I’ve always prided myself in being a strong, independent, successful alpha female who would never allow herself to be used and abused by anyone. My time with Enzo* proved how wrong I was.
Enzo and I had an intoxicating whirlwind romance. Within a few weeks of dating, he insisted I move in with him, and I was happy to. He was quite the romantic, he wanted to be with me all the time, and he made me feel like his world revolved around me. He’d cook for me, pick me up from work, and when he didn’t, I would rush home every day to be with him. He was a great boyfriend at the start, and I truly believed then that I’d end up married to him.
Enzo was similar to me in many aspects; he was an extrovert who liked being the center of attention and he enjoyed going out with friends. He was a drinker and a smoker—traits he shared with all my other exes. It seemed I gravitated towards this type, the bad boy who always struggled to finish school or stay employed. But in our early years, I was very much in love, and that was all that mattered.
When things were good between us, they were amazing. But I later found out that when things were bad, they were downright shitty.
If I’m being honest with myself, I guess there had always been signs that there was something wrong. Within the first month of our relationship, I caught him sending emails to another woman telling her he loved and missed her—turns out she was his long-distance girlfriend. He apologized and tried to make it up to me by strewing thousands of rose petals around our apartment. Blinded by love, I forgave him.
Enzo also talked about his ex a lot and how much he loved her. He confessed how he had been so mean to her by abusing her both physically and emotionally. I remember feeling bad for her, but not really thinking I’d be in her shoes one day.
After two years of being together, Enzo began to expose his meanness. He would mock my weight and how I looked. During a fight, he said that I was so fat that if he ran his hands through my arms, they’d be filled with lard.
He would tell me I was only smart while he was good-looking, and that I was lucky he even chose me who was, in his words, the “ugly duckling” of my family. He liked comparing me to his ex, an ex-model who was apparently taller, hotter, and prettier than I was. He would suggest that I get a nose job, complain that my teeth needed whitening, and ask me why I didn’t dress up more because “mukha akong katulong.” He wanted me to keep my hair long, so whenever I cut my hair, he’d tell me “ang pangit-pangit mo” over and over again. He would also tell me that I was boring and useless in bed.
Enzo would fight with me even in front of his best friends, not caring if he caused a scene. He said our fights emotionally traumatized him and he couldn’t go to work, so he would punish me by not allowing me to go to work as well, even “grounding” me for days depending on the intensity of the fight. Later on, he would tell me that if I ever left him, he could have me or members of my family killed.
To any sane woman, those would’ve been bad enough to justify leaving a relationship completely. But Enzo just got worse, and guess what? I still stayed.
The first time Enzo ever physically hurt me was also around two years into our relationship. We were fighting in the car, and I shut up so the fight wouldn’t escalate further. That’s his pet peeve, me going quiet in a fight. So he punched me in the arm a number of times.
Once, we were fighting while driving out of a parking lot. Enzo was attacking me so terribly that I opened the door, rolled out of the moving car, and walked away by myself to escape him.
Enzo didn’t like it when I got intoxicated—even though we were always together when I drank. If I fell asleep in the car, he would slap me repeatedly to wake me up. And if I fell asleep in the middle of a fight, he would cover my nose and mouth so I couldn’t breathe and I’d wake up.
One time, he got so angry with me that he choked me. I had wanted to get out of the apartment but he was blocking the door. He held me down so I couldn’t escape and ended up choking me, leaving me unable to breathe. I developed red spots in my eyes after that incident—a sign of broken blood vessels.
That was a major turning point for me, the moment I realized that this man could actually kill me one of these days.
It wasn’t enough that he was emotionally and physically abusive; he cheated on me, too. I know of one cheating episode, which makes me wonder if there were more. One weekend while I was away in the province, he had gone out with his friends—something he got to do without me, while I, on the other hand, wasn’t allowed to go out without him. A few weeks after that night-out, I read texts in his phone from a girl saying that she missed him. I confronted him, and he said he had met the girl at the club that night, had given her his number, and that she had been stalking him. I believed him, so I confronted the girl to tell her to stop stalking him. She then gave me photos and other evidence that proved my ex had slept with her.
I know it sounds impossible to you, but through all those times, I still felt I could help Enzo change. He’d always try to make it up to me after we fought, so I always felt like things could get better. I also felt like I wouldn’t find anyone who would love me as much as he seemed to love me, and that it was only his passion for me that drove him to do these things. I hadn’t realized that his emotional abuse had made me feel so insecure about myself that I felt that no one would want to be with me apart from him.
The tipping point came when I moved abroad. I realized then that my ex was still controlling me, even though he was miles away—installing a tracker on my phone, giving me a curfew, grounding me if I got home five minutes late, and not letting me hang out with male colleagues even though they were married—and I was still letting him! But because of the distance, he couldn’t make it up to me with lambing and flowers anymore like he used to. While abroad, I also got to know other guys as friends and saw that there were many other personalities out there beyond the type I had gotten used to dating. Even just being exposed to a different culture made me realize that there were other things in the world besides Enzo, and I could do so much better than him. My bubble finally burst.
The night I broke up with him after seven years together, I went out with friends, had pizza, then celebrated by going to a club. The next day, I cut my hair short because I finally could without someone telling me that I was pangit. I strengthened my friendships, traveled a lot, and decided to become fit again.
I felt free.
I’m now with a man who is very different from my old type, but with him, I changed for the better. He makes me feel like he is my safe place. He makes me feel beautiful. He helped me know myself more, becoming a therapist to me when I was too scared to see one to help me process my experience. He knows everything about me, whereas with Enzo I had to keep some things secret for fear he would use them as a weapon against me. For the first time in my life, I understand what a soulmate is, and how it feels to have your best friend as your boyfriend.
Looking back on those tumultuous years, I no longer feel the pain and fear as acutely as I used to, but I feel embarrassed to have put up with all of it despite believing myself to be an alpha female. The word “abuse” makes me cringe because you usually just read it in articles and on TV, but it actually happened to me.
I think I stayed with Enzo for a long time because I never admitted to myself that I was being abused. But yes, I definitely was. I’m still scared of him. The memories haunt me sometimes and make me want to cry. However, for the most part, I’m okay, secure in the love of a man I know will never hurt me that way.
To other women who may not have gone through the same experiences but are beginning to see the signs of abuse in their own relationships, once you feel something is off, trust your gut. I used to defend my own abuser in my head, even telling myself that I deserved his abuse, but no one deserves to be treated that way. After seven years with him, I finally realized that I was stronger than I thought I was, and I stepped away.
You are strong, too. You can step away, too.
*Names have been changed