It starts off small. He holds you too aggressively or gets angry at you when you choose to hang out with your friends instead of him. You excuse it because it’s so minuscule; people get upset sometimes. Everyone has off days. You love him, you want him to be happy and you think that you can help him get through whatever it is he is going through.
He does it again, this time it escalates, he apologizes profusely. You get upset, but you forgive him; you love him and it has only happened a few times. You worry about what he will think of you if you do something he doesn’t like and try to understand where he’s coming from before he gets angry. He tells you he’s disappointed in you and that you complain too much, but assures you that he “loves you”. Things begin to escalate and you start to accept yourself as secondary. This is how a cycle is born.
I was lucky to grow up in an incredibly loving home. My parents never fought in front of me, and I only ever saw them argue over trivial things like where to go out to eat or the quickest route to get somewhere. I had no idea what a violent relationship might look like; my friends and I never talked about our parents’ practices or what it was like when we weren’t with each other. I thought everyone grew up like me, but as I got older I started to hear parents talk. The same friends whose houses I went over for lunch every day confided in me and told me how they had always envied me for how much love was in our family. I started to understand that not everyone had my parents.
As I grew up, more of my friends started to date. I was again shocked to see the way some boys felt justified in treating my friends, some of whom learned these behaviors from their upbringings. They called their girlfriends stupid and made comments about the sizes of their waists in front of their friends. Some were pressured into sex and told that if they didn’t do it they would be broken up with.
The fear of losing someone they loved kept them going, and as I grew up and grew older, I started to understand where they were coming from. It is not easy to leave someone you love even if they don’t understand how to love you back. In my adult life, many of the people close to me have struggled from this.
October is domestic violence awareness month. It is a month we should use to reflect on our own dating practices and become energized and activated by the prevalence of interpersonal violence. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, almost half of college-aged women will experience some sort of violent or abusive dating behaviors during her enrollment. Nearly half of both college-aged men and women have been in a relationship in which their partner is psychologically abusive. Between 14-25% of women will be sexually assaulted by partners in an intimate relationship.
These numbers are especially troubling considering how rare it is to see justice in one of these situations. While it is hard and at times dangerous to let go, it is also exhausting to navigate the legal process and endure seeing an abusive partner again.
If you feel like you might be in an abusive relationship, you should know that your experiences are valid and help is just a call away. You are loved and infinitely more important than the way you are being treated.
If you suspect one of your friends is in an abusive relationship, be supportive and listen to them. Do not judge them or tell them how you would have done things differently. You are not in their shoes and should only offer your unwavering love and support.
Involve yourself in the community. This month, a group of on-campus partners including the WGRC, URGE, Panhellenic, Not On My Campus, SGA, Crossroads and more will be delving deeper into the topic of domestic violence. Volunteer for our local shelter, Turning Point, or collect goods that they need amongst your friends. Domestic violence touches all of our lives in some capacity; we experience it in different magnitudes, but each experience is important and should not be tolerated.
Join UA’s domestic violence awareness group Team One Love and encourage others to get involved in their conversations surrounding domestic violence and recognizing the signs of an unhealthy relationship. Once we begin to hold ourselves and others accountable for our actions, we can take the necessary steps towards creating an environment where love is consensual, healthy and above all, safe.
Madeline Anscombe is a senior majoring in anthropology. Her column runs biweekly.