I am a 21-year-old inexperienced female. I am presently in love and in a relationship–very serious–with a man from the Middle East. He’s asked me to marry him. I haven’t had much experience with men, but he has committed to me in heart, mind, and soul–in fact, so much that I tend to think it’s obsessive.
He calls me at work five times a day, every day, and on the weekends even more. We don’t live together, and he says he calls so much because he misses me. But he’s done some scary things: He threatened to kill me if I leave him. I tried to leave him once, and he made a huge scene and exploded, grabbing me and forcing me into his car and back to his home, where he forced me to have sex. I told one friend what was going on, and she said that’s just how Middle Eastern men are with their women. He says he’s 200 percent faithful to me, and that there are no other women in his life but me, only and forever, and that it is my destiny to be with him: Allah says so.
I’m afraid he’ll try to kill me if we do ever break up. He says he couldn’t stand to see me with someone else. I don’t have anyone I can talk to about this, so I thought I’d write. What do you think about this situation, and what is your opinion? Please rush an answer. –NEF
My opinion? You’re not in a serious relationship, you’re in serious trouble. If you stay with this guy, you are going to get hurt. Your boyfriend’s behavior has nothing to do with love, the Middle East, or what Allah thinks your destiny might be; it has everything to do with his being an abusive, violent, controlling asshole.
For a second opinion, I shared your letter with Lois Loontjens, the executive director of New Beginnings, a 21-year-old organization that assists victims of domestic violence in the Pacific Northwest. “I think that she is in great danger, and is correct to think he may try to kill her if she leaves him,” Loontjens said. “If you look at murders in general, the number of women murdered by their intimate partners is simply staggering.”
Let’s have a gander at those numbers, shall we? According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women Office, 30 percent of all female homicide victims are murdered by their husbands, ex-husbands, or boyfriends (only three percent of male homicide victims are murdered by their wives, ex-wives, or girlfriends); 26 percent of all rapes and sexual assaults directed against women are committed by men they’re married to or dating; and husbands, exes, and boyfriends commit more than a million violent acts against women they’re involved with every year. It’s a wonder women will even talk to straight men, let alone date the psycho bastards. So, like, should you, um, like–duh–leave this guy? “I would not give someone that kind of direct advice,” Loontjens said. “You may be comfortable doing that, but I would not be. She’s only asking what we think about this situation. I would say that she is in serious danger.” So if you do decide to get out of this scary situation, what’s the best way to do it? “She will need to commit to leaving wholeheartedly. If she tries to leave and fails, she will get hurt. So it’s not OK to just try–she has to accomplish it. When she leaves, the danger will escalate–he is not going to be happy about losing control of her.
“If he has access to her at her workplace, she is going to need the 100 percent support of her employer. But she [might] have to give up her job. She’s certainly going to need to give up her apartment, or wherever it is that she lives, since he would have access to her there. When she leaves him, she will need to become invisible in an instant kind of way.”
None of this seems fair: He’s the jerk; why should you have to give up your job and home because your boyfriend is an abusive asshole? “The reality here is that he has already assaulted her, kidnapped her, raped her, and threatened to kill her, and none of that is fair either. What’s fair isn’t the issue–getting out of this situation alive and safe and healthy is the issue.”
If giving up your job and house seems extreme, you might want to look into going to the police, getting a restraining order, hiring a bodyguard, or purchasing yourself a shiny new AK-47. But you gotta leave: If you stay with this guy, things will escalate and you are going to get hurt–an abuser will find reasons to abuse you. He might try and harm you if you leave him, but he will definitely harm you if you stay. So go.
Once you’re out, how can you avoid getting into the same situation again? “Women can learn to recognize the signs early on,” Loontjens told me. “He tries to keep you from your friends. When someone doesn’t seem to have a life other than you, that’s a sign. When someone calls you constantly or keeps calling after he’s been rebuffed, that’s a sign. Not a sign that there’s something wonderful and irresistible about you, but that there’s something seriously wrong with him.”
Finally, as for this guy being from the Middle East, Loontjens said, “I’ve been struck by how abusive people of whatever ethnicity will use their particular ethnic or religious backgrounds to justify abusive behavior. Your boyfriend’s behavior has nothing to do with where he’s from.” In case you–or the idiot who told you that abusive is “just how Middle Eastern men are”–doubt Loontjens on this point, I gave my sister a call. Laura’s been dating a wonderful Arab guy for two years now. Has Samir ever abused her and blamed it on Allah?
“Oh, my god, no! He treats me like a queen, but not in an obsessive way. He respects me and treats me like an equal.” (Which would make him a queen too, I guess.) When I read your letter to my sister, she had some advice for you: “Get yourself some help, call a domestic violence hotline. Get out before you’re dead. No woman–no person–should be treated the way you’re being treated.”
Are there any cultural differences she’s noticed dating an Arab guy? “You do hear, ‘Oh, Arab men like to control their women.’ Some of them are like that, but some of every kind of men are like that. It’s insulting for her friend to say this guy behaves this way because he’s an Arab; [it’s] an insult to my boyfriend who’s an Arab and doesn’t act this way. It’s a cheap excuse. Like saying all Irish guys are lazy drunken bums.”
A useful phone number for you and other women out there who might be in a similar situation is the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.
Send questions to Savage Love, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.