I recently read this piece on the negative effects poor relationships have on young women, which are apparently much worse than the effects on young men. Researchers believe this is because women are more disposed to define themselves by their romantic relationships, and the article gives several examples of times when this is the case.
This article got me thinking about the number of times I’ve exchanged stories with other women about that early boyfriend who you now look back on not just with regret, but with genuine disbelief that you put up with so much. In many cases family and friends were openly negative about this boyfriend, and yet we still stayed with them for long periods of time, ignoring the voice inside telling us something wasn’t right. Why? Why do so many women have this ‘mistake’ boyfriend who is so inexplicable to them in later years?
The article talks a lot about sex education, but for me it was more a case of terribly bad self-esteem. I had a boyfriend who was sweet and lovely but very honest about the fact that he knew it wouldn’t last forever. At sixteen, this was heartbreaking to me, and when I found out that another boy, a stranger, liked me very much even though he’d never spoken to me, I was flattered. The relationship with the sweet boyfriend fell apart and I immediately started going out with this other boy. Very soon he was controlling, jealous and manipulative, and I’m sorry to say he taught me to be the same- something which I hope I am now a lot better about.
This poor self-image made me put up with things I certainly wouldn’t stand for now. He once didn’t speak to me for over an hour because I told him I’d cried in the cinema when I saw The Goblet of Fire, at the moment when Cedric Diggory has died and his father crashes through the crowd, screaming ‘That’s my son! That’s my boy!’ Brings a lump to my throat even now, BECAUSE IT’S FUCKING SAD. But according to my boyfriend, it was because I’d fallen in love with Robert Pattinson during his brief spells (pun absolutely intended) on screen, and was devastated at his loss. Honestly, he wouldn’t speak to me for well over an hour. I eventually got bored of shouting, cajoling, and jollying, went downstairs and read some of his mother’s magazines. That’s how his mum found me when she got home, and she was rightfully bemused.
I did some crazy jealous shit in response, which I am not proud of at all. But many relationships, especially early ones at a young age, have these kind of stupid fights. I also put up with more sinister issues. My ex-boyfriend and his friends had a very strange sense of humour, often dark and incomprehensible to others. For example: one of his friends had an ongoing ‘joke’ that he wanted to rape me. He apparently watched a lot of violent pornography, and allegedly enjoyed women being run over and beaten. He once made a video of himself threatening me, which was supposed to be shown to me but my ex discovered an ounce of feeling and deleted it. He would tell me all about these ‘jokes,’ and if I got upset I was told I ‘didn’t get it.’ I felt small, scorned, ashamed, and completely worthless, as this boyfriend who professed to love me couldn’t even tell his friend I was off limits for his vile humour. I remember it once came up in front of my ex’s family, and they were all speechless with horror that he hadn’t punched his friend in the face. They, too, were told that they ‘didn’t get the joke.’
I was with this person for three years. Thank God I had the brains and the guts to take myself to university in London, not with him where he wanted me to go. Once at university, I slowly learned how to respect myself, and that I couldn’t put up with any of it anymore.
My story is similar to that of so many women. It teaches us the absolute importance of teaching girls to have a positive self-image, to not judge themselves just by their looks and to be suspicious of those who do the same. I can testify to the truth of The Guardian article, that the negative effects of these poor relationships carry on for years. You blame yourself for years for not getting out earlier, knowing that it just seemed impossible to get away at the time. To this day I will sometimes have suffocating dreams that we’re still together, that I haven’t escaped yet. I am still angry with the friend of his and their ‘jokes.’ It was only very recently that I realised how completely sick and wrong they were- I accepted so much thinking it was normal. We need to teach girls the rules, and not to bend to the wills of others so easily. Too many of us break apart, a little or a lot, and take such a long time to heal.