Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is an excellent time to introduce you to my primary reason for writing this blog: my best friend in middle and high school. My best friend who, through years of grooming and abuse and threats, still torments me today despite having 'canceled' him in my life long ago; the boy who I will love and carry for the rest of my life.
Not that I knew it then, but I'm not even into men. I have always preferred the company of women than men. Why is that important? Well, it can play into victimology. I was a kid who struggled with my identity because I knew I was different but I didn't know why. Many LGBTQ+ youths also face this. And it can make us easier targets. I was desperate to feel loved and accepted. And my abuser sensed it and positioned himself as my knight in shining armor.
We never tried to be anything more than friends. He didn't seem romantically interested in me. That's a thought that I continue to find funny. How illogical that despite all he put me through, his constant rejection still stings. He took advantage of me and assaulted me and discarded me like an object. I should hate him. But I do not. I have forgiven him, I always loved him and I think I always will. The strong boy who lost his father, the boy who was alone and rescued a girl from her own loneliness. We were innocents, loving each other when we each needed someone. It may seem that I can't move on; maybe I can't. I'm doing this blog 10 years after the fact. Maybe it's the grooming. Maybe it's a wound that won't heal. There are a million maybes and I might never know. It's a guilt and a psychological torment that lasts. I have not seen him in 5 years. But a part of me feels attached. I still cherish the kind moments, the happy memories.
We never forget our first love. He was mine. This is how teen dating violence impacted me. I wasn't his girlfriend, I was his "bottom bitch," a term that he used to both slander me and praise me. I was objectified and degraded through his language, but the subtext that I held onto was that I was also the one he could always count on. He knew that all I cared about was making the people I love happy. He exploited that. He isolated me from my friends. He controlled my access. If I didn't give in to what he wanted, he would find another girl who would, and I was left home alone wishing someone would call. Wishing he would call. So, the next time I would give in. Anything for that feeling of being loved by this boy who would never really love me back.
The abuse was gradual. Grooming is like cooking a frog. You put it in the water and slowly turn up the heat. The frog doesn't realize that it is being boiled alive, stupid frog. Then I remember that grooming is exactly like that, it lulls the victim into a false sense of security, like slowly being boiled alive. Over the course of years, he earned my trust and my love. At some point it became the most damaging relationship of my life.
The abuse escalated from emotional and psychological to sexual abuse. He had already been using degrading and objectifying language, so when he started commenting on my body, it seemed natural. It was the summer before our freshman year. I remember having him come over to go to the neighborhood pool. We always hung out in my basement because my parents always respected privacy. He didn't want my parents to see him have me take my top off and parade myself in a bikini. It was a thrill and an embarrassment. I finally had someone who found me desirable, but I knew that his desire came with an asterisk. I would be desirable if this part of my body changed, or that. He was doing exactly what most abusers do, chipping away small pieces of my self-worth.
Freshman year started and I had never been a popular kid, but this year was going to be different. I had made the cheerleading team. He told me he would help me be the pretty, popular cheerleader who gets the guy (translation: I needed to change myself if I ever wanted to be loved). The abuse went on; he had conditioned me to think that if I wanted boys to date me, I needed to make them feel good. That was the first time he forced me to touch him; I'll never forget the feeling of his erect penis in my hand.
Time went by, more abuse. One night my parents invited him to join us for dinner. I wore the sexiest thing I owned, a pair of short shorts, because he was always nicer when I dressed up for him. After dinner, we went out on the deck and he pulled me onto his lap. He told me to unbutton my shorts and I was so conditioned to doing as I was told that I automatically obeyed. A decade later, I still struggle with self-blame over the sexual assault that ensued because I didn't say no when he ordered me to unbutton my shorts. As he was assaulting me, he was ordering me to watch into the kitchen the window where my parents were cleaning up and make sure they didn't see anything. I stared at my mom and I cried out in pain. He told me to be quiet, that my parents "wouldn't want to see what a dirty girl I had become."
The abuse didn't end after that night, and he was not alone in dehumanizing me. I was a sexual plaything for him, and for others. The hardest part is reconciling the feelings I had, and still have, for him, the abuser who used me up and tossed me aside when he got bored. My heart breaks for the innocent children we were, and for the horrible loss of my innocence at the hands of my first love.
Teen dating violence doesn't always look like people assume. You would never find a mark on my body. He was a part of my family. No one, including me, saw it for what it was. I didn't understand it. I didn't know it was abuse when it happened because how could someone love me and hurt me? And when it finally set in that it wasn't love, that he never loved me, it opened up a whole new world of pain. The anguish boils over, to realize I wasn't good enough him, that he had weaponized my love for all those years, to reconcile that after I gave myself completely to him, he simply got bored and walked away, leaving me with a gaping wound that hasn't fully healed ten years later.
I wonder if he ever feels pain or regret over his time with me, if he has any idea of the years of anguish his abuse caused me. I wonder if he knows that he started a chain of events that has continued, that I still find myself loving people who hurt me, that others have betrayed me and assaulted me. I have read and learned about healthy relationships, and I want to break the cycle of abuse that has a hold on me.
I wish that other girls and women who are reading this, who are experiencing abuse, wouldn't wait years like I did to start talking about it, to seek healing. I'm still licking my wounds, but I know now that I'm worth the effort. I deserve happiness, and so do you.
Revved Up Kids has trained tens of thousands of children to recognize dangerous people, avoid unsafe situations, and escape attackers. Our training programs are available for boys and girls in K-12th grade, for parents, and for youth serving organizations. Contact us to discuss protecting the children you love from predators and violence, 678.526.3335.