Dating Red Flags: Desensitization to Seething Anger

I don’t know what teenager TK thought she’d get out of prom night. She was never the type of girl who fit into the stereotypical high school mold. She looked at the world differently than many of her peers yet, for some reason, prom was important to her. It was an experience she’d only get twice. Her thought process was that, even if it sucked, she’s have the experience. What was one more night of potential horror after all her years?

196000_1003689610578_7377_nI not only valued the experience of prom for myself, but for those around me. Having heard that my clingy, obsessive boyfriend Zachery had declined to attend prom as a junior, I knew this was his last chance. If he needed to keep me as his girlfriend to go, then that’s what I would do. Also, breaking up with him just before prom would look just as bad as breaking up with him just after my birthday.

I may have looked at my world a bit differently than my other peers, but clearly I was still a teenager with that ignorant train of thought.

After the red carpet event had ended and the parents left the roller rink, prom proceeded much like any high school dance ever did. A small group of people danced near the DJ. Everyone else stood in small clusters talking and laughing. Maybe that sounds like a lame dance, but I was more than happy to chat away with my friends. Besides, after the way Zachery had been acting all night, I was in no mood to dance with him.

Of course, Zachery had his ways. I could see him shaking and feel his grip on my arm tightening with every passing slow song. Eventually, I relented to one awkward dance. We did the hug and sway. I wasn’t completely comfortable with even that contact, but at least he kept his hand off my ass. As an added bonus, I didn’t have to look at his face with my head rested on his shoulder.

After one song, I figured I had done my duty as Zachery’s date and returned to my circle of friends. Really, I was the only one talking to anyone. Zachery maintained his usual silence and didn’t appear like he even wanted to be a part of the group. He stood clearly outside of our circle, the only indication he knew anyone there was his death grip on my arm.

This photo, “A firm grip” is copyright (c) 2014 Quinn Dombrowski and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

By this point, I was determined to have a good time in spite of his animosity. So long as he wasn’t grabbing my ass or boobs, I was happy to leave him be. Let him grip my arm. Let him stand outside of our group. I didn’t care.

I think a part of me had become desensitized to Zachery’s behavior. His glares, the way his body shook when he was angry and the tight grips he kept on my arms or hands were all normal to me. I figured I was doing a good job of acting like nothing was wrong. Besides, who would see anything wrong with a boy hold his girlfriend’s arm? What a petty thing to complain about.

At one point during the night, Zachery and I sat at a small table by ourselves. A friend approached and asked if she could talk to me, motioning me to go towards her. I told Zachery I’d be right back and went to see what she had to say. She walked me to the other side of the roller rink and into the women’s bathroom.

“You have to stay away from him,” she said.

Turns out, Zachery’s actions weren’t going as unnoticed as I assumed they were. She saw the way he looked at me and noticed the death grip on my arm. Feeling like I finally had the go ahead, I vented all my worries onto her.

Zachery not only made me fear for my safety, but the safety for others. I’d seen him purposely try to run over baby rabbits. I’d heard him joke about bringing guns to school events. I’d read the emails and random poems he sent me, which left me thinking he might take his own life if I broke things off. I was at a loss, but that dear friend showed me the failure of my thought process. If my breaking up with him motivated him to take his own life or doing something else horrendous, the fault would not be on me.

You can’t imagine how monumental that realization was for me. I’m not sure how long I would have gone on dating him otherwise. Sure, I had plans to break up with him two weeks after prom, but I’m not convinced I would have followed that plan through had I thought I would be at fault for any action he took against himself or others.

I assured my friend that I recognized all that was happening and that I would be done with him in two weeks. Still wanting me to stay away from him, we left the restroom and joined our group of friends without seeking out Zachery.

For a short time, I truly enjoyed prom. I talked and danced with friends free of a shadow or grip. Eventually, Zachery found us and I made some half-assed excuse about how we didn’t see him in the crowd and figured he’d find us eventually.

I could see his anger seethe and was grateful to be in such a public space.

We’re nearing the end of the series. What do you think will happen between TK and Zachery after the dance? Will Zachery’s anger become to great? If it does, how will he lash out? Will anyone be there to bear witness?

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26 thoughts on “Dating Red Flags: Desensitization to Seething Anger”

  1. Running over animals and threatening to bring guns to class? Wow. I don’t know how this saga will turn out, but I’m assuming that he’s part of your distant past and has remained there.

