Heather Demetrios’ latest young adult novel explores one girl’s realization that her boyfriend’s behavior has turned from attentive to abusive. Demetrios was in a similar relationship herself and knows just how common the problem is. Here, she shares warning signs that can help readers to recognize abusive behavior.
Most of the female readers I talk to who’ve read my new book, Bad Romance, tell me that the topic hits really close to home. I’m not surprised: One in three teens is affected by dating violence. Almost every single woman I know has been touched in some way by the epidemic. After spending over two years in my own bad romance, I’m pretty good at recognizing the signs. If you go to the book’s website, you’ll find tons of resources, including a quiz that will help you see if you’re in a healthy relationship or not.
In Bad Romance, my main character, Grace, falls for a boy who is charming and sweet, manipulative and cruel. She doesn’t realize that he’s bad news right away, and once she does wizen up, she’s in too deep. Here are some of the things that she gets woke about by the end of the book:
This is one of the ways that abusers control their significant others. My boyfriend told me I wasn’t as “deep” as him, that I was a “wet blanket.” He knew just how to hit me where it hurt. Making critical comments about your personality, appearance, intelligence, or beliefs is a major sign of abusive relationships. It might seem harmless, but over time these comments can lead to suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and generally crap self-worth.
This was something it took me a long time to notice. At first I thought my boyfriend just really loved me and wanted to be with me. Eventually I began to see that it was about power. He would insist on being given priority over my friends, control the guys I could talk to, and say which schools I applied to. Control also often turns to obsession: My boyfriend would watch me sleep at night and insist on reading my diary. He wanted me to account for my schedule, wanted to know who I ate lunch with, and who drove me home after rehearsal.
This one is huge. It can be so hard to see jealousy for what it is because it almost seems romantic, right? He loves you so much that he can’t bear to see you even talking to another guy because he’s so afraid of losing you. It’s the whole Edward and Bella thing. My boyfriend made a rule that we weren’t allowed to hug someone of the opposite sex. He would spy on me at work to make sure I wasn’t flirting with other guys. He brought a baseball bat on campus so that he could beat the shit out of a boy who liked me (thankfully, I was able to convince him this was a bad idea). This jealousy started out small, but grew over time. A little bit of jealousy here and there is nothing to worry about, but if jealousy plays a big role in your relationship, this is for sure something to look at. You’ve gotta watch this sign like a hawk.
This is where it starts to get serious. “I’ll kill myself if you break up with me.” “I’ll kill you if you break up with me.” “I’m going to kick his ass if I see you talking to him again.” “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have sex/go out/do these drugs with me.” If any of this sounds remotely familiar, run like hell in the opposite direction. This isn’t love—it’s about power and that other person’s severe psychological problems.
When I first started going out with my boyfriend, I had a huge group of friends and was very social. By the end, I’d dropped several friends, had major fights with my closest one (to the point that we weren’t speaking for months), pretty much left my church, and was ditching classes I loved because my boyfriend wanted to see more of me. I had never felt so alone in my life. It felt like no one could possibly understand what I was going through. When anyone tried to tell me I should break up with him, I built a wall between us—or my boyfriend did it for me. It was a very us-against-the-world mentality, and it was lonely and terrifying.
It’s hard to know when you’re being manipulated, and it usually takes a long time to get hip to how your partner is manipulating you. Usually this looks like making you feel bad if you want to do something with your friends or you want to do an activity that takes you away from your partner. Abusers might make you feel like you’re in the wrong when you confront them about something or convince you that you’re imagining things when they give you the cold shoulder or punish you in some way. This always looks like your boyfriend or girlfriend not taking personal responsibility for their own feelings and actions: They will make it seem like their reactions are normal, and that they’re only acting this way because you did X or said Y. Start paying attention, especially when you know they did something uncool, confront them, and then you wind up apologizing. This is a total mind game and it’s crazy-making.
These are just a few of the signs of an abusive relationship. If you even think you might be in a bad romance, please reach out to someone you trust. Tell them what’s going on. Don’t go through this alone. You need friends, a teacher, a sibling, or a cool aunt or parent to help you through. I promise that you will find the right person someday—someone who treats you with the love and respect you deserve.
Editor’s Note: If you or anyone you know needs help further identifying or escaping from an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) or chat with them online.
Heather Demetrios is the author of several critically acclaimed novels including Something Real and I’ll Meet You There. She is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she isn’t traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, she lives with her husband in New York City. Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home.