My cousin, Ella, is twelve. She watches me as I take off my dress at the pool and comments on my striped bikini, adjusting the straps of her own bathing suit and asking me how old I was when I started texting boys. I tell her, when I was her age, I didn’t have a cell phone. We had something crazy called instant messenger to talk to our friends and read the away messages of the boys we thought were cute. Later that night, she lays with her head on my stomach and runs through another list of questions, promising that each one is the last, but then finding another moment of confusion within each of my answers.
I try to remember the things that I needed to hear when I was twelve, or that I would have liked to have known. Be patient; when you are older you will find a wonderful guy, but you’ll probably meet a lot of a-holes on the way; focus on what you want and don’t worry about what boys think of you; be a strong and independent girl…I try to think of answers that won’t scare her, but at the same time don’t give her false hope or senseless reinforcement to the idea that everything always works out in life and there is nothing to worry about. I find, it is a difficult balance. I don’t know exactly what these answers are, but I think maybe all she needs is just to have a chance to talk and to ask and to connect with someone who remembers what it feels like to be lost in a changing world and uncomfortable in a changing body.
At twelve years old, she is discovering the unfriendly nature of growing up that has her running to the bathroom in half hour increments, and glancing at every mirror we pass as we walk through stores in the mall. Aquina and I dress up in fancy hats and scarves, talking to each other in British accents as we run around the spiral racks at Claire’s, picking up anything that sparkles and trying to use it to decorate Ella. I put a silver flower clip in her hair. She takes it out. Turns it over and over in her hand. Puts it back in her hair. Takes it out. Puts it back in her hair as she walks over to the mirror. Takes it out. I tell her not to worry because she looks beautiful, but she cannot get past herself today.
When she unpacks her suitcase and shows me her new bras, I try to act excited. I try to pretend like growing up is fun and exciting, hoping I can convince her more than I am able to convince myself. I don’t tell her that when I was twelve, I cried every night for a month after learning about how my body was going to change. Or that I wore my womanhood as if it was a deformity I was desperate to conceal, layering on five or six sports bras beneath a double set of t-shirts every day; that I prayed over and over, pleading with God to not make me get my period, writing letters to Santa asking if he could turn me into a boy in exchange for being good all year, and hiding each new hair, each new bud of growth with desperate hatred.
As I lie in bed tonight, I can’t stop thinking about twelve. As much as I hated every single moment of maturity, I loved being twelve. I was still like seven-year-old Aquina when I was twelve. I ran around and got dirty and loved loved loved beating my male classmates at every sport. I wore fluorescent knee-high socks during basketball games. I put a girl in a headlock for telling people not to talk to me because I was a really a boy. I put a boy in a headlock for calling me a girl. I succeeded in changing the dress code for band recitals, so that I could wear my brother’s suit instead of a skirt. I wrote a six-page petition to my gym teacher when he separated the boys from the girls during class, complete with a charted recording of the difference in average time allowed to play (9 minutes each round the boys played compared to only 4.5 minutes per round for the girls), as well as the signatures of every student in my grade. I refused to wear makeup. I refused to shave my legs. I refused to be like everyone else. I loved everyone and I laughed at everything and I knew that I could do anything I wanted to.
Two years later, I would begin my first relationship, and within a year after that, I would watch as my childhood was stripped away from me, stealing with it the pure innocence and naivety I was unaware anyone could touch. Fifteen doesn’t sound that young. Sixteen, seemed so old at the time. But when I look at Ella, with her baby face and training bra, still throwing tantrums when her mom makes her go to bed at 9:30, still fighting with her little sister about who gets to sit in the middle seat and who gets to push the button to call for the elevator; all I can see is beautiful baby. A little girl. A child. And I can finally recognize how young my own face looked, in the darkness of my pale pink room, lying on sheets that had pictures of troll dolls on them after picking myself up from the crumpled pile of dirty t-shirts on my floor and trying to make sense of something to which I hadn’t yet learned the word.
“Sometimes things are bad, but are they really bad enough that I should break up with him? Maybe things will get better. Or maybe if I break up with him, then I will regret it and he will never take me back. I don’t know why I feel sad all the time, but I wish that things would just be fun again. I don’t know what to do.”
Reasons To Break Up:
•Your boyfriend hits you or hurts you physically in any way.
