I’m writing this at midnight. For the second night in a row I’m having trouble getting to sleep.
Earlier in the week, I was reading on my Facebook newsfeed several reviews and comments about a certain book recently made into a movie. I haven’t read the books or seen the movie. I really don’t want to, based on what I’ve read here, here, here, here and here. The recurring theme of these reviews was concern at the depiction of a manipulative, controlling and abusive relationship as romantic love. I find myself feeling sick in the stomach, and memories are churning in my head from a part of my past that not even many of my close friends know much about.
I was a 20 year old undergraduate student. He was several years older, doing a post graduate degree in the same department. He was tall, dark, handsome, strong, charming and attractive. about three months after we met, he asked me to marry him. My gut reaction was “No! No! No!”. He was not, however, willing to accept No for an answer. It took him nine more months of persuasive manipulation and charm before I finally agreed to go out with him.
I realised very quickly I had made a big mistake. He didn’t physically abuse me, but from what I have learned since about the early warning signs of an abusive relationship, it would have only been a matter of time. He very persuasively told me he loved me, but this was not love. This was control on his part and fear on mine.
“There is no fear in love.” 1 John 4:18 (NIV)
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)
He was impatient and unkind. He was jealous, arrogant, boastful. He belittled me, was selfish, and frequently angry. He blamed me for anything that didn’t go his way, and brought it back out to hold against me at other times. He threatened me with violence and rape, at the same time told me I was unattractive and mocked me.
This was NOT love.
Even after I ended the relationship, he would still not take No for an answer. For another year he alternated between being persuasive and charming, and begging me to take him back, to being intimidating and threatening. It took intervention from the university authorities to convince him to stop talking to me.
But it was not yet over. I still saw him frequently around campus, and although he didn’t speak to me he looked at me threateningly. I swallowed fear whenever I attended class. On finding him on the same bus I would get off three stops past my street, and walk home via a very circuitous route so he wouldn’t find out where I lived.
It took another six months before I could see him without feeling the fear. I looked him in the eye, said hello, commented on the weather, then very firmly ended the conversation. His power over me was finally broken, and the next time I saw him he turned away to avoid me. I had won my freedom, but at an emotional cost over previous the two and a half years. I experienced depression for several months, and I did not complete my degree.
“Perfect love drives out fear” 1 John 4:18 (NIV).
I later learned what it was to be loved. This weekend was our wedding anniversary. 18 years ago I married a man who was patient and kind, who wasn’t jealous or arrogant or proud. He wasn’t rude or selfish or angry. He was forgiving, caring, protecting and trusting. This was Real Love.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)
P.S. If you find that the relationship you are in shows the signs of power, control and possessiveness that are warning signs, or if you are in an abusive relationship, then please be very careful and stay safe. I’ve read that the most dangerous time for a women in an abusive relationship is when she has decided to leave. Sophie Elliot’s story is a tragic example of this. Talk to someone you can trust. Get help from an organisation like Women’s Refuge. If you are in physical danger, contact the police (even if you have to pretend to be ordering pizza to do so).