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Is This Love—or Abuse?
Margaret L.
headshot

Names have been changed.

In February of my junior year, I wanted a valentine really bad. I was 16 years old and fairly sure I was a lesbian. I’d liked girls since I was 9, but I called myself bisexual. Then when I was 15 and lost my virginity to a guy, I was even more sure because it was the worst experience of my life.

But I kept trying to make my family and friends think I still liked guys, so they’d think there was still hope for me. I can tell the difference between a cute guy and an ugly guy, which helped a lot when I was pretending.

I’d seen Daisy at school and found her attractive. I’d stop conversations when she walked past and just stare. She was the only white girl in our school, and she didn’t look scared; she looked mean. She stood out with her blonde hair and green eyes and those blond eyelashes to complement them. She walked confident and tall at only 5 foot 2. I couldn’t help but have my eye stuck.

I Was Vulnerable

Our first long conversation was in the school bathroom, sitting on napkins on the dirty floor. I brought my best friend Diana along because I was too nervous to be alone with Daisy. Daisy asked me, “Do I seem like someone you want to be with?” In my mind, I’m thinking “hell yeah,” but I said very calmly, “Yeah. Do I seem like someone you would like to be with?” She replied, “Yeah.” Sometimes Diana would answer questions for me. I explained to Daisy that Diana and I are like joined at the hip, and Daisy said, “I was about to ask if she was your lawyer.”

Two days later, we were a couple. After two weeks, I was in love with her. The way she talked was sexy, and she had her own personality and style. Everything about her drew me in and I couldn’t get enough. In the first two weeks, we had long conversations and experienced fun things about each other. No one else had her beauty in my eyes. She spoiled me by taking me out and would just give me money when I didn’t need it or want it.

But the number one reason I loved her is because she gave me a chance when no one else would. I had been rejected my whole life. My self-esteem had been shot and killed and tossed in the middle of the ocean. I didn’t have any faith in anyone ever wanting to be with me. I didn’t even expect her to say yes; I was almost rooting for a no.

I was fragile and depressed when I met Daisy. My mother died when I was 11. Since then, it has felt like my family’s been against me. Other kids at school called me ugly and dirty. I was used by most of my friends, and people had been dumping me since I was little. I first thought about killing myself when I was 13.

My big brother, who I loved, was M.I.A. and I was worried about him. I hated where I lived (and still do), in kinship care with my 27-year-old cousin who seldom lets me go out, makes me clean the house, and tells me I never do anything. I think she also uses my foster care checks to buy stuff for herself and her son.

Because of all that, I felt lucky that someone as attractive as Daisy wanted to be with me. But only a month into the relationship, she flirted with another girl on the phone in front of me, calling her “cute.” Worst of all was her huge crush on my good friend, Shelley. When Shelley was around, Daisy would turn so red it looked like she was holding her breath. She would get stiff and weird. She would always tell me how pretty Shelley was. We had some version of this conversation a hundred times:

Me: Why do you like her so much?
Daisy: I don’t know. She’s really pretty and has dimples.
Me: So you just turn red over any really pretty girl with dimples? There’s a bunch of girls like that!
Daisy: No, just her.
Me: So why don’t you just leave me since she looks so much better than me?
Daisy: I think Beyoncé looks better than you; that don’t mean anything.

That last line was classic Daisy—funny, mean, and totally disrespectful. I told her that her crush on Shelley hurt my feelings, and I cried about it the entire relationship, but she didn’t change a thing. I began to get so depressed that she kept talking about Shelley to me.

She also cheated on me with other girls, calling them Sexy and Baby. She started to leave her phone lying around and I would check it and find naked pictures and nasty texts from other girls. When I asked her why she did this kind of stuff, she’d just say that she was “stupid” or she didn’t know.

We spent almost every day together. Daisy was who I’d run to when things were bad at home, which was a lot. I was even living with her at two points in our relationship after my cousin kicked me out.

She Took Advantage

When she would look at or fool around with other girls it really upset me. We had a very active sex life and I felt like I was giving myself to her; her cheating made it feel like everything I had to give wasn’t enough.

Still, I was in love. She was my shoulder to cry on and she wouldn’t repeat the personal things I told her. She also could be supportive. She was terrible as a romantic partner, but good as a friend. She did have a decent character in some ways.

To prove my love, in June, I got a tattoo on my side with a fairy and the date we got together. But I made a mistake, because I was thinking about her birthday, which is in April. So my right hip said 4-10-13 when it was supposed to say 2-10-13.

Daisy was furious. She thought it must be some other date from previous relationships or an ex’s birthday. Then some time in early July I got her last name tattooed on my hip. Even after that, she still questioned my love for her. And she kept playing me, and the insane crush on my friend didn’t stop.

I felt hopeless and like no one would miss me if I were gone. One night at her house, thoughts of her cheating kept running through my head. So I took most of my prescription pills and tried to kill myself.

