Can you really be friends with someone who abused you?

Featured image by Zoie Sy

Last year, I met a guy. He was kind, warm, sweet. He would say things like “I wish you were here with me” or “I love starting and ending my day with you.” There was nothing sweeter. We would talk every single day. I would spend my day thinking, “he would love this” or “he’d laugh at this.” He never let me wake up without a “good morning” or go to sleep without a “good night.”

He’d send me songs, his favorites, love songs that reminded him of me. He would pause mid-conversation just to say: “You’re so beautiful.” He memorized the scents of my perfumes and even had favorites. He would drink with his friends and call me up instead. One instance, he slipped and said, stumbling on his words: “I love you.”

I knew I was falling in love.

It wasn’t long until we became serious, all my nights late and mornings early to be with him. It was a whirlwind, but I’d never felt that way before. I told him about my pain and he took it. And he understood. And he loved me anyway. I couldn’t have a day without him and he couldn’t have one without me. I let him in. He made a home inside me. And it was good.

And then the name-calling started. It was small at first–and we’d always been playful. But “stupid” escalated to “bitch.” Pretty quickly, too. And I attributed it to the stress in his life. Med school, a lot of pressure, family drama. His life wasn’t a fairytale, and neither was mine. So I understood. I took it. He apologized and I forgave him.

Then our conversations began to shorten and slip. Until I was left waiting for days. And when I would be excited to talk, he pushed me away. He was on a short fuse. He was angry. And sometimes, I tasted that anger. Again, he apologized, but it felt less sincere the more it happened.

He drifted away. And I watched. And when he’d inch closer, he’d take his anger out on me. He’d call me names. I was stupid or selfish. And I let it happen. I took it. Because he said, amidst it all, he loved me.

A few days after my birthday (which he said we’d spend together but he didn’t show up), he ended things between us. He said he couldn’t handle a relationship with everything going on in his life. A week after that, he asked for sexual favors, intimacy without the emotion. And I complied. In my vulnerability, I complied. It was harrowing and hollow. He knew that it hurt. He knew everything that hurt me. And then he slowly became it. He sandwiched all his requests with the hope that we could be friends. He said he was sorry over and over. He said he liked being friends.

Later, he told me he was seeing someone. He told me couldn’t handle a relationship. All while he was still asking for special favors. And I felt myself completely come unglued.

It felt wrong. I felt sick. He made me feel like I was going crazy. I ended up seeing a therapist. I felt like garbage he would use to get off. I felt like I had nothing left. I felt like he took everything from me. Like the home he made inside of me had been ransacked, vandalized, broken. I was in shambles. My life had collapsed on itself. I felt like the stupid bitch he said I was. I felt like a rag he used to get himself off, one he tossed aside when he was done. My therapist had to be the one to say it out loud–and that was the only time it felt real: He abused me.

This isn’t the only story of abuse I’m familiar with. People around me have recounted moments from family, friends, loved ones. People who took all the trust put in them and tore it apart. And in healing, we’ve all taken shaky steps. Steps in forgiving ourselves. And some of us try to forgive our abuser. Forgiveness can be freeing, it can be a letting-go. It doesn’t always merit having the bond you used to have.

But it makes me wonder: Can you really be friends with someone who abused you?

A few months after the break-up, I was somewhere that reminded me of him. I remembered him. Keenly. I thought about how, while he was breaking things off, he wanted to be friends. He said it a lot. He said he liked how we talked. He said he liked how we got along. He said he wished we could still be friends. And while I thought I wanted the same, I couldn’t help but feel a sting. Still, in a moment of weakness, I reached out.

I thought of you. I hope you’re doing okay.

Within a matter of minutes, he responded.

Hey, I’m okay. I hope you are, too.

I cried on a park bench, bawling in public. And to this day I don’t know why.

I have a friend who was sexually abused by her boyfriend. It took a lot of explaining why it was wrong to her until she finally broke up with him. But to this day they remain friends. I ask her: “How do you manage to stay friends?” And she says: “It’s not the same.” They’re civil. But something in her has been hurt. And his prints are all over that pain. She knows that and won’t let him in the same way again.

I know someone else who’d been abused by family. And that’s a relationship she says she can never salvage. There’s no turning around. There’s no undoing the damage. And if her healing demands that making amends isn’t possible, then she shouldn’t feel like she has to.

I guess it never will be the same. But I think it’s because we try to go back to a time before all the hurt happened when clearly we’re different, changed, new people. To go back to that with the guy who hurt me is a disservice to the me that had to go through intensive therapy just to remember I had self-worth, worth that he couldn’t get to. I spent so much time and money trying to get myself back together because I couldn’t see that he was tearing me apart. And that took me a very long time to admit: He hurt me. Deeply. In a way that I can’t undo. No one can require me to forgive him or be friends with him. That’s my decision to make if it can help me heal.

We aren’t friends. And I don’t think we will be, at least not in the near future. And it’s nobody’s business except mine if I forgive him or not.

To moving forward. To getting better.

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