Before my long distance relationship started, I was genuinely happy with my life. I was pursuing the career of my dreams, moved to a beautiful city that supported that, and making new friends. It wasn’t perfect but looking at the grand scheme of things, I really did enjoy where I was at that stage in my life. And it had been more than a year since my last relationship so I was ready for the next one.
I was 21 when I met my would-be boyfriend during his trip to San Francisco. But we were actually childhood friends back in Guam. I was 4 and he was 5. Our older sisters were best friends so he and I naturally became playmates over the next few years. Then my family moved to Manila and his moved to Las Vegas. The last time I saw him, I was 13 when his family visited Manila but we didn’t really talk much. After 9 years, we connected as Facebook friends and then I received a message from him saying he was visiting San Francisco and knowing that I lived there, he asked to meet up.
When we met, I thought he grew up well. The dorky four-eyed skinny kid was now a tall, well-dressed guy with broad shoulders, stubble, and a laid-back vibe. I didn’t think much of how I was attracted to him since he was my childhood friend and there was a lot of catch up on. So I took him around San Francisco, brought him to my favorites spots to see and eat. One of them being a bench overlooking San Francisco Bay while the sun went down. I remember having the best time talking to him because I was laughing so much. I saw him almost everyday during his short visit.
The more time I spent with him, the more I liked him. He was charming, funny, a great person to talk to, and– did I mention charming? We spent his last night together and after that, I knew how I felt about him. I’m the type who will express their heart so before he left, I told him how I felt and he ended up feeling the same way. Then began our long distance relationship.
We talked to each other through FaceTime hours a day, everyday. And then after a month, he flew me to Las Vegas and for the next 2 weeks, took me out everywhere. We ate the best food, watched Cirque Du Soleil shows, introduced me to his friends, and reintroduced me to his family. Already knowing his family beforehand made this so-called love story even better. Plus, I loved that the guy I was dating was my childhood friend. So I felt comfort in that despite our relationship moving really fast.
Two weeks flew by and before I knew it, I was back in San Francisco completely infatuated. I couldn’t wait to see him again so after another month, I flew back to Vegas. There was something about him. I couldn’t get over how charming he was. But I soon found out that charm was a hook and he hooked me deep. Over the next 6 months of traveling back and forth between San Francisco and Vegas, my life of happiness, independence, and freedom took a dark turn into fear, suffering, and depression. My charming boyfriend and childhood friend became abusive. And he abused me mentally, verbally, physically, and sexually.
Of course, this didn’t happen all at once. It happened slow enough to go unnoticed. Like “lower-level” things like “playfully” poking me, and “playfully” making fun of me, and then it became “playfully” undermining my progress at school, “playfully” blocking the doorway when I wanted to go out, “playfully” locking me out of my own phone because I needed my phone to leave. And then finally “playfully” wanting to have sex with me when I didn’t want to. Everything was all under the context of being playful and being playful myself, I didn’t notice until it was too late. Whenever I wanted to discuss his “playfulness” being cruel and unfair, he would either justify himself by saying I “made him do it”, he was “doing me a favor,” or I was lying because my “body liked it.” Other times, he would straight up deny it. But this was the part that had me really confused: mixed with these intermittent spurts of abuse there was, for the most part, a lot of warmth and kindness especially when I was back in San Francisco (he’d reassure me he’d be better if I came back). But now looking back at the warm moments, it’d only happen every time I was extremely upset, wanted to leave or when he wanted to prove how good of a lover he was. It was all inauthentic.
Six months in, when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, he told me he had feelings for someone else and denied me ever being his girlfriend even though he’d called me his girlfriend. And as it turned out, the reason why he first visited San Francisco was to see that said person. He just happened to see me and “didn’t expect things to turn out the way it did.” So during the entire time of our relationship, he always had feelings for someone else and abused me. “This is fucking ridiculous,” I thought. Somehow I was in the middle of all this drama and getting the worst of it. But even at that point I couldn’t leave and I didn’t understand why. Little did I know, the more I experienced his cycles of unpredictable abuse and kind, loving behavior, the more I became attached to him. This is called traumatic bonding. Kind of like Stockholm syndrome.
