Domestic Abuse in the Time of Corona
Does crisis change the line in the sand for assault or not?
I would have tapped my juicy young friend “Adam” in a hot minute, like the cougar I am, long ago, if he weren’t in a Serious Long Term Cohabiting Monogamous Relationship.
Very Serious Indeed.
So serious, there were Questionnaires. And White Board Charts. And Hours of Mutual Soul Searching.
When had I gotten too old for that kind of Seriousness?
Adam told me that he was failing to “give back” sufficiently. He said he was trying to make himself change, but felt he wasn’t changing fast enough, even though he was working quite hard at it.
He talked a lot about “working on their relationship.” Whenever I saw him, he was “working on their relationship.”
This sounded exhausting. No wonder romantic stories usually revolved around young people. Life was already full of hard work. Who else had energy for additional work!
Adam’s girlfriend, like many Germans currently of dating age, was the product of a traumatising and abusive childhood, with parents who had soaked up a lot of dark Nazi child-raising shit in their own childhoods and were now passing it on. Which was consistent with an article I had read in The Atlantic Monthly a couple years ago that might as well have been called, “No, Jordana, you are not making it up, the children of the Third Reich passed their crap on to their children, who are now the right age to be having deeply dysfunctional romantic / sexual relationships. We hope the buck will stop with them but there’s a hell of a lot of crap to undo. Maybe the next generation of Germans will have a better shot at healthy intimacy. This one is probably another washout.”
History leaves long shadows.
This girlfriend was a Giver. She was the kind of woman who would turn herself inside out for her Man, unsolicitedly putting him (not herself) at the centre of her plate, voluntarily devoting herself slavishly to doing everything as long as it was for her Man. Like so many billions of women who had come before her, she thought “love” meant slitting open a wrist and begging the beloved to suck from it. Hell, there were entire religions based around this understanding of what it meant to be a woman who loved. And there were entire countries based around these religions. Entire continents!
At least she was in abundant company.
And, like the abundant company that came before her, she got upset when he didn’t in turn slit a wrist for her to drink from.
He was trying to give her what she wanted, he said, but no matter how hard he tried, he just wasn’t changing fast enough.
He never mentioned what he wanted, although right now he said that a week alone in the woods sounded pretty good.
“Relationships are for healing each others’ shadows, aren’t they?” he asked, wistfully.
I had never felt older. I realised I had done enough work in my entire life and I didn’t want to work at healing anybody’s shadow. It was impossible to do anybody else’s growing for them anyway. I knew because I had tried.
But mostly I felt old because I wanted to ask him, “but what about whimsy? What about lightness?
What about play?”
Surrounded mostly by broken avoidant emotionally-walled-off middle-aged men who ran the minute a woman said, “hello,” I think this was the first time in my life I had ever wanted to lecture in favour of taking a relationship less seriously. But there I was, hungry to preach the gospel of Fun!
The Quarantine was going hard on them. Even though they had separate bedrooms. She would give, so that she could feel like she deserved love. He wouldn’t give enough back. So then she’d give more. Then he’d turn into a rock. Then she’d scream. Then he’d try to do what she had taught him she wanted, by “leaning in” when he wanted to hide, and “opening his heart” and listening when he wanted to run.
And then she’d really scream.
And throw crockery and glassware at his head.
Sometimes she did not miss.
He wondered why the neighbours had not yet intervened, given the amount of screaming and things hitting walls that went on in their flat. I wondered why he needed the neighbours to make this decision for them.
He longed to move out for a month, to “give them some space,” to “figure things out.” But she had taken it upon herself to work quite hard finding them the two-bedroom flat in a nice neighbourhood, and had drawn up a contract stating that if he moved out, he was responsible for finding flats for both of them.
“It’s like a divorce,” he said. He also mentioned that they did not want to break up, because they had put so much hard work into the relationship over the last three years, they really didn’t want to ever have to start over with anyone else and have to redo all that hard work all over again!
A couple days later he said that they had come to some peace, and “the love was still strong.”
I said that love isn’t enough and a relationship is about the whole picture.
But I could not trust myself to say more, because it would be all too easy to slip and find myself saying, “oh, come over here, you scrumptious thing, forget your abusive relationship, and let’s make mad passionate love all night long, Plague be damned!” So I bit my tongue and just wished him good luck.
I thought of my (too many) female friends who had been in violent abusive relationships with men who hurt them, even endangered their lives, even endangered the lives of their children, and who stayed with the men with just as much determination as Adam showed. Were the rules any different because of the Plague? Was it wrong of me to judge as if life were normal?
And if it were not wrong of me, at what point do we stop giving people a free pass labelled, “hey they’re dealing with a lot of shit right now” and what point do we hold them accountable for their actions to the same degree as we would someone who was not dealing with a lot of shit?
Exactly what is ok and what is not ok, even if they are dealing a lot of shit? Where do we draw the line?
And where does society have a right to step in and decide people’s lives for them, if the people are making a violent dangerous hash of things?
At what point does an adult’s safety stop being their own responsibility and become the responsibility of the people around them?
What would you do if you were a penniless massage therapist now completely out of work and there were a Plague going on in a city with a serious housing crisis, and you were cohabiting with someone who screamed at you every day and periodically threw bowls at your head? Would you stay or would you go, knowing that being in the same flat was not helping either of you be happy, but also knowing how nearly-impossible it would be to find somewhere else?
And as the rates of domestic violence skyrocket around the world, do we hold irritable scared desperate caged people to exactly the same standards of what counts as horrible behaviour as before? Or not? If yes, why? If not, why not?
And now that we are all having a taste of what it feels like to be our Worst Selves in the face of a long-term shitty bitterly hard situation (for many of us; you folk with untouched jobs and untouched money and plenty of snuggles can shut up), are we suddenly getting a chance to better understand our comrades in countries where domestic violence is rampant?
Do the 40,000 Russian women who die every year at the hands of their boyfriends and husbands start to make a sick kind of sense? I’m not saying to validate the violence, but are we starting to have more insight into it?
And does a wider-spread comprehension of and respect for the factors that go into creating domestic violence do anything to advance the worldwide cause of diminishing it?