You are happy. You are confident. You are doing well at work, your health is great, your family and friends are nice and comforting. You are happy.
You go down to the bar with friends after work one day. Your best friend got engaged. Your other best friend is expecting. They are all moving on. You are ecstatic for them, but you can’t help but wonder if you’re doing something wrong. Your friends tell you how cool it is that you own your own place and you’re independent. You smile. You are not doing much wrong, apparently. I’m okay really, you think. And you are.
The guy at the bar, he looks over to you. Your shining, confident face appeals to him. He buys you a drink and sends it through the barkeep with a cute note asking you to dinner.
You look over to him. He looks at you with that expression you long to see always. Like he really would like nothing more than to talk to you all day. Like he really would like nothing more than to look at you all day. You are encouraged by his kind smile and you excuse yourself from your friend circle and walk up to him. He keeps the conversation rolling almost all night. Even as your friends leave, he drops you off to your place, kissing you on your cheek chastely. You smile, warming up to your fingertips. This one is different, you think. And he is.
Over the course of the next twelve carefully thought-out dates, you fall in love. You thought it happens gradually, a little each day. But, you find it happens all at once. It suddenly happens when you see him trying to bake and the flour tickles his nose and makes it all red with irritation. It suddenly surprises you when you hear him singing to himself as he paints that spare wall in your apartment without you asking him. It hits you like a train when you see how happy he gets when you walk into the room. I love him, you think. And you do.
Over the course of the next six not-so-well-thought-through months, you tell him how you feel. He smiles brightly, and reciprocates. You feel like your feet are little clouds bouncing off bigger clouds. Your friends see how happy you are and can only be even happier for you. He moves in with you. You are now the most happy person in he world. Every morning, you wake up to his beautiful face next to yours, his delicious voice in your ears, his smell in your sheets. This is the happiest I have ever been, you think. And you are.
His mother invites you over for dinner at their place. You feel the panic eat at your joints as you try so hard to zip up your fancy dress. He creeps on you from behind, and slowly zips it up for you, rubbing your shoulders for comfort. You lean into his chest and smile. This will be over soon, you think. And it will.
The dinner is more awkward than you wish to disclose. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand why you get so miffed when his mother brings up your job and chastises you about choosing something that won’t let you focus on things like marriage and kids. He doesn’t get why you want to leave early. He doesn’t understand how his mother is so casually saying awful things and how much they hurt. Will he ever get it, you think. And he doesn’t.
Soon enough, his red nose doesn’t make you smile. His kind deeds don’t tingle your stomach. His smile when you enter the room doesn’t reach his eyes or yours. You meet your friends for drinks and they know something is wrong. They invite you and him over to a couple’s brunch. You accept. He is livid you didn’t discuss it with him first. Suddenly, you see more of his mother in him than you’d like. He criticizes your choice of clothing, calling you something short of a slut. You shake your head, as if to get the memory out before it takes root. It’s kind of my fault, I should’ve spoken to him first, you think. And you believe it.
Couple’s dinner is awkward as he drops sly taunts that are not as sly as you wish for them to be. He jokes about you being the whipmaster in the relationship. He jokes about your clothes. He jokes about your job. He jokes about you. The smile you have plastered on is fading even as you wipe the traitor tear escaping your eye. Your friends don’t notice it. This is supposed to be the cupcake phase, you think. And it isn’t.
The relationship is now something that is making you forget your keys at home. It’s making you trip on flat surfaces. It’s making you hate your favorite foods. It’s making you hate his favorite foods. It’s making you hate him. You try to diffuse the tension in the relationship by cooking for him. He hates it, he hates the choice of foods, he hates the flavor, he hates the cutlery you picked out, he hates you. Is this all there is to this relationship, you think. And it is.
He still kisses you good night, but this time calls your makeup-free face haunting. He still wakes you up in the morning with a smile, to immediately replace the guilt he’s pushing on you for not wanting to spend more time with him and ‘wasting’ time at your job just to escape him. He still picks you up from work for dinner, but this time he laughs at your presentation, calling it cute but asks you to leave the job for the grownups and not worry your pretty head with it. He fights because you are meeting your friends more than you are meeting him. He accuses you of cheating. He accuses you of whoring around. Worst thing is, he is making you believe you are actually at fault for all these things. You sleep with a full face of makeup now, for fucks sake. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go, you think. And you’re in denial.
Your friends are now worried. You are a shadow of what you used to be. You are a pale reflection of yourself. You look the same. But the shine is long gone. Every text makes you cringe because you think it’s him. Your best friend has had enough. “This is abuse,” She claims. You gasp. No. You know better than that. You always have. Right? You rebut, “He never hits me.”
She looks over to you, to your hollow self, with pity and whispers, “He doesn’t have to.”