Jenny got a boyfriend, Paul, our first year. He seemed nice, was a transfer from England, and got along with Jenny’s friends, including me. He went back to England for the summer, and Jenny had been approved to study in England the following year.
And it was summer – when Paul was thousands of miles away – that things got…strange. I hadn’t realized how much Jenny had reshaped her life around Paul. Paul was Catholic, and told Jenny that her family was horrible for raising her without religion (her family was Jewish). She got rid of CDs that Paul deemed somehow anti-Catholic. She began attending church and resenting her parents, saying they hadn’t cared about her when they raised her, which was ridiculous; they doted on her. She continued attending church with Paul still in England, and sneaked to services without telling her parents, knowing they’d be offended that she rejected Judaism. Religion, ok – if you feel that’s missing from your life and you find one you’re into, go for it. But shaming Jenny over religion wasn’t the only thing Paul did.
Jenny began ending friendships, under Paul’s orders. He dictated letters she would send to people, stating she would no longer speak to them. Paul became convinced the boyfriend of Jenny’s extremely close friend worshipped Satan, due to his wearing a lot of black (the boyfriend was actually very active in his Jewish temple, and wearing black=Satanic? Since when?), and forbade Jenny from being around the boyfriend. Jenny complied, and of course the friend was deeply hurt, especially since Jenny KNEW Paul was wrong, but chose to go along with it, rather than defend a friend, or at the least, the facts. She didn’t seem to think what Paul was saying was ridiculous, or she sometimes seemed a bit uncomfortable with it, but when I asked her why she went along with Paul’s wishes, she never had an answer.
Our friendship was in danger as well. We’d be hanging out, and she’d have to go home because Paul was going to call at a certain time. I’d suggest she call him back later, or tell him she was busy, but she refused. Paul became paranoid that I was sexually interested in Jenny(?!), and she couldn’t tell him when we went shopping for bras because he’d flip out. I knew that what was going on constituted emotional abuse, but since she was alienating everyone she knew, I thought maybe it would be best to not confront her, if it meant she could at least keep someone around who truly cared about her.
Two nights before she left for England, I was too worried to stay quiet any more. We had a long conversation on the phone, where I expressed my worries, gave examples of what was abusive, and pointed out everything I could that showed what Jenny had given up because she’d been forced to. She sounded weak, confused; she answered a lot of things with “I don’t know,” and her sentences would trail off. I was desperate. I figured she would probably still go, but maybe I had a chance of making Jenny seriously look at what had happened. I pointed out that she couldn’t give me a clear justification for Paul’s actions, couldn’t say she was confident with the changes she’d made in her life, couldn’t say she didn’t miss her friends, and sounded like a shell of her former self. We got off the phone and I knew I’d said what I needed to say, but not if it had gotten through, or if I the friend I’d known would return to me.Jenny went to England, sophomore year of college started. We emailed. I worried. I became more and more afraid to say anything about Paul. Jenny was on the other side of the world, living with Paul, isolated from anyone familiar…just like Paul wanted. Away from anyone who might influence her to do anything he didn’t approve of. I seriously debated talking with Jenny’s parents, thinking that maybe they could somehow help, but I was scared it would backfire and Jenny would be angry that I’d told her family, then would stop talking to me, when I felt like I was her only lifeline to reality.
And then our friendship fell apart, too. I emailed Jenny a news article about a fundraiser I thought was cool (harmless, right?) and received a long reply…from Paul, who had been checking Jenny’s personal email account. Paul made absurd personal attacks and accused me of a long list of things, including being a bad friend and not respecting Jenny, then ended the email by saying that Jenny would no longer be contacting me. I honestly can’t think of an adjective to describe how furious, hurt, scared, sick and stunned I was. I replied, desperate again, saying I refused to end communication unless Jenny was the one to say so, and I received a short email back saying that yes, she agreed with Paul, I was a bad friend and bad for her, goodbye. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything else at all.
I waited for another email, but it didn’t happen. A year or two later, I found out that Jenny HAD escaped Paul, and was back in the U.S., dating someone nice. My brother actually ran into Jenny after that, and got her email. After some hesitation, I emailed, and although we only exchanged a few messages, knowing she was away from Paul was what mattered. She apologized profusely for what she’d done, and I told her that none of it was her fault, she’d been manipulated into everything. And the thing is, I never blamed her for what happened to begin with. Losing our friendship was devastating, but any of us are susceptible to being slowly broken down by a significant other. Going through all of this taught me that it’s never okay to blame someone who’s being abused. You can try to help, but you can’t always fix the problem.
Have you ever known anyone who was being abused? Do any of your friends have super controlling boyfriends? Tell me about it in the comments.