I recently went out with a guy. It was going great, late into the night. A lot of easy conversation and joking and laughing. Until we got on the subject of why we both moved here. Both fleeing, for one reason or another. He was transparent about why he came here, and that conversation had flowed well until he asked
what trauma brought me here.
I haven’t perfected my light, breezy brush off for that question. I haven’t thought about it at all. I certainly hadn’t expected it to come up in our otherwise fun and carefree night.
And so, typical me, overwhelmed by someone who barely knows me identifying events, which I have only considered in passing, as traumatic, started to cry.
I pushed those tears back into their ducts with a sharp pain in my nose and a tight throat, looked down at my drink, and mumbled whatever I could to move away from the question.
What brought me to the other side of the country?
A lot of things! But the final straw was a few terrible people. And that is what I could and should have said! Or, “A bad relationship and terrible friend.” Or, maybe, “I fell in with a bad crowd and spending time with them amplified my worst traits, insecurities, and weaknesses.” But even if I had those answers prepared, I probably would have reacted with the same overwhelming panic.
Trauma isn’t something to be taken lightly, and I’m hesitant to identify anything in my life as traumatic, because of the lingering, subjective question,
was it really that bad?
Some people I trusted were mean to me. Lied, laughed at me, snuck around together. They were cruel. I’m sure that at least one of them enjoyed the pain she caused. BUT no one died. There was no natural disaster. No physical or sexual abuse. No accidents, no violence.
I hear the word “traumatized” thrown around a lot. I’m cynical about the reason. Do people open up more about trauma these days? Are they so casual about their mental health? Or has the word been dissociated from the weight of its meaning? My friend was traumatized when she saw a micro penis. Someone at the table next to me was traumatized by a test she took. I don’t want to victimize myself. Am I truly traumatized, or am I another person overlooking the true implications of the word?
I’m more affected that I’m willing to admit.
When I think of that traumatic year for what it was, I think about the people involved, still laughing at me because I’m unable to move on. Doesn’t she have anything else going on in her life? She’s pathetic.
I have moved on…but the impact isn’t gone. I still don’t understand what happened. I don’t understand motives. Was my boyfriend emotionally abusive? I don’t think so and never have. But he was manipulative, right? I don’t know… he seemed too honest to be manipulative. But I am sure that I was manipulated. He did what he wanted, never mind me, and I was anxiously attached, along for the ride.
Any evidence I have that points to emotional abuse doesn’t seem good enough. I was never belittled or threatened, never forbidden from going certain places or spending time with certain people. He didn’t seem to care what I did, or about me at all, for that matter.
Emotional abuse can look like many different things. That emotional neglect and disregard for my needs are forms of emotional abuse. But I had a hard time accepting that, because of the context of our relationship. At the point in time when our relationship became categorical emotional abuse, he would not accept the title of boyfriend and would not tell me he loved me. From the outside, I looked like a girl obsessed with a guy who had made his boundaries perfectly clear. I came off as crazy. Needy and overly attached. Delusional. Creating a relationship that didn’t exist.
How could he be negligent when the relationship was one sided?
Well, let me tell you! I’ve written about this relationship before; a long-winded, near-sighted version right after the fact. This is the abridged version: My boyfriend put in the emotional labor when he was wooing me. In more technical terms, he groomed me. He spoke poetically about his feelings and wanted to spend every moment together. We did spent every moment together. We spent time with his family and his close friends. He told me he loved me more than anyone he’d loved before. He told me about countless instances where he had been victimized by life and his dad. How much his mom and sister didn’t like any woman he dated.
I thought that the chemistry between us was the stuff of epic love stories. I wanted to support him and stick by him no matter what. I felt special because he had chosen me.
The rest happened months later.
So, you can see why I had certain expectations about that relationship.
But, until recently, I refused to accept that 9 month relationship was emotionally abusive, or even manipulative. It seems so mild compared to other kinds of abuse. I thought that I was complicit. I chose to stay with this “man” (who had the emotional maturity of a young boy), waiting for things to go back to how they were in the beginning. I lived for the breadcrumbs he left me.
I thought I was in control, that I made informed decisions of my own free will. Except… that’s the thing about manipulation. He took advantage of my emotional depth and vulnerability. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to recognize that my feelings were vicious anxiety, not love. The choices I made were not my own. I was powerless. Without agency, were my choices really my decision?
They were not.
My actions and words were always based on his. They were attempts to get his attention and love. Simple as that. The end.
But wait, there’s more! There were other people in on the joke as well, which compounded the problem. People who were my friends. Namely, a close friend who betrayed me with my boyfriend, and her ex, who I even dated later on. (Clearly my penchant for putting myself in problematic situations didn’t stop after that relationship.)
The paranoia I’ve had since high school, that people are playing a joke on me, laughing about me behind my back, was reality.
For years, I wondered what was real.
I didn’t move on. I dwelled on questions I would never have the answers to; which of his feelings and words had been genuine, which situations were organic. But I have long since stopped trying. All that I can do is accept the reality of that abuse and trauma.
I used to wonder if I would be in the same place I am now–physically, mentally, professionally, socially–if that year was different. I don’t think about that anymore. My most significant growth to date has come from my worst mistakes, and without that year, I could be a very different, lesser person. I am not grateful and I’m not appreciative, but I’m in a better place.
Trauma motivated me to move the fuck on from the life I was stuck in. To get away from the townie boyfriend who had nothing going for him. To move away from mean girls who have nothing better to do than tear each other down. To find better, more constructive ways to spend my time. And I have!
I have good friends and date better men. The friend who inspired this writing is genuine, intelligent, thoughtful, and creative. At first, I was naturally interested being more than friends. But he was not. And at first I was upset; my feelings were hurt. But if I didn’t want to be friends with the men I want to date, then what’s even the point? I want high quality people in my life, and they are not so easy to find. A good friend is good enough.