Bad Things Come In Threes
If you met me now, you probably wouldn’t think that I was the sort of girl who allowed boys to walk over her and treat her like shit. You might not even think I was the sort of girl who liked boys — with cropped hair and flannel shirts I’ve kind of done all I can to deter men from taking an interest. But a few years ago, when my hair was long and curly and my self-esteem was pretty much at rock bottom, I let a series of men trample over my self-worth. It left me reeling and depressed and fragile, but it also left me full of rage. A rage that I never got the chance to express, until now. It begins with a rape and it used to end with a cheat. But I’m re-writing that ending. Now, it ends with a strong woman who owns her anger. Who yells back at catcallers and laughs in the face of unsolicited dick pics. A woman strong enough to write this piece.
I bet you would never have called it rape. Rapes happen down a dark alley, at gunpoint, at the hands of a stranger. Not in a student bedroom with posters on the wall and music playing and mood lighting. You would probably remember it as the night I came round to collect my belongings after a month of you deciding between your ex and me. You probably wouldn’t have called your behaviour manipulative. Owing to the fact that you seemed to think it was perfectly reasonable to string me along for as long as you did and persuaded me to think the same. That night at your place was the last in a long line of manipulations which led to the darkest period of my life in which I believed myself to be totally unloveable.
We met up once after that. Over coffee when you told me you thought I was two-faced and I left completely stunned at how you could somehow spin it to blame me after all that you had done. We didn’t speak again until a few weeks ago when you expressed your sorrow at my dad’s illness. But you didn’t applogize for the countless nights you left me questioning my own worth. Or for why you kept me hanging on for so long only to mock me to my face once it was all over. And I bet you still wouldn’t call it rape.
The next lesson that I was to learn is that abuse can come in more forms than just the physical. To let my guard down with you was something I worked on for months, but my efforts were not rewarded. Any breakthrough I made was never enough to satisfy you, never enough to make you care for me the way you seemed to do in the first weeks and months of our rollercoaster relationship.
Like some sick psychology experiment and I was the mouse pulling the lever again and again even when no food appeared for days on end. Like I was trapped. The abuse came in the form of snide little comments and asides, never major enough for me to call you out, but over the course of nine months it steadily broke me down. I didn’t even start to call it “abuse” until a year after we broke up because it took me that long to recognize it as such.
In abusive relationships like these, the abuse itself is the lesser of two evils. The worst part is not the partner who is abusing you, but the abuser who lives in your head. Who lived in my head. The cynical, self-deprecating voice that I used to hear so often. I hear it a little less now, but sometimes it still sounds exactly like yours.
As a measure of how much I had hardened and strengthened myself against the world, when you cheated on me I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t upset either, I was just angry. I have very few flowery words of poetry for you because you are a fucking idiot and getting you out of my life was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Spurred on by the ease with which I rid myself of the third instalment of proof that bad things come in threes, I made up my mind that this was the last time I would put my trust in the false promises of men. I worked on living by and loving myself on my own terms and challenged myself to get rid of any toxic relationships left in my life.
A couple of years on from NUMBER TWOI sometimes still have to remind myself that the belittling voice I hear inside my head is just an echo of his and not the truth. I have come a long way though, travelling around South America on my own for five months and having a healthy, if short-lived, relationship since. Sometimes it really feels like my life never gives me a break, allowing me to get over the last tragedy before another one strikes. At the moment, I am coping with my dad's illness right on the back of my life-changing trip to South America.
Life isn't easy, but I don't feel like my life ever has been. What has changed is how I think of myself. I believe now that I am worthy of healthy relationships and people who treat me right, and so I refuse to accept any less. Sometimes I get sad and sometimes, like now, I get angry. There are people in this world who deserve a lot worse than an article exposing their shortcomings without naming their names, but there's not much point worrying about that now. From now on, I'm just going to look after myself.
Rosie Esther Solomon is a writer, spoken word artist and pole dancer. She can be found releasing her rage on a regular basis under the alias The Bechdel Bitch. Find her blog at thebechdelbitch.com for feminist film reviews and other musings, and follow her @rosiees7 on Twitter and Instagram for pole photos and bad jokes.