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I'm going to tell you a true love story about myself in the hopes that you learn something from my experience and mistakes. Keep in mind, relationships are hard no matter what, but they don't have to be torturous.
This story will be in four parts. To write it all, or even read it all at once is too much to take in.
We'll start with Mark. Mark was my high school sweetheart and first long-term boyfriend. We dated for five years starting my junior year and were engaged for just under a year. I loved him a lot in the beginning, as most young relationships start. However, there were red flags that I ignored and looked past through rose-colored glasses. There were things he said and did that I should not have tolerated. I was young, naive, and quite plainly, stupid. I suppose I stayed because he liked me enough to date me, which was big for me in high school.
I was never one of the "popular" or prettier girls in school. Sure, I had friends, but I wasn't the one that people liked or even flirted with. That was my friend Catherine; we'll get to her later. Mark liked me, and that was good enough at the time. But I stayed much longer than I should have.
To start with, he had major anger issues. Needing to hit and destroy things when he got angry. I remember once I was at his house. He got angry at something — I can't remember what. He locked himself in his garage and let loose. All I could hear was yelling, grunting, and every variety of onomatopoeia you can think of. There was next to nothing I could do to pacify him. He was locked away for about 45 minutes and when he emerged his hands were red and his body drenched with sweat. There were other times when he got angry but couldn't lock himself away; he would clench his fists and jaw, staring at the person whose head he wanted to rip off. Often it was like dealing with a toddler with a temper. Little did I know that was rather close to what I was dealing with.
He was a mama’s boy. So much so that he told his mother the first time we had sex. Well, he told his mother everything really. And he had to do whatever she said, no questions asked. We were seventeen when we started dating and she treated him like a nine-year-old. And he, in turn, obeyed like a nine-year-old.
In the first year we were dating he asked me repeatedly that we have sex. Even though I made sure we had a conversation about it early in our relationship. I'd told him that I didn't want to have sex until I got married and that I hoped it wouldn't be a problem for him or our relationship. He assured me it was fine because he too wanted to wait. I thought, perfect! No pressure to have sex! I was very, very wrong.
He had said that he wanted to wait to have sex but apparently that didn't count anything else sexual. At least not to him. We were making out in his car one night and he forcibly fingered me. I remember like it was yesterday. I was so dazed and utterly confused. It felt strange and I didn't like it at all. I had asked him what he was doing when he started putting his hand down my pants. He assured me that it was ok, that I should just relax. When it happened I didn't know what do it. I told him to stop. At least, I thought I did. When I finally yelled at him and started crying he stopped. He asked me if I was ok and apologized. I told him no, I wasn't ok! What was he doing? Was his finger just inside me? NO! I didn't like it! Don't do it again! But that didn't sway him from repeating himself. The second time he gave the reason that "He would be more careful" and blah, blah, blah.
Before we actually had sex, there were times when we would be making out in his car and he would get into my seat and start dry humping me until he got off. I never got anything out of it. It always made me feel uncomfortable and strange. The last time it happened when he was done I looked up and said, "Are you done?" With the biggest attitude I could muster. When he said yes I told him to get the hell off me! I got out of the car and started walking away down the parking lot. He ran after me, asking what was wrong. I tried to explain it to him, but he didn't seem to get it. He was a boy who didn't know how to control himself or his body parts. It was another time I should have left, but I didn't.
A little after my eighteenth birthday we were making out at his house when he, again, asked me to have sex. I was annoyed. I was so tired of him asking me! But he had broken me down. I guess that was his plan? Like a child asking its mother over and over again for something until she can't take it anymore and says yes? He gave this "excuse": "We'll just do a quick in and out. To see what it feels like. And that will be it." As a naive girl who had NO knowledge of sex or how it all worked, I said yes. Not because I wanted to. But to shut him up. And it did. But it ruined me in the process.
By that statement, "just to know what it feels like." I should have run as fast as I could in the other direction. Sex to him was an "experience." Something that he could tell his friends that he had done. A checkbox in the "Things I Want To Do" list. It had nothing to do with me, our relationship, loving me, none of it. Just the experience of having done it.
