The warning signs of emotional abuse aren’t always as apparent as you might think. Ozy Frantz found this out during a long-distance relationship with an Internet boyfriend.
My name is Ozy Frantz, and I am one of the estimated 48% of men and women who has experienced emotional abuse from a romantic partner.
Let me be clear: I’m not trying to appropriate the experiences of people who have suffered far worse than I have. Other people are emotionally abused for decades; I was emotionally abused for three months. Other people’s emotional abusers are people they live with; mine didn’t even live in the same state. Other people experience it in person; mine was always through a phone or computer screen. Other people have PTSD, dissociation, panic attacks; I was left with the crazy I already had.
I didn’t even think of it as abuse until a friend told me, about six months after the events, that she was a counselor for abuse survivors and if I ever wanted to talk I should PM her. I brushed her off, of course. My abuse wasn’t real abuse. It wasn’t like the other kinds of abuse, the kind that progressed to rape or physical violence. My abuser just messed with my mind.
Let me just lay out the facts: My abuser found me through my first blog, a tiny Livejournalesque operation which I wrote through most of my first year of college and which was mostly devoted to the adventures and mysterious ways of my vagina. He talked to me over email and, later, GChat. And he was wonderful.
He was a mathematician. He taught me what a “transfinite cardinal” was and told me that, despite my getting straight C’s and D’s in every math class since middle school, I had a knack for mathematics. He introduced me to the Magnetic Fields, Tad Williams, and the word “masculism.” He bought me my first vibrator. He opened up about his insecurities—about his virginity, the sexual kinks he had never admitted to anyone before, the way all his friends seemed to leave him; his vulnerability made me fall in love. We talked for hours; I fell into bed at 4 a.m. and woke up only to open my chat client first thing in the morning. I avoided my friends to talk to him; even when I was on vacation he texted me constantly.
I’m a feminist, OK? This sort of thing was supposed to happen to other people. People in Lifetime movies, maybe. I’d known about emotional abuse since elementary school, I could deconstruct rape culture with the best of them, I complained at my friends for hugging people who didn’t want to be hugged because that was a boundary violation. If anyone could recognize the warning signs of abuse, it would be me.
But it wasn’t.
The thing is, he got angry, sometimes. Sometimes people would start attacking him! They might have a different opinion about the gender wage gap even when he was obviously right, or believe Andrea Dworkin made some interesting points in between all the bull, or think it was a little problematic that he was calling women “hysterical” for having a different opinion from him about rape culture. And as long as people were attacking him, he was allowed to use every tool he had to defend himself. It wasn’t his fault. He was just defending himself. After all, they were attacking him, and it was only fair.
In the online communities we both participated in, I found myself apologizing for him, cleaning up his messes, being the diplomat. He’s really a good guy, I’d say. He just gets angry sometimes. If you only knew him like I do… I know I sound like some kind of abuse survivor or something, but it’s really true.
He was very proud of me that, unlike everyone else, I never attacked him. When he told ironic racist jokes that made me uncomfortable, or sent me porn that I found faintly disgusting and didn’t want to see, I just swallowed down my distaste and pretended I liked it. If I said no, he might get mad at me, and it wasn’t worth it to deal with his anger. But it wasn’t his fault: as long as I said “I don’t really like that” instead of “please stop sending me that,” as long as I changed the subject instead of firmly setting my boundaries, how was he supposed to know?
Of course he was right to tell me he loved me and then date someone else (all while telling me that she was too chubby and I was far prettier), because I wasn’t present and she was, I couldn’t have sex with him and she could. After all, he said, even if we went on hiatus, he loved me enough to know that we’d be together someday—but not enough to tell his girlfriend I existed. She might dump him!
I told my little vagina-blog about these developments. A few people proposed that that might be an unfair way to treat both me and her, and that he should really consider a policy of open honesty; I had previously encouraged advice from my commentariat about my sex life. (In fact, I still crowdsource my dating decisions.) He proceeded to call one woman a “cunt” and another—a personal friend—a “Judas.”
No, honey, it’s OK that you, a self-identified feminist man, called a woman a bitch and a cunt. She really deserved it. She crossed the line.
He’s just going through a rough time. This whole breakup has been really hard on him. That was just the last straw, and he exploded. You don’t know all the amazing things he’s done for me. I love him so much.
I know I sound like some kind of abuse survivor or something, but it’s really true.
I am lucky. I am so lucky. A mutual friend sent me the chatlogs of his chatting with her and told me that she wanted my help in severing every bit of online connection from him she could. In her chatlogs I saw the signs of controlling and verbally abusive behavior I couldn’t see in my own—he called her a bitch and a traitor to the cause, refused to let her stop arguing with him until she agreed with him, and threatened to reveal her offline identity. I deleted his number from my phone and blocked him on every site I could; this is how easy it is to leave an Internet abuser, when he can’t stalk you to your home and workplace, when you don’t have to get a divorce or deal with child custody. Thankfully, he didn’t reveal to anyone my name or my school or my face, though he could have. Easily.
I am so lucky. I don’t have any traumatic reactions to my abuse, not really, maybe because we never really left the honeymoon phase. But there has never been a relationship since then, particularly one of those peculiar relationships conducted over text and wires, in which I haven’t questioned whether the person was abusing me, and whether I’d be able to tell if they were.
He once called me from a concert to tell me that he’d heard our song and it’d made him cry, when he texted me (hug) I could feel his arms around me, he was the first person to make me believe I was beautiful. Before him I didn’t get, not on a gut level, that there are reasons to stay with an abuser that are…not good, maybe, but understandable. People don’t stay with their abusive partners for Inscrutable Abuse Survivor Reasons; they stay because they’re trapped, or because they think they’ll change, or because God help us they—we—love our abusers.
Sometimes I go to his Facebook page and stare at his new girlfriend and think that I should tell her. But then I think she wouldn’t believe me, random unidentified stranger from the Internet, and that even if she did he would just tell her that I was a crazy bitch. And I close the tab.
Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman; identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary; and blogs at No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz?