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Learning to love following emotional abuse

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Today, my boyfriend said the words I, love and you, in that order, without any words in between. Specifically, he said, “that’s why I love you.”

And that’s a big deal.

But the fact is, I have certain scars, and I’m not ready to say I love him just yet.

My dad used to use the words “I love you” to get away with hurting me, or to manipulate me into doing what he wanted. He kept a mistress for five years, something that made my mother cry nearly every night.

I could hear her through the walls.

She would keep it together until I went to bed, but it’s exhausting to pretend to be happy.

She nearly left him, one happy day. I forced myself to cry because I thought it was the proper response. All I really felt was relief.

That day, both my brother and I ended up in hospital- I with a sprained shoulder, he with a dislocated thumb. So it never came to pass.

And so the crying continued.

I was sixteen and full of rage, and didn’t know why she stayed. I thought she was weak. I had just realised I was trans. I really really needed a mum. Instead I had a woman who berated me for using men’s shower gel, took away my deodorant, bought me pink things… it was like she set out to spite me.

So we argued.

And my dad, gentle giant that he was, would come in speaking softly.

“You know that mum isn’t very happy with me right now. And I’m doing my best to make it up to her. When you upset her, it makes things worse for me too. I need you to try with mum, do you understand. I love you both.”

What he did was not my fault. I was sixteen, facing the prospect of two years at an all-girls boarding college. I didn’t want to go, but they were both shouting at me, both saying it was what I wanted, telling me they would let me go to my first choice of college over their dead bodies. I knew I wasn’t a girl.

But he kept using those words. I love you.

And when I said I was unhappy, when I told him that I never wanted to go, he said that he did it because he wanted the best for me, and did I realise how much it had cost? That it wasn’t about the money for them, but that they just wanted me to have a better chance?

And when I didn’t want to schmooze and lie and pretend to “make connections” at my leaving ball, I was “causing a scene” and “embarrassing him”.

And when he quit his well-paid job and bought a franchise in an industry that he knew nothing about, he needed me to sign my name as an executive of the business. Because it was for me. He had done it for me. Because he loved me.

My dad was a habitual liar, and that was the cruellest lie of all.

If my dad had loved my mum, he wouldn’t have spent five years sneaking off to Austria to fuck a married woman. If he had loved me, he wouldn’t have manipulated me to do as he pleased. He wouldn’t still be refusing to apologise for everything he’s done.

I hate him for what he’s done. All of it. And if I ever tried to bring it up, he treated me like the petulant child I haven’t been for nearly eight years- since he forced me to move away, and never came to visit me if he could help it.

That’s what “love” looked like.

The first time Sun* told me he loved me, he traced it on my thigh- “I ❤ U”. He must have thought I didn’t notice because he did it again on my belly the next day.

But I did notice. And so I explained to him about my dad, and how I can’t even tell my mum I love her. Sometimes I say it immediately after hanging up the phone, but I never say it to her. I don’t want to hurt her.

“Love”, as a word, has been weaponised. And there is nobody on this earth I hate enough to say I love them.

As for what love means- how am I supposed to know? I romanticise it as much as the next fool, singing Nat King Cole as I trip up the steps to the tram stop, switching to Madness once I get off the tram and make the short walk to Sun’s house.

But by the time he opens the door, I always stop singing.

The truth is, I’m not ready to use that word. It turns me upside-down when he uses it- what does he even mean? But I think I’ll get there. One day.

*Name has been replaced with what I think he is most like- he brings me warmth and energy every day.