I still love my ex-boyfriend. He loved me so fully and so deeply that I have no choice but to hold onto him. He taught me that I am smarter than I think, and that I am worth more than what I believed about myself. With him, I learned more about my body than I ever had, and I learned what making love should truly feel like. Our conversations were filled with laughter, jokes, and endearment. I was never happier than I was during the two years I had with him.
I still love my ex-boyfriend. He pushed me, shoved me, choked me, threw me to the ground, screamed obscenities at me, bloodied my lip, and sometimes even restrained me from escaping, approximately 15 times over a span of one year. I have never been more scared for my life than I was when he got angry. And I know what the response to this post will be.
“How could you say you still love him?”
“More importantly, how could you say HE loved YOU?”
“How could someone say he loves you if he hurts you?”
Do you want to know how the abused woman answers these questions? She doesn’t. Her abuser does. He answers the questions with plenty of hugs, with kisses, with “I love you,” or with promises. He answers the questions with, “I’ll never do it again,” or “I’m sorry I got so angry, baby–I was just really upset.” Her response? I brought him to that level. I caused this. It won’t happen again, because I’ll make sure I won’t make him mad. That way, he won’t get so mad next time.
I will not believe anyone who does not think that forgiveness can be induced by love, or that a redeeming quality in our human makeup is believing that our loved ones will, in fact, change. Do I argue that there should be a point where we realize that someone will not change? Most certainly. However, I also argue that the process of learning that someone will not change is more complicated than most assume.
The other day, I had a conversation about the process itself with a fellow female classmate. She explained to me that she believes a woman’s response to domestic violence is heavily dependent on the way she was raised. “My father taught me that if I am hurt once, I’m gone,” she said. “Violence has no place in a relationship.” However, I am not convinced that a woman’s response to domestic violence is engrained within her during her upbringing. I believe my father raised me to not accept violence from anyone, and yet I chose to stay time after time, still acknowledging that his violence toward me was wrong.
Another argument posed by women is that if a woman does not walk away the first (or even the second) time a violent act is inflicted upon her by her partner, she is weak. While I do believe that a woman who is able to walk away is strong, I challenge the opinion that a woman who does not walk away upon the first violent act is weak. My opinion is biased, but I do not believe I am weak because it took a year for me to walk away. There are a number of factors that play into the decision. These factors are simply unimaginable to a woman who has not experienced domestic violence. Just as we cannot experience or even simulate the fear of someone in free-fall who is about to hit the ground, we cannot fathom the emotions experienced by a woman who is faced with the decision to stay or walk in her particular circumstance. Balancing the strong feelings I had for my ex, the pain of being both physically and emotionally hurt by someone I love, the emotions derived from the opinions of friends, and the utter fear of leaving something I had grown so accustomed to is something that is indescribable. Case in point, one woman simply cannot put herself in the shoes of another in each unique case of domestic violence. I challenge you to stop trying to do so.
It is time for women to stop shaming other women who are in the process of leaving, or even those who have not started the process at all. You have no idea how hard walking away might be. I call on friends, family, and confidants of any woman in a situation involving domestic violence to not shame her choice to either stay or go, but to support her in whatever way she needs. You may be her only lifeline.
During the year I contemplated leaving, something I did time and time again only to come back, a few of my friends were there through it all. Did I frustrate them? Yes. Did I scare them? Yes. But were they there for me even if I returned to my ex the day after I decided I would leave? Absolutely. However frustrating it is to see your friend or family member return to her abuser repeatedly, you must remember that simply being “done” with her for unsuccessfully leaving her abuser is one of the worst things you could do to help her. To judge her for her decisions is even worse. To shame or judge her only encourages her to cling to her abuser more closely with the mindset of, “they don’t understand.”
I beg of all women who read this to stop trying to judge another woman’s decisions because you think you would act differently in her situation. We are not all equal, and not all circumstances in domestic violence cases render the same emotions, decisions, and consequences. Domestic violence is not a one size fits all issue, and we need to stop treating it as one..