The Ex Files

TW: Domestic abuse (past)

When I was a teen brought up on gushing romance novels and the 'If he likes you he's horrible to you' school of thought, I mistakenly thought I wanted someone to possess me jealously, if only so I could rebel and show how free I actually was. I think even at that tender age some part of me sensed that freedom tasted all the sweeter after a time of incarceration. What is any lived experience without context? I can say that in hindsight.

When I was a little older and had been with my first boyfriend for some time, I realised how vile it actually is to be someone's chattel. When someone sees you as a possession rather than a person, it leads to a situation where they expect a behaviour of you, and a different set of rules apply to them, probably because they see themselves as in a different class. Predator and prey, perhaps? No, very few people would be that honest with themselves. There were good times and bad times, but he grew up in an old fashioned family where men did what they wanted and women didn't ask questions. Where men 'looked after you' financially and neglected you emotionally, and you were to put up with it.

I didn't like that. I asked questions. Lots of them. I ended it because he was a liar and a cheat and a gaslighter who made me truly miserable in the end, and that wiped out a lot of the good he did. Times were different then. I certainly was. If I saw him in the street I'd say hello - not out of any huge fondness for him (some remains naturally, first love and all, but I don't particularly have any huge fondness for myself back then, either) - but because I'm in a better place and it feels good. Without knowing it at the time, he was my first 'This is what I do not want.' Sometimes you need lots of those before you find out what you do want.

When I was 21 and in my next relationship, I learned what it was to be managed and controlled in a charming way. I was young, naive and out of my first long term relationship, and ripe for the attentions of a master craftsman. Or craftswoman, more to the point, as she was, and her craft was her words. She could charm the birds from the trees. I knew I was being handled, but somehow it was bearable. To a point of course, and there's only so much excitement (read: unreliability) even a young girl who's finding her way in the world can stand. She was my second 'I do not want.'

So that was jealousy, lies, cheating, unreliability and being smarmed/charmed ticked off the list.

A year or so after that I embarked on a relationship which would turn out to be physically abusive. I always knew I didn't feel for him as he felt for me, and perhaps that was half the problem. There was never love or lust on my part, and I shouldn't have embarked on a relationship with him. It was a mistake which took 3 years to end. I claim ownership to his hurt feelings, but not the violence. That was all on him, his choice. There are plenty of other ways to deal with hurt feelings. It wasn't all bad, but then no relationship is. He looked after me when I needed it, but he was also a weak man who tried to drown me and strangle me, amongst other things. I lived with him and I was worried about being homeless so I stayed. It's amazing the things you can rationalise to yourself when you feel you have no choice. It was the attempt at killing me which was the death knell, if you'll excuse the pun. That was an evening of kicks and punches thrown, nothing too serious, as what would people say if I had bruises on my face? But then something came undone in him. After escaping from his tightening hands around my neck as I laid in bed I stood up and punched him in the face. That was the first time I stopped being worried about what he'd do to me and worried about what I'd do to HIM if he didn't stop. It was truly terrifying, more so than his violence. In that instant I could see why women killed men in these situations. It was me or him and thankfully he backed down. Any feelings whatsoever died in me as he loomed above me like a maniac that night. It was a cocktail of 50% pity and 50% sheer hate I felt for him afterwards. I couldn't wait to get away.

Change of job, change of town, and a definite change of life. I felt free again, and I started to have fun. I dated a lot, drawing from the rich dating pool that is London night life, and I bounced from one daft dalliance to another liking less and less of men and my poor judgement with (almost) every one. After a particularly nasty mistake of my own making I found myself at my lowest point ever and I swore off relationships for 2 years and put some work into ME. What made me happy. What I didn't want, aided by my long list of past relationships, two-weekers and one night stands. Every one a lesson, some pleasurable, some not so much. ;)

Sometime after that I was hanging out in my favourite London pub when a tiny pale bloke with long hair who was a friend of a friend asked to borrow a hair band, of all the ways to strike up a conversation. I hadn't been waiting to meet someone, far from it. I'd been learning how to enjoy being alone, which I think is something we all can benefit from. Somehow all my dodgy judgements and interesting (ahem) life experience pointed me towards this quiet bloke, who after 3 weeks caused me to have a serious chat to myself. He was just too nice. I'd eat him alive, wreck his feelings, and did I even deserve a nice bloke? I decided I did, and here we are, 12 and a half years later. His face more familiar than my own. His patience of me unending. His dancing around in his pants to cheer me up always appreciated. He makes me want to be a better human. His unfailing optimism, support, and patience with my hoarding fashionista tendencies know no bounds. When it's right it doesn't have to be serenades and doves and red roses. When it's right it doesn't diminish you, or make you a possession, or make you feel less of a person than you'd be on your own. When it's right you don't have to question if it's right, and for that I have all my exes to thank.

I didn't know what I wanted, but I knew what I didn't want, and that can point you in the right direction just as well as a compass.

If you are in an abusive relationship (mentally or physically) please know YOU are not at fault. You deserve better. You are worthy and loveable and please, please seek help. If someone is trying to isolate you from friends and family, if someone tells you you're worthless or an idiot, please get out as soon as you can.


Refuge UK
Samaritans UK
Women's Aid UK

List of domestic violence charities in the US
List of domestic violence charities worldwide


It's not very often that I get the urge to write for the sake of writing, but this is what happened tonight.

Thanks for reading,
Leah xoxo

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