Once a year, my teacher Jeanene Gannon teaches a seminar on women’s self-defense at the UFC Gym on John’s Street. As someone who is passionate about MMA/kickboxing I take the class. A fiery woman barely standing five feet tall in stocking feet, this Hell’s Kitchen native not only cares about self-defense but women. Last year, Jeanene did the same seminar with guest teacher Razor Rob McCullough, a top dog in the UFC. I can safely say as a martial artist and woman, I found it fun, physically fulfilling, and informative. Not only did my teachers care about women and their safety, but they showed us statistics. Yes, numbers. Rape, stalking, and dating violence are real. To me, the numbers hit me harder in the gut than any jab cross punch ever could, and make my reasoning for studying self-defense came a lot closer to come.
I was 21 and found myself trapped in a relationship with a partner who was emotionally, verbally, and physically abusive. No, I wasn’t some woman in a Lifetime Movie living in a small town. I was attending NYU and had my whole life ahead of me. Suddenly I was trapped. When I tried to leave my partner threatened to kidnap and kill me. He terrorized me, men I dated after I broke up with him, and my friends. His tactics were not limited to in person but to the internet as well. This was in the days before cyberbullying was a crime mind you. Fearing for my safety, I got a different mailing address. My mother also had his name and contact info on the refrigerator in her home in case I were to vanish. Textbooks give the signs of an abusive partner, and they are not wrong. Rather, when you see those behaviors mentioned in psych class it is much too late. They have already roped you in.
Here are some red flags I experienced early on, and now that my eyes are open I warn other young women.
He Is A Bully- Bottom line, an abusive partner is not just a jerk to you but to everyone. He belittles other people constantly, and puts others down when he can. This man never has a nice thing to say about anyone ever. Now that you see how he treats them, just imagine how he is going to treat you.
He Does Not Get Along With Other Men- Just as women can smell a female manipulator, men have the same gift. If your male friends say he is a tool, and your father and brother don’t like him, they are not just being harsh judges of character. There is a reason. They see things you don’t. Listen to them, they are on your side.
He Will Rush You Into a Relationship-Early stage dating is when one should take their time and get to know their partner. However, a man who is quick to say I love you and wants to be your boyfriend right away, this is dangerous. It is even more dangerous if he wants to cohabitate right away. He is not looking for a life partner but rather his next victim.
He Will Pressure You Into Sex-An abusive partner does not care about other people, only themselves. They will pressure you into physical activity long before you are ready. They will tell you this is what adults do, and they want an adult relationship. No, this is what immature people do. An adult waits until their partner is ready to take that step and has a healthy discussion beforehand.
He Will Be A Professional Victim-Someone who is an abuser is someone who right away will tell you what a terrible childhood they had. They might even embellish it. As women, they know we are wired as caregivers, and they will use this as ammo every time they mess up so you will forgive them.
He Will Put Down The Things You Love Doing- Right away, an abusive partner cannot stand to be outdone or overshadowed. This is not just your friends or those you love, but things you love doing. If you like painting he will tell you that you have no talent and painting is a waste of time, etc. None of this is true. It’s because painting takes you away from him, and it’s all about him.
He Will Be Too Close For Comfort With Certain Exes- An abusive partner does not respect boundaries and is a user. They might be very close with certain ex girlfriends, and tell them much too much about your relationship. Does it make you uncomfortable? It should. He might be sleeping with some still, rolling them for money, or keeping them in the wings as a way to have power over you. We already established he’s an unhealthy dude, don’t be surprised.
He Will Cry Crocodile Tears- An abusive partner is someone who isn’t afraid to get emotional. This is not just limited to fits of anger and rage as is the stereotype, but also he will cry. Also, don’t be surprised if he half heartedly attempts suicide when you try to leave. For him, being alone and not having a victim is worse than death. Don’t fall for this mind game.
He Has a History of This Behavior- He tells you about an ex “things got bad with” and how she “overreacted.” He might even shamelessly detail coercive sexual behavior too. Be aware and listen with both ears. This is a pattern, and he may even have a stalking/menacing charge filed by this woman he’s not telling you about. I know mine did.
He Will Make You Abuse Back- An abusive relationship does not play out like Tori Spelling on 90210. Rather, you will get sucked into the cycle. You might start fights as a way to make him mess up and get power later. Or when he hits you, you might hit back. You suddenly think of yourself as passionate couple and not codependent. This is dangerous.
If you are dating someone like this, get out. It will only get worse. If you are getting out of a relationship of this kind, get out and stay out. Don’t look back and keep going. And if you don’t think you will ever be able to get out and it will never get better, I can tell you it does. Also, get counseling or go to a Twelve Step Group Like Al-Anon. Figure out why you picked Mr. Wrong, because it took two to tango. Figure out how stop these patterns like an invasion of Russia in the winter so history does not repeat itself. I can say doing this helped me.
It is over eight years later. I work as a comedian and ventriloquist in NYC. My puppet children and I have appeared on national television. I write for the Huffington Post and have published a book. Regularly, I can be seen performing my act at night around NYC as well as in hospitals for children. Tomorrow I film my DVD at The Metropolitan Room. Joan Rivers and Liza Minelli have been known to perform there. If it seems I am bragging I apologize. Rather, I am letting young women know that I got out, kept fighting, and today things are remarkably different in a good way.
I was asked to write this blog by a representative of the Fraternities For Families Campaign http://www.charlesullman.com/our-firm/fraternities4family/
They asked me to collaborate. I felt compelled not only because they were young men taking action, but rather they were aware that domestic violence was everyone’s problem. Defying the typical frat boy stereotype, they showed they care about women and want to stop this problem, too. While I can only speak as a straight woman with an abusive male partner, just as there are bad men there are also bad women. Domestic violence also happens quite a bit in the LGBTQ community and goes unchecked. However, there are also good men too. While it takes two to make a thing go bad, it also takes an adult to walk away. It takes an adult to know the warning signs, set boundaries, and have some self-respect.
I have spoken about my experiences, but every once in a while I get a dissenter. Someone tells me I should “move on” and “get over it.” I have, but I want to educate other young people that this is real. Others claim we are only hearing my side of the story. Yes, this is true, but as I said it takes two to make a thing go bad. Male dissenters inform me I am “bitter.” Translated, I struck a nerve and made them look at their own behavior. As an activist who has chosen to make herself visible, I am not here to make people comfortable. The truth is not always pleasant. I am here to educate. If I helped one person reading, I have done my job.
In the words of GI Joe, “Knowing is half the battle.”LoveAprilI Came, I Saw, I Sang: Memoirs of a Singing Telegram Delivery Girlwww.aprilbrucker.comCome see me April 22nd @ 7pmMetropolitan Room34 W. 22nd st.