How Men Become Abusers, Reflecting on My Toxic Behavior with Women
We need to check the dangerous behavior of our boys before they become abusers. I almost became one.
When I was six years old, I had my first crush. Her name was Fiona, and she was all of that and a bag of chips. Scratch that, she was too good for just one bag of chips, she was two bags, plus a pack of now or later. Fiona was brown skin with dark brown eyes, and jet black hair. Along with being the prettiest girl in my first-grade class, she was also the smartest, and best behaved. The teachers would always praise her as an example of silence in a room full of energetic children. I loved everything about her, I would behave in class just to impress her, and one time during lunch, she sat with me, and we shared a brownie.
It was clear, Fiona felt the same way I did, so feeling empowered, I did what any six-year-old would do. I showed up to school the next day in my best shirt and wrote her a letter. It was simple reading, “Dear Fiona, I like you. Do you like me?” She didn’t respond. I was confused, “maybe she didn’t receive it.” I followed up two periods later with another one. “Fiona, will you be my girlfriend?” The day ended and we went our separate ways, the next morning in class, I had a letter on my desk. It was from her. “Hi Stanley, I like you a lot. But as a friend.” I was crushed.
The girl of my dreams was rejecting me, the feeling wasn’t good, why didn’t she like me? For the next two weeks, I would send letters telling her that I hated her, and hoped she died, how she was ugly, and that her hair stunk. Sometimes I would see her read the letter and get upset. I felt bad, but she deserved this for hurting my feelings. The letters continued until one day I got to school and there was a letter on my desk. It was from Fiona! I remember vibrating with excitement while opening it, after weeks of trying, the girl of my dreams was finally responding! The letter read, “Dear Stanley, beware this Friday.” I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by “Beware” but a vague response was better than none at all. I was elated to get a positive message from her. It put me in the best mood I had been in weeks.
That Friday, while walking home from school I saw Fiona with her parents and waved at her. She waved back, I felt like a million bucks. In my adult years, I have a couple of takeaways from this story.
For one, more than likely, after dealing with weeks of harassment from me, she was advised by her parents or a teacher to write that letter as a way to scare me off, I was just too dumb to understand that it was a threat and not a proclamation of love. Secondly, and this is what scares the hell out of me. At the age of six, I was exhibiting the behavior of a stalker, and abuser, but from what I remember, no one ever intervened.
I never got in trouble for those letters, maybe a stern talking-to from one of our teachers, but nothing else that I can remember. I don’t think many people took my behavior seriously, like most people then, and still, now they thought I was a kid with a crush, and that my behavior was a textbook boyish response to rejection. Despite what must have been a pretty clear paper trail of harassment, the final call was to have the victim of the ordeal resolve her own problems. I like to believe that my behavior changed, and it probably did because, in the fifth grade, Fiona and I became friends. And probably not for the last time, had to live in a world where a man who crossed the line suffered no consequences for his actions.
As ridiculous as that story sounds, every bit of it is true, and as I grew older, my behavior towards women that didn’t like me was just as problematic. When I was in 9th grade, I had a huge crush on a girl named Amanda. Amanda was a short Boriqua with long black hair, brownish eyes, a round face, and a knowing smile. By 9th grade, I had known her for three years, including two years of middle school where we hated each other. Or at least, I spent much of my free time antagonizing her and other students in the class for liking N’Sync. By the time we got to high school, we had become friends, and through that friendship, I learned that she was a pretty cool person.
Amanda had a huge heart, she treated everyone like they were family, and always went out of her way to take care of people, she would listen to me while I obsessed about the latest Animorphs book, and never made fun of me for being the only 14-year old that still obsessively watched the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (By then I think they had shifted to Turbo).
I appreciated this attention and took it as a sign of love. After months of building a friendship, I decided that I wanted more and told her as much. Unfortunately, Amanda wasn’t interested. While she had a lot of love for me as a person, she wasn’t romantically interested. For the next two years, I obsessed over her, making several romantic advances and pushing for a relationship. Amanda never gave me the inkling that she was interested in anything more than friendship, but I couldn’t shake it.
