “I’ll be fine. I don’t mind driving in the snow. I’ll be careful.”
“If you go into work, I won’t be here when you come home on the weekend,” he threatened.
“Tom, seriously, I’ll be fine. I have to work, and I promise to be careful,” I pleaded.
“Okay, fine. Go to work and see what happens,” he said.
Instead of telling him to go fuck himself, I sank my tail between my legs. I lied to my boss with a made-up excuse for not working, knowing in my heart it was the wrong thing to do.
We broke up after I graduated; then we rekindled the relationship. Years later, Tom proposed and I accepted. We married when I was 25.
While driving to a destination on our honeymoon, an argument escalated to the point that he dropped me off at a parking area on the side of the road and drove away. (He returned about 10 minutes later.)
He was jealous if I socialized without him. It got to a point at which I could go out only with Tom. I stayed home while he hung out with his friends and good buddy Jack Daniels.
Once, he physically pushed me up against a wall while screaming at me. He was very strong. It was terrifying to feel the strength of his body controlling and manipulating me, yelling at me, only inches from my face.
He once punched a wall in anger, broke his hand, and told me to lie to others about how it happened. I think it occurred in the winter and the story was that he slipped on the ice outside of our house and broke his hand.
We were dating when I turned 21. Tom wouldn’t allow me to go out and get my first officially legal drink.
After I graduated college, I worked at a small public relations firm. One of my co-workers was engaged to be married. It snowed the morning of the wedding. Guess who missed the wedding due to a few inches of snow?
My low self-esteem and lack of self-love imprisoned me in a toxic relationship with Tom off and on for about eight years, including a 19-month marriage.
I cried so much and questioned our relationship. If I timidly shared my concerns with him, he knew just what to say to quell my worries. And I say “timidly” because talking with him was like tiptoeing through a field of landmines. On any given day or time, I never knew if he would blow up because of something I said. I chose my words carefully.
Unfortunately, I could go on and on with what I now know are dysfunctional stories. These events certainly gave me pause time and time again.
I regularly walked on eggshells. Deep down, I knew that this was not what a relationship should be like, but I didn’t value myself enough to leave. Tom always knew what to say to me when we made up after a fight that made me feel like it was my fault. On the rare occasions he took the blame for whatever we were arguing about, he would apologize and manipulate me enough to stop my mind from questioning our relationship.
I had an “a-ha” moment about a year after our wedding. We were driving home, and somehow the topic of children came up. He informed me that when we have kids, I would return to work after the six weeks of maternity leave because he didn’t want to give up the lifestyle he enjoyed. At that moment, I thought to myself for the first time – I don’t want the children to be anything like you, not one quality, not one single trait.
My ‘fight song’ as I mentally prepared to take the huge step to leave him was “The Sign” by Ace of Base. It gave me courage and crystallized my thoughts. “…For so many years I wondered who you are, How could a person like you bring me joy?… I saw the sign, and it opened up my mind, and I am happy now living without you, I’ve left you…”
I finally realized that I was worthy of so much more than how he treated me. I recognized that I was a good person who was loving, thoughtful and caring. I realized that I loved myself and should expect proper treatment from a man who said he loved me.
I often wonder why I stayed with him so long… how could I ever let anyone treat me like that? I had only to look to my childhood to figure it out; sadly, I was duplicating what I experienced in my home growing up. My meek mother was no match for my painfully domineering, irrational father. In addition, my coldish mother never expressed the love that I needed. I was raised to be a young woman with low self-esteem.
I find it embarrassing to admit the things I’ve written here, but I’m certain that there are other women out there who are living through something similar. Please know you are not alone and I can absolutely assure you that you deserve better. If you are questioning your relationship with your significant other, please trust your gut! You do not deserve to be treated poorly.
My daughter is the same age I was when I met Tom. I have told her many times that she is an amazing girl and she deserves to be treated like a queen by any boy she dates. I remind her of all her great attributes (funny, kind, smart, thoughtful, caring, adorable, etc., etc.) and that any boy would be lucky to have her as a girlfriend. Also, that if at any time the guy makes her question herself and her feelings, she should trust her gut instinct, stand up to the guy, and leave if he is not the right person for her. It’s better to be alone than to be with someone who makes you unhappy. It’s a shame that my mother told me nothing of the sort.
Years later, I finally understood that Tom had been emotionally, verbally and mentally abusing me for years. And I let him. I didn’t have enough faith in myself to trust my intuition.
Through all the tears and turmoil, I gained a wonderful gift. Though it had to crawl its way out from being buried deep down, I learned to love myself and trust myself to follow my gut instinct.
Soon after our divorce, a blind date changed my life. Over 21 years and two amazing children later, I’m still married to that blind date, the love of my life. He treats me as an equal; he’s rational, smart and so much fun. While I still struggle with self-confidence sometimes, the self-love is there, never to be buried again.