How to Play Keep-Away

Dear Dategirl,

I broke up with my toxic boyfriend a month ago. I loved him, but I know it was the right thing to do. Fred (not his real name) was borderline physically abusive and very emotionally damaging. I moved to a different neighborhood and changed my phone number and e-mail address because he was sort of stalking me. I knew it was a bad relationship, and now friends keep telling me how much they hated him. They're all very vocal about how relieved they are not to be forced into hanging out with him anymore. I know finding out that I wasn't the only person he bothered should make me feel better about being without him, but instead I find myself sticking up for him sometimes. I'm also curious as to how he's doing. I don't want to care! He's bad for me. I know this is wrong. How can I stop myself?

—Hating Myself

It sounds like much of what you're feeling is humiliation. When your friends insult Fred, it probably feels like they're putting you down in the process. They say "Wow, we hated that guy and we're so happy we don't have to put up with him in order to see you," but you hear "Damn, girl, you're stupid!" That's not what they mean. They love you. So ignore the Babel Fish translator in your brain; your pals are just happy they don't have to tiptoe around that creep anymore.

Look, we all pick losers once in a while. Fred was your loser, and you're done with jerks now, right? Dirtbags were so last month. Sure, go ahead and wonder what he's up to, but please don't call him and ask. Not every urge needs to be indulged.

The thing that worries me most about your note is how casually you dropped in tidbits about his being "borderline" physically abusive, unmistakably verbally abusive, and "sort of" a stalker. I'm not trying to alarm you, but Fred is scary and you need to take this shit seriously. While it's great that you got away from him, leaving an abuser can be the most dangerous time, because he doesn't have control anymore. That's when many psychos step up the craziness, so you have to be extra careful.

One important step is to tell people what happened. (Someone besides a stranger on the Internet.) Tell your friends and family (if you trust them) about the violence and stalking. It can be hard to admit that you dated an abuser, and—I'm not going to lie—some people may not be as sensitive as they should be, but it's important that your loved ones know what you went through. Not so you can have a full guest list at your pity party, but so they can STFU if they happen to run into the guy. Once they know he's a stalker, they'll know not to drop your whereabouts into conversations if they wind up talking to him, and they'll be more apt to take you seriously if you call in a panic. Even if you don't feel as though what you experienced was "traditional" domestic violence, I urge you to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE and talk to them about different strategies you can employ to stay safe.

Oh, and quit hating yourself. Hate Fred instead—he deserves it.

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