After we had sex the first time, and the second, I wanted it all the time. I call sex Pringles. Because their slogan is, “Once you pop you can't stop.” Which, if you have had sex and happen to like it, you know what I mean. Sex is not just an action between two people. That's what a hug or a handshake is. The more intimate interactions are reserved for your partner for a reason. They connect you, join you, and make you one. That's what Mark and I had done. Joined ourselves. I should have walked away after we had been having sex for two months. Rather, fake sex. But once that bond had been made, leaving was that much harder. If I had left before we had sex, it would have been a million time easier. He told me that “he didn't want to do it all the time. That over the last two months he hadn't wanted to do it each time I suggested it. That it was fake.” Fake. Pretend. Made up. Fabricated. Sex. Love making.
I was torn. I felt so stupid, used, lied to, cheated out of something that was supposed to be sacred and precious. He pressured me into having sex with him and for what? A feeling!? I was so angry I saw red, literally. Colors changed, my body felt heavy and loose like a lead-filled ragdoll. I should have left him. I should have told him to "go find someone else to pretend screw, because it won't be me!" But I didn't. I stayed. I guess I thought things would get better? After all, when you were with someone you weren't supposed to pack up at the first sign of trouble, you were supposed to work through it, right? But we were far past that. I just didn't see it.
As years passed he got more and more distant. We were long distance for a couple years. He had moved away the day after we graduated high school. On that night, in front of my parent's house, I knew we should end it. I knew that it wouldn't work. I had the deepest gut feeling and loudest voice in my head, "Leave him. This won't work. I know he's telling you that it will, but he's wrong. You need to leave him. It's the best thing to do." But I ignored the voice and listened to the boy that I blindly loved. I stayed.
I visited him all the time while he was away. It was a five-hour drive north. He visited me three times, maybe four. But no more than that. Two of those trips don't really count because he didn't come on his own accord. Once he came with his mom for Thanksgiving. We hadn't seen each other for six months. I was working at Walgreens and it was hard for me to take time from work around the holidays. I was going to wait until January to see him, making it eight months. His mom decided to come down for Thanksgiving because her mother lived in the area. So Mark came with her. That was the only reason. Not because he wanted to see me or that he made the effort. It was just convenient.
The other time he came with his grandmother. She had been up to visit him and he decided to come back with her. But he didn't come to see me right away when he got in the area. They went back to his grandmother's house and I didn't get to see him until later that night. I was always last. Never a priority.
All these things happened and I still stayed. I told him that I loved him. I gave up my time and resources for him. While we were long distance there were two other guys that wanted to date me. Guys that had jobs, were sweet, supportive, and cute. So… so so cute! But I had to be loyal, right? I had made a commitment to someone. I couldn't end it with Mark on a chance something might work with another person. What if the other guys ended up not really liking me, and I ended up alone? Then where would I be? I would have been better off. I stayed with a person that never made the effort to visit, made excuses not to talk to me on the phone for longer than ten minutes, made me cry when I left the house to hang out with friends, made a lame excuse not to come to my uncle’s funeral who died in an unexpected motorcycle accident at twenty-two! I chose him over someone who was right in front of me. Who had their own place, worked two jobs, liked me, paid attention to me when I spoke, enjoyed being around me and smiled when I walked into a room. I was loyal at a cost. A cost to myself.
As things progressed and we got engaged, Mark and I thought it would be best we live in the same city again — not five hours away. I had told my parents that Mark wanted to move back into the area, but that he needed a place to stay for a couple of weeks until he found a place and got to his feet. My father said, "He can just stay here until you two get married. Then you can move out together." And that was that, Mark was living in our house!
Little did I know my parents had an ulterior motive. With their all-knowing adult-ness, they knew just the kind of person Mark was. But I had no idea. We had never lived together or been together as adults. After all, he moved the day after we graduated. So my parents wanted me to see the real person I was willing to marry before I tied the knot. To this day it was the best thing they could have done for me!
