(Content warning: sexual assault)
For my first couple of weeks of my trip, I was very stressed. I was scared of losing him and convinced that he would change his mind about being with me while I was away. He messaged me with all these promises of a happy future but then we had a few conversations over the phone where he again threatened to break up with me unless I continued to change. He told me again that his parents didn’t think he should be with me and that they didn’t like me.
On Christmas Eve, we had a huge argument, which began when I said I thought his parents were being unfair and that I thought it very harsh that he had gone and complained about me to them all, especially when we were meant to be getting married. He became very angry and said I deserved everything his parents had said about me and that in the circumstances they had been too nice to me. He said I was autistic and stupid and said again that he wished he had never met me and stayed with his ex. I felt so miserable, empty and worthless.
That night I went out to a club with my friend and decided I didn’t want to feel anymore. I had quite a lot to drink and, having become separate from my friend, wandered back by myself. Obviously the world felt I had not suffered enough at this point and a man followed me from the club. As I was walking down an empty street he grabbed me from behind and pushed me up against a wall. Pinning me in place he kissed me all over my face, began trying to undress me and touch me, while I struggled to get free. I tried to push him away but I was drunk and woozy, and he was taller and stronger than me. He stank – I can still smell him now. Luckily another man came along on his bike and told him to stop. He asked me where I was staying and offered to take me to my hotel. I felt nervous to trust him but also wanted to get far away from the other man so agreed. Fortunately he was kind and he took me to the hotel.
Feeling scared and shaky I rang my partner, wanting comfort after what had happened. I still believed he was good and expected sympathy. But he was furious. He shouted at me, saying I was a whore and that it was my fault because I had been drinking. He said I had effectively cheated on him and betrayed his trust, after he had worked so hard to convince himself I was worth staying with. He said I was strong enough to fight someone off and was convinced that I had clearly wanted this man’s attention. He couldn’t understand that I had been taken by surprise or that my being drunk had affected my ability to fight back. He said he was going to leave me because I had cheated. I desperately tried to get him to believe me but he refused to listen.
Whilst on the phone, I woke my dad up who came to comfort me and I ended the conversation with my former partner. In the morning, Christmas Day, I woke up to a large number of missed calls and messages from him, demanding that I speak to him. I rang him and received a torrent of abuse for around two hours, in which he called me a cunt multiple times and brought up everything from before I had left. When I tried to stand up for myself he told me he was leaving me and hung up. I was devastated but also felt a small, unexpected sense of relief. He then messaged me a little later, saying he was crazy to stay with me but that he would if I agreed to another list of things I was never allowed to say or do. He told me his parents believed I had cheated on him and thought he should leave me but that he had convinced them to give me another chance. He also made me state again that I believed he was on my side and was trying to help me. Feeling again like I needed to be with him, I agreed to everything. My parents started to question what was going on but I still felt that I couldn’t tell them.
However, something had finally woken up in me. Throughout the relationship, I had always found a way to justify his behaviour and blame myself. But I knew I had been sexually assaulted and I knew he had blamed me. I knew that it was wrong, that no one should be blamed for that. I began to resent him. I started to immerse myself in my fieldwork, enjoy time with my friends out there and started speaking to him less. As a result, he starting messaging me more and more and my phone was constantly going off. I started turning it off for periods during the day, so that I could get my work done. I still felt guilty though and a good part of me still wanted to be with him. I had such a confusing internal battle going on. I confided in my friend that he had hit me and some of the things he had said to me, all of which she said were wrong, but I still couldn’t bring myself to leave him, which she couldn’t understand. He kept insisting I call him and then would keep me on the phone for hours so I couldn’t get my work done. If I ever hung up I would get a flood of messages making me feel very guilty.
While I was away I found out he had offered to drive some friends from Cambridge to Devon in my car, without asking me if he could use it. When I questioned this, he insisted he had asked me and that I had agreed to it. He told me if I wanted him to tell our friends that I didn’t want them using my car, he would, but that they would probably be upset at having to pay for a hire car last minute, after I had supposedly offered the use of mine. I gave in, not wanting our friends to think badly of me. On New Year’s Eve I had a message from his step-mum, telling me she hoped I could sort myself out. I felt hurt and angry – I started to be more convinced that I didn’t deserve all of this.
One day he rang me and asked me to make a list of everything I thought I had done wrong in the relationship and how I could make up for it. He said he would do one too if it helped. I thought this was strange but perhaps a good idea – perhaps there was a still a chance we could put everything behind us and be happy. I agreed and wrote a list in which I apologised for a range of things including: not trusting him; being upset at his parents’ treatment of me; snapping at him; making him feel guilty for sleeping when I couldn’t; being violent by slapping him and pushing him away (the two events I mentioned previously); telling our friends he had hit me after the first two assaults; getting drunk on Christmas Eve and taking so long to accept how terrible I was. He responded with a list which included apologies for: calling me hormonal, calling me autistic and hitting me. For this last point he wrote “Hitting you: I promise I will never lay a finger on you again”. He seemed sincerely sorry for these things and told me he was going to stop drinking. I felt hopeful that maybe things were going to work.
A few days later I had messages from a friend of mine to say that my partner had become very drunk at a College event, thrown up and was screaming “Where’s Sophia, fuck that bitch”. My hopes were dashed and I decided I wanted to leave him. Out of fear of him destroying my belongings and spreading lies about me I decided to wait and do it when I got home. I tried hard to put him out of my mind, I answered his messages less frequently and started to really enjoy my time out there. He had convinced me that no one liked me, so I was surprised when people out there seemed to enjoy my company.
Towards the end of the trip I became close to a friend of mine, who I had confided in about my partner’s violence. We had a few conversations about it and he told me I should leave him and that I deserved better. I liked him, he was kind and funny and I really enjoyed having the company of a man who was kind to me. It reminded me how I used to feel with people I had been with in the past. I knew he was interested in me and, having decided I didn’t want to be controlled anymore, I slept with him. I had already decided to leave my partner as soon as I got home and I felt relieved.
When I returned home on 1st February, however, my former partner greeted me with a pile of presents, apologies and promises of change and a happy future. I felt my confidence disappear and started to feel immensely guilty about what I had done. My feelings of wanting to leave the relationship were replaced by thoughts that I was a terrible person. I slotted straight back into feeling that I had been awful, ruined this man’s life and then cheated on him. I felt very nervous, like I was returning to a cage and didn’t know what to do. One night we spoke to his Mum over Skype. It brought back all the memories of how he had turned his family against me before Christmas and I became upset after the conversation ended. He announced he was leaving me again and taking my car (I think after seeing that this had bothered me before). Once again he agreed to stay if I accepted he was nothing but a victim and that I was abusing him. At one point, he put one hand round my neck and lightly slapped my face with the other one. I felt completely controlled again and very trapped. Over the next few days I tried to keep him happy and make the relationship work but the guilt of having slept with someone else was eating at me constantly. Eleven days after I got back, I decided to tell him what I had done.