Today I want to tell a story that’s long overdue.
It’s about the first time I told a boy I liked him and everything that came after. I walked through the rain, literally, to go and tell him. My heart was racing and I had never EVER before confessed any feelings of any sort to a guy I was interested in. When I told him, he didn’t say that he liked me, but he also didn’t say that he did not like me. Herein lies the first red flag.
I was nineteen and I had fallen in love. I’d never felt this feeling before and I hope when I feel it again that it is somehow different.
I think this is one of the first times in years that when I think back on this experience, tears don’t instantly rush to my eyes. That’s growth, I think?
I saw this man, who had such a depth and mystery about him. I was captivated and drawn by those attributes. I wanted to know everything about him. I wanted him to feel understood and seen. I wanted him to trust me. I think I had a savior complex, because I had this idea in my head that I could draw things out of people and help them find healing in a way that no one else could. I don’t have that power though, truly.
He told me I was different than all the others. That we connected in a way he didn’t with our other friends. My idealistic self tucked those words deep inside. It felt like a secret that bonded us in a way that, it turns out, was very unhealthy.
When I tried to set boundaries on our “friendship”, his words complied, but his actions crossed every line. For several years, I felt burdened by the tension between the convictions I had and the desire I had for him. I continually reset the boundaries, over and over again, felt like we understood each other, and then always ended up back in the same place.
I ignored the fact that he did the same things with many other girls, often right in front of me. I believed deep down that he loved me and it was different with me. I believed that one day we’d be married. I believed he cared. It’s embarrassing how I was somehow so deceived. I just wanted it to be true. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be accepted and seen. I felt like he really knew me better than most people ever had.
Sometimes I would be the person he’d ask to stay at his dorm to keep him “accountable” when other girls were there. Other times he would arrange the girls who were there in the room to spoon with him, including myself. I knew it was wrong, but he told me that physical touch was the only way that he felt love, and I wanted him to know that I loved him. So I did it.
In so many ways, I was treated as more than a friend, but consistently told that it was just friendship and that he couldn’t stop what he was doing with me because he desired me. So though he didn’t want a romantic relationship, he wanted an intimacy that was meant for a romantic type of relationship, and I wanted him romantically which led to continuous confusion. He wanted to be physical in ways he claimed were innocent, but were actually laced with sexual tension.
I feel that I cannot afford to be vague in this sense–so to be clear, I am not saying that we had sex or anything close to it; spooning was just spooning. But any form of touch, even if it’s just consistent arm touching, can be intimate. The bottom line is that if a touch feels intimate to you, and you want it to stop and it doesn’t, then that’s abusive. I didn’t see it this way at the time, but this is the reality of what happened because every time I asked him to stop, he agreed, and then blatantly disregarded our agreements. I thought that deep down he was in love with me and that was the real reason he continued crossing lines, despite my requests.
I cleaned his room for him, I helped him get out of situations of his own making, I followed him wherever he went and did whatever he wanted to do. He had such a control over me. Part of this is definitely on me. I am to blame for giving him that control. I was in the middle of it and so deep in, it felt too far gone. It felt inescapable and I felt hopeless to change anything without the loss of the dynamics of so many other friendships. Many nights were spent sleepless and with nightmares because of all of the anxiety, confusion, regret, and hopelessness I felt. Yet these feelings were all connected to me placing all the wrongdoings on myself. I felt I was the sole problem, not him.
He was a master of words. Everything he said sounded right. Everything he said made sense. I spent so much time investing in him, trying to understand him and be there for him. I craved his attention and his affirmations. He would text me, asking me to come over and I’d drop whatever I was doing to be there, often at the expense of other relationships.
I know that I was drawn in as much as I was due to my own personal insecurities which I am responsible for working through with God. But let me be clear, because I have seen how a similar thing that happened to me happened to others around me. He had this way of learning all of your weaknesses and deepest needs, and using those things to further draw people in to feeling like they needed him. It created this unhealthy tie that made it feel impossible to say no.
When he would hurt you or be completely wrong about something, he would somehow make it your fault. If someone didn’t approach a problem with the right tone or words, it was completely disregarded and made void. He would use other people who were caught up in him in the same way to further confuse situations to guard him or defend him. I can say that I would often defend him when he did not deserve it.
He was wrong and needed to face the consequences. He was a master at escaping those consequences, and many people, including myself, would let him. When anyone would get anywhere close to holding him truly accountable, he would make them out to be the enemy and use other people to talk them down.