•Your boyfriend makes you feel stupid, fat, ugly or unworthy of anything
•He has cheated on you.
•He lies to you.
•You don’t love him anymore.
•You love him, but he hurts you.
•He makes you feel like you are crazy.
•He threatens to hurt you.
•He controls who you hang out with, what you wear, or what you are allowed to do.
•He has a violent temper and can blow at any moment.
•He makes fun of you in front of other people, embarrasses you or talks badly about you behind your back.
•He forces you, or pressures you to have sex with him or to do things you don’t want to do.
•He is never there when you need him.
•You can’t talk to him about how you are feeling of what you are thinking.
•He calls you a bitch, or a slut, or a whore, or any other derogatory name.
•He doesn’t have the same morals and values as you do.
•He doesn’t have the same interests.
•You don’t have fun with him anymore.
•You want to try dating other people.
•It’s just not right for you.
•He’s a great guy, but you just don’t feel a connection anymore.
•You don’t have feelings for him anymore, or your feelings have changed.
Are You Staying With Him Because:
• He makes you feel confident, empowered and appreciated……..
OR BECAUSE you feel like you don’t deserve to want someone better than him.
• You love and trust him, and he feels the same way about you……..
OR BECAUSE you are afraid that if you break up with him he will start dating someone else just to make you jealous.
• He protects you and is always there for you if you need anything……..
OR BECAUSE you are afraid of what he might do to you if you leave him.
• Can talk to him about anything and you know he will listen……..
OR BECAUSE you don’t have any idea how to tell him that you don’t want to be with him anymore and you are scared to try.
• You can’t imagine being with anyone else……..
OR BECAUSE you are afraid that no one will ever love you as much as he loves you.
• He lets you have your own life and lots of friends, independent of him……..
OR BECAUSE He’s the only person you have, and you are afraid that without him you will be all alone.
•He inspires you to be a better person and to trust yourself to chase after your dreams……..
OR BECAUSE Everyone in his life lets him down, and you feel bad adding yourself to that list.
• Things aren’t perfect, but you feel safe and valued even when you disagree……..
OR BECAUSE You feel obligated to stay with him, and you are just trying to wait out this bad time until things are better again.
•You have fun with him. He makes you laugh and feel happy……..
OR BECAUSE If you break up with him he will punish you. He might kill you, or try to kill himself.
•You have a right to end a relationship at any time, for any reason. I had a friend who broke up with a boy because he didn’t like Taylor Swift! For her, that was a deal breaker. It’s hard to tell someone that you don’t want to date them anymore, but if it’s not working for you then don’t stay just because you don’t know how to leave.
•If someone hurts you, don’t make excuses for them. It’s really, really hard to be let down by the person you love, and sometimes it seems easier to ignore the pain or to brush it off. Admitting that someone has hurt you does not make you weak, it makes you strong enough to acknowledge it; and staying with someone who hurts you is not brave and it can put your life in danger.
•There are many different forms of abuse. Even if your boyfriend doesn’t hit you, an abuser can still do serious mental and emotional damage to you if you stay with him.
•The right person for you is out there somewhere, and you won’t have to hold your breath when you are with him, or try to be better so that he doesn’t hurt you, or try to fix what is wrong with him….he will love you just the way you are and he will build you up instead of tear you down. Hold out for him.
•If things were meant to work out, breaking up won’t stop that. People break up all the time and get back together….so if you are not ready to break up for good, just give yourself a few weeks to get some distance from the relationship and see how you feel….then decide what you want to do. Someone who really loves you in a healthy way will give you time and space when you need it. They won’t force you to stay with them, or punish you for needing to figure things out.
•You are a beautiful, brave, smart and amazing person! The person you end up with is LUCKY to be dating someone as amazing as you. Even if it feels like you have no other options, there are lots of other people out there and lots of people who will love you just the way you are.
The things he says
as etching in my skin the fingers circling
my arms around the wrist
they sink somehow, without me hearing
anything else. I have forgotten
this girl, lying on this bed, was at one point
me. I have forgotten that I know
her at all, that there is a world
outside this room, that speaking
is to be heard. And I bleed. Silently. Into
the sheets. but I know this only after
seeing the dark spots left on the bright
cloth in the morning when I am alone and I fold
them under and over themselves ripping
the corners free until they wrap
into a ball I run through three cycles before
my mom can find the evidence. None of this
Love, he says, is a compromise. It is a force
he cannot fight any longer. Love is my
fault. It is the reason. His excuse
to climb across. Love is what he does
to me. Is what he’s doing to me. Is what he says
this is. But love, love is nowhere
in this room.
