Trigger warning: this blog post contains references of emotional abuse and toxic relationships.
April 2008. Three months into my relationship with Arnold, I was introduced to Darren. I remember attending art college one day and my friend, Claudia showing me a photo on Facebook. He immediately stood out to me. Tall, blonde and dressed in a luminous hoody and matching tracksuit bottoms, phwoar. Turns out he was Claudia’s boyfriend’s cousin and she arranged to have us both introduced. And that was the end of Arnold.
One evening, a week or so after being first introduced to Darren; I left my house to meet him on a bench on the village green. We ended up sitting for an hour in the cold talking. As I went to leave, Darren leaned in to kiss me goodbye; he smelt of weed and aftershave. I then watched him swagger off down the street. I was immediately drawn to his ‘bad boy’ persona. We were worlds apart, I knew that. I was your typical good girl at school and wouldn’t have said boo to a goose, and Darren was, well… the opposite, really. But they do say opposites attract.
So, Darren and I started to see each other and quite quickly became official. My routine consisted of college, my part-time supermarket job, and spending any free time with Darren. Which mostly involved sitting in his bedroom (whilst he smoked weed), going to one of his friends’ houses (so that he could smoke weed) or else walking from one end of the town to other (so he could pick up weed). At the time I just went along with it because I was besotted with Darren. Never mind the amount of passive smoke I was inhaling or how the weed seemed to give Darren paranoia which often resulted in outbursts of unprecedented rage…
A lot of the time Darren would be what people would consider affectionate and loving, but his rages came frequent enough. Sometimes he would shout, scream and spit out expletives at inanimate objects and other times it would be at me or another poor, unexpecting soul who was in the vicinity. Darren felt that he had been dealt a bad hand in life and harboured so much anger inside and at the world. I tried to suggest ways in which he could help himself, like to enrol in college or an apprenticeship. But forever the pessimist, he would always come up with a reason why he couldn’t. Darren was one of those people who could never accept responsibility to change his own life, there was always something or someone else to blame.
Darren didn’t like institutions. He disliked the government; he disliked the police, to be honest he disliked most things that weren’t marijuana. He didn’t ‘believe’ in banks (no doubt paranoid that Santander was conspiring against him). Instead he kept all his cash from his wages in an old trainer box under his bed. God forbid there was a fire or robbery. I really do hope that nowadays Darren believes in banks (and interest) or otherwise has at least stowed his shoebox in a safe in his house.
Darren would often refer to me as his ‘missus’. I recoil when I think about that now. Why do men think it’s acceptable to refer to their partners as something which is considered an add-on to their own identity? And whilst we’re on the topic, other derogatory names to avoid calling women, include ‘bird’ and ‘chick’. I cannot stand when men (especially men I do not know) refer to me as ‘darlin’. How about ‘shut the fuck up you patronising git, you’ve probably got the emotional intelligence of a gnat’. But Darren also had other pet names for me, which included (but were not limited to), ‘slut’, ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’. Whenever I got dressed up to go out with friends, he would call me these names as I walked out the front door. And the worse thing about it, was that I let him.
Although I think it was the weed that brought on Darren’s paranoia and consequently his outbursts, as you can imagine, throwing alcohol into the equation only exacerbated things. One time on a night out, Darren got drunk and was arguing, or mostly just shouting abuse at random people. He then turned his attention on me. Anyone that knows me will know that I hate confrontation, I don’t believe in loud slanging matches and prefer a more reasonable approach. My usual reaction to Darren would have been just to cry, but this time I must have told him where to go. He completely lost his rag at this and threatened to punch me in the face. I didn’t really think he would do it and all his friends were clinging on to him, holding his arms back so he couldn’t even if he tried. He had never physically hurt me before, but his eyes flashed with intoxicated fury as he spat out abuse at me. At that point in time I honestly couldn’t say whether he was capable of it or not. And that thought scared me.
