What It's Like To Be 21 And In An Abusive Relationship You Can't Escape

by Gigi Engle

I am a feminist, a freethinker and writer who openly discusses taboo subject matter that makes my parents blush. I have no shame. I am who I am, and I am proud of this person.

Two years ago, however, I very nearly lost myself to abuse. As if I had fallen into social quicksand, I found myself suffocated by a violent, emotionally-damaging relationship.

I knew who I was, didn’t I? I mean, I did. I was a much different person before I started seeing Peter*.

When I met him, the age difference, the money and some old-world idea of the man I was SUPPOSED to be with drew me in. I could hear my mother in the back of my head telling me this was the kind of guy I should marry; he was the kind of man who would take care of me.

I hadn’t even been looking for this kind of relationship. He just fell into my lap one night at a bar where my friend was promoting, so the vodka was free.

He was standing by the bar, talking with a client. He looked so smart in the suit he’d had tailored at some fancy French department store where the saleswomen in tight pencil skirts still run around with pincushions. He was tall and had big, rough hands.

I was drunk and, therefore, very talkative. I dropped the cocktail he bought me and the glass shattered all around my feet. He bought me another and I downed it. I gave him my number.

I was 21, and falling in love with him was easy. He felt safe. He seemed like someone I should consider for the long haul. I saw him this way very early on, as a forever kind of boyfriend and, one day, husband.

All the boys I’d dated previously seemed simple and, well, just that -- boys. Peter was a man. He made me feel so mature and grown up. He was direct and forceful. Everything he did was full of intensity.

He was in total control of our relationship. When everything started, I liked that about us. He ordered for me at restaurants, made all the plans for our dates and, of course, he always picked up the bill.

Things, however, started to change after three months of bliss.

Somehow, he had started to become bigger while I grew smaller.

When he wouldn’t text me for three days or told me he didn’t want to see me because he was tired, I just brushed it off and told myself that was normal. He was just busy, right? I saw myself introverting in a way that alarms me greatly now.

I would just take all of the neglect and blame myself. I wanted it to work out so badly that the idea of it not working was completely indigestible.

My best friend was completely freaked out. He would regularly comment on how manipulative and aggressive my boyfriend was. Peter never showed any interest in getting to know my best friend.

He wanted me to himself, isolated and unreachable. I didn’t realize this was a sign of abuse. I just thought he was protective of the time he got to have me to himself. I actually thought it was sweet, not f*cked up.

I stayed even when I knew it was time to walk away.

When he insisted upon spanking me, I was into that. I just thought he was being kinky. In retrospect, I should have recognized the line had been crossed when his spanking turned into a form of punishment for behavior he deemed unsavory.

If I didn’t call him to check in after going out with my friends, I got spanked. If I spilled something, I got spanked. It wasn’t fun, kinky spanking. It was hard, angry spanking.

He called me “Little Girl” from the moment we started seeing each other. If you asked me now why I thought that was OK, I really couldn’t tell you.

When he asked me to start calling him “Daddy” as a term of endearment, I went with it. He then started to refer to himself as “Daddy” in the third person.

I just sat there like an idiot and took it. I was conscious of the fact that it was all kinds of bizarre, but I convinced myself to push it into the back of my mind and consider it one of his quirks.

He once did it over brunch at the Four Seasons, within earshot of the waitress and I nearly died of shame.

I’m an educated person, but I didn’t know what domestic rape was, or how to recognize it was happening to me.

The first time he sexually assaulted me, I didn’t know what was happening. I came into his apartment. I finally had a key after five months of asking.

I was exhausted after my internship that preceded a night class. He threw me on the bed before I’d even taken my shoes off. I didn’t want it. I said no. But it didn’t matter. He overpowered me. He easily had 150 pounds on me. I had no control.

I was left bleeding after it was over. For the first time in my life, I knew what it felt like to lose my agency completely. I finally knew that if someone wanted to f*ck me, I had no choice. A part of me died that night.

I never wanted to have sex with him again. Every time we did, I fought it. I didn’t want it. I cried, I bled and another small part of me died. I internalized everything. I never acted sour or cross. I didn’t want a spanking.

I kept all of this hidden until one night alone with my best friend when we’d had too much wine and I started crying. I spilled everything. I thought he would kill my boyfriend.

After a year and a half, I had to end it.

This was a completely f*cked up relationship and no amount of pretending everything was fine because I wanted it to be fine would make it fine.

I snuck my things out of his place over a few weeks. I suppose I was afraid of what might happen if I tried to leave him and take my things with me.

He was the kind of man who would burn everything. It hit me that I was in a relationship with the kind of guy who would burn everything.

I’d resigned to do it in person. He deserved that much. Our year and a half relationship couldn’t just end over an email. Yet, he forced my hand when he called me screaming at me the morning following a party I’d thrown.

He actually cried. I cried. I cried. I cried for the last 17 months that had been utterly wasted on someone who treated me like garbage. I cried for the person I thought I was who let myself be treated that way.

Looking back, I realize I was in a relationship with a bonafide psychopath. I still feel ashamed of myself for not only getting into that situation but also for staying in it for as long as I did.

At the same time, I appreciate the experience because it changed me in ways I can barely put into words. It forced me to reevaluate every facet of my life and rethink what was important to me. It was through my abusive relationship, I found my long lost voice as a writer and finally gained the confidence to be happy on my own.

The next time I fall in love, I know it will be a love that is worthy of me. Never again will I accept the love of someone who isn’t willing to give me the world.

*Editor’s Note: The names in this story have been altered by request of the victim.

If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, please do not hesitate to get the help and safety you need. The following organizations offer support — emotional and legal: The National Domestic Violence HotlineHelpGuideSafeHorizon and the Center Against Domestic Violence.

You are not alone and, most importantly, you do not deserve this.