I just wanted to let you know:
You swore no one would ever love me like you did-
I ‘ll make sure they never do.
You told me I could not survive on my own,
but I thank God I survived my life with you.
You told me I was weak,
but you only made me stronger in the end.
You told me I was stupid,
but I’m smarter than I’ve ever been.
You covered my mouth,
stole away the sound,
but I have found a way back to my voice-
to speak again out loud.
You killed every part of me you could,
left nothing but an empty shell.
But I brought myself back to life again,
I clawed my own way out from the depths of your hell:
I picked myself up off the floor,
I succeeded even with a broken heart,
I lived through the darkest moment of the night
Rebuilt my life each time it fell apart.
I swore I’d never love again,
but thankfully I do:
I love my life, I love myself,
I love someone that loves me too.
So, you might have held me down
but you will never hold me down.
And you might have thought you won,
but you only won that round.
- Considers himself to be the ultimate authority on everything.
- Always speaks with absolute certainty
- Brushes your thoughts or opinions aside, finding little to no value in what you have to say
- Sees things as if he is the teacher and you are the student. His goal is to empty your mind and to fill it with his brilliance.
- Is often condescending when talking with you
When dating a Mr. Right, you feel stupid and like you can’t say anything right. You wish you could explain what you are thinking, but nothing ever comes out right when you try to explain it to him. You feel confused, unsure of what to think, or unable to make a decision. You feel like he twists around everything that you say, takes it completely out of context, or makes it sound absurd. You feel like you are never really heard, and never taken seriously.
- Takes on the Voice of Truth as a way of controlling conversations, something abuse counselors call ‘defining reality,’ making what he has to say sound like the only correct answer or outlook.
- Makes partner doubt their own mental abilities, opinions or intuitions, leaving them feeling like they are dumb or stupid. This way, he can control you better.
- Takes on the position of the expert even in regards to your life, how you should live it, and what you should do or believe. This includes who you should be friends with, what you should wear, how you should spend your time, how long you should spend studying, what kind of relationship to have with your parents…etc.
- Is especially knowledgeable of your faults and is constantly telling you what you are doing wrong or what you need to do in order to ‘be a better person/girlfriend,’ as if tearing you down is the only way to make you better.
- May humiliate you–especially in front of other people–in oder to establish his dominance, intellectual superiority, and to prove that what you think or the way that you are, is flawed and wrong.
When you refuse to give in to Mr. Right’s opinions or suggestions, he is quick to resort to insults, name calling, or imitating you as way of mocking what you think or believe. His actions will escalate until he feels that he has brought you down as low as possible. For example, he might ruin dinner plans you have prepared, leave a party without you, spread nasty rumors about you to other people or talk badly about you behind your back. He might abuse you sexually, even when you tell him NO, because he believes that you really want to have sex and he can’t take you seriously. He might convince you that he has talked to all of your friends, and that no one really likes you and they all think that you are stupid but that they talk to you only because they feel bad for you. He may even escalate to the point of throwing things, pushing or hitting you, or threatening you.
- is highly entitled
- expects his partner’s life to revolve around the practice of meeting his needs.
- can get angry if his demands are not met, and will blame partner/other people if anything gets in the way of his needs.
- becomes enraged if he isn’t catered to or if he is inconvenienced in any way (even if minor)
- Little sense of give and take: The balance between what he wants from you and what he gives back is completely skewed. His demands, from everything to sexual attention to emotional support, far surpass his supply of these behavior. For example: he expects you to drop everything when he is upset about something, but whenever you are upset, he is too busy to talk to you, or makes fun of you for being dramatic; he expects you to do his homework, cook for him or clean up after him, but gets mad if you ask him to help you with something small; he expects you to perform sexual acts on him whenever he wants, but never pays attention to your needs.
- Exaggerates or overvalues his own contributions. Although he is constantly taking, and rarely giving, he makes it seem as if it is the other way around; he keeps track of every nice things he does for you (even those that are generally expected in a healthy relationship) and he makes you feel like you are the one that is in debt to him. For example: he buys you a gift for your birthday, and seven months later, he is still talking about how much he spent on it and uses it to prove how lucky you are to have him; he constantly talks about how much he gives up for you and sacrifices for you, and yet you are the one who has no friends anymore, while he goes out all the time.