Not much longer after that incident I came back home from university for a weekend. It was Sunday morning and I was lying on Darren’s bed whilst he was in the middle of a rage and there was just a lot of the usual shouting and thumping of the walls. There was a time in the beginning where these outbursts would cause me so much distress that I’d leave his house shaking in tears. But at that moment, I felt nothing. I’d become desensitised to his rampages; they didn’t touch me anymore. Just being in Darren’s presence made me feel numb, I no longer cared. All the while he screamed, I was sat silent staring off into the distance. He punched the wall one more time and I said nothing but got out of bed pulled on my clothes and walked out the room. He called after me as I walked out the front door, but I didn’t answer him. Darren didn’t know it yet, but that was the moment I realised I didn’t love him anymore, I didn’t even like him. The next time I saw Darren was to break up with him.
I’ve never been one to approach guys in public, but whenever I go through a breakup, I seem to get this weird dose of confidence. It’s like the worse has already happened so I just think, what the hell. A couple weeks after my breakup with Darren was my Graduation Ball at university, and a well known UK band were playing. I remember feeling an odd sense of relief and freedom as I danced whilst watching the stage. I was young, tipsy, and the guitarist was hot. Later that night, tired and drunk I followed Guitarist Guy on Twitter and sent him a flirtatious tweet.
The next day I woke up and was mortified at what I had said. I went to go and delete the tweet when I noticed that Guitarist Guy had replied. Interesting. I then searched for his personal Facebook profile. What the hell, I thought, and added him. Not long afterwards he accepted my request. We exchanged flirty messages which got progressively more suggestive as the days went by. We then Skyped each other. Guitarist Guy asked if I’d come and see him in London, where he would do all manner of bad things to me. Christ, I wanted those bad things. So, one day without telling a soul where I was going, I booked a train from Nottingham to London. Guitarist Guy came and met me at Warwick Avenue and took me to dinner at a cute Italian place. Afterwards we walked back to his flat in Maida Vale, where we spent the night having sex. When we weren’t having sex, he showed me demos of his upcoming songs. Jesus, was I a groupie?! The next morning, Guitarist Guy took me to the station, and I got a train back home.
I never saw Guitarist Guy again (although not from lack of him trying once he saw that I’d moved to London) and in hindsight I should have told someone where I was going. But my one-night fling with Guitarist Guy made me feel sexy and confident in my newfound singledom. I was 22, just graduated from university and I was looking forward to what my future held. I just needed to get through the holiday first. Holiday? you say. Yep. Months prior to breaking up with Darren we’d booked a holiday together. That’s right, a two-week, all-inclusive vacation to the other side of the Atlantic, just Darren and myself. What could possibly go wrong…
We had been paying off the holiday in instalments for months, so, understandably, neither of us were willing to give up their place for free. By the same token, neither of us could find someone else to buy the other person out. So, I decided to be mature and say that I was happy to go as friends, if he was.
“Fine.” said Darren. “But I hope I get eaten by a shark, so I don’t have to come home afterwards.” He was deadly serious.
I bit my bottom lip. I’m glad this was resolved over the phone so he couldn’t see my face.
So off to Mexico we went. Apart from a few minor tiffs we were getting on OK. Not in a romantic sense, God no, I’d firmly shut that door, but in a way that was bearable for two weeks. The hotel and beach were beautiful and the all you could eat buffet and unlimited alcohol was a bonus (Darren made full use of that). We even did a couple of excursions including a boat cruise, where Darren won a bottle of tequila. Maybe this wasn’t such a terrible idea after all.
Then, one evening, I left the pool area early to get ready for dinner. After three hours Darren still hadn’t come back to the room. I was hungry and starting to get annoyed, where was he?! Then as I opened the door to go and find him, there was Darren, stood in front of me, his pants down by his ankles, laughing and crying. He was wasted. Fuck sake Darren. I pulled him into the room and told him to get a shower and sober up, whilst I sat on the end of the bed angrily waiting for him to get ready.
After a few minutes I heard a lot of cranking coming from the bathroom so went to see what he was playing at. Darren was stood fully dressed in the shower and had decided to lean his full weight on the shower head which had promptly fell off the wall, sending water jets shooting off in all directions. “What are you doing?!” I shouted at him, trying to angle the shower head as it was beginning to flood the whole bathroom. He let out a drunken sob and went to say something but instead vomited all over himself and the shower.
