Tuesday, October 9, 2012


I've gotten some private flack for yesterday's post, and I wanted to address one issue in particular.   A friend objected to my post on the grounds that it was "making people choose" between myself and my ex.  He claimed that because speaking out put my friends in an awkward position, I shouldn't do so.

"Making people choose" at the end of a relationship is generally viewed as a terrible, petty thing to do, and often it is.  Lots of couples spend time scoring points off of each other and engaging in acts of malice.  They demand explicitly that their friends choose sides, and then punish anyone who doesn't take theirs.

This is wrong.  It is also not what I'm doing.

What I am doing is talking about what happened to me, what he did to me, in a public way.  There is overwhelming pressure on people who have been abused to not do this.  It makes those who want to ignore the abuse uncomfortable, and they believe that their comfort is more important than the voices of those who have been harmed.

I am not doing this to make my friends choose; I'm doing it to make them see.  I don't particularly care if they remain friends with my ex; I assume they will.  I care that they understand who I am, what I've lived through, what I'm struggling with now.  As far as I know, friends are supposed to care about that sort of thing.  Certainly, I care if my friends are hurting or struggling, even if those struggles are the result of a truth that is upsetting to learn.

I also am doing this to make the fact of abuse more public.  Most of the women I know and a good portion of the men have experienced abuse firsthand.  Some have been assaulted by a stranger, but most have been harmed by a loved one.  Most of them don't talk about it in public.  Most of their abusers are well regarded in their communities.  This makes abusers feel safe.  They trust that their victims won't talk about what they did.  They trust that if their victims speak out, the community they share will shame them for it.  That's an enormous problem, and the only way to address it is for those of us who have been through things to speak out, to make others acknowledge the fact of the abuse despite the shaming.  Yes, that makes people in the communities in question uncomfortable.  You know what's a lot more uncomfortable?  Being abused.

I've also been told that not attending events that he attends is "making people choose".

The last time I was in a room with my ex was at a friend's birthday.  Seeing him made me so uncomfortable that I had to leave early and had an anxiety attack that lasted for hours afterwards.  I don't avoid my ex to make people choose; I avoid him to make my life a better, happier, and safer place.  To accomplish that, I'm willing to skip any event that he's at.  It makes me sad that I don't see the people I would see at those events, but nothing is worth what it would cost me to attend.  I've never asked anyone to stop inviting my ex to functions, and I never will.  It doesn't bother me particularly that they do.  My choice isn't about their choice; it's my own.

If people are genuinely sad about not seeing me, I'm more than willing to arrange to hang out with them in a way that doesn't involve my ex.  I'm more than willing to meet people for lunch on a Saturday or play a board game or talk on the phone.  I hang out with friends from both within and without the circle in this manner rather regularly.  If they're willing to do without him for an afternoon, I'm almost always available.

What I'm not willing to do is keep pretending that I'm ok.  What I'm not willing to do is to sacrifice my voice to the god of other people's comfort.  This is my life.  I'm sharing it with you.  You're free to love me or hate me, but you're wrong if you think that your discomfort is a reason that I should be silent.


  1. Well said. I'm so tired of the notion that problems and socially imperfect situations are OMG THE END OF THE WORLD, and that not-being-given-awareness-of-a-problem is the same thing as there-is-no-problem.

    There are people in the world who invent problems. That is a very different thing from talking about problems that already concretely exist whether anyone can countenance the cognitive dissonance it takes to talk about them or not.

    Great post, Abby. You're a marvel.

  2. Thanks Rebecca. I agree, and women get accused of inventing problems a lot more often than we actually do so.

    A common argument against believing people of any gender who talk about being abused is "well what if they made it up". Women bear the brunt of it because society still fundamentally believes women are "hysterical" and prone to overreaction. Given the enormous amount of pressure put on women *not* to talk about abuse when it occurs, the idea that any significant number of them would make it up is ludicrous.

    Proof is important in a court case; in a social situation you need to decide who you trust. In general, I trust the person saying "I was abused" more than I trust the person saying "she's making it up" or "she's hysterical" or "he just wants attention". That's because I know what it's like to stay up nights worrying about whether anyone will believe me. It's also because false reports of domestic violence are quite rare, while violence itself is reasonably common. 1 in 4 women report being abused, and that number is likely low give the pressure not to report it.