Advice: Starting OverPosted: September 12, 2013
Dear Love InshAllah,
I was in a relationship for ten years, engaged for three and married for seven. My husband was older than me and had a very checkered past, which I found attractive when I was younger. But slowly I grew up and he stayed a child.
When we got married he was physically abusive and it took me years to get him to accept it. He then thought that because he accepted that it was abuse, that he wasn’t doing it any more and when I was offer him detailed evidence, he started to tell me I was paranoid and crazy, just a bitchy feminist. He started to realize I am smarter than him as well, and while the physical abuse declined, the psychological abuse escalated.
Just before Ramadan, I finally had the courage to end it. I fell out of love with him a long time ago and even started to fantasize about killing him. I hated sex, and was in a constant state of misery that I started taking out on everyone around me. When it finally ended I felt like I had been given a second chance at life.
I am 28 and starting over, but discouraged because I did love being married, and even though my marriage was bad, I am so lonely. I was with him for my entire adult life so far, and I come from a background of abuse and illness, my marriage took a heavy toll on my finances, and as a Muslim (since I was 13) I am progressive, an LGBTQ ally, and a critical theologian. I am very smart and have a lot of life experience, and I don’t feel like I have a problem with confidence, but I am afraid I won’t be able to find a man that would want someone like me.
I know that I need time to recover, it has been two months, thankfully I have no children, but what I feel and what I know can’t agree. I find myself fixating on sex most of all, but in general just feel so alone. I was so unhappy for so long, and I just want to move on and restart my life, but I am also afraid that I won’t be able to find anyone who wants a woman with a past and scars, which are ugly on the surface, but can create something beautiful. I am afraid there aren’t any good men. That I will have to somehow stay unhappy, unfulfilled, because that’s just the way life is. I don’t feel it is in my nature to be alone. I know I need time, and that I will change – I have changed so much in the past two months – and can get my life in order.
But what if my fears are right, and what if that isn’t enough, and how do I even make it that far?
Shy Desi Boy replies:
Since we started this advice column a few months ago, one of the reoccurring themes I see again and again from female advice seekers is this: I have a past—will a partner still want me?
Much of this fault lies in the way men, and not just Muslim men, are raised to desire girls who are virgins. Whereas as man’s past misdeeds may not taint his name when he wants to get married, a woman who has had sexual relations is made to feel ashamed, inadequate, less desirous. I am sorry many men are like this and I am sorry that too often men use the excuses of culture or religion or whatever to justify what is essentially a misogynist position. I am also sorry that too many man do not take the time to understand what abuse does to a woman.
Because let’s face it: most men are crappy but there are some who are not and you will eventually meet someone who desires you, who treats you with the respect you deserve, and who will please you in every way. But right now I am not concerned about you meeting a partner. I am concerned with you.
You have been in an abusive relationship and the most important thing is to take care of yourself. I spoke with a licensed therapist about your question and she said that physical and emotional abuse breaks a person down to the point where they feel useless. Often they seek comfort in a partner but this often leads to more abuse. The most thing is to find strength within yourself before you begin another relationship.
I know these words are much easier to type than to do—I have never been in an abusive relationship and I cannot imagine how painful this must be for you. I do know from watching many people I love suffer through emotional abuse that the most important thing to do is to take time to heal.
Spend time on your own, work out, enjoy time with friends, consider seeing a therapist, focus on your faith, pick up a hobby travel—these are things that have helped my friends move on from their unhealthy relationships. But rarely have I seen a person leave an unhealthy relationship and enter a healthy relationship right away. You need time to recalibrate, to refocus and to recover from the abuse you suffered.
Finding another partner should be the least of your worries. You are young and you have many years ahead. The best thing we can give to the people we love, and the people we marry, is our complete selves. Abuse breaks a person into pieces and it is such a shame that we live in a society that often trivializes what abuses does to a person, especially to a woman. This is your time—to grow, to heal, and to love yourself. Reclaim this time and prolong it if you can—your heart deserves this time and I wish you my best.
Miss Sunshine replies:
Ending a marriage is rarely easy, and the costs can often be high. It is dispiriting to go through that kind of struggle only to find yourself in such a difficult place. My fear for you is that your loneliness and fear of rejection may lead you to accepting a dangerous or unfulfilling relationship simply because it’s available. I know no one really wants to hear this advice, but it’s given so often because it is so very valuable. Take time to heal, to reflect, to fill your cup of self love before you try to start again.
As a 28-year-old human being, having a “past” is inevitable. You’ve lived, and the wisdom you’ve gained from your experiences is something to be treasured. As a 28-year-old human being, you also have a future, one which can only be enriched by the experience you’ve gained in how to love someone else, and how to love yourself. You’re not scarred or damaged; you are a woman with real life experience.
Leaving your abusive marriage took courage. It was a beautiful act of self love. I urge you to continue along that road. It’s difficult, even lonely at times, but the rewards last a lifetime. In the meantime, loneliness is a real problem that should be taken seriously. If you do not have a support network, now is the time to focus on building one. The desire for connection can be fulfilled through friendships, family, spirituality, creative pursuits, and meaningful work. I recommend that you actually sit down and write out a game plan for how you will meet your needs. If you already have supportive friends and/or family, reach out to them. Lean on them more. I have been in the position of having to rebuild myself from scratch. I know the struggles, the self-doubt, the fear of being too needy with those who love you. Do it anyway. These things don’t provide sex, but they can ease loneliness and be a consistent reminder of how wonderful and worthy you are.
I also highly recommend that you see a therapist if you’re not already seeing one. A therapist can help you work through the worst times while you’re rebuilding your life. You mention illness and abuse in your family history. A therapist can also help you work recover, and understand they myriad ways your family history may creep in and influence your romantic life. Please know that you’re not alone. I know so many Muslim women–myself included– whose stories mirror yours.
Lastly, one thing that has helped me through the most difficult moments in rebuilding my life is the reminder that the world is very large, and there are many ways to live well. There are plenty of smart, kind, progressive men of faith. They are men who, like you, have lived. Loneliness and fear can cloud our vision, and lead us to the very places we feared in the first place. If you take the time to truly allow yourself to heal and grow, I think it may be surprisingly easy to find the kind of love you seek.
I wish you the best.