On Christmas morning, I assume my family does what most do.
We sit around laughing and opening presents, sipping on copious amounts of coffee in our pajamas and sharing stories of years past.
I only take my iPhone out to snap a photo of my nephews opening their first presents together, or my clumsy sister spilling coffee all over herself again.
For me, Christmas stirs up happiness and fond memories. For others, it stirs up loneliness and hard feelings.
Unfortunately, this past Christmas, I was forced to be at the brunt of those feelings.
Let’s rewind to the previous Christmas.
All was well, and I was happily single. I had recently started speaking to a guy from work after a bit of flirtation at our work holiday party.
Everyone gets frisky at those things.
Seemingly, many employees have waited all year to sip a few martinis and find bonds over disliking the same coworker, or to dance (completely inappropriately) up on the supervisor they’ve had the hots for all year.
So, we fell into the trap, and we had our first date shortly after.
We didn’t kiss on the first date (or second, or third), and we began to see each other almost every day.
I was head over heels. He was kind, charismatic, generous and charming.
Time flew when we were together. I didn’t pay for a single meal or drink.
He showered me with gifts and compliments, and he did the little and big things to show he cared on a daily basis.
He sent me text messages telling me how wonderful I was, and he made me feel as if I was the most beautiful girl on Earth.
If I slept over and he'd left for work, he’d make sure there was coffee, breakfast and a snack for my day set out for me.
Even at work, he’d hand me snacks and go out of his way to bring my favorite coffee.
Clearly, the way to my heart was deciphered: food and coffee.
Our first fight, however, came all too soon. It was before our first kiss.
We were supposed to meet at the gym. I had gotten out of work late, feeling overwhelmed from the day, and I had asked if we could reschedule.
He immediately yelled, “I would’ve expected this from other people, but not from you. You are taking advantage of me, and you clearly do not care about me.”
I was bewildered as he rambled on about how people don’t care, and I quickly agreed to go to dinner with him to appease him.
I was confused, but dinner was fine.
Our dates continued.
But so did this behavior.
We dated for 10 months.
Nobody ever bought me so many dinners, took me out to so many sporting events and concerts or seemingly cared about me so deeply.
We had a ton of fun and connected on many levels.
However, I knew something wasn’t right.
I am not confrontational by any means. I like to talk things out in a civil, mature manner.
He hated that about me.
He constantly got hung up on little things and started fights about them.
He would yell at me on the phone for hours and hours, not letting me get a word in, and mimic me if I tried to talk things out in a calm fashion.
Things I would never understand or think a person could be angry about, he would get angry about.
He hated that I ran. He took personal offense to it because he knew my ankles were weak.
I loved to run and had to hide it from him each time I did.
If I vented about an issue I had with a friend or family, he would take personal offense that I needed other people in my life besides him.
I, who have always had a ton of male friends, could not bring them up because it would be wrongfully assumed that I was cheating on him or that they “liked” me.
I was not allowed to have an opinion if he did not agree with it. He would not let me agree to disagree.
I had to agree with him, or he’d continue to yell.
When I finally would get angry, he’d talk back and say, “Oh, you think you’re tough for standing up to me? You’re not.”
Then, of course, he’d apologize later and blame it all on caring for me.
It made sense.
The things he yelled about did seem to come from a place of concern.
Yet, he never labeled any of these as “fights," probably because I couldn’t fight back.
Some days, I’d show up to work, and he’d completely ignore me.
I’d ask him what was wrong, and he would stay silent until he exploded on me later.
It was usually something to the extent of me not inviting him out with my friends the night before, or me spending too much time with my family.
If he had it his way, we would spend every waking moment together.
I, however, cherish my family, friends and alone time all too much for that.
He had an inconspicuous way of making me feel guilty whenever I hung out with someone besides him, or even when I was just alone.
His entire happiness was unhealthily based on me. He fed off my spirit, and he did not want to share me with anyone else.
I was always happy and cheery with him, even when I didn't feel that way.
I had to be.
If I answered the phone in the wrong tone, he’d yell or give me the silent treatment.
Yet, he could be outright nasty to me over the phone, and I just had to take it.
He made it so I could not talk back. I would swallow my anger or hurt and exude kindness, but it still wasn’t enough for him.
I never knew what I was doing wrong, and I never knew the person I was going to get on the phone.
All I knew was I had to make sure I saw him enough, called him enough and cared about him enough.
Even so, he’d always say I took him for granted. I didn’t appreciate him, or I just didn’t care.
Then, he’d turn around and act like the most wonderful, supportive boyfriend a girl could dream of.
There was no consistency.
The worst part, for me, was how he tried to control and manipulate me. He was 10 years older than me, and he reminded me of that constantly.
He wouldn’t suggest to me to do things a certain way. He would tell me to.
He had a specific way of doing everything, including driving, eating, hand washing, cleaning, exercising and studying.
