"It's not the most attractive quality to go on a date with someone who is venting about their ex the whole time,” Jen Moriwaki wrote for the Instagram page The Way We Met. “And 5 years ago, that was me. I was on every dating site possible, but couldn't understand why no one ever asked me out for a 2nd or 3rd date. In hindsight, it's crystal clear. I was angry and bitter about love.” And she had good reason to be.
Moriwaki had just come out of an abusive relationship, one that had left her not only cynical about love but also finding it difficult to talk about anything besides her ex. Victims of abuse are often completely consumed by the person who is abusing them—and that can stay with you long after the relationship and the abuse stops. "He was verbally abusive towards me, often telling me I was fat, ugly, & stupid," she wrote. "His anger continued to escalate until one day he punched a hole in the wall. I realized it was only a matter of time before his abuse turned physical, and I left." And leaving is such a strong, difficult step to take. But what happens after?
With two kids and residual feelings for her ex, Moriwaki understandably had trouble moving on. After attempts at online dating didn’t go as planned, she decided to take a break—and a big step back. It turned out to the best thing for her—two years later, and in a better headspace, she decided to try it again. That’s how she met Guy. “I realized early on that Guy was different,” she wrote. “He’s funny, genuine, and easy to love. But then again, I became someone different. We've now been together for 3 years and just got married this summer.” Moriwaki’s story shows that you can find love, happiness, and contentment after an abusive relationship. But if you’re just coming out of one, that can feel like an impossible task. Here’s what you need to remember.
You Are Not Your Experience
There is so much blame and self-loathing that can come with abuse. It’s not fair, and though it’s totally irrational, it feels so real. You need to separate yourself from what happened to you. Remember that you are not to blame—and that your entire existence isn’t defined by this thing that happened to you. “If you’ve been in a previous relationship where you had an abusive partner, it’s not your fault,” says Qudsia Raja, advocacy and policy manager of Young Women's Christian Association USA. “You’re a survivor and you’re brave for leaving.” You can have a warm, amazing, fulfilling life that doesn’t have to be dictated by what one person did to you, and you can get to a place where you see it as part of your experience, but not as something that defines who you are.
Give Yourself Time
But to get to that place, it takes time. Just like Moriwaki recalls that her first attempts at dating after her abusive relationship were a flop, make sure that you’ve taken a step back. If not, you’ll be projecting your past experience onto your future partner and, in some senses, the person you had the strength to leave will still be controlling you and your decisions. Don’t let them.
Give yourself time. “Respect your own level of readiness for a new relationship,” the Domestic Shelters website suggests. “When you approach a new relationship from a place of fear, it can be a sign that you’re still holding onto previous trauma.” Wait until the idea of dating feels safe and appealing before you jump into a relationship. You can take all the time you need.
The most important thing is that you don’t need to do this alone. You should reach out to friends and family or, if those aren’t an option, there are services and hotlines available both nationwide and in your area. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure, there is help out there. No matter what stage you’re at, whether it’s thinking about leaving an abusive relationship or having trouble adjusting to life after the fact, there are so many options that mean you don’t need to go through this on your own. Take advantage of them—they’re just a phone call away.
Finding love after experiencing domestic abuse is a huge undertaking. The breach of trust you’ve suffered, the trauma, the lasting effects—it may feel insurmountable, but it can be done. You just need to give yourself the recovery time you need and, when you’re finally ready to date again, make sure you take it at your own pace. You will not be defined by your abuse and there’s a nurturing, caring relationship out there when you’re ready. And in the meantime, there is always help available to you.