- He punishes you when he doesn’t get what he thinks he deserves. If you don’t do something he thinks you should have, he will punish you for letting him down in any number of ways. For example: He’s upset and wants you to come over, but you have a soccer game and can’t skip it. You come over after the game and he refuses to talk to you, telling you that he can never count on you and that you always abandon him.
- He is nice only when he feels like it. The times that he is generous, sweet to you, or supportive, it is because he is proving to you or to others how wonderful he is, and how loving. His behavior is not about you, it is about him. For example: He screams at you and shoves you against a wall for talking to one of your male friends. Later, he buys you flowers, makes you your favorite dinner, or fawns over how wonderful you are when you are in front of your parents.
- He gets angry if your needs conflict with his needs. He is a master at playing the role of the victim. He accuses you of being ‘self-centered’ or ‘only caring about yourself.’ He plays up this reversal of reality in front of other people, working hard to make sure other people know how selfish and ungrateful you are, or how much you are hurting him despite all that he does for you. For example: He wants to have sex, but you want to wait. At school, he sulks, telling other people who you don’t love him as much as he loves you, and confiding in one of your girl friends who he claims said she wishes that she had a boyfriend like him who treated her well and loved her so much.
- You feel good about yourself.
- You can act silly and goofy and make mistakes without feeling shameful. You know that your boyfriend or girlfriend will love you and your imperfections.
- You don’t bite your tongue–you feel comfortable saying what you want and feel, and there is open communication between you and your boyfriend.
- You still have independence, you can do things on your own or with friends and don’t have to worry about it.
- You don’t feel like you are pretending, or that you should be someone other than who you are.
- You have a healthy sexual relationship, both of you make decisions and feel good about your decisions. You can talk openly about what you want and what you don’t want and you feel like your voice is respected and listened to.
- You have room to grow, you don’t feel stifled or stuck or suffocated.
- You laugh with the person and have fun together. You never feel afraid of your partner.
- You trust each other, and you are honest with each other.
- You feel heard, understood, and accepted.
- You feel happy.
- No thanks.
- Not tonight, how about in ten years?
- If you really loved me you would wait.
- Let’s just kiss instead.
- If you really loved me you would stop asking.
- How about we watch a movie instead.
- We might get caught.
- I don’t want to be just another one of your girls.
- My parents trust me and I don’t want to break their trust.
- Haven’t you ever watched 16 and Pregnant? I don’t want to end up like that.
- I’m not ready to be a mother, so I don’t want to put myself at risk.
- I think we should get to know each other better first.
- How about we just cuddle?
- I have a rule that I’m not going to have sex till I graduate from high school (or graduate from college, get married, turn 18, turn 30, have been dating someone for over a month, over a year, over 5 years…pick whatever works for you!)
- No, and if you ask again I’m not talking to you anymore.
- I love you, but I just don’t feel like I am ready and I want it to be special, not forced.
- My mother (sister, cousin, brother, best friend, uncle, neighbor, or someone you completely made up) told me that they had sex before they were ready and it ruined their relationship and they regretted it. I don’t want to make that mistake.
- It just doesn’t feel like the right time.
- I can’t because of my religion.
- I don’t feel well, I think I’m getting sick.
- I can’t. I have my period.
- I don’t want to have to worry.
- My parents would be mad at me if they found out.
- I made a pact with my best friend to wait.
- Haha, no.
- Sorry, but no.
- Not gonna happen.
- Not in a million years.
- I’m waiting for the right person.
- I’m waiting for the right time.
- I’m waiting for the right mood.
- I don’t want to.
- I have sunburn.
- I have to go to bed early.
- I don’t like kids.
- I just want to be friends.
- Maybe we should just go get something to eat.
- Maybe we should play a game.
- You parents will hear us.
- Your dogs are watching.
- We’re too young.
- I don’t want to feel used.
- I don’t want to regret it.
- I love you, but I just don’t want to get too serious yet.
- I’m scared.
- I have homework to do.
- I have soccer practice.
- Didn’t you ask me this already? My answer is still the same.
- No. And quit asking! It’s getting annoying.