You name it, he had done it, and he had done it better than me.
He forced me to do things his way. It was all under the guise of him trying to “teach” me.
I had gotten along in life perfectly before he came along, but in his eyes, I was helpless without him.
His way with words eventually made me believe he was right and I was wrong, all the time.
I’ve always prided myself for my individuality and independence. I saw all of it slowly slipping away.
He belittled everything I did.
When I was accepted into graduate school, his immediate reaction wasn’t excitement.
It was anger that I didn’t thank him for helping with my personal statement (which he also tore apart).
We were both in the healthcare field, and I guess he saw me as competition because nothing I did was commendable.
It was all just another reason to make me feel inferior.
Though we had a lot of fun adventures, most nights were spent sitting in his apartment. He didn’t want to go out with me and my friends.
I can understand he was older, but we aren’t too rowdy of a bunch.
I sometimes had anxiety attacks knowing the next few nights would be the same as the last few.
In his apartment, he would playfully hit me.
Though I knew it was done jokingly, it made me uncomfortable.
When I’d ask him to stop, he’d make fun of me for being “too sensitive,” and he would continue doing what I asked him not to.
My close friends pointed out how submissive I was to him.
I couldn’t disagree. However, I was blinded.
I thought to myself that I couldn't find someone better than him. I was brainwashed.
When I moved to grad school, he furnished my bedroom, bought me kitchen supplies and moved me in.
He always gave to me in material ways he knew I could not afford to reciprocate, leaving me feeling guilty and inadequate.
We made our first dinner together, and we had a lovely time. But, I knew trouble was brewing.
I could already feel the stress of having our relationship be long-distance, and me having priorities that were not him.
Sure enough, my visits home weren’t satisfactory, my phone calls weren’t enough and he told me I needed to “get my priorities straight.”
This meant him, of course.
The last time he visited, he laid on my bed, angry at me because I had not made him dinner. (He told me he wasn’t hungry.)
I instead baked cookies and made a cocktail I thought we could enjoy together. He refused to try either.
The next day, he laid on my bed and slept all day, snapping at me when I asked what was wrong.
He said all he could to prove I was a terrible girlfriend who clearly didn’t care about him. He never understood our ways of caring for each other were different.
I left the room and cried as I made him lunch and set it out for him.
I didn’t want him to see me cry, but I knew now that I had to find a way out.
It happened over another simple fight, a couple of weeks later, when I was upset about something and wanted someone to talk to.
He basically told me to suck it up, and he suggested we take a couple of days to figure things out on our own.
When I said we should not talk at all anymore, he exploded and twisted it all on me.
He said I was the one who was taking things the wrong way, and I could not hold him accountable for his behavior.
I know I was putting his emotions before my own.
I put him before my school and before my other relationships because I was always scared of how he'd react if I didn't.
That's not a relationship.
I had to get out.
I always say, you have to know who you are and what you want before you get into a relationship, so that person doesn't change those things.
I fell into that trap and finally realized it was time to leave and become my strong, independent self again.
Finally finding the courage within myself to break up with him was one of the scariest and hardest things I have ever done.
My voice shook as I said the words I had been dying to say.
I cried uncontrollably as he tried to manipulate me into staying with him.
It took hours on the phone, but I stood my ground, reminding myself I was worth more than this.
I felt as if I had been hit by a train emotionally.
He made me feel so guilty as he reminded me of all the kind, wonderful and supportive things he had done for me.
I blocked his number and all his social media.
Though that unwarranted guilt weighed on me, an overwhelming wave of relief took over me when I realized it was over.
I could breathe again. I could be me again.
Anyone who knows this man on the surface level would call me crazy.
He is the friendliest guy you will ever meet, and he has a good heart. I do not resent him or our relationship, and I don't think he is a bad person.
I only hope he can resolve his issues, find happiness within himself and be in a healthy relationship.
I write this for other women or men who may be going through an emotionally abusive relationship without realizing it.
I did not realize it until I was out.
The great parts of our relationship outweighed the bad in my mind, and that is why I stayed for so long.
Though leaving was hard and scary, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I am a better, stronger person for it.
Emotional abuse is a lot harder to see than physical abuse.
This is especially true when you think you are happy, and you see how much this person does for you and “cares” about you.
You may have great times, and you may even be in love.
But you should never let someone control you. Nobody should have the power to make you feel inferior.
Nobody should guilt you into staying with him or her.
Love isn't giving only to receive.
Know if someone is doing that, it’s because of his or her own issues, not yours.
Be strong enough to walk away. You will be happier.
Caring for a person is not tearing him or her down and then building him or her up.
Caring for a person is not controlling and manipulating him or her.
Caring for a person is not making him or her responsible for your entire happiness.
Know the signs and take a stand for yourself and others against emotional abuse.
You are worth it.