I’ve been in a relationship with this guy who I’ve been dating for about two years now. We were everyone’s favorite couple and everyone thought we were goals. But, this year he’s been acting off. Sometimes he can have a mean streak a mile long. Often, he’ll embarrass me or insult me in front of all my friends but, he assures me it’s just because of stress and saying that since I’m always around pestering him he just takes it out on me.
He can be very manipulative, I already knew that though, turning things around so I’m always wrong and he’s always right, even one time getting me kicked out of class for pushing up my glasses and yelling at me in front of everyone. He afterwards told me I was making him laugh and It was all in good fun and that I’m too sensitive. I tend to be emotional and have panic attacks so, it’s not that much of a stretch for me not to get a joke.
But, I know he loves me. He tells me so and if I ever cry because I feel too embarrassed or worthless or such he assures me he loves but, he still does it the next time. It’s tiring and makes me feel crappy. I’ve tried to bring it up with him but he always tells me I’m overreacting or being stupid and assures me he cares about me. My friends keep telling me that it’s not healthy that he controls all the things that I do, I mean, he always wants a say on where I am, who I’m talking to, what I wear. But they don’t get that that’s just the kind of guy he is.
I’m just writing into to get a more experienced opinion on the situation. Is this abuse? I mean, he’s never really hit me and he shows physical affection, so it’s totally okay right?
And honestly, Sparkler, not only is your boyfriend’s behavior not totally okay, it’s so totally not-okay that your last line comes off like a sick joke. He’s never really hit you? What does that even mean?! The more I read about this relationship, the more I’m itching to grab the biggest, floppiest salmon in my arsenal and use it to slap your boyfriend back into the underworld, which is where I have to assume he came from based on his atrocious behavior.
Which is to say that yes, sweet pea, this is abuse. Like, textbook, every-item-on-the-checklist, couldn’t-be-more-clear-cut abuse. The fact that this guy is affectionate with you after he tears you down isn’t evidence against that; it’s part and parcel of the whole awful cycle he’s dragged you into. Abusive partners always have moments where they’re caring and kind and reassuring and apologetic about their bad acts. That’s what makes them so insidious, and so difficult to detach yourself from—and it’s why you’re having such a hard time believing your friends when they tell you (quite accurately, by the way) that he’s bad news. If your boyfriend were an unmitigated undermining nasty nightmare person all the time, you wouldn’t be writing to me with questions about whether to stay or go. You’d be running out the door like your underpants were on fire.
And if it’s not clear by now, running out the door is what I hope you’ll do now, or at least imminently. Your boyfriend yells at you, belittles you, and humiliates you in public. He seeks to control how you dress, and where you go, and who you spend your time with. He hurts your feelings with impunity, and when you tell him as much, he calls you stupid and blames you for his bad behavior. He’s manipulative. He’s cruel. He openly admits to lashing out at you in hurtful ways, yet criticizes you for being wounded when his words have exactly their intended impact. And you say that this is just the kind of guy he is—and I’m sure you’re right about that. But tell me, darling: What kind of guy is that? What does it say about him that his idea of “love” is to hurt you on purpose?
I’ll give you a hint: There are several possible answers to that question, but absolutely none of them are anything good. You deserve better than this, and you know, from all your countless, fruitless attempts to talk to him about it, that “better” is not something your boyfriend is capable of giving you. If nothing else, his continued insistence on insulting and jeering at you, knowing how fragile you are and how much it hurts your feelings, makes you two a profoundly bad match for each other. And honestly, when you describe yourself as overemotional and prone to panic attacks, I can’t help but wonder when that started. Is this your natural state of affairs? Or is it, perhaps, the self-fulfilling prophecy of a relationship in which your totally appropriate reactions to being mistreated are being constantly mischaracterized as crazy?
Either way, you wrote this letter for a reason. You know something isn’t right, and you had the courage to put a name to it when you asked, “Is this abuse?” And I know, you were hoping the answer wouldn’t be yes. But since it is, please harness that same courage to do what’s necessary to move on to better things, beginning with a life where you aren’t being kicked around and manipulated by the kind of guy who can’t bring himself to treat you with basic decency.
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