Tripping on the Path of Widowhood: Living with Emotional Abuse

Remembering to do Better
Remembering to do Better

On July 29th, my boyfriend had a public meltdown and yelled at me. For the first time I realized:

He’s emotionally abusive.

So, I ended it.

It took the ghost of my late husband George to save me. July 29th was George’s birthday. It was my wake up call, the first time I’d used the word “abusive” to describe my guy.

But even after I’d broken up with my boyfriend, I still took him back for the occasional night or dinner. We’d been together for over two years. I missed him. Not who he was now but the man who’d been sweet and sexy and crazy about me when we first started dating. The one who took me to see Todd Rungren on our second date and Lake Tahoe on our fifth. The one who saved me from the tedium of online dating and the gray haze of widowhood.

But he wasn’t who he used to be. He was angry and depressed. He hated the world and, by extension, himself and me. He wasn’t getting help for his depression.

When I finally broke up with my boyfriend he still wouldn’t leave me alone. He kept coming to my house without calling, refusing to leave when I asked him to. I finally called the police. They hauled him away in handcuffs as he blathered on that it wasn’t his fault. “Alcohol makes people do strange things,” said one of the officers.

I should have ended the relationship far sooner. I saw who he was, but shut my eyes, trying not to see the real him. I was embarrassed to talk about it. But I have to if I’m going to continue to write about my journey through widowhood. It’s a dark, meandering journey full of holes. Sometimes I fall into one of them and twist an ankle.

Loneliness made me accept the unacceptable. Loneliness plus inertia. When you’re happily partnered, life floats along companionably. Not being alone when you’re single takes work. I spiral through endless text threads to organize a dinner with friends, a movie with the girls, a date with a stranger.

All of which could get cancelled at a moment’s notice. And the date often felt like working a job I never wanted to apply for. I’d come home to stare at my ex-boyfriend’s photo, looking at his almond-shaped green eyes, then almost involuntarily, responding to his texts that he missed me.

And ignoring his texts that I was a jerk for dumping him.

I have no excuse for taking him back time after time. Just a penchant for darkness. If this is what fate has dealt me, let’s go with it. Prematurely dead husband? Yup, time for make-up sex, whiskey and nihilism.

The loneliness of widowhood made me vulnerable to being in an emotionally abusive relationship. Despite having financial security and my own place. Despite my great dad and step-mom. Despite my yoga and my girlfriends. Despite my 32 years of having been in a loving marriage. Despite an outward appearance of confidence.

The Signs that I ignored:

Of course there was stuff I noticed, I just chose to ignore it.  Maybe you recognize some of these signs in someone you’ve dated:

  1. My boyfriend was negative and unsupportive. Did that make him emotionally abusive? No, but it made him a jerk sometimes. And from there, he sometimes slid into angry and insulting.
  2. My girlfriends didn’t like him and kept telling me I could do better. I thought they were being sweet. They were telling me to run.
  3. I often felt sad and agitated. My instincts knew to end it, but my brain kept rationalizing why I should stay with him. I could help him change. He was just in a bad mood. He loved me in his way.
  4. He had addictive behaviors. When he drank, he drank. He was always numbing out be it with pot or painkillers.
  5. He couldn’t control himself when he got upset. Even when I wasn’t with him, he was calling or texting me. 
  6. Unfounded jealousy. He thought I was looking for other guys when I wasn’t with him. I wasn’t, but even he knew I had reasons to look.

Maybe you’re in, or have been, in a similar situation. Maybe you’ve rationalized that it’s okay. But it isn’t.

We deserve to be treated with kindness.

I should’ve ended it far sooner. But it’s hard. One minute, life’s great with travel plans and hiking meet ups, the next t’s looking around a preternaturally quiet house with only ghosts to talk to. 

I tripped on the path of widowhood. But I finally stopped making excuses for my guy. And for my own lack of action. If you see yourself in this post, I hope you do too. We deserve better. 

(A different version of this article appeared on my blog, the Hungover Widow, where I write about dating and coming back to life after loss).

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