Both drenched in water and vomit, I told him to pull himself together and go to the toilet if he needed to be sick again, whilst I sorted out this mess. As I wrestled with the showerhead and mopped up the sick, I heard retching from the other room. I poked my head around the corner to see Darren sat on the toilet, projectile vomiting on to the opposite wall. Motherfucker.
It was the last day of the holiday and we were in our room packing our suitcases before heading off to the airport. I watched as Darren carefully wrapped his prized bottle of tequila in not one, not two, but five t-shirts in order to protect it whilst in transit. I watched him place the wrapped bottle on the edge of the bed whilst he bent down to make a snug place for it in his case. I watched almost in slow motion, as he turned around and his arm caught the edge of the bed causing the bottle to slip… and audibly smash on the floor.
Silence. I daren’t move or make a sound. I watched Darren as he stared at the syrupy pile of t-shirts and broken glass. Then, very slowly, he raised his head to the heavens, his eyes bulging in anger (I braced myself) and in a deathly whisper, he breathed, “Why…. Why. Fucking. Me?” I held my breath. I must not laugh. Why anyone, Darren? Ever considered that.
To be fair, the holiday could have been a lot worse. Darren could have gotten eaten by a shark. But he didn’t, and we landed back in the UK and went our separate ways. Luckily, I have since had a more enjoyable and meaningful trip to Mexico. Salud!
For a long time, I didn’t consider Darren’s behaviour in our relationship as abusive. He did some lovely and romantic things in our time together, but these were always overshadowed by him saying something insulting or intimidating to me. There is no way to sugar coat it, it was verbal and emotional abuse. Just because a person can be loving and affectionate at other times does not discount the ways in which they have harmed or manipulated you. It’s strange how your feelings for someone can almost hoodwink you into thinking the way they treat you is OK. But the way Darren spoke to me and intimidated me was not OK. It is not normal and so we should not normalise it. It took me almost three years, but I’m glad that I finally realised and had the strength to walk away from this toxic relationship. It is undeniable that Darren had his own demons and I truly hope that he was able to see someone about that, but that is not an excuse to project that pain on to others.
I heard through the grapevine that Darren is now married and settled down. I don’t claim to know anything about his life or him now as a person, but I do hope that he has found peace within himself and that he is happy. I hope he doesn’t harbour the same anger inside of him and more than anything I hope he now treats the women in his life with respect, kindness and compassion.
Between the ages of 16 – 22 I was constantly in and out of relationships; a consistent relay of boyfriends, with me as the baton being passed on to the next boy. When one relationship ended, the next boyfriend was always ready and waiting at the start line. I spent my early adult years not knowing how to be on my own or even what I was like as an individual without being part of a couple. After my breakup with Darren it would be three years before I met my next boyfriend, Seb, at the age of 25. And in all honesty, I don’t think I knew real love until then. Those early relationships were based on an exhilarating recipe of hormones, lust and the thrill of arguments and make-up sex. It was all only ever puppy love. And not to sound heartless, but they were all disposable; easily replaced with the next boy who could give me that dopamine hit.
Those intervening years as a young, single woman, before I met Seb, were particularly defining in shaping the person I am today. Outside of romantic relationships, those years hold some of my darkest days where I battled with depression and struggled finding my sense of self, which ultimately led me to one of my biggest life decisions of moving to London. One of, if not the best things I ever did for myself.
God knows that I am not the same person I was ten or even five years ago. I have better knowledge of myself and the world around me, experiences good and bad have shaped me, and I’ve learnt resilience in the face of certain life challenges; as we all do. So, whilst I can appreciate that my ex-boyfriends are probably not the same men now as they were back when I dated them, I am also eternally grateful that none of those relationships worked out. Some of the reasons were blatantly obvious at the time and others I only recognised with the wonder of hindsight. That whether I knew it at the time or not, I did not settle. And for that, I am thankful. I’m looking forward to meeting my person – but until then, I refuse to settle for anything less.