‘He sat on Tinder showing me girls he thought were better than me’: Women open up about their experiences with emotional abuse
“He would tell me I was fat, ugly and stupid”
Popular media often characterizes abuse as something loud and frightening: an enraged father yells and slaps his daughter when she speaks up, an innocent heroine finds herself accosted by a group of ne’er-do-wells in a dimly lit alley — you’ve probably seen it all.
What is often overlooked is the quieter, more subtle ways women are mistreated. In the hopes that their stories will become a resource for others, these women* have recounted their experiences with emotional abuse to show that it’s not always bruises and broken bones.
I was 18 and met a 21-year-old through mutual friends. I was still in school, and he was at university. Basically, it started really well, he was polite, and I was happy for the first month or so. I was really naïve and hadn’t had any dating experience, so I was making it all more romantic in my head than it really was. I went to visit him and that was the first time we slept together. It seemed after that it would be constant jokes [about] everything from the way I spoke to the way I dressed. He said I had left my virginity with him, and he joked about that a lot too. I felt embarrassed that I’d let myself get involved with that and didn’t tell anyone. Whenever he came during holidays he would convince me to see him at his house, but I was kept hidden from his family, and he sat in bed on Tinder showing me girls he thought were better than me. On the outside when people asked [about him] I said he was nice and that I was happy. He would leave me in his room for hours while he was somewhere else with his housemates, and tuck me into bed until he came back to have sex. He thought he was the best person alive, [and acted like] I wasn’t even a real person. I finally told him I didn’t want any contact with him. It’s been a year now and I still think about it a lot, but I’m much happier.
So the first emotionally abusive relationship I was in was with a soccer coach I had when I was eleven. His “coaching”, particularly towards me over the rest of my teammates, went so far beyond the normal level of criticism you’d get from a coach. He completely destroyed any shred of self-esteem or self-worth I’d gained by that point in my life. By the time I was done playing on his team, I had an obsessive-compulsive apology tick, and I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone while having a conversation. Looking back on it, I remember having frequent “asthma-induced” panic attacks at practice, but I now realize that it was my paralyzing fear of him that made my anxiety spike. So basically, from age 11 onward, I was really susceptible to getting involved in other emotionally manipulative/abusive relationships with friends and crushes. It all led to a lot of heartache and some pretty ugly mental health stuff over the years, but I’m at a point in my life now where I’m able to stand up for myself when I feel like I’m treading into dangerous territory, and I’m seeing a therapist who’s really helping me to work through those relationships that affected me the most severely.
My last boyfriend acted like he knew everything. To him, I was the weak, unintelligent little thing that needed to be told what to do and when. He could do no wrong. Meanwhile, it seemed like I could do no right. I tried to pick something to do for date night and he called my idea stupid and said he was “never letting me pick date night again.” I rejected sex and he told me I was “immature”, that it was no big deal and I needed to grow up and act like his last girlfriend. I won’t even get into how forceful and aggressive he was, just in general. I always laughed his rudeness off, like the time he called me a bitch for adding my favorite album to his Spotify playlist. I’m glad we broke up, because I don’t know how much more of that I could’ve taken.
The first boy I ever loved emotionally abused me. It was hard. Before we dated, he was my best friend and we had always been kind of jokey mean to each other. I grew up with brothers, so I knew what it was like to be picked on, but once we started dating things got really bad. He would tell me I was fat, ugly and stupid. He would tell me he loved me and then disappear, or tell me he loved me one minute and the next tell me I was never what he wanted. He was my best friend and I knew he had a hard home life, so I let him treat me terribly. Now that I’ve had some distance, I realize how damaging it was to myself and my future relationships. I wanted to fix him and teach him how to love, but he wasn’t fixable by me. He needed to get help from a professional.
I actually grew up dealing with emotional abuse from my mother, who would constantly tell me I was overweight (when I wasn’t by any means, not that that should matter), and that I needed to diet and exercise in order to be “pretty.” Over time, the emotional abuse transmuted from her “helping” me diet and exercise to her cooking blatantly unhealthy meals (like chicken fried steak with a side of fried pickles) and pressuring me to eat it. Afterward, she would insult and shame me for eating such an unhealthy meal, and she would sometimes even joke that I should puke it up. Long story short, for the longest time I thought that this behavior was normal between family members and pretty much anyone close to you, seeing as she had pressured me to be skinny since I was 5. Because I’m an adult now and have since had healthy relationships with people who care about me, I know that this kind of emotional abuse is definitely not normal and [I] have not been in contact with my mother since I graduated high school.
I was seeing this guy, and I guess I didn’t really realize [it], but it got to the point where I didn’t do anything or even say anything without his OK. I ended up dropping out of university and got a job whilst I worked out how to go back and do a different course, and that’s when things started getting worse. He went home for the holidays and then showed up on [my] doorstep a day later. He’d call me when he was home to tell me about terrible things he claimed had happened to him, both past and present. As we were apart for longer, they got more and more ridiculous. I couldn’t handle what I was hearing, so I finally shared the stories he was telling me with a family member who pointed out how implausible it all was. That kinda put it in perspective, and I managed to leave. But he kept going. He found our house phone number and started calling my family crying. He sent a parcel of “my stuff” down, which turned out to be more like a care package full of candy. I blocked him on social media. About a month on, I got this message from his new girlfriend. It was really threatening, saying “she knew I’d been harassing him, and I had to stop or else”. Clearly, he’d fed her some bullshit to get her sympathy, because I had literally cut all contact. I remember him telling me stories about psycho exes early when we were dating too. Not a nice guy. I blocked his new girlfriend too, without responding to her crazy message.
To learn more about emotional abuse, check out these resources. If you or anyone you know is experiencing emotional abuse, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Remember that you are never alone.
*Names have been changed for privacy.
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