While he lived in my parent's house rent-free for six months, he never had a job or did things around the house to help. My father had asked him to mow the lawn and start a project to fix the sprinklers. He never did anything and always made a lame excuse as to why things weren't done. Meanwhile, I had two jobs to pay for our wedding. I worked ten and twelve-hour shifts at a doggie hotel, sold Premier Jewelry, and was working on my teaching degree; all while he sat at my parent's house and played video games. I know this because that's what my parents told me when I came home from work every day. Each and every day someone in my family complained about Mark. Mark did this, Mark won't do that. Mark said this, on and on and on. I was so sick of it! One story my mother told me that made her and myself especially angry was when he didn't let the dogs out. My family had three dogs and my mom came home one day after work — around three pm — to dog pee and poop all over the house! Knowing that Mark was the only one home, she went to ask him what he had done all day? Had he filled out any applications? Had he even left the room?! He hadn't. He played video games all day. It was bad. I was surprised that my parents let him stay as long as they did. After three months I was expecting them to kick him out. After six months my parents had a sit-down with me and expressed their frustration. I agreed 100%! I had learned that he was lazy, good for nothing, and had no ambition. They wanted to kick him out and, again, I agreed.
Since he had no family that would take him in, he stayed at a long-term hotel with savings his grandmother left him after she died. Savings that was supposed to be for our wedding. I would go and visit him but he never came back to my parent's house to see me. He lived in the hotel for about two months, in which time he still never got a job. He eventually ran out of money and had to go back north to live with his mother. The last day he was there he was sad and crying. Asking, wasn't I sad to see him leave? Wasn't I going to miss him? I told him the truth. "Honestly, I don't feel a thing. Not happy, sad, nothing. And you know what? I love it! I wish I could feel this way more often!" When we were out by our cars he was crying, again — he was a crier — and tried to pull me into a long hug. I pulled away and told him that I didn't have time for this, I was late for work. I got into my car and drove away. My feelings for him were finally starting to dwindle. But I stayed a little longer.
Mark went back north in October and he'd actually come to visit me in November. More for the fact that I told him I wasn't going to visit him at all this time. This visit was the straw that broke the camel's back. The one that made me despise him. We were at my parent's house with nothing to do. Mind you, he still didn't have a job. Not even back north with his mother. No surprises. He would leech for as long as he could. That being said, whatever we did I had to pay for! We were driving around when I suggested we go to the outdoor strip mall by our high school. It was a regular hang out spot for us. He didn't want to go there. He wanted to see the movie Red with Bruce Willis. Granted, it was a good movie. But I had already seen it with my family. Movies were not cheap. About ten dollars a ticket plus a drink, and he always wanted candy. It was going to be a thirty or so dollar trip. Money that I didn't want to spend on a movie I had already seen. I suggested other movies that were playing but he was stuck on Red. Red, Red, Red. He wanted to see Red. It got to the point where I said to him, "If I take you to see this movie will you shut the hell up!?" Does that sound familiar? A lot like when he pressured me into having sex. Asking the same thing over and over again until I snapped. Alas, we went to see Red. This next action of his is what made think, "I can't do this. I just can't do this." Throughout the movie, and on our way home. He praised and thanked me for taking him to the movie! "Oh thank you, baby! Thank you so much, you're the best girlfriend ever! Thank you so much! I love you!" Just change the words "baby" and "girlfriend" to "mom" and you get a mother and child relationship. I couldn't be his mother. I shouldn't have to be! That's not what a relationship was. It's supposed to be a partnership where each person supports the other. Not one does everything while the other skates on the first's coattails. I wanted out.
When he went back up north he continued to pester me over the phone as he had done in years past. Texting me all the time. Asking where I was, what I was doing, who I was with? It was ridiculous! I finally told him that I wanted a break. This shocked him because I always said that I never believed in breaks. In my eyes, if someone needed a break then they really want out. He said, "I thought you didn't believe in breaks?" I told him now I did. I said I needed a break from him. That he was smothering me. I told him I didn't want to hear from him for a week. No calls, texts, e-mails, instant messages, nothing! He reluctantly agreed. Until he called me later that night. I was on my way to my best friend's house when he called me in the car. "Where are you going this late at night?!" He'd shouted. I told him it wasn't any of his concern. I was a big girl and I could take care of myself. Not to mention, he wasn't supposed to be calling me! I hung up and continued the drive. When I got to my friend's I told her all about how Mark called me in the car. Then, as we were talking, he called me again! My friend looked at me and said, "Steph, you need to end this. This has to stop." Her husband looked at me from the kitchen and said, "You know she's right, Steph." I nodded, said that I was going outside to do this, and I would be back when it was done. I was done.
