I was, to use an old-fashioned term, ‘a late bloomer’. I was a terribly awkward, gangly teen with no experience of relationships. At 17, when I met a boy who seemed very taken with me, I couldn’t quite believe it and launched myself at this chance of romance with glee. I was so young and my head was full of filmic (cheesy) references for what true love looked like. I realise now that my self-esteem was virtually nonexistent. And, as such, I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to see that what I read as his romantic gestures were manipulation. I’d dread bumping into any boys I knew while we were out. If I said so much as a ‘hello’ he would rage at me for hours, convinced I was flirting or cheating. When I started at university, he would call into my house every morning on his way to work and assess my appearance (‘Who are you trying to impress? Why do you need to wear make-up?’). He’d wait outside for me to finish my Pizza Hut shift on Thursday nights – sometimes to meet me, but I also learned that he liked to lurk, unannounced, just to test that I was going where I said I’d be going after work. He would show up on my nights out with the girls.
I know that a lot of people reading this will wonder why I didn’t dump him immediately. We weren’t married. There were no children. I struggle to explain it myself. I actually did try a couple of times, but he would bombard me at all hours of the day and night with phone calls: tearful begging, threats of doing something stupid. It was less exhausting in a lot of ways to stay together. And my opinion of my own worth was so low that it was easy to grind me to a place where I believed this was the best I could do.
This was the 1980s. I don’t think anyone had ever heard the term ‘coercive control’. But that is now what I recognise in all of this. It turned out he was right to feel threatened by my first proper job after university and all the new friends it would bring. They quickly made me realise that my version of ‘normal’ with this boy was anything but. When I finally broke it off for good, I knew I’d endure many weeks of his obsessive persistence – which I’m sure he thought I’d find so terribly romantic it would win me back. But, thank god, my life was changing and I finally found the strength to see this through.
I know what a feat it was for me to unshackle from that, and unlearn everything it taught me about relationships. Even though I was very young, it’s still a chapter in my life that makes me burn with embarrassment. Which is why I am so grateful to, not to mention in awe of, Jacqui Childs, who shares her own experiences of this particularly pernicious form of domestic abuse. Jacqui is a smart, successful woman in her 60s. Her experience proves this can happen to anyone unfortunate enough to meet an expert in manipulation.
If you recognise yourself, or someone you love, in her story, I hope it will help you find the courage to ask for help.
A few things I’m coveting this week
Beautiful quality wool from a fantastic family business in Cornwall. Blanket, £55, atlanticblankets.com
Simple, graphic, chic. Trainers, £81, Superga x yoox.com
I’ll calm these sequined trousers down for work with a blazer and trainers. Trousers, £79.95, massimodutti.com