I think it’s clear to everyone that I was lucky. It would have been completely logical, by teenage standards, for me to ignore my friend and my father, thinking I knew how to best handle the relationship. I don’t know if abuse would have ever taken a physical turn, but, years later, I’ve come to recognize what I experienced was indeed a mentally abusive relationship.
There’s a discomfort when I say that, because I have nothing to show for proof. I have no scars to show, no court orders to present as proof. All I have is my story.
This was an important story to tell because,while I got out, many other people don’t. Many people, both male and female, enter situations like I experienced, convince themselves they’re in love and stay with the relationship for years. Not all of their relationships turn physical, but many do.
They might ask themselves how such a thing could happen. They happened, because they didn’t see the warning signs, the dating red flags.
I don’t think Zachery intended to cause harm. If he ever took a physically abusive turn, I don’t think those actions would be something he would have been proud of. These thoughts have made me realize that perhaps many if not most abusive relationships are like that. Most perpetrators never go into the relationship expecting to be abusive. Perhaps they just think a relationship should be a certain way and lash out violently during moments where the relationship doesn’t match their ideal. A normal person in that situation would probably end the relationship, but maybe perpetrators suffer from their own poor self-confidence. Maybe they don’t believe they deserve any better or can do any better.
None of this is an excuse for Zachery’s actions or any other abuser’s. I just mean to point out that Zachery is very much his own person, with his own suffering and insecurities.
I have no proof of this, but a part of me always suspected he may have got bad dating information from a friend or magazine. I know I had heard before that saying the L-word could get you laid. Barney on How I Met Your Mother does that all the time. In high school girl world, many would accept that word and say it back without really knowing what they were saying.
At 16 (and then 17 once my birthday passed), I had no idea what love was, but I knew it wasn’t something to take lightly. I refused to say the word unless I truly meant it. Looking back, I think that was one of the first red flags for me. It wasn’t just that he told me he loved me after dating hardly a week, it was that I specifically asked to take things slow. Maybe he had a source that said, “all girls say that, but they don’t really mean it.”
A lot of these ideas about Zachery finding bad dating advice came after my year working as a self-proclaimed online dating expert in college. If I hadn’t heard this terrible advice in high school, I definitely found it then, The internet is full of bad dating advice.
The question everyone wants to know is what happened to Zachery after the breakup. Zachery called my friend that night, the friend who was dating his younger brother, crying. According to her account, he said he wouldn’t ‘do anything’ because I was suffering enough (which made me feel a little guilty about dancing around the library in glee not 20 minutes after the breakup.)
Soon after prom, Zachery graduated. From that point on, all I heard about him came through that friend who would eventually go on to marry his brother. That story is his, not mine, so I won’t be giving too many details here. I will say that college was a bit of a struggle for him, though I think that struggle was related more to his attitude than his intelligence. He started dating a girl from his minimum wage job who he quickly knocked up. They were married in her back yard.
Given our own fall out, I haven’t spoken to that friend in more than a year. Still, she never told me anything that indicated abuse. To the contrary, everything she had to say implied all those clingy, obsessive habits Zachery had were admired and returned by this girl.
I don’t know what kind of life Zachery leads these days, only that’s it’s a life I would never want. From what I heard, he, his wife and his daughter were not living what anyone would consider an ideal life. He eventually went on to have a falling out with his own family. Last I heard, he rarely speaks with them unless he needs something.
Still, I wish him the best. We were both ignorant teenagers during our relationship. While there is no excuse for his actions, I made my own mistakes, the biggest being my continuance of the relationship even after I wanted it to end. I believe they call that ‘leading him on.’ I thought I was being merciful, but what I did was quite cruel.
If a friend came to you with the warning signs mentioned throughout The Zachery Saga, would it be enough for you to urge them to end the relationship? Do you know what happened to the people from your past relationships? Do you wish them well?