Anyone can be fooled. Above all else, this is what I have learned over the last year. Anyone can fall into the trap I fell into: being taken by a likeable, charming man who slowly changes into a controlling, abusive monster. A transformation so slow, that it’s impossible to see from the inside.

I wish I could say that I had always seen it coming. That some part of me actually knew what I was getting myself into. But that would be a complete lie. Of course, looking back, I can see all of those classic warning signs – the possession, manipulation, his constant putting me down and making me feel like I was never enough. But even still, it didn’t start that way. It started innocent and sweet. He would ask to see my cells and I would watch him do surgery (we are both neuroscientists). We cuddled on the couch in front of Netflix, played in the snow, and wandered around the city. I wanted to spend every second with him, and he wanted to spend every second with me. He called me “Stargirl” and told me over and over how much he loved me and how happy I made him. We had a neuroscience romance, and it all seemed too good to be true. Clearly, it was.

The profile of my abuser is hardly atypical. They can put you on a pedestal and almost worship you for the first few months. They are also incredibly charming, charismatic, even magnetic, and other people tend to be drawn to them. This is perhaps why many survivors, myself included, feel like no one would ever believe them. Because it is this likeable and charismatic person that the rest of the world sees. No one sees who this person becomes behind closed doors. And this is probably why, even once extricated from the situation, survivors may doubt themselves and wonder if they were the crazy ones. I know this is what happened with me. Most of the time I remember how my abuser would offer to climb in the liquid nitrogen tank for me to put my cells away, how he would surprise me in lab, how he would hold me so close as though he couldn’t get enough of me. Perhaps one of the hardest things to accept is that there is no way to reconcile these good parts of an abuser with the bad. What most people don’t understand is that a situation like this isn’t just black and white. An abuser can be caring and sweet, but he can also suck the life out of you. Both sides are there and are somehow intricately wrapped into a single person. And this is precisely why we fall. It’s not that we’re foolish or naïve or ignorant. It’s that there was something to fall for. So don’t blame yourself for falling, or think that you should have seen it coming. I didn’t.

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