What we don’t know about domestic violence, hurts everyone: a letter to my friend
I have a beautiful, well-educated, friend. She is a driven professional, and a mom of three great kids. She recently remarried. To me, she has been an inspiration. I have thought, “She’s been through so much, and she is standing strong. Her life looks like she’s got everything worked out”.
I wasn’t mistaken. Not entirely. She is moving forward, and she is a strong, successful woman, no matter how you define the word. I didn’t know about the darkness of her life. I didn’t know that she lives in fear. We have known each other for a few years. Sadly, though, we have not been close. Mostly, we’ve been friends on Facebook.
I thought it was me. My life has been chaotic, and I know there are people who have distanced themselves from me because life goes that way, and maybe because they avoid chaos. It’s okay.
I used to see my friend almost every day. Our kids went to the same Montessori preschool. We would walk at the mall together, or just go for coffee while we waited for them. Then we went our separate ways. She divorced her first husband and met a new guy. With a baby on the way, they got married. She seemed happy. Sort of. I mean, if you like that sort of thing. So I thought.
I met her husband once, when she was pregnant. I thought there was something off with him. To me, he seemed a bit more effeminate than the average SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy). He doted on her. Seemed nice, but not a type that I enjoy. A bit much, I thought. But then, I figured, some women like that, I guess. And my friend so needed a break.
I said nothing, and I wished them both well. I secretly hoped we’d re-establish ties. When I said, “we really should do lunch,” I really meant it.
My friend got a great job and went back to work. I saw her posts on Facebook, occasionally, and things seemed good, for a while. Then she fell off the map. I thought nothing of it. After some months, she reappeared, with a new boyfriend and a new life. I guess a lot had happened! I didn’t pry. I figured she had relegated me to the group of Facebook associates, who receive the occasional poke, or like on a post, or perhaps a “happy birthday” post.
When I was posting on Facebook about my divorce, and especially when it came time for me to self-represent in court, she private messaged me and offered to come with me. I was pleasantly surprised. My friend is not flippant with that kind of offer. I declined, but it moved me. I thanked her, sincerely, and went on my own. I wondered, though, about my assumptions about her. It confused me a little. No one else had offered that particular kind of support.
Time went on. I saw the posts of her wedding. Happy life. I was happy for her, although she remained an enigma to me.
Sometimes, she would make reference to hard times over the past few years. She mentioned that her ex-husband – I assume her second – was following her. No, stalking her. But she seemed so together and happy, I thought I wouldn’t pry. Just wish her well. She is a private person, after all.
A few days ago, my friend made the following post:
Dear “facebook friends”. I’m feeling kinda done. Most people who experience domestic violence are too scared to speak up. After posting that article about me and others and not even receiving a single “like” or comment leaves me thinking we have so far to go. Women need support, after this I feel alone all over again. 1/3 of women in CANADA will experience DV. I’ll be here for you.
I read the article and I saw my friend. Every dropped hint was there, but filled out with details of her fear, then and now, for her own safety and for her children. She had told me. She had told us all. And I didn’t respond. Why?
I want to explore the “why?” from my perspective. I’ve alluded to it already. I believe that if I have felt this way, there are probably others with a similar experience. I will be honest, sometimes harsh with myself.
Minimizing the seriousness:
We all participate in this. Even my friend minimized her situation, based on her past Facebook posts. Perhaps she didn’t want to alarm people. Maybe she didn’t even believe the seriousness herself, as it happened. For me, I had this assumption that she is so much stronger than me. I thought she must have support. As a peripheral friend (so I assumed), I thought it was none of my business. I ignored the posts, or simply said “hugs,” or some other minimal expression of support.
Lost in my own crisis:
I blog about my crisis. I laugh about it. And privately, I absolutely freak out about it. For two years, I was lost in my own tunnel vision. I couldn’t recognize needs of others. If I did recognize it, I couldn’t hear other people’s cries over the din of my own wailing and gnashing of teeth. If I did notice and pause to consider someone else’s needs, I thought, what can I do? I’m a mess myself!
I don’t want to interfere:
How often do we hold back from helping because we don’t want to interfere. I often feel like an unworthy friend. I think that someone else must surely be taking care of this person. I don’t know what’s going on. That must be how she wants things. I hope she’s okay. I put it in the back of my mind.
She’s probably over reacting:
Removed from the situation, I am ashamed to say, this is one consideration. I watched my friend lap up the doting husband act I had witnessed and thought, “Well, no one can maintain that forever!” My friend has always had high expectations for herself and her family. She drives herself, hard. She has a PhD and a high profile job. Her kids are all expected to be exceptional. She expects to be exceptional. She once moved houses two times within 4 months because she was dissatisfied with the layout of the first home she had bought.
Her strong Type-A personality clashes with mine. Maybe I’m even jealous, just a little. I must say it out loud, if I’m to be honest. I didn’t take her remarks seriously. I thought her relationship story was becoming revisionist history. I didn’t pry. I thought, “Okay, that’s none of my business. She’s fine. She’ll be okay. She always is.”
I’m sorry, my friend. I didn’t know. I’m sorry I thought those things about you. I didn’t know. And I have weakness myself.
So what could I have done differently (or at all)? What can I do now? At the risk of blaming the victim, I want to ask, “What could she have done differently?” How can a woman receive help when she might not even know how deep her trouble has become? What if she’s clearly in danger, but she won’t see it, or won’t act? What if she thinks it’s all her fault, and she shouldn’t ask for help?
In another friendship, my pregnant friend confided some shocking things about the way her husband was behaving. My beautiful, brilliant friend was isolated and afraid. Her husband was not Canadian. She feared that if she tried to leave, he would take the children back to his country. She abandoned her dreams to pursue a doctoral degree. She no longer visited the horse she had left at her parents’ farm. She missed the sweet little dog that he would not allow her to keep. A day after I spoke to her and offered to help her get out, she called me and apologized for her ‘bad behaviour’. She was sorry she had shown disrespect to her husband. She told me it was all a misunderstanding she had caused.
I never saw her again.
“What if I endanger myself, by reaching out?”
What if the problem is even more severe than anyone could imagine? What if I get tangled up in a violent situation I can’t control? This is much more fear based than rational. But fear comes from ignorance, and on this subject, I realize I am clearly ignorant.
I will say it again, my friend. I am sorry I didn’t help you, even by replying to your post, when all you needed at that moment was acknowledgement. I’m sorry for your pain, your fear, and your disappointment. I’m sorry for my cynicism, tunnel vision, distraction and ignorance. I didn’t mean you harm. I don’t wish you harm. If I knew, and if I could, I would have lifted you and your children out, and gently placed you on higher, safer ground. I would.
What I wish for you is peace. I hope and wish that your relationship now is safe and supportive. I hope that you can move on past the fear and pain and isolation you have lived. More than anything, I hope that you will not let this experience jade you. Your abuser is like a terrorist. If you live in fear, or cynicism, or change that positive, powerful and proactive approach to life that I so admire, you remain in his clutches, and you perpetuate your own fear. I know that you are strong. I know that you won’t let that happen. But just in case, I am here now, if a little too late. I’m listening and I’m willing to stay. Tell me what to do. When you don’t know, just lean on me. Cry, laugh, rest for a little while. You are amazing. Don’t forget. Can I remind you?
Please join the conversation and comment below.
Have you experienced violence in a significant relationship?
Have you had a friend suffer abuse? What did you do (or not do)?
What can we do?