Changes: Natasha

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by Natasha Sherriff

We met at work. He was four years my junior and asked me out every day. Every. Single. Day. I should have reported him for sexual harassment; instead I eventually gave in and agreed to go out with him. One date, I thought, And he’ll leave me alone.

He was pushy on that first date too. He had told several of our coworkers that he was going to sleep with me, that I definitely “wanted it” and when we kissed, he tried to make his brash declarations come to pass. I remember being distinctly aware of how much stronger he was than me. I remember being afraid. How many times had I said no before he finally stopped? It doesn’t matter; I should never have seen him again after our first date.

We dated for another year and a half and the pattern established at the beginning of the relationship remained intact for it’s entirety. To him, when I said “no” it really meant Ask again. And again. And again. And again. Ad infinitum. Ask until one of us (usually me) gives up. If love is a battlefield, our relationship was a war of attrition.

I know what it looks like. Why on earth would I go out with this guy? What would possess me to put up with that kind of behavior?

The truth is it was easy to ignore my own discomfort and make excuses for him. After our first date, I told myself he didn’t know his own strength. He was never going to rape me. He didn’t mean to scare me. Making excuses for him only got easier. I told myself all kinds of things: His parents are alcoholics. He’s insecure. It’s not that he doesn’t respect my boundaries; it’s just that he’s more persistent than I am. Persistence is charming. This is what you have to put up with if you want to be in a relationship. He needs me. I think that was the one that really made me stay.

Somewhere in the midst of the relationship, I became more than a girlfriend. I became girlfriend, confidante, life coach, spiritual advisor, and shrink. I won’t say I was his everything but I will say I was his most-things. If I’m being honest, these were all easy roles for me to slip into. My biological father is an alcoholic and growing up I was his everything and he needed me in some of the same ways my boyfriend needed me. The dynamics are undeniably similar. I was predisposed to be in this kind of relationship and to mistaking being needed for love. So, for a year and a half I ignored my own discomfort and made excuses until finally, one night, I couldn’t anymore.

We’d had a fight over something stupid but I was determined to hold my ground. I told him I needed a few days and to leave me alone until I was ready to talk.

He gave me about 12 hours before he showed up at my house.

I was incensed. I told him to leave and that I would call when I was ready to talk but he refused. I screamed at him to “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE!” and still he refused. I tried to walk away. I was planning on locking myself in my room until he got the point and left, but he followed me up the stairs. I turned around and he was right behind me. He was still following me. At that point, I was terrified. I finally felt terror at the sight of him. Without thinking, I tried to push him back down the stairs and nothing happened. This man is a foot taller and weighs about 100 pounds more than me, so if he didn’t want to leave, I couldn’t make him.

Should I call the police? I wasn’t sure. I started screaming again. “YOU NEED TO GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!!! GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE!!!” But still he didn’t budge. At the time, I lived with my parents and it was not until my dad (not the drunk one, the sober one) came out and calmly told him to leave that he did so. That’s when I knew I had finally reached my limit. I could no longer afford to ignore my own discomfort.

We talked a few more times after that. Break-up talks. He asked me for another chance but I, for once, was resolute. He didn’t understand why I was being so “unforgiving.” I told him it was because when I asked him to leave he had said, “I didn’t think you were serious. It’s not like it was the first time you told me to get the fuck out of your house.” Of course, he was right. I’d told him to leave countless times before and he had never listened, so I had always let it go. We’d established a pattern.

That relationship, more than any other, changed things for me. I’m not as understanding as I once was—I’m less patient. I don’t make excuses for people anymore. My no means no the first time; not respecting that doesn’t make you charming and persistent, it makes you an entitled asshole. It goes further than that, though. I chafe at the thought of being needed now. Being someone’s everything or even their most things is oppressively burdensome, even in theory.

If you are in some way broken, I am not here to fix you. I expect you to find a way to do that yourself because you’re a grown up. I’m not here to be your life coach, spiritual advisor, nor shrink. I’m not here to be needed. In short, I’m not here for your bullshit. And for me, increasingly, it’s all bullshit. The thought of getting into another relationship is both exciting and terrible, but I only want to be wanted. I want to be held lightly—with an open hand or not at all. And therein lies the struggle. Am I asking too much in asking others not to ask too much of me? Maybe it’s time to reconcile myself to the fact that at some point someone will need something from me. Maybe I already have. Maybe that’s why I’m attracted to people I can’t have. Maybe that’s why I tend to stay just out of reach and feel just a little bit dead inside. I can’t be held with an open hand so I won’t be held at all.

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