Harlotry: How My Abusive Relationship Began

Dark room interior with cracks

Cathryn Berarovich is something of a renaissance sex worker; she is currently employed as a pro-domme but has held numerous interesting jobs in the industry. She usually shares her stories each Monday in Harlotry–however, for the next five weeks, she’ll be writing specifically about her experience with domestic abuse and sexual assault. 

Extricating oneself from an abusive relationship is never easy.

They don’t show you that part in the movies. They only show our heroine, generally a perky, smiling blonde, with clean hair and a new lease on life. They don’t show you the loneliness, the confusion, the terrible sense of disgust with oneself. That doesn’t make the final cut.

It isn’t just different for me because I am a pensive brunette, rather than a perky blonde. My difficulties do not stem from the fact that I rarely have time or inclination to wash my hair more frequently than once a week. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely have a new lease on life, but setting up an apartment is never instantaneous and the apartment of my head and heart is a real fixer-upper at this point.

I’ve written about the relationship before, but I never covered the real, lurid details of my relationship with “Stanley”, the man I named after Stanley Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire and, were he an actor, I’d say it was a role he was born to play.

Unfortunately, though, Stanley wasn’t the only one who played a role: first I played Stella and then I was Blanche. This summer, when I wrote about the relationship for the first time, the wounds were still very, very fresh. I didn’t want to talk about them and so I varnished them over with remembrances of how I felt at the beginning.

The time has come, I think, to tell the unexpurgated version of the story. People have asked to hear it, and here it is in all its sordid ingloriousness.

Stanley and I were together for three years officially. In reality it was closer to three and a half. During the years we were together and the six months after we broke up, he twisted my head into unnatural shapes and broke my heart innumerable times. My life with him was one of fear and abjection. This is not to say there were no good times; there were plenty of good times because Stanley’s approach to relationships could have been based on a manual for inducing Stockholm Syndrome in your friends and loved ones.

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    • http://www.facebook.com/souperfluous Jennifer Lynne

      I was in a relationship very similar to this, and at the same age. Years down the line, I still have serious issues with the men I’ve dated since. It’s helpful to know that others have gone through the same thing, and to have someone–anyone–acknowledge that an abusive relationship doesn’t have to involve violence or physical harm to, in fact, be abusive.

      Also, major points for the Buffy reference regarding Stanley’s insane troll logic.

      • Cate

        You got it! You got the reference! You are the greatest!

        Also, super sorry you had to go through that. It is brutal, to say the least.
        I’m currently dating a really lovely gentleman, and like, just being able to say “I trust you” and mean it was so big I almost cried. I’m constantly thanking him for doing normal shit, and I generally behave like a total weirdo. This gentleman is, as I’ve mentioned before, wonderful and he really bears with my weirdnesses, but I keep wondering if it’s ever going to go away.

    • http://www.facebook.com/karen.valdivia Karen Valdivia

      Over the Harlotry articles i’ve experienced lots of emotions: amusement, anger, astonishment, i’ve been speechless, creeped out, freaked out, i’ve rolled my eyes and grinned because i’ve been in some of the situations that you have written about and i’m just a white collar just-graduated-from-college girl. But this time I began to feel angst. And mine isn’t comparable to what you went through.

      I’m looking forward to read about your experience not in a creepy way, but in a “how to recognize the red flags” way. I really hope writting about it helps you to recover from your personal hell.

      • Cate

        So far, yeah, writing about it has really helped.

        There are three reasons why I wanted to write this. The first, and most obvious is that people wanted to know. The second is that I think reading about abusive relationships is really important as women are often encouraged to just bear with any abuse that isn’t physical and people don’t really talk about the red flags, and the third is that by talking about what happened to me, it isn’t secret anymore and I can release it.

    • Emily

      Firstly, I’m glad you’ve put that horrible experience behind you and were able to get out of the relationship physically unharmed. Secondly, I love your articles – you’re an amazing writer. Thirdly, I have a question. I’m curious about how “Stanley” felt about your occupation given his raging jealousy – do you mind sharing?

      • Cate

        I’m getting to that! This is a massive, four-part essay. I told Ashley I had 5,000 words and she told me to break it up. Now it is like, 9,000. So yeaaaah…

        And thanks for the compliment!