I can recall a time very early on when he said to me, “Jessie, you trust people’s ideas and words, but often their hearts and intentions are evil and you need to be aware of that”. When I think back on that, I can’t help but wonder if he was talking about himself.
This person isn’t in my life anymore, because as much as I longed for reconciliation, that’s not possible without true repentance. So I distanced myself to be free of such an anxiety-inducing relationship.
I no longer think about him everyday. I don’t drive around, crying in my car, wishing that all the love I felt for him would be gone and that things were different… that he was different. That was for all the days of yesterday.
I have done a lot of work to do my part to make sure I’ve worked through the bitterness, grief, anger, and the pain associated with being so used and manipulated. I would be lying, though, if I said that there have not been times when I thought I was no longer affected by what’s happened until a new life change or relationship brings it all back up.
I can say that in the midst of all of that bad, I felt God’s presence more than any other time in my life. I knew he was there. I have a distinct memory of being filled with so much anger that I started kicking stuff in my room and yelling at God (which was rooted in sadness and fear) because of how stuck I felt. I felt so weak. I begged God to just remove all of my feelings for this guy so I could just walk away. Yet at the same time, it seemed so impossible, because everything I was involved in, this guy was too. Many nights when I couldn’t sleep, I would escape to a room that had a piano and sing laments to God. Often my anguish was so deep I felt physically sick. Yet sitting in that piano room, singing to God, a peace would come over me that I couldn’t have felt in that time of my life without God.
You see, despite the wretchedness of those few years, there was still so much good that happened and I’m so thankful for that. I carried a deep shame for a while about everything that happened, but I believe God has forgiven me for my part in what happened, and has clarified for me what was my responsibility and what wasn’t. He has given me an avenue to forgive and put the past behind me and move forward learning to set boundaries and trust again. He has helped me to rebuild friendships of value that were hurt during that time in my life, and some of those people are my very closest friends to this day.
I’ve learned that forgiveness does not mean that I have to be in relationship with that person and that is something that I deeply grieved and denied for awhile. I wanted things to be different, but they can’t be unless there’s repentance on both ends. The Bible cautions frequently on being wary of people’s empty words, and his words were empty, yet I trusted them.
When someone truly repents, there’s a heart change and ultimately a life change. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t fallbacks, but the evidence will be there for a true desire to be different. A key sign of an abuser is that they’re dismissive and they try to make you feel like it’s not real, or that you are solely at fault. There’s no true remorse.
Turns out, I was really in love with the idea of who I thought he was than who he actually was. The dreams and ideas I had did not match up with reality; I wanted what I thought he could be.
Despite the fact that he preyed on the weaknesses in me, moved in and manipulated them for his gain, God was able to change me and help me sort through what was deep inside of me.
I wasn’t what this guy needed or what he wanted and that doesn’t take away my worth, because God defines that. In my struggle to get to the depths of him, to fix him and fill his needs, the deep needs and brokenness in myself were fully revealed. God helped me see how much I needed God alone to be the one whom I get my ultimate affirmation and love from, and that I can’t be a savior for other people–trying to fill them with what I so desperately needed myself.
If I had told this story years ago, I would have been telling it because I needed you to tell me that what happened wasn’t okay—that I wasn’t the sole wrongdoer. I would have written it as another attempt to get him to see how much his actions hurt me so he would apologize and mean it that time. But today, I’m not writing it for those reasons.
I know that what happened was not okay.
I know that I had a part, but that it was not all me.
I know that I do not need a genuine apology in order to forgive and move on.
I’m writing this because it’s a key part of my story and shows the faithfulness of God in dark places. I’m writing this because maybe there’s someone else out there who needs to know that those dark places aren’t inescapable even when they feel and look like they are.
I’m writing this so that no matter how much time passes, I’ll never forget how God used the worst experience to do a good work in me, to refine me, and humble me. I could write pages on the intricate ways God was present and moved throughout the hard years and the healing years afterwards. Truly–I experienced God in some of the most tangible ways and it was breathtaking.
Lastly, I’m writing to whoever might relate to any part of this, that you might know that you’re not alone. I cannot say enough on how God has used good professional counseling to help me process and heal from the past. I highly recommend it.
I am always free to talk if you need someone to help you process.
If you’re reading this, and you’re one of the girls who were a part of this experience as well, I want to say that I’m sorry that I wasn’t strong enough to help you, I wanted to.
As always, thanks for reading. It’s taken me a long time to get to this day where I can finally write this story, so truly, thank you.
If my story resonated with you or someone you know, please pass it on. Darkness loses its power when it’s put in the light.