  2. I was a police officer for many years, before returning to school. I have seen this so many times. It was always amazing to me how small the steps were to horrible physical abuse. I starts with a hard grip. It progresses along a physiological and psychological line, and I kept being called back to the same homes. Eventually, I was called to the ER where she sat with a broken collar bone and such. Shockingly, she would say that it was still partly her fault. Sad.

    1. At this point, I know I was in a mentally abusive relationship. If I didn’t cut things off when I did, there is no doubt in my mind that it would have turned physical. I’m happy I got out when I did.

  3. What a story! Although it wouldn’t be the best decision, I think TK’s guilt and empathy will play on her resulting her to stay with Zachery for fear of what might happen if she doesn’t.

  4. I don’t think your story is all that uncommon. At least the individual elements of it aren’t. Part of the transition from childhood to adulthood is coming to grips (or not, in Zachary’s case) with the fact that one has very little control over the world around them. As children, most of us see the adults around us as leaders in control of everything. As teens, we attempt to make the transition to what we think we have seen in the adults. One thing that finally makes each of us an adult (at whatever age this occurs) is the realization that we control only what goes on inside of us and very little outside.

    Many never come to that realization – alcoholics, addicts, abusers, many criminals, sex offenders, etc. Like Zachary, all struggle to impose their will on the world around them. All fail, of course, and often drag others with them into their own self-created fantasy.

    I think we know that TK ended up okay, but I look forward to hearing what happened to Zachary? Did he finally realize that only he can control what happens in his own head and heart?

    1. While I feel like specifics about Zachery’s story are not fair for me to share, I’m going to have to follow this series with something about how he ended up.

      This period in a girls life is terrifying, though. Through my study of human rights in college, I learned that the ages of 14 to 24 are the most dangerous decade of a woman’s life in terms of domestic violence. Those ten years are when a girl or woman is most likely to be in an abusive relationship, most likely to get put in the hospital and most likely to end up dead. These days, what terrify me even more is that girls in that age group usually don’t know that.

      This issue is kind of like depression to me. Sure, teenage angst is normal. However, it can reach a level where it is not normal and a child shouldn’t have to attempt suicide before adults start paying attention. Likewise, a 14-year-old girl should not think abusive actions toward her are normal. Boys should not think acting in an abusive way is normal.

  5. This is such an important story, especially for young women, to read. Good for you for posting it. Those red flags can be too easy to ignore or justify in the moment, but they’re so important to recognize.

    1. I agree. There’s only a few more posts left in this series. There are so many things that build off of this – things people, parents and teenagers should know. What happened to me was tame compared to what happens in a lot of domestic violence cases. People should know the signs so they can run before things get worse.

    1. I punched him and ran! No, that’s a lie, but I do hope the story is exciting. I was afraid too. It’s still creepy to me how easily it would have been for things to work out differently.

  6. It’s amazing how quickly “normal” can be redefined, right? And that is one awesome friend!

    1. yeah, thank God for her. I mean, I was going to break up with him anyway, but I think her actions hastened things… if only because she caused me to abandon him for part of the dance which made him that much angrier (but that’s for next week’s post)

  7. I’m taking a guess that Teenage TK will try to break it off and it will turn into Zachery having wild mood swings from “I’ll die without you” to calling her a bitch.

  8. I like this post and it’s great for people who may not know. But, what about people who are naturally desensitized to these kinds of things, anger and voilence? Can you think of a more objective measure for people with possible disorders, less emotional empathy, or video game obsessions?

    1. That’s difficult to say. When a person grows up in a home full of domestic violence, these sorts of behaviors seem normal to them. I feel like the obsessive, clingy behavior is the first sign of trouble. That is a sign to run. Someone won’t know that is a sign to run until they are thought that. We should probably discuss domestic violence more in schools around the time kids start dating. On this issue, specifically, I think more can be learned from having a conversation in a classroom setting as opposed to just telling the students what to think.

      And, it terms of disorders which result in less empathy and video game obsessions, I don’t know of any studies that prove such things result in higher instances of domestic violence. I mean, I a bit obsessed with video games and have many friend who are, but they know the difference between a healthy relationship and an abusive one.

      1. I agree. I think more open classroom discussion would be much more useful than the current methods.

        I agree with you and I don’t have any studies linking the two but others have tried to make the case so, I thought I’d see your thoughts on the subject.

        Thanks for the great reply! You’re the kind of person who could make a difference!

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