Photograph by Yusuf Kidwai
They say love is blind.
But who are “they” and what do they know about it?
It doesn’t matter. They’re right.
Being in love and even in a relationship removes our objectivity and we fail to see what is in front of us, which is a dangerous situation for both men and women.
I am not perfect and only recently have I learned to be a good partner, but there was a time when I did not know what a healthy relationship felt like. It wasn’t until my current boyfriend explained to me that what my former partner did to me was wrong that I understood the magnitude of the emotional abuse I had sustained for years.
And I even more recently I found out that I’m not alone.
A World Health Organization census recently showed that 7% of Canadian women and 6% of men reported having been victims of intimate partner violence in the past five years.
There is no denying that women aged 15-24 are at the highest risk for intimate partner violence, and that alcohol is a predominant catalyst for violence in relationships. Although I am part of this age group and had been throughout my trauma, if you would like to refer to it as that, I had never experienced violence at the hands of alcohol.
As university students, we fit this age category perfectly, yet we rarely speak of the fact that the majority of us have been victimized, manipulated and undermined by our partners, and that it is the emotional scars that we carry with us that our friends and family cannot see.
And those are often the heaviest to bear.
Every time I worry that I am not doing well in school, his words come back to haunt me. “You can’t take that class it’s way over your head,” he’d say, or “maybe you could take that class if you’d actually done well in high school.”
It started out playfully with jokes about overt masculinity and the domination of women, which progressed into name-calling. Slowly as our relationship disintegrated and he felt me pulling away, these acts escalated to private acts of abuse, such as subtle name-calling or in his disapproval of my goals. Friends would later claim that I became a ghost of my former outgoing, bubbly self. He quickly learned to manipulate my need to please those around me until he had nearly stifled me completely.
Justifying emotional abuse is all too easy when one does not have a support system in which a victim can get help. I told myself that as a society we have grown to accept that being mean to each others’ faces is often acceptable behaviour, and thus his overt dominance and blatant disrespect for me in front of his friends was excused. And not surprisingly, as happens to most women, my friends and family only subtly hinted at my change in behaviour, my loss and my generally unpleasant demeanor. Weight
My love was blind. Like the approximately 47 per cent of Canadian college and university students that claim to have been victimized in a dating relationship since leaving high school, I became a prisoner of love – a love I no longer even understood.
People must understand that it is easier to get caught up in this type of relationship than it appears from the outside. But the signs are always there both for the victim and for the individuals that surround that person.
The signs of abuse are the same for any type of relationship, whether it is heterosexual or not. An abuser often shows warning signs from childhood, and usually displays tendencies to enforce strict gender roles, always having to be right, and is overtly critical. And although many believe that violence is the result of patriarchal values, women have the ability to be critical, judgmental and overbearing, all signals of an unhealthy relationship.
What needs to be re-examined here are those signals; as a society we have lost track of what a healthy relationship is. We have again been blinded by something that inhibits our ability to be happy, not only with our partners but often with our friends and even ourselves. Learning the creation of boundaries, self-respect and self-worth, and expecting relationships to be a two-way street where both partners are equal shareholders in the success of the endeavor need to be cultivated.
Most importantly, we need to discuss. We must learn to talk constructively about what is right and wrong about relationships with everyone around us.
Now I see what I did wrong in prior relationships and I have grown to discover what a reciprocal relationship can feel like. I am no longer a subordinate to my partner; my partner and I are a team.
We must remember to examine all of our relationships critically because the love we have for another can shield us from imminent destruction, and when an individual experiences a love that is no longer one that demeans or exploits, the result will be happier, healthier, and more fulfilling. A partner should add to your self, not detract from the person you are.