My friend across from me smiled thinly. “We’re great,” she said. “I’ve never been so happy.” I wanted to believe her description of happiness. And yet, the emptiness in her eyes looked all too familiar.
This article is a long time coming. Like a cut that heals intermittently, you’re never sure what’s below the surface of a scab: fresh blood or smooth skin. I have heard too many of my friends discuss their relationships like beautiful apples filled with worms to ignore this phenomenon anymore. I can’t relegate it as just a part of the fabric of romance at Yale. My friends’ expressions are telling, their words troubling.
It’s a trope we all know well; Yalies are smart, but boy are we dumb. We jaywalk directly in front of buses, we don’t know how to do our own laundry and we abuse our bodies with caffeine and alcohol. Why is it surprising that we end up in “not-okay” relationships? We can recognize patterns of emotional manipulation in a textbook for a psychology exam, yet in our own lives we stand bewildered.
“Not-okay” relationships encompass many things. A friend told me about how her boyfriend refused to wear condoms, telling her that he would rather not have sex than use protection. Another described how guilty she felt when her significant other blamed her attempt to talk about their relationship for his poor performance on a midterm. A third wanting to get back together with a boyfriend just to put a stop to his emotionally manipulative rants, letters and texts.
Externally, these things are troubling, emotionally abusive red flags. And yet, we carry on, projecting our own “okay-ness.” A disclaimer: These issues are not exclusive to heterosexual relationships. They can happen to anyone of any gender, with any partner. The more we think that this could never happen to us, the more we deny our own experiences. And the harder these things become to realize, to talk about and to accept as not okay.
I know because I lived in a not-okay relationship. At that time, I met with friends and spoke about my own happiness, leaving out the number of times I had cried that week or how I was scared to break up with my partner because of the manipulation that was sure to follow. Not-okay relationships are hard to talk about. At the time, I felt as though admitting my own trouble would invalidate my external mantra, the positive outlook I try to project and my involvement on the Women’s Center Board.
Talking about this here is hard, too. When first confronting troubling behavior, I faltered in my explanations to friends. “Abusive” felt too dramatic in the moment when I still denied my hurt. The best I could come up with was “not-okay.” Language has power, this was the beginning of healing.
It has been a year since I have been out of this relationship. The breakup struck deep, my friends carried my spirit when my body was too tired of fighting. I spent the summer dealing with the fallout. I started running, intent on exhausting the sadness and hurt and manipulation out of me. I ran five, six, seven miles a day, fueled on hurt and a rabid desire to reclaim my life.
One of the first articles on Google for “problematic relationships” says: “People often get manipulated because they misjudge the character of their manipulator.” The language makes me cringe—the trope of a person allowing for his or her own manipulation only feeds into the idea that these situations are one-sided, that the person to blame is the person subject to the emotional contortions. I want to say to everyone in not-okay relationships that this is not the case. There is a better world away from treachery, from a confusing yo-yo romance. There are options, none of which are too dramatic or too unnecessary. Block them on social media. Contact Title IX. Talk to SHARE. Let us take care of ourselves, of each other.
Vicki Beizer is a junior in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .