I’ve tried several times to write an entry about the Handsome Young Man… but I never seem to get anywhere with it.
I was with the ex for just about a year, which is not so long in the grand scheme of things. But for that year, he had almost total control over every single, tiny little aspect of my life. His control was so total that it seemed to wipe out everything that came before it. I couldn’t remember a time when things were not this way, a time when I had not been treated like this or degraded in this way. After he left, and I started to find my feet as a mother, I slowly managed to drag myself out from under all of that. Every now and then I would have a mini revelation: “oh, that was probably a lie… oh, it’s not unreasonable to want that… oh, everyone else doesn’t think in that way.”
And then I met HYM and it was a massive culture shock. I resisted seeing him at first, because I didn’t want to be controlled and hurt again, and I thought that was what relationships were like. I’d forgotten about the other relationships I’d had before. But I decided to just go for one coffee, and see what happened. He appears to have well and truly won me over!
I had thought I was over the situation I’d been in, and that it was all behind me, no remnants left behind. And now all of a sudden there’s this man in my life who is the exact polar opposite of the ex in every way. Every time I see or speak to him, he unwittingly says or does something that highlights just how different he is, and just how skewed my view of the world was, without my even realising it. I keep expecting him to behave or react in the way I was used to, and when he doesn’t kick off or tell me off or make me feel inferior or stupid or dirty or wrong, it confuses the hell out of me. I have no frame of reference for a man who tells me I am beautiful and amazing and is clearly just happy to be spending time with me, even if that time is spent with me trying to rock S to sleep for an hour. He asks what I’m up to because he’s interested, not because he’s checking up on me. When we spend an evening apart it’s because we’re both doing other things, and neither of us assumes the other is sleeping with someone else. He has never once told me what to do with regard to S, something everyone else seems only too happy to do.
I had never realised a kiss could be used as something to assert authority over another person, or that something as simple as holding hands could be used to denote ownership and control – until I experienced the flip side of them. As a general rule, it’s never a good idea to compare current partners with previous ones, but I find myself doing it all the time, with this weird mind-blown expression on my face, thinking “oh right, so this is what it’s supposed to be like.” It’s like he lives in this weird, alien world where I’m beautiful and he’s lucky to be with me. Like an extended version of the Twilight Zone.
Sometimes, while I was with the ex, I would have these fleeting moments of clarity, where I would be internally screaming at myself: What are you doing? Why are you fighting so hard to stay with someone who marks your body and degrades you and makes you feel so worthless and miserable and unappreciated? I did know it was wrong, but I felt powerless to stop it. I had been convinced that was just what relationships were like, and that I was the person who was in the wrong: clearly I held people up to an impossibly high standard, I expected the unachievable in a relationship and of a man. What he was doing was normal, and I was abnormal for being at all unwilling to co-operate. I was poisonous, it was all me. I accepted that perhaps I just wanted too much out of a relationship, and I wasn’t able to deal with all the effort and compromise that comes with it. I decided I would just be alone and concentrate on looking after my daughter.
Having met HYM, it’s like the final nail in the coffin of the control the ex had. Now I’ve seen how HYM treats me, how he makes me feel like the most amazing, beautiful and important person in the world, I realise just how much I had been broken by my previous experience, just how much of it I was accepting when I should have been walking away from what was a nasty situation. I have always had issues with confidence, even before the ex. He just made them that much worse, made me that much more insecure and dependent upon him to feel like I was just about acceptable as a person. Nobody else would ever want me because, after all, the ex was doing me a favour by sticking around someone as difficult and unpleasant as me. Even on the day I went into labour with his child, I was manipulating him and being deliberately difficult, not to mention downright inconvenient, it being Easter Sunday and all.
After an experience like that, and then having been hugely pregnant and given birth, I had no confidence physically or emotionally when it came to a new relationship. Suddenly there was this man at my door wanting to take me out, and clearly very proud and happy to be with me. He seems to think I’m beautiful. I feel like Pauline Collins in Shirley Valentine: “He kissed my stretch marks!”
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