My ex-boyfriend was perfect. He was handsome, charming, funny, and, on several occasions, sang to me in front of the whole school. We were determined to get married, though we were from different religious backgrounds. Our friends saw us as the perfect couple. He was my first crush, first boyfriend, first love. I was his fifth (I think). But of course, that didn’t matter, we were young and naïve, he said he loved me, I knew I loved him, and that was all that mattered. Or so I thought.
Three and a half years through the relationship, things began to get messy. For starters, my conservative school had discovered the relationship and I bore the brunt of being a “slut”, while he went on to become head boy. On top of that, my family found out too and were gobsmacked – did I, the goody-two-shoes of the entire family, really have a boyfriend? I couldn’t go out, my phone got taken away and everyone discussed how “bad” I had been. So, as it goes in the adolescent world, my friends were my form of solace, allowing me to use their phones to make secret calls, dropping me over to see him for a few minutes when we went out, and pacifying me through bouts of tears – why was love this hard?
“Did I, the goody-two-shoes of the entire family, really have a boyfriend?”
Then one day tired of all the pressure, I decided to end things. I was utterly heartbroken in doing so, but my sibling said that I was being severely unfair to him since things would never work out between us anyway.
So, I did. We knew things were getting rough, he was already in another country to study and for some reason, the relationship had left me exhausted beyond measure. He took it terribly, understandably, he cried and told all his friends. But he never tried to make things work – this is something I do not understand, even years later. When I told him that we should part ways, I did it under the pressure of the many things going wrong in my life, certain he would reassure me that things would be fine and that we could stay together. I did not communicate this to him. The relationship had become a mess, and something was holding me back.
I took the break up terribly as well and dove into severe depression whose effects manifested in every sphere of my life; I ended up doing miserably in my final year at school, got all rejections on my UCAS and had to take a gap-year, I locked myself in, cut all contact from my friends, and spent months crying myself to bed.
“All the girls at university do, he said as if to convince me, as hands were firm on my head as he towered over me”
Then one break, he came back, and we agreed to meet. I wanted to know how he was feeling. I received scores of messages from mutual friends, didn’t I know he loved me? How could I have done this? I was the bitch who broke his heart – what else did I deserve?
This meeting of ours was our last, and in retrospect, I am glad it happened. The confusion I felt materialised right in front of me. It forced me to look beyond my adolescent love, even if it took me ages to figure this out. At his house, trying to console him, telling him that things would be ok for the nth time, putting his feelings before mine, his hurt before mine. Hell, I even let him kiss me and, the emotional wreck that I was, by the end of it I was sobbing. As I sat on the floor, my face in my hands sobbing, he revealed himself to me. It couldn’t have been more direct. One would expect an ex to comfort you, especially if he felt close enough to meet you and be physical. A simple “it’ll be okay” would have sufficed.
Instead, he walked over to me and placed his hand on my head I looked up and he motioned to me to perform oral sex on him. I could feel the bile rising in my throat. All the girls at university do, he said as if to convince me, as hands were firm on my head as he towered over me.
I cannot explain how these few seconds made me feel. Who can think of sexual gratification when the other person is clearly distraught? What did other girls have to do with me? Didn’t he love me? Weren’t we together for so long? Who is sexually aroused by tears? It was fucking awful. I doubled up and burst into more tears, stricken by the absurdity of it all. When he realised I wasn’t going to gratify him, he pulled me to my feet and asked me to leave. That was it.
“That’s great, I said, for boys it’s generally hard to resist sex isn’t it? Her reply was now curt, no it’s not, she said, that’s basic in any relationship”
It took me years to realise that this was not an isolated event in our three-year-long relationship. I had completely forgotten about this event years after we broke up, the only remnant feelings towards him being “love” and wishing him well. This surfaced one day when I was speaking to a close friend of mine, who was spending the summer at her boyfriend’s house. She told me she didn’t want to have sex, and I asked her how her boyfriend reacted to that. She replied stating he didn’t mind and gave her space and time. My comment was one that changed everything. That’s great, I said, for boys, it’s generally hard to resist sex isn’t it? Her reply was now curt, no it’s not, she said, that’s basic in any relationship.
Her words left me winded. Right, I thought to myself, wasn’t it my duty to him feel gratified – even if that meant I sacrificed my own peace? I recounted the number of times I apologised to him, for not wanting to give in every time we met. I remembered how I had felt like I was never enough, that he was an angel for not getting annoyed 2 out of 10 times I pushed him away. How many conversations we had had about this, and he would always say he understood and that the next time we met, we would just cuddle if I felt like it. But that next time never came, not once.
“My agency to decide what I deemed sexually satisfying or indeed desirable were always overridden by his ‘love and desire’ for me”
My agency to decide what I deemed sexually satisfying or indeed desirable were always overridden by his “love and desire” for me. He was too influenced by the million movies he watched. Most good night calls turned into one-sided sex talk. Meeting always meant we had to be sexual. If I rejected this his response would be “go home and touch yourself,” but I really didn’t want to.
The matter was difficult for me to grasp because it was so grey. Though a lot of our sexual encounters left me feeling uncomfortable because my agency was always overridden, a few of them were consensual. The relationship was confusing beyond measure. And there were times he was genuinely there for me; I recall times I felt good around him, being certain that he cared for me. I had loved him, he had loved me. I could trust him, I thought. He wants what’s best for me. I have never had a boyfriend before, he has dated a lot of times, he knows what he’s up to.
But I was wrong. Years after our break-up I remembered this incident and soon after identified many more. I did have a choice. We both had the responsibility of making each other feel safe, in all aspects of our relationship. To think I wanted to marry the man? You think it would have been easy, especially for me – the strong-headed one, to clearly recognise what he was doing was wrong. But I was young and naïve and so caught up in the idea of being in love with him that it obliterated the flaws in our relationship. It has been years since we broke up, and finally, professional counselling and friends have helped me call out his behaviour:
He was a direct product of lad culture. There are boys who do not understand and respect women, he was one of them. Maybe he thought he loved me, no one is taking that away from him. Maybe there were good times. But young boys can, especially those who are influenced by sexual dynamics in pop culture, objectify women. This explains why he was indifferent to my tears and wanted sexual gratification at a moment so distressing to me. It explains -it does not justify.
The break-up revealed the many layers of the relationship. Peeling each one off to reveal another and then restart the healing process, in his words, left me “mind-fucked”. Given the toll the relationship took on my mental health, I know I have come a very long way. I hope for his sake he has grown up and become a better man. That is all.