Desperate to Please Her

image by YC-Art Dept

But it didn’t work. I just felt woozy, wondering “What’s taking so long?” When I realized I wasn’t going to die, I hoped Daisy would see how much she hurt me. I thought it might make her get her act together and show me that she loved me the way she said she did. But all she did was tell me to lie down and asked what was I thinking. She was mad at me and didn’t think I took enough pills to go to the hospital.

I threw up the whole next day, my stomach was hurting, and I couldn’t stand up for too long. I discovered that I didn’t really want to die: That was my last suicide attempt.

My next strategy was to change myself to please her. She told me I was perfect and beautiful, but if that was the case why did she break her neck staring at other girls and why did she have an obsessive crush on Shelley? In three months I lost about 30 pounds. But being skinny made me feel even more ugly: I was afraid she was going to find a fuller girl.

She liked long hair, nice bodies, light eyes, straight teeth, and short girls. I stopped wearing shoes that made me taller. I bought hazel contact lenses to have lighter eyes. I tried to keep my hair in a wash and set so it can stay done and I’d look pretty for her. But I decided that wasn’t enough, so I put weaves in my hair to make it longer.

Next I got braces to have straighter teeth because I thought we were going to last long enough to see my teeth get better. But she loved Shelley’s dimples, so I needed them. I tried make-up, but that didn’t work, so I considered getting my cheeks pierced. But I decided that I had changed enough already.

I also tried to change who I was emotionally so she would want me. It seemed like she wanted someone she could run to with everything as if I had every answer but also at the same time a person who could be walked all over without protesting. The girl who will always forgive and forget, this beautiful character who shares without expecting anything back and only cries at home alone.

I started to wonder why I was trying so hard to make her like me more, anyway. Daisy checked my phone all the time and made me delete guy friends I had. She told me what to wear, where to go, who to be friends with. Every time we went out she accused me of looking at guys. Meanwhile, she always stared at other females while I was there.

Worst of all, we had four or five fistfights that left me sore and bruised.

Recognizing the Abuse

In a foster care workshop about domestic violence, seeing a list of abusive behaviors made me realize that I was in that type of relationship. That changed the way I saw the two of us.

I was tired of crying and wondering if she was going to cheat again or if she was doing it now. But every time I got fed up or angry or teary she would say “I love you” or “I’m so sorry” with her beautiful green eyes, and I’d believe her. Each time she said it, she looked so sincere. When she’d soften I would just forgive her and we wouldn’t talk about it anymore that day.

But it began to seem like a broken record. In February, a year after we’d gotten together, I asked if she still had a crush on Shelley. She hesitated, then said yes.

That was my breaking point. I told her it was over. I said “I’d rather be without you and be Shelley’s friend then to be with you and not her friend because it’s not her fault you have a pathetic obsessive crush on her.”

I knew I deserved better: I’d seen better relationships. I knew that it wasn’t fair to me that she treated me so badly. I had to stand up for myself.

Love Means Caring, Not Control

What I took out of that year with Daisy was, Who’s going to love me if I don’t love me? Why change myself if the person I want won’t make the effort to change? Doing things like getting a tattoo to prove my love was ridiculous. I should have gotten it because I loved her, not to prove that I loved her. And now I want it covered because it was a mistake.

It took a while to figure it out, but I do love myself enough to love another and I have room in my heart to do so. People who truly loved me and wanted me to feel better told me I deserved better treatment than what she gave me. My friend Diana was always saying, “Oh my God, Margaret, you can do so much better than her!” She also said, “Trust me, she’s going to know what she lost when it’s over.”

Daisy often called me “dumb,” and the more people say something about me, the more I believe it. But maybe it was useful, because I realized that staying in an abusive relationship with her was dumb, and breaking it off was smart. I realize I am better than what I gave myself credit for. I also know now that, in my next relationship, I will be who I am because changing myself for Daisy didn’t help at all.

Now I realize that when you find that special someone, you should treat each other as equals and try your best not to hurt them. You should be partners through thick and thin, the highs and the lows. You should be proud to say “This is the person I love.” You should like each other the way you are.


Warning Signs of Abuse

Abuse isn’t always as simple as hitting. Other, more subtle behaviors that make you feel disrespected, intimidated, or bad about yourself are at least unhealthy if not abusive. If your boyfriend or girlfriend is doing the things listed below, tell a friend or trusted adult. Abusers often try to isolate their victims, and it’s good to get a reality check.

• Telling you what to wear and who you can hang out with; making you report where you are
• Snooping through your phone to read your texts; accusing you of cheating
• Calling you “crazy” or other insults
• Threatening to expose your secrets or spreading gossip about you
• Smashing things or threatening violence
• Threatening suicide if you break up
• Getting you drunk or high and then having sex with you

Adapted from the Power and Control Wheel of loveisrespect: loveisrespect.org/is-this-abuse/power-and-control-wheel

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(FCYU-2014-07-11)

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