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Maybe it’s just me, but I never received the "relationships manual" in the mail. For a long time, it seemed like everyone else had received theirs sometime during high school. But no, not me. I jumped head first into my first relationship at the tender age of 16, almost 17. At first, it felt like something that I thought I wanted for so long was finally happening. I mean, it was about time, right? I surely wasn’t getting any younger…
Although it felt like a unique and special experience at the time to my teenage self, it was a very typical story. We were the same age, part of the same youth movement, both immigrated to Australia around the same time, spoke the same languages, and had many friends in common. I was a girl. He was a boy. He didn’t have a girlfriend. I didn’t have a boyfriend. It just made sense, right?
The first time he tried to kiss me, outside my house on a main busy road, the moment I had been waiting for and replaying in my head over and over again, I couldn’t do it. Maybe I was scared, maybe I just wasn’t attracted to him. A few days later, we went on our first date and made out for a prolonged period of time. I can only imagine how uncomfortable the other people at the cinema must have been, probably cringing at our evident lack of experience while we exchanged saliva.
This relationship lasted for 4 and a half years.
I wish I could say these years were perfect, that we were the high school sweethearts some people may have imagined us to be, but that would be a lie. And why would I lie?
Well, I used to lie to myself quite a lot. I lied to myself when I was crying in bed with him by my side thinking that other girlfriends went through the same thing. And that other boyfriends also yelled and cursed their girlfriends on a daily basis. This became my reality, my ‘normal’. I had accepted two things: 1) having physical and verbal fights, being disrespected, being controlled, and extremely unhappy is just my life now; 2) I am now devoted and essentially stuck in this relationship. I had also hoped for one of two things: 1) some drastic change would happen in the future and our relationship would magically become a happy one OR 2) I will eventually find out that everyone’s relationships look like this and we are perfectly normal. Neither of which ever happened.
Everything changed when I came across the term: abusive relationships. But first I thought HOLD ON, it can’t be… Because we had SOME good times together and it wasn’t horrible 100% of the time, and if I really was being emotionally abused, wouldn’t I have just walked away? But turns out that it’s not uncommon for these kind of relationships to have some good parts, but these good parts do not in any way, shape, or form make up for the abuse that comes before and after them. On top of that, although I believed myself to be a strong and independent individual, I did in fact lose those aspects of myself and let my significant other be abusive towards me.
It may have taken me a really long time to realise this. It took me a while to realise that when he was messaging other girls behind my back and then deleting the conversations and lying to me about these incidents constantly, this wasn’t normal. It may have also taken me a while to understand that when he dictated what I could and couldn’t wear and who I could and couldn’t talk to, this wasn’t normal. It also took me some time to realise that when he used to say downgrading, humiliating, and hurtful things to me, it wasn’t because he loved me. And it took me the longest time to understand that the friends and family around me that have repeatedly told me to remove myself from this relationship saw something that I failed to see.
It took me several years and a whole lot of self-love and courage to take their advice on board. And I couldn’t be happier.
I imagine that if there was such a thing as an official ‘relationships manual’, one quick read of it when I was 16 would have ensured that I knew the signs of an abusive relationship. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Luckily, I was 21 years young when I decided to regain control of my life, and I now know exactly what I will not tolerate ever again. I hope that my experience can be used as a guide for others, so that they can learn from my mistakes and experiences and not theirs.