This cold weather has me thinking about how hard it can be to leave a relationship. About how entrenched you become with someone else, someone who holds your heart, but also someone who becomes your support system, your caretaker, your sharer of responsibilities. For even the best relationship, with balanced equity between partners, it is a hard decision to leave even though you know it is time to go.
I had the great joy of going to grad school in Maine. The winters were cold and snowy. Not little bits of snow. No, in Maine the snow dumps down on you; you can shovel your driveway and the snow has covered it again before you’ve finished shoveling the sidewalk. The snow in Maine is where you need to first brush off your car with a broom then you can use the car snow brush then you use the car scraper and then you can get in the car and turn on the windshield defrost. It is snowy! I met a great guy out there, one who was kind and attentive and took on the role of always making sure that my car and driveway were free of snow when I needed to get to school and work.
After a long while together, our conversations about us started getting more long term and futuristic. We talked about beyond what we would do this weekend and started talking about what would happen the next semester or the next year. We also started asking the harder questions. This New England born and raised guy wasn’t thinking about going and this ready to travel anywhere lady wasn’t thinking about staying. It started falling apart, just as the snow was starting to fall. Having reached the decision, knowing that it was over, I found myself holding on even longer. Not because I wasn’t sure it should end, but because I wasn’t sure how to survive the winter without someone shoveling out my car when it snowed. The way I lived my life in winter, my success in navigating a Maine winter, was dependent on him. I thought I could handle it by myself, but I wasn’t sure. And, I could think up all the good reasons to stay with him each time I thought about how hard it was going to be to survive the snow without him.
I know I’m not the only one to have this pull back into a relationship. I’ve heard this similar story from so many of my friends and colleagues. And yet, our society expects a victim of domestic violence to leap out of a relationship and try a new world on their own. We victim blame when they remain in relationships. And, we pretend that leaving is a simple choice. Our community needs to spend time focusing on all the barriers that exist in leaving an abusive relationship. We need to support the decision and choices that people make to stay. Choices that are often for survival.