Looking back over my previous long-term relationship I find myself questioning why I stayed for as long as I did. I was unhappy, we were constantly fighting, and I had to call the cops on him. Why did I stick around for more? Why didn’t I do the one simple thing that seems so fucking obvious to outsiders?
The reasons are complex. It wasn’t one factor or another that kept me there. It was a perfect storm of insecurities and fears that kept me with him even after I was well aware that it was not advisable or healthy or even a good idea. It started with a general low self-esteem. I was in possession of a useless college degree, I was living at home, I had no direction, no plans and seemingly, no future. When I met him in person for the first time it was about 3 months after a suicide attempt. I didn’t think that I could do better or that I even deserved better.
Also, being with him got me out of my parent’s house. I could finally move out and be on my own with my boyfriend. I felt like a grownup to be cohabiting with someone and no longer coming home to my mom asking me to do the dishes or my dad asking if I remembered to put my laundry in the laundry room. Part of the reason that I stayed was because I didn’t want to deal with the societal stigma of being so old and still living with my parents.
Then there’s the herpes. Let’s just say that dating with it is quite a bear. It’s scary to think about the sheer amount of rejection you will have to face in order to be honest about your STD status. Fear of the being alone forever because he was the last person on earth that would be okay with my problem was definitely a factor.
There was also fear of the unknown. How did I know that my life would be better without him? I would be back to square one, dating wise. I was so dead set on getting married that I couldn’t just walk away from someone who was willing to take me down the aisle. I had always felt like I had wasted my time in previous relationships that hadn’t worked out. I was so invested in the relationship that I just couldn’t see all of my time and effort and emotion and money and patience go to waste.
Also, I lied to myself. My brain flat out told me ridiculous shit. I kept ignoring what he did, not thinking about how upset I was, not expecting better, not being surprised when he disappointed me. I kept telling myself that if I told him that he upset me that he would change. That if I was just clear about my needs then he would stop doing what he was doing and turn into a wonderful man. At one point, I told myself that I didn’t need to have a satisfying sexual relationship with the person I was planning on marrying. I was so lost and deluded that I just believed it.
And there was the guilt. He always talked about how I took such great care of him. How he was a better person because of me. How dependent on me he was. I felt that if I left he wouldn’t be okay and then that would be my fault. How could I be so cruel as to leave when he needed me?
And also. Puppies. I didn’t want to leave the dogs. I don’t care how silly that sounds. I love those dogs and I always knew that when we broke up we probably wouldn’t stay on speaking terms and therefore, I’d never see the dogs again. I miss their furry faces every day. They are still my babies and I would give anything to have them back in my life.
The truth is that the reasons why a woman doesn’t leave an abusive relationship are complicated, varied, and their own. It’s not an explanation that women owe to people, it’s not something that they should be criticized for. It’s a very personal and emotional problem that keeps them tied to someone that is actively hurting them. Offering support, compassion and empathy is the best you can do in most situations. But one thing an abused woman doesn’t need is someone criticized her for being abused.