- I like being a tease.
- Oh, quit whining, you’ll survive.
- We have our whole lives to do that, let’s wait till we’re older.
- I’m not sure I want to date you anymore.
- I don’t know if I love you yet.
- I only have sex with people I love.
- I’m saving myself for George Clooney. Joe Jonas. Brad Pitt. Johnny Depp…..
- I know your reputation.
- I’m not like all those other girls.
- I want to, but I can’t.
- I can’t because I said I can’t.
- If I have sex with you then you’ll just leave me.
- Waiting will make it even better when we do it.
- If you want me to trust you, you won’t pressure me.
- I don’t like doing whatever everyone else is doing.
- There are other ways of showing each other that we love each other.
- Let’s just make out.
- My limit is first base. (second base. or third.) but no further.
- If we do it now, it won’t be as special later.
- I want to build a relationship first. Not one that is just based on sex.
- Don’t make me laugh.
- I don’t have any condoms.
- I’m not taking the pill.
- Have you thought about all of the consequences?
- It’s against my values.
- I don’t have sex.
- I quit.
- Go away.
- Have you been tested for an STD?
- It’s too risky.
- I’m not comfortable.
- Not now. How bout never?
- Not gonna happen.
- I’m not easy.
- I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.
- I don’t want you to get too attached to me.
- My favorite tv show is on.
- I had a nightmare that I got pregnant, now I’m freaked out.
- I have a bad feeling.
- I thought you were different.
- I’m not ready to make that kind of commitment.
- It could make things weird.
- I don’t want to ruin our friendship.
- I don’t want to regret it in the morning.
- No, you’re drunk.
- No not when I’m drunk.
- Ask again later.
- I was just leaving.
- I don’t trust you.
- I love you, but not like that.
- My coach told me not to.
- I’m in love with someone else.
- There’s too many diseases going around.
- I don’t know how many other people you have slept with.
- We just met!
- Thanks, but no thanks.
- Let me think about it for a while….ask again in, like, a year.
- How bout a massage instead?
- Go screw yourself.
- You have freedom! Freedom to do what you want to do without asking for someone else’s opinion and without having to think about what someone else wants to do, or wants you to do.
- You can save the money you would spend on your boyfriend and buy yourself something nice.
- You have more time to hang out with your friends, have girl’s night out, act crazy and silly and have fun without having to leave the room to talk to your boyfriend or being stressed about relationship troubles.
- You don’t have to shave your legs if you don’t want to.
- You have more time to play sports, take up a musical instrument, try a new hobby, study a little more, go camping, volunteer at an animal shelter, read a book, go to a concert, dance, sing, run, laugh, do yoga, cuddle with your little sister, play video games, look at magazines, bake cookies, paint a picture, or do anything else you never get a chance to do.
- You can figure out what you like, not try to like things that your boyfriend likes.
- You can date other people. Or you can just be friends with other boys without your boyfriend getting jealous. Or you can just stare at other boys or flirt with them without feeling guilty.
- You get to think about what you want, without taking someone else into consideration. You get to pick what restaurant you want to eat at, how long you want to stay at a party, when you want to go to sleep or what you want to do all weekend.
- You will be available when Mr. Right comes along, and by that time you will appreciate him.
- You get to figure out who you are as an individual, not as part of a couple.
- You don’t have to worry about making someone else happy. No drama. No checking in with someone all the time. No feeling guilty. You get to focus on making yourself happy.
What’s the only thing worse than dating someone who doesn’t treat you well?
Being all alone……Right?
When you’re dating someone who doesn’t treat you right, or that hurts you, you know deep down that you should leave them. You get that uncomfortable feeling in your gut. That little voice that says you need to get out.
- Hits you, punches you, pushes you, kicks you, bites you, slaps you, scratches you, or does any other action that inflicts pain onto you.
- Threatens to do any of these things.
- Says that he/she will kill themselves if you leave.
- Tells you that if they can’t be with you, then no one can.
- Makes you feel stupid in front of other people.
- Calls you things like “slut, whore, bitch, stupid, fat, tramp, ugly, dumb, etc….”
- Has to know where you are at all times, who you are with and what you are doing.
- Calls you over and over and over and over and over and over until you answer.
- Lies to you like it’s nothing.
- Threatens to hurt your family or friends.
- Encourages you not to have any other friends.