She’s the sweetest person I know. She supports her family, loves working with kids, and has a heart big enough to hold the whole room. So the first thing I asked myself was, how did she get there? How did my friend end up in an abusive relationship?
The very first time I met him, he seemed nice, and she looked so happy. He was funny, kind, and able to get along with all of her friends. Our conversations were filled with stories of their dates and weekend getaways, with her sharing memories of her “best relationship yet.” She thought that she had finally found the one.
Then something changed. He became rude and dismissive of her friends. I began to feel uncomfortable in his presence and started to wonder what she saw in him. Everything was different. Soon our conversations turned into rushed phone calls, our laughter into whispers, and her smile into tears.
There were stories of him opening her text messages, deleting male friends from her life, insisting he know the passwords to all of her social media accounts, and demanding an explanation for every minute she was late getting home.
I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t see that he was isolating her from her friends and family. At first I was okay being the friend that she confided in. The friend who would pick up her when he left her somewhere stranded while he rode around in her car, the friend who would let her spend the night when staying at home was just a little too scary, the friend who would drop her back off to where I knew she was being abused.
She would say that everything was okay, but once she got tired of hearing the advice from everyone around her, she shut down and would only mention him briefly. I was okay with this for a while, as I thought it was better to not hear about it then to worry about her all the time, especially because I felt she knew better. I treated her like an accomplice rather than a victim.
Then one night, I experienced his abuse first hand. We were riding in the car and she was upset because they had been arguing all day. She had left the house earlier and wasn’t answering any of his phone calls. Suddenly, she looked down from the rearview mirror with a look of fear on her face before saying, “He’s following us”.
As she began to speed up, I could see him right behind us. I can’t explain how I felt in that moment; I was scared, worried, and horrified at what my mind thought he was capable of. She was calling her mom, and I was calling the police. It only took us 7 minutes to get to the police station but it felt like 30. He followed us all the way there, pulling up beside the car, yelling for her to roll the window down, running red lights, and driving over medians in the middle of the road just to get to her.
After she told the police that she didn’t want to press charges, I was so angry with her that we went weeks without speaking. I didn’t understand how she could still want to be with someone that would put her life and my life in danger. I had never been in a situation like that before and I was angry at her for putting me in it.
It took me a while to realize that my friend was in a relationship that she had no control over and that she needed my support, not my judgment. I thought about how scared I was that night in the car and knew that if I felt that way then her fear was ten times greater. She was the one who had to deal with him every day. She was the one in love with a guy she barely recognized, and now she could barely recognize herself.
My other friends and I made it our mission to be there for her whenever and wherever we could. It was more important to be by her side during this battle then to force her to end the war. We only had an objective view into her world and asking her to leave was clearly a lot harder than we thought.
With our help, the support of her family, and various resources in the community, she was able to leave him. It didn’t happen overnight, but over time she was able to rebuild her self-esteem, reduce her anxiety, and start living again.
Please remember that intimate partner violence is a real issue and affects many women. Your friends may become angry or defensive, but they know that their safety and well-being is your primary concern. Work with them to find the appropriate resources to get them the help they need.