Long distance between couples usually involve a lot of yearning and longing for each other, but to me it was a sigh of relief. Although, it didn’t stop the abuse completely. I was still experiencing it mentally, but I at least didn’t have to endure it physically too. He’d call me 50+ times until I answered. It wasn’t easy to put my phone away and let it ring. I needed my phone and whenever he called, I either had to wait for the ringings to stop or decline the call which I never wanted to do because he’d know I was around and would keep calling until I answered. It was annoying and frustrating. Even when he was away, he wasn’t really away.
Being Filipino, long distance relationships are common because someone in the family will always be working abroad to support for their family back home. That’s what my dad did. For 10 years while my mom took care of us in Manila, my dad worked hard in Guam. Seeing my parents in their long distance relationship, it didn’t seem that bad. My dad would visit every 1-2 months and call almost everyday. This started when I was 7, so with better technology now compared to 15+ years ago, getting into one myself wasn’t a problem. My previous relationship was mostly long distance too. Plus, I liked the idea of living in a big city, being independent, while in the back of my head, knowing I had a boyfriend who cared for me and didn’t always have to depend on. I just happened to be in a long distance relationship with the wrong person.
I’m happy to say that after 15 draining months, our relationship ended. Leaving that relationship was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was exhausting and it became even more miserable because the more I tried to leave, the harder it became. I was so torn down from my relationship that it was hard to muster the strength to get out. It was isolating too. I was feeling so much shame, I didn’t talk to my family and friends about it which made it harder to leave because I didn’t know what support I could get if and when I left the relationship. And I was also confused. I knew I deserved better but my self-opinion was so broken down, I didn’t know what to believe.
I didn’t look like the typical abused woman with bruises all over so I never thought I was actually abused.
As you can tell, judging by how big an impact the relationship had on my life and where I am now, I learned A LOT. Recovering from the relationship was a total different story though. After it ended, the effects of abuse were still there. 1 1/2 more years of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks to be exact. But little by little, I slowly became myself again and I didn’t do it alone. I knew the only way my scars could fully heal was to do it in loving and supporting environment. So I began practicing self-care and brought my family and friends back into my life and told them what happened. I was scared they wouldn’t believe me and even blame me for getting into my situation but it was the exact opposite. They not only believed me but they also validated everything I felt, understood why I disconnected myself from them and supported me from that point forward. After that, I decided to see a therapist and that’s when the recovery juice started pouring in. I learned the dynamics of abusive relationships and finally felt justified for the things I did and didn’t do. I got to dissect my relationship, take it apart, and put it back together in a way that left me more empowered and stronger than I ever knew myself to be.
In one of my therapy sessions, I expressed how angry I’d get every time I thought of my ex or saw anything that reminded me of him. My therapist said this was a result of him never giving me a chance to express my emotions, so it was all coming out as anger. I didn’t want to be angry all the time because I already wanted to move on but it felt so good whenever I played out different scenarios in my head for revenge. So my therapist said, “You can imagine all the horrific things you want to do to get back at him but the real revenge is to take your anger and direct it towards your photography. Work hard on your skills and immerse yourself in multi-sensory experiences because you need to get out of your apartment. Do something you don’t just watch but get to hear, taste, smell, and feel too.” She continued, “On a scale of 1-10, how angry are you at your ex?” I answered, “I’d say a 9.” “Then I want you to go on 9 dates with 9 quality men and see how you feel after that.”
So for the next several months, I took what she said and kept shooting and going to all the multi-sensory experiences I could do, like going to events, visiting museums, eating at a new spots, or traveling to different places. And then through dating, my anger dissipated by quality man #5. And it wasn’t until I met quality man #7, that I was no longer angry. I’m still with #7 and we’re now 2 years into a generous, loving, and most importantly, healthy relationship.
My last therapy session was 2 years ago and I’m turning 26 soon. I still continue to do what my therapist said but not to recover and heal. After experiencing trauma like that, you become more aware of how valuable your time & freedom is so you spend more time doing what you love with the people you love, and less on material possessions. I love photography and multi-sensory experiences and continue to do it, so as a result, I’m now a travel blogger. I don’t spend that much time in San Francisco these days so I’m in yet another long distance relationship but I’ve fully accepted that it’s common and acceptable.
Long distance is always something to look at when in a relationship but what’s more important is who you’re doing it with, what your goals are, and if those goals aligned. My boyfriend and I go through the same trials and tribulations that anyone would expect. How we get it to work is like any other relationship, a strong foundation of kindness, generosity and always being in communication. We just happen to do everything online. But that’s another story. I thought I’d share this one first.
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Blog: Traveling Petite Girl