I went to my car and answered the phone. I can't remember the entire conversation, but it seemed to go on for hours! I told him that I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't be his mother. I asked him, "Haven't you noticed that I can't even tell you that I love you anymore? When you say it over the phone my response is, 'I know.' I can't do this. I deserve better." He cried — as per usual — said that he would change. He would fix it. He would get better. He would help me to learn to love him again. I said, "Don't you get it? I don't want to. I'm done. I need to move on. And so should you." He said at one point, "I'm on my knees begging you, Stephanie! I know you can't see it, but I am. Please, please don't do this! Give me another chance!" I couldn't do it. I needed out. He'd had more chances than he deserved. I don't remember how the conversation ended, but I finally got him to hang up. I went back into to my friend's apartment. She asked, "Are you OK?" Her husband looked at his watch, "That was fast." Apparently, I had only been gone about twenty minutes. It felt so much longer. My friend and I did a shot after that. It tasted horrible.
That was a Saturday. The next morning when I got up to go to church with my mom, I felt light, happy, and free. I was free! Everyone at church noticed a difference in me and all asked what had happened. I told them I broke it off with Mark. They all had the same awkward response, wanting to say, "Awe, I'm sorry. Are you OK?" But it was obvious that I was great! It was the best thing that happened to me. I was being pulled down and backward by him. Now I felt that there was nowhere to go but up!
After church, I went to the salon and got my hair cut. I had been keeping it long for him. But no more! Now I could do things my own way. The stylist asked me how short. I put my hand to my chin. My hair was past my shoulders. She was shocked. "Are you sure? It's so beautiful!" I nodded. I hate my hair long. I even started losing weight. I didn't have an appetite for any and everything around me. I didn't have a reason to eat away my feelings. I loved these feelings! I was free! So finally and completely free!
What can be learned from Part One? A few things. For starters,
Never ever! Even Madonna said it, "Don't go for second best, baby, you gotta put your love to the test! You know you've got to, make him impress, baby. Then you know your love is real!" Don't think that you have to stick with someone just because you made the commitment. The other person is in this relationship, but so are YOU. It takes two to make a relationship. And if both people are not happy, then there is no point.
Read the Signs
When something seems a little less than legit, don't brush it off! Your gut instinct is a real thing. How do you think people survived before civilized time? They had intuition. We were created with it! But we ignore it because we bear it down with logic. It's ok to question things in a relationship. It's ok to think, "That's not cool. I don't think I can deal with that." You can walk away. Will you hurt the other person? Maybe, yeah. But you have to be true to yourself.
Don't Do Things You Don't Want to Do
Never ever let someone push you into something that you aren't ready to do. People are mean and will make you feel small, weak, or prude because you don't want to do something. Screw them! You are the one who has to deal with the consequences of your actions. Not the other person. You have to live with yourself. If you don't feel it's worth it, do as I have always said: When in doubt, DON'T!
Trust Your Friends and Family
I didn't write about it a lot, but my friends were not fond of Mark. Even ones that we went to school with. A lot of people showed me the signs. They told me "That's not normal" or "He shouldn't do that/make you feel that way!" But I didn't listen to them. It's not even that I took their advice with a grain of salt, as the saying goes. I didn't listen to them at all. Your friends and family see things that you don't. When you're in a relationship and you love someone you don't always see what's right in front of you. Allow your friends and family to show you what you can't see.
Don't Make Excuses
I made excuses for Mark and our relationship from start to finish. When he wouldn't visit me I said that it was because of his job or his mom or his car. When he was nasty to me and made me cry - that happened a lot. Daily at some points - I told myself that he just had a bad day. Or that it really was my fault and that I made him angry. If I had just not done or said ______ then he wouldn't have gotten mad. No. Don't make excuses for them1 People have their reasons. Even if they are irrational, as their partner you deserve to know what they are. Not what you THINK they are. Making excuses does nobody any good.
The Effort Is Equal
In a relationship, it's not 50/50, it's 100/100. Each person puts forth one hundred percent, one hundred percent of the time. If someone doesn't want to put forth an effort to you in a relationship, don't bother doing it for them! Two people are in a relationship, not one. If you're the only one doing things, then you may as well be alone. It's practically the same thing.
I hope you learned something from Part One and will continue to read Part Two when it is released.
Until next time. Stay strong!