[Trigger warning: Emotional and physical abuse]
I was 18 and fresh out of school. We started dating in the first semester of college. Within a month, I said ‘I love you’ to him. I was riding high on the interests he had told me I must have – Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Green Day (everyone else was too ‘pretentious’) and oversized black t-shirts. I lost my virginity to him – it was initially painful, but later, it was great. I thought it would always be that way.
It started within two months when a friend’s boyfriend, a musician, came to perform at a club nearby. “We all have free entry,” my friend exclaimed. We planned a girls’ night out and I excitedly told my boyfriend – five days in advance. On the day of the show, he said, “How shameless. You are prioritising someone else’s boyfriend over your own!” He said a lot of other things. I cried. I made an excuse and skipped the night to prove my ‘loyalty’. Then, it was about eating chicken. I am a vegetarian, and he loved to eat meat. One day, playfully, I had a bite of chicken just to taste, and he announced on Facebook that we were ‘finally equal’.
Then it was about making me realise how I was giving in to pretentious activities. My shoes and clothes were mocked (“Capitalist bitch”); he made me cry for hours when I was invited to meet my to-be brother-in-law and his family (“Marriage sucks. It’s pretentious. If you go, you’re giving in to the fakeness. If you love me, don’t go.“). One day, on a trip we took together, he had a fantasy to role-play like he was raping me. Too naive and lost in love, I lay submissively on the bed as he went in and out.
I ignored all the signs my parents warned me about – they didn’t like him, neither did many of my friends or classmates, neither did my sister. But well, they were all ‘pretentious’ after all, weren’t they? I was trying to be too cool and adventurous and funny – it was not me, heck it wasn’t even ‘cool’. He asked me to prove my impulsiveness to him – let’s fuck before every exam, chuck the preparation. So we fucked before every exam, and when it would hurt, he would tell me, “There’s a way of channelising pain in a way that the other person feels pleasure. Don’t let your pain affect me.” And when I would say no just before he entered, he would ask me to prove my love to him. “Fuck me,” he would say. “Prove that you love me.”
One day, after a big fight, he smacked me on my back. “Phat!” The sound was deafening. And then the blows came on my face. “Slap, slap, slap!” Thrice. The sound still rings in my ears. Immediately after, he hugged me and said sorry. He said he was so passionate that he expressed himself in this way. That night, I woke up to him banging his head lightly against the wall. “I’ll commit suicide,” he said. He said that many times over the next few months – if I wanted to leave his house if I wanted to go out with anyone else. I felt trapped in this ‘non-pretentious’ hell-hole of a relationship.
The second time it happened, my glasses broke. They were flung across the room, as he slapped me. I lay there on the floor crying. And he said, “If you leave the house, I’ll commit suicide.” I was scared to the bone. I had suffered for a year at this point – at the hands of his abuse masqueraded as love. We were fighting every single day; I was probably the worst version of myself. I was callous, disrespectful, embodying all his ‘coolness’ as attributes I must have. That day, as he sat across the room watching me, I walked out. I walked out because I was scared, I walked out before I let something worse happen to me.
Years later, that one year of my life comes back to me almost every single day. The pain is searing. A few days before writing this, a friend of mine asked me, “If Aziz Ansari was forcing himself on her, why didn’t she leave?” Well, we don’t leave because we are scared. We don’t want anything worse to happen. We also believe that things might get better. We are shamed in this society for walking out and for telling the truth. We are too scared at the moment, and we don’t know how to react. We feel threatened and cornered. It isn’t that simple. We don’t have the privilege of walking out. The reasons are many, diverse and complex – and none of them justifies that we had a part to play in the violence that was meted out to us. Stop shaming us because we couldn’t walk out earlier. Start questioning why such abuse in the name of love happens to thousands of women across the world.
I stayed for a year. But if you are reading this and want to walk out, trust your instinct. Don’t hesitate to ask help. For people who shame us, there are also people who will listen and help us take action. You are not wrong, and you… are not alone.