In a rush? Jump down to the summary at the end.
Maybe you were with a Jerkface a few years ago, and s/he thought it was their business to monitor the clothes you wore and the friends you were “allowed” to hang out with. And even though it sometimes seemed impossible, eventually you freed yourself from that prison, maybe even moved to a new city, got a new job, and started over.
Then you met someone who loved your clothes and your friends but thought you were perfect – if you just lost a few pounds.
What an improvement! You can wear what you want, stay out with your friends, but just maybe don’t have seconds tonight. And maybe no beer when you go out. That’s doable, right?
Now when you get home from a night out with the besties, you’re greeted with “I love that dress, babe. But doesn’t it feel a little tight? I mean, you still look good but you know how much I love when your (whatever body part they pick on) looks (however they want it to look).”
On date night you start to order an appetizer, and you get a subtle little headshake from the lover and you think – Oh yeah, I probably shouldn’t. Or maybe a cute young thing walks by and your beloved says something like “Hey honey, s/he looks like you used to look 10 pounds ago, right?”
You get your nerve up and you finally start to question your sweetie, or tell them this stuff about your body makes you feel bad. But instead of saying “Oh, sorry – I won’t do that ever again.” (normal, non-abusive response) they tell you that you’re too sensitive. Or you don’t appreciate their help. Or (one of my favorites) you are the one who’s mean.
And eventually, whether it takes 5 minutes or a week – YOU end up apologizing.
Worst of all, instead of changing their behavior – THEY START DOING IT MORE OFTEN. (See my other post on how abusers use your pain to hurt you more.) What’s going on here? Plain and simple – your sweetie is a Jerkface. Maybe they aren’t possessive, and they never yell, and they wouldn’t dream of raising a hand to you. But abuse is abuse. You’re still being treated as less than a person. Your relationship is based on an unfair power dynamic.
When it comes down to it, you still don’t have permission to ask for what you want and need in this relationship.
My first Jerkface (narcissist) controlled almost everything – my money, my looks, my words, and even how I held my fork – with a cool, calculated, and terrifying calmness. My second and last Jerkface (rageaholic) didn’t give a crap about those things but used rage and violence related to social situations so that eventually I was terrified to do anything outside of the house together. Completely different “approaches” but the net result was the same: abuse and control.
I felt like a total chump once I admitted to myself I’d chosen another of these toxic people but it did me no good to feel sorry for myself, and it certainly wasn’t ok to settle for a different flavor of abuse. It’s not ok for you, either, by the way.
I know it seems like everyone is a jerk in some way, and you’re already with this one, so might as well get comfy or go to counseling or whatever we tell ourselves short of deciding we really deserve better. It took me 5 years to leave Jerkface #2, so I wasn’t good at that leaving thing, obviously. Between the two of those abusers, I completely threw away my whole second decade.
Instead of building my career, or traveling the world, my 20s were the 10 years I chose to let two different people terrify, belittle, and torment me.
I’m not smarter than you, I didn’t have a great childhood, or money, or anything special – except some friends who helped me leave. If I can do it, you can do it. Really. If you’re still with Jerkface, just leave.
SUMMARY: Chocolate and vanilla seem really different, but they’re both ice cream. If you’re lactose intolerant, they’ll both make you sick. Same with Jerkfaces – just because one doesn’t yell, or doesn’t control your spending – doesn’t mean they aren’t abusive. Abuse is abuse, whether you’re old, young, gay, straight, bi, male, female, transitioning, rich, or poor. And you don’t deserve it.
Related: Myth: Relationships are HARD.