Monday, September 03, 2007

The Scary Boyfriend

by Nancy Martin

While in high school, my daughter had a boyfriend who wouldn't let her go. Everywhere she went, he was wrapped around her somehow--usually with a tight arm locked around her waist. If he could have climbed inside her skin, I think he'd have done it My husband, amused at first, wanted them to wear this T-shirt: Public Displays of Affection R-Us.

Last week in my town, a fresh-faced high school cheerleader was stabbed sixteen times by her lovesick teenage boyfriend, who was enraged that she wanted to break up with him. After killing her, he slashed his own throat. At her funeral, friends and family released pink balloons. After he was discharged from the hospital, he was charged with her murder.

It's a sad, although not uncommon story--the kind of thing that catches the interest of a mystery writer. But the mother in me was seized by the throat and shaken hard.

A parent's nightmare, right? For both sets of parents.

If you have a daughter, chances are she'll encounter at least one possessive boyfriend--a kid who perhaps seems sweet and trustworthy on the outside--maybe with good grades and coming from a nice, church-going family. Maybe he's on a sports team or plays in the marching band, or he performs in the school musical. But he doesn't like to let your daughter out of his sight. He keeps his hand clamped on hers and wants to know where she is all the time. Eventually the day comes when he tells her not to go out with her friends because he wants her to himself. Which, to her, is flattering at first. But soon if he's not in actual physical contact, he's phoning or text-messaging or chatting online or using whatever technological form of communication can best keep him in constant touch with your child. And if he can't reach her, he gets angry. First he might be manipulative, using guilt to get her to obey his wishes. Maybe he eventually turns threatening. You catch her whispering, pleading into the phone in the middle of the night. Or weeping while she taps the keys of her computer in a darkened room when she thinks everyone else in the house is asleep.

To a girl who has memorized the plots of all the Jane Austen movies and knows Colin Firth's dialogue by heart, it's a pleasure for her to have an attentive boyfriend.

At first.

But here's a good example of how these kinds of relationships deteriorate.

It's amazing how fast it happens. Possessive becomes controlling which morphs into verbal and then physical abuse. The boyfriend's got plenty of psychological issues, but your daughter is the one who ends up in trouble. Or worse.

How do you help your daughter develop the skills to cope or avoid such relationships? I know it starts early--long before boyfriends are even in the family lexicon. But how do you build her self-esteen and develop her radar? And give her the cool head and right language to fend off a kid who's determined to become a big part of her life? How do you help her end it when puppy love gets to the Protection From Abuse stage?

People ask me all the time where I get my ideas as a writer. Well, it's stories like this one that make me itch to write a story that will be meaningful to readers. But as a mother, this kind of story is very real.

11 comments:

Gina said...

Nancy -

I am not a parent, so thank God I don't have to figure out what to tell a child about stuff like this. Life would be easier if everybody had to wear a badge, proclaiming "Stay away, I'm dangerous," "Safe," or "Probably okay." Unfortunately, real life doesn't work that way.

My own ex-husband is a case in point. He's the type of guy most parents would definitely make their daughters stay away from -- in and out of institutions since he was 11, frequent runaway, multiple arrests for various juvenile infractions, high school drop out. When I met him, he was 22. He'd been hitchhiking around the country for awhile and owned nothing but the clothes on his back and the stuff in his backpack. But he is the sweetest, gentlest man on earth, kind to animals and helpful to strangers. He's safe to be with and I would trust him with my life. And like you said, the junior choirmaster with the stellar grades may just turn out to be a homicidal nutcase . . .

Kristine said...

Nancy, real life cases like this one with the cheerleader give me nightmares at night...especially now that I'm expecting my own daughter. The dating scene is so different now from when I was a teenager, which sadly, wasn't that long ago. The biggest problem I had to deal with was my parents' wrath for coming home past curfew. It's a whole new ballgame now.

My husband and I are not looking forward to the dating/teenage years. The questions you pose in your post are ones I'm sure we'll be faced with throughout the years. (If you come up with any answers, let me know.)

Tory said...

Well, Nancy, I think you've exactly described the roadmap for an abusive relationship. I also think Kristine is on to something when she says, "The biggest problem I had to deal with was my parents' wrath for coming home past curfew." Parents setting appropriate dating limits can help their children set them, too. Easier to blame having to come home early on a parent than to say you need to get away!

Not to oversimplify the problem, but I tend to see a pattern with women in abusive relationships, where their parents were overly possessive and/or abusive. I think teenagers with more normal parents figure out where this is all leading much more quickly, and next time stay away.

Joyce said...

Great post, Nancy.

Before I started working for the PD, I had no idea how often this type of relationship occurred. We get a lot of reports from girls (and even older women) whose ex-boyfriends won't leave them alone. Usually when the police threaten to file harassment charges, it stops, but not always (like our triple homicide from a few years ago).

Kristine, you can always get a job with a police dept. and run a background check on her dates. Not that I ever did anything like that...

Nancy said...

I think we hope send our kids out into the world armed with enough skills to cope with anything life throws at them. But serious situations seem to crop up earlier and earlier in life. Raising a compassionate child who can think on her feet and be articulate with her peers---that's a big headstart