    • T.342G

      I applaud you for writing this. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for almost two years with someone who is just like Stanley was. I am usually a strong, intelligent, and social person who puts her friends and family as a priority. However, I slowly got sucked into this world Stanley 2.0 created. It always starts out great and they tell you all these wonderful things. I realized a lot of the reason why I decided to be in a relationship with him and put up with his shit was because I was in a bad place emotionally. It’s important for us women to self-reflect and work things out instead of pushing them away. Because then when a man comes along who tells you great things and says he understands, you start to believe everything they say and get sucked into their world. Then they how their true side.

      My Stanley constantly hounded me about my phone. He screamed at me for an hour once for not picking up the phone when I was in my own bathroom after he had dropped me off. I knew it was ridiculous and I fought as much a I thought I could but I would try to reason it as “he’s just overprotective” “he’s concerned about my safety” “he just needs me.” I think that was another issue, I kind of liked being needed by someone. It was suffocating though. I lost all my friends that I had made the first two years at university and lost one best friend because he manipulated me into thinking she was not a good friend. While still talking to her and pretending everything was great between them, the narcisst that he was. I was expected to act like “a good Christian woman” and he tried to make me into what I was not. I finally got myself out of that hole and it took me a long time to rebuild myself. The only thing I regret was not telling him everything that he did to me and make it clear that he was an abuser. He needed to know that. Maybe one day I will tell him.

      • Cate

        Stanley was weird about my phone too! I basically had to be chained to it at all times when I wasn’t with him.
        Like, if I let more than five minutes elapse without responding to a text he’d assume I was participating in a gang bang or something.

    • Zayna

      My first boyfriend’s way of thinking and character traits were rather similar to “Stanley’s”. I’m certainly not a submissive, naively needy person (or whatever the stereotypical woman in such a relationship is generally portrayed to be), quite the contrary – I was very aware of how messed up he was. Yet I assumed that I could be the woman who proves herself to be different. I did not want to change him, but to support him despite his severe mental issues. I knew I was strong enough to bear his crazy logic and actions without it affecting my mind, so in a sense I felt like I was protecting women more fragile than me. I soon came to the conclusion that this was not the kind of person I’d want to spend my life with. However, I still spend a lot of time with him, trying to help him graduate from university. He beat me up twice (leaving me bruised and with a few tiny scars, and him with two broken teeth) because I wouldn’t leave his flat without trying to calm him down after he felt like a failure for not being able to solve an exam question. That finally made me realise that, even though I can bear the pain, I don’t deserve it and need not take it upon me in his stead.

      • Zayna

        “spent”, not “spend”. I no longer associate with him. I do not hate him or hold a grudge. And this may be the most important thing that dysfunctional relationship has taught me: Resentment (e.g. the hate he felt for “all the women who so utterly betrayed him”) is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

      • Cate

        Everything you say is so true, I can’t even add anything to it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=678834456 Cassandra Merchant

      I will never forget the time you lost your cell phone at the mall, the day of my birthday party…

      • Cate

        If only I could forget that time. If only.

    • Gidget

      I just want to echo what others have said here, inasmuch as I have been in your shoes and in that toxic, tiny, inescapable apartment with that kind of man. I made it out, too, and I’m better for it (though broke-r.) Your writing is excellent; I’m enjoying it as much as it’s taking me back with you and to where I’ve been. Thank you.

    • Fay

      Thank you so much for this article. The article and its comments make me realize how common this kind of a relationship is. Maybe girls who are in an abusive relationship now will read this and realize that they deserve so much better.

      I used to be in a similar relationship a few years ago. I used to go through the same experiences and emotions you went through. The funny part: I never ever blamed him. I actually blamed myself when he called me a whore for being close to my male friends. I used to cut down contact with the people who made him jealous. But that wasn’t enough for him. Needless to say the abuse continued for over a year.

      We both came from a conservative South Asian society and I often dismissed his behavior as a result of his upbringing, despite the fact that many other guys from my culture are complete gentlemen (including my current boyfriend, who is a self-proclaimed feminist :)). For me, this article also emphasized the fact that jerks are simply jerks, no matter what culture they come from.

      Thank you again, Cate! I look forward to reading your future articles.

    • Jen Do

      This sounds exactly what I went through.
      I’m going to have to read this one again a few times.