A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with my friends Omid and Malu. We were eating dinner, and mid-mouthful of lasagne I realized that I had completely forgotten that my boyfriend existed for a moment. I just hadn’t been thinking about him. Bemused, I said it out loud. They both laughed it off and we all kept eating. Then around half an hour later, I noticed it happen again. This time, Omid called me out on it and said “you realize it’s normal not to think about him 24/7 right?” Wrong. The concept was completely new to me.

You know how you have a little voice in your head? One that narrates your life and talks you through your decisions and feelings? Well, during my last relationship, my ex’s influence was so pervasive in my life that I developed a second little voice, and that voice was his. So, quite literally, he was always on my mind.

Granted, it wasn’t until the next day that the thought of this had me spiraling. I was shocked. I was sad. I was angry. My entire body felt nauseous. I’d already acknowledged the emotional abuse; I’m still working through some of it. Yet, I hadn’t really understood the gravity of it. He had a say in everything, whether it was about how long I stayed out with friends, how many times a week I went to my dance classes, or what I wore.

He was smart about it though, and never forbade me from doing anything. Instead, he withheld affection, made me feel guilty for not taking his “perspective” into account, and threatened to end the relationship. So I did what I had to do to feel loved, and it was always my choice because I’d internalized his overly critical, possessive, insecure voice.

Everything (and I mean everything) that I thought went through a mental checkpoint: What will he think? How will he react? How can I include him? How will this affect him? If you want an example to demonstrate the extent of it, I even asked him how he would feel if I decided to go vegan. 

It was exhausting, and I do remember feeling unsettled at the time. But whenever I expressed my concerns about our lives being too intertwined or feeling like I had to base my every move around him he would say that relationships are all about compromise. That we were “a team,” and that I was the problem. I was just a selfish, shitty partner. The truth of it was that our relationship dynamic was just toxic.

There is a part of me that feels ashamed while writing this. I never painted myself to be the “type” of person who would get themselves into an abusive relationship, let alone stick it out for three and half years. When I talk about it, people seem to think the same. They say things like “I just can’t imagine you being someone who would be okay with that.” But it wasn’t something I allowed and there isn’t a type of person who attracts or accepts abuse. I realize too that there isn’t really a type of person who abuses people either. We’re all capable of being both. Perhaps it’s up to how we choose to tell the story. 

Once I had a bit of time to sit with all of the above, I messaged my boyfriend who was on a trip with his friends at the time. The conversation went like this:

My message: “So this is a weird thing, but I keep forgetting about you and I realized how good that is the other day. ” Followed by a 1:14 minute voice note of me explaining why.

His response: ” 🙂 I’m glad you feel that way babe xx. I love you and can’t wait to see you when I’m back.”

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  • Shaima Alterkawi

    Shaima is a Saudi/American writer, rocker, and traveler with a BSc from the University of Birmingham, UK. and currently working towards an MSc in Psychology at UCL. Born and raised in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Shaima associates writing with freedom. She is passionate about finding meaning in the mundane and welcomes the opportunity to work with fellow creatives. In her free time, you'll probably find her dancing, attending live music events, drinking hot chocolate, talking to strangers or writing poetry.