The Little Things: A Teenager’s (Abusive) First Love
Emily Vrotsos | On 20, Jun 2013
This is the first time I’ve ever written about my first relationship or what transpired throughout its three-and-a-half year duration. I never thought I would experience an abusive relationship, then again, probably no one does. On top of that, I couldn’t even recognize that I was in one while it was going on.
For the purpose of privacy, I will not be using my former boyfriend’s name. We will only use his first initial “A” to identify him.
Our relationship began just before I turned 16 and ended halfway through my 19th year, “A” being only one year older than me. We were both young, but I felt it deeply enough that it has affected every other part of my life thus far, even indirectly. Coming up on four years since it ended, I’m still working on the damage done to my self-confidence and self-worth.
I don’t really know when the abuse started and I certainly didn’t acknowledge that there had been abuse until long after our relationship ended. All I know, now, is that the abuse was so intricately woven into our relationship that I can’t think of a time “A” didn’t strive to control, hinder, or manipulate me.
My earliest memory of “A’s” inexplicable need to own me was shortly after I turned 17. Three group partners and myself had been working on a class project all morning. One of the group members, being a very close friend of mine, was nice enough to drive me directly from the group meeting to swim practice in the afternoon. “A” was sitting in front of the facility on a bench watching my ride come down the street. In the time my friend turned from the street and pulled into a parking spot, “A” opened the passenger door where I sat, reached across my lap to unbuckle my seatbelt, pulled me out of the car with my bookbag, and shut the door behind me, leading me away without a word. I thought it was jealousy, and it certainly was, but it turns out it wasn’t of the healthy or flattering persuasion.
“A” began needing to trump everything I did. I scored very well on my S.A.T.s and got into some very respectable four-year colleges; “A” reminded me that he was 10 points away from a perfect S.A.T. score and that he was offered full-rides and sports scholarships to some of the top schools in the country. I received an award for my writing and recognition for my exceptional performance in Higher Level Psychology and he pointed out that he had been tutoring me in math for three years because I was no good at it. I passed all of my I.B. exams and even got top marks on a few of them and he mentioned that not only was he too good for the program and had moved on to take dual enrolled courses, but that he had also gotten higher grades in all the classes we had both taken.
Soon after I started college, I wanted to change my major. None of the majors I discussed with “A” were good enough. “Why would you do that? What the fuck would you even use that degree for? What could you do with it?” After awhile, “A” took to convincing me that no matter what sorry major I chose, it wouldn’t matter because he would make enough to support me and I didn’t need to work… and if I didn’t need to work, I didn’t need to do well in school to even earn a degree. Short of dropping out, I did the next worst thing: my performance in school took a nosedive. From being a promising student, I fell below average, lost my scholarships, and I couldn’t care. My existence was so wrapped up in what “A” wanted that I began to believe that nothing I did would matter. So why try?
And then, there was sex. If any of you checked out my previous article concerning my first gynecological exam, you will acknowledge that I was rightfully terrified of anything pertaining to sex before I was ready. “A” was even in the picture when it happened, but, as I later realized, he made that about him, too: “I’m angry that the first isn’t going to be me. It will never be me.”
Certainly the fact that we were long-distance for the last two years of our relationship factored into us not having sex, but the other biggest factor (beyond having lived in a small conservative Southern town where sex before marriage was the blackest, darkest sin and both our households were dedicated to abstinence) was that I was emotionally distraught over the thought of being caused that much pain again. If a doctor couldn’t do it correctly, how could an inexperienced teenager running rampant with endorphins possibly get it right?
I told “A” that. I told him I wanted to wait. I wasn’t ready. I was scared. Messing around down there hurt and we were going too fast. He tried for years to get me to agree, constantly asking things like, “Do you love me? Then show me. Show me how much.”
But when he put his mind to something he got what he wanted, no matter how he had to get it. In this case, pinning me down on the bed with his 6’4, 200-pound frame even as I was asking him to stop and trying to push him off of me was his way. Suddenly he was in, and I was out. It was like I was watching it happen to someone else. It hurt for awhile as he fumbled around for a few minutes until he finished. When it was over, tears leaked out of the corners of my eyes.
The meaning of get ‘er done had never been clearer. It took me years to understand that a boyfriend could rape.
A few months later he tired of me, disposed of me. He finally had enough. One morning we had a phone call in which I asked what he had planned for the day; he mentioned a museum I had never heard of and I asked about it, then he began screaming at me. He screamed about how fucking stupid I was, didn’t I know this, didn’t I know that, I was a disgrace to the Florida school system and he was ashamed to know me. Something broke inside of me.
This wasn’t the first time he had screamed at me, but this was the first time I screamed back. Don’t get me wrong, when he finally said he didn’t want to be with me anymore, I wept and begged him to take me back all while he told me I was a vengeful, deceitful person and he couldn’t be with someone who didn’t value him or his career, to which I replied over and over again, “I know you’re a better person than me, I know that, but I love you. I love you so much.”
Over the next few weeks, we spoke a few times before he deleted me and all of my friends off of every social media site he accessed and we never spoke again. Turns out he cheated on me with a former high school classmate and he found her to be the more delightful “do-what-I-say”-type. Luckily, she got out of there much sooner than I had.
Even though he and I had no more contact, the damage he caused me was practically irreparable. Moving on was nearly impossible not only because I was in love with him, but because I was convinced that I needed him and that I wasn’t worth much without him. I began sleeping with guys that paid just enough attention to me because I had never been in a healthy, functional relationship where I was valued and loved. I didn’t know how to demand respect, didn’t expect to get it, and just accepted what I was given, no matter how little it was and how much pain it caused me. It was all I knew. I had been “A’s” Emily for so long, and suddenly I was “A’s” Emily without “A”. I believed I was worthless on my own, that I had no skills, and that I couldn’t do anything valuable, all because he had told me time and time again those exact words.
I remember my parents trying to snap me out of my depression, and goodness knows I would have benefited from speaking to a therapist (and finally did last year), but I remember them saying he had been abusive. I remember only being able to respond, “he never hit me.” He went to school in Annapolis, while I stayed in central Florida, and there is no doubt in my mind that it would have escalated to physical violence if we had lived near one another. Even then, I remember a time when “A” was visiting and he became so frustrated with me that he made a fist, pulled back, and turned to hit the wall just a few inches from my head. It took me a long time to learn that emotional and mental abuse is just as damaging and just as inexcusable as physical abuse.
“A’s” leaving me when he did was the luckiest break I’ve ever caught. He attended a military academy where it is fairly customary for a couple to get engaged a year to two years before graduation. One year more and I might have been stuck in a relationship that eventually would have run me into the ground emotionally and/or physically. I hate to think where I would have been, what I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish, what happiness I wouldn’t have been able to experience. I didn’t know how lucky I was until much later, but now I’m finally getting a grasp on it.
That’s not to say that everything was automatically fine and dandy. It has been a work in progress, and I have earned every inch of independence, self-confidence, and strength that I reclaimed. It has certainly helped that my current partner and I share a deep connection built on a mutual support of one another and a recognition that we’ve both had it similarly rough. Likened demons haunt us both, and we do our best to work through them together.
I have learned that I am an ever-growing being. I have finally begun to recognize that I am a powerful person with achievable dreams. What’s more, I have learned to evaluate my relationships with people and to recognize healthy relationships filled with love and respect. Discarding them isn’t always simple or easy, but I’m learning, and that is enough for now.
Written by Emily Vrotsos
Follow her musings on having a trans sibling, books she’s reading, and how she does feminism at Bend it. Break it. All of it. and her gardening and sustainability endeavors at The Outdoor Amateur.She also has fun on Twitter and is a little bit obsessed with Pinterest.