It took me a while to realize this because being in an abusive relationship was nothing like I had assumed abuse to feel like, but it was exactly what abuse looks like.
This article first appeared on Role Reboot and has been republished with permission.
Have you ever woken up one day and realized you are dating an abuser? I have.
It took me a while to realize this because being in an abusive relationship was nothing like I had assumed abuse to feel like, but it was exactly what abuse looks like. It began as an innocent friendship with a boy named Frank, then quickly turned into an intense game I call “The Descent Into Hell.”
In my rearview mirror, I clearly see the breadcrumbs Frank left along the trail to Hell. I can see each point he tried to break me down, attempting to convince me I was evil. He was an expert player who I have come to find out has left many in his wake.
Frank made his first move after our initial “Improv for Anxiety” class at the Second City. The class we both enrolled in to help manage our debilitating mental disorders.
We talked about the anti-depressants we were on. I was on Zoloft, he was on Celexa. I sometimes took sleeping pills, he was thinking about taking sleeping pills.
He had been pursuing me for so long and I had really fallen for him. I felt excited and alive around him and he made me feel so very desired.
Frank was 32, separated from his wife, and had done improv before. I was 28, living with my long-term boyfriend and had never done improv before. I was silently struggling in my career and love life, and was hoping improv for anxiety could jump-start a positive change.
I went home and cried from relief. There were people who understood what I felt and the torture anxiety gives me on a daily basis.
My improv crew and I saw each other twice a week. We had our regular improv class on Friday nights and a group therapy session on Saturday mornings.
Through these multi-weekly sessions, the entire ensemble grew close. Frank and I were the closest. We would text each other when we were feeling panicky or when ridiculous nonsensical thoughts would cross our minds. We felt solace knowing the other one understood. It was the first time either of us felt accepted.
One post-class drunken outing, Frank told me he had a crush on me.
Frank knew I was living with my boyfriend, Greg. Although I was flattered, I politely told Frank I was not interested.
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The next day Frank and I met for coffee and I felt ready to start speaking out about my inner turmoil. For the first time, I told someone how I was really feeling. I was miserable in my relationship and did not see a way out. I was constantly crying and if I was not crying, I was about to. I loved Greg, but it was evident he had a drinking problem and he was not getting help. I felt trapped, suffocated, and that my life was over.
Frank understood. After all, he was separated from his wife. He could relate to a failing relationship.
Frank and I texted every day and hung out outside of class. He would compliment me, he would make me laugh, and he would challenge me. Things boyfriends usually do. Things my boyfriend had not done in a very long time.
When I was lying in bed one night, I received a text from Frank. He told me he thinks of me a lot, all the time. And he wonders what I taste like when I’m wet.
Caught off-guard, I ignored the comment and went to bed. We continued our improv classes and social gatherings as if the text never happened.
Frank continued to pursue me. He would tell me how talented, funny, and adorable I was. Even though I was a “pain in the ass” he really liked me and wanted to take me out. This determined and committed behavior from Frank was awakening my romantic appetite, one that I had been suppressing for years without knowing it.
The loneliness I felt living with Greg was no longer a silent roommate — it was screaming at me to get out, to go toward something that made me feel alive.
That something was Frank.
Greg and I broke up. He moved out. Less than 24 hours later, Frank and I were making out. As we were kissing in my apartment, Frank sprung up, ran out and slammed my door. Shocked and frozen I heard my text messages go off. Frank was sending an overabundance of texts. They read, “Fuck you, you bitch.” “How can you do this to me?” “Don’t ever talk to me again.”
I stood there in tears. I did not know what I did or what to do next. I went to bed and cried myself to sleep. I awoke to more profanities. I begged Frank to forgive me. For what, I am not sure but I was way too fragile and weak to go through essentially two break ups in one day.
As the day went on, Frank’s texts started easing off and becoming less angry. Soon, they were sweet again. I thought it was a one-time thing. Sure. Why not? He had been pursuing me for so long and I had really fallen for him. I felt excited and alive around him and he made me feel so very desired. This was certainly just a one-off.
We continued to see each other. Every Friday night after improv, our ensemble would drink at Old Town Ale House. Frank would put his arm around me and hold me tight. He would whisper things in my ear like “You are the most beautiful person in this bar,” and “Don’t talk to anyone else when I’m around. Don’t do that to me. You’re mine.” I was scared when he would say things like that but would oblige his wishes. I wanted more of the euphoric highs I felt at times with him. These lows were just temporary lows, I could put up with them to get to the highs, right?
We saw each other more and more. And yes, started sleeping together. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and he would be gone. I would have texts waiting on my phone telling me to fuck off; I am a terrible human being that is just playing mind games with him. How can I lead him on like this?
Then, slowly but surely, his texts would evolve back into nice Frank. Frank who adores me, Frank who loves to take me out and hold me all night long. He would apologize for his behavior. It is just that he likes me so much, he is falling in love with me, and he cannot help how upset I can make him.
Just like in every movie about abuse you see, the abuser always makes an excuse for their behavior, usually blaming it on the victim’s charm. I know this, I knew this.
I was still grieving my failed relationship with Greg. Being with Frank numbed the pain and helped me avoid processing the downfall. I wanted what I had with Greg once upon a time, before he was drinking excessively and depressed on the couch. I had flashes of that with Frank. I dug my claws into those moments and held on tight.
One night at an improv party, Frank took my phone into the bathroom and read my texts. There was nothing incriminating but he did not like that Greg and I were still communicating. Despite the fact, he and his wife were still communicating. Also, where was this divorce?
I googled him. He was not 32 as he originally told me. He was approaching 50. And I found his wife; she was a pediatrician living in South Dakota. I understood why they lived in separate states.
Disgusted and disturbed, I ignored Frank for a few days. I was feeling the pain and turmoil of my break up with Greg creeping back into my brain. So, I reached out to Frank. And we picked up where we had left off.
The final straw occurred shortly thereafter. After a show of Frank’s, he chased me down an alley, screaming at me about how horrible I am. How I do things purposefully to upset him. That I am out to get him and am trying to ruin his life.
The next day I went over to Frank’s house and broke up with him for good. He quit our improv ensemble and we did not speak for a year and a half.
In April, we found ourselves in the same a capella group. Without the wonky romance, it seemed things were OK, like we could actually be friends. He never got divorced. I told him I knew his real age. Things were fine.
Until one day when he snapped again.
He started sending me mean and profanity-filled text messages. He would flick me off and mouth “Fuck you” to me during rehearsals. He would unfriend and re-friend me on Facebook. He would cryptically talk to me in Facebook groups we were both in and comment on posts I was tagged in. I would not respond.
Our performance was in June. I gave him a hug goodbye with the intention of never seeing him again.
I often think back to our first conversation on the descending escalator at Second City. The descent into a hellish, abusive relationship that I’m glad to say is over.