I told all of her friends, argued with her boyfriends, and would get mad and stop speaking to her when she rejected my advances. It got so bad, the school counselor had to intervene. I think back to the two years of consistent harassment that Amanda put up with, and I’m ashamed of my actions. I had a tumultuous childhood and spent most of my days trying to turn life into the books and movies I read and watched to escape from reality. Books and movies that I took too seriously. In them, if you were persistent enough, and took no for an answer, you could make a woman love you. A world where my behavior while annoying was considered harmless, but it wasn’t, and in all honesty, could have turned into something ugly.
There are women all over the world who have had similar experiences, something that started off as a little sweet, and definitely annoying but became dangerous and stressful. They become accustomed to dealing with the behavior of a boy who doesn’t know how to take no for an answer. Boys that will eventually grow up to be men. Amanda and I are still friends, and I would like to believe I’m not that angry kid anymore but it took a while before I really figured out how to see women as more than just objects to provide me attention.
When I was 17 Samantha broke up with me. That was more than ten years ago, and it still hurts. We were standing in front of my locker, I was wearing my black and yellow Lakers Jersey, number 8 plastered across the back. I felt like someone punched me in the gut when she said, “Stanley, I don’t like you anymore, I don’t want you.” I was confuseåd, just a week ago she wanted to spend the rest of her life with me. The life span of teenage relationships was hitting me like a ton of bricks.
That was my first real heartbreak, and it hurt. My heart hurt, my body ached, it felt like I was dying. At first, I tried to ignore it, but it was impossible. During moments of quiet, her words would creep into my head, mental daggers that used a painful moment to remind me that I hadn’t moved beyond my pain. My heart would race, and my breathing became erratic.
To make matters worse, I didn’t tell a soul, I’m sure my friends knew, but I was afraid to say anything. I was raised with the idea that men weren’t supposed to feel pain, and I was ashamed of breaking the norm, I was afraid of the disappointment in my dad's eyes, I knew my friends would rain jokes on me for acting like a “bitch”. I hated the feeling of weakness. Pain is an emotion that is attributed to femininity. And I am a man. At least that’s what I told myself.
Instead of dealing with my emotions, I would fight back the tears and eat my feelings. Every time I ate away at the pain, it was replaced with a quiet rage, that rage turned into resentment, and resentment into hate. I hated Samantha for making me feel this way, I was angry at all of the girls who had played games with me, and had a deep desire to do something. I would return their pain tenfold.
In hindsight, I can see the danger of that rage, and all of its implications. I get scared when I think about that hurt little boy, sitting in his room listening to Eminem’s “Kim” I’m shocked at how much the violent lyrics from that song spoke to me, it fed that rage. Thankfully, It didn’t get the best of me, but what if it had? Where would I be, whose life would I have scarred, what kind of damage could I have done, how many women would have fallen victim to that rage? And as upset and taken aback from these stories you might feel, understand this, I am not an anomaly, my story is fairly common.
We are raising our boys to think that if a woman is nice to you she must want you, and if she denies this, she’s a whore and a liar. If she rejects your advances, push harder, and if she continues to reject you, she did something wrong. We are raising our boys to hate women, and we’re dismissing it as “boys being boys.”
Every day, millions of young boys and men are being taught to live within a box. A box that doesn’t allow for love, that laughs at joy and bans all emotion. In this box, there are only two things that are approved, violence, and hypersexuality, and with those as our only tools to cope with the world, many of us are destined to become monsters. Monsters to our friends, family, and the women in our lives. Especially the women in our lives.
The sad little boys eventually become terrorists, unable to process emotions in a healthy way, so we drink, fuck, fight, and harm ourselves and others. We suffer from depression, ignore the doctors and try to self-medicate with whiskey and other such vices. I have spent much of my adult life trying to unlearn everything I was taught about being a man. I know now that I was on the path to being an abuser, and user of women. That path was cut short by brilliant women with unworldly patience, and an unfair burden. But I am only one man, for every one guy that finally gets it, there are five more who still think and act the way I did. Something’s gotta give.
Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. This holds up a desperately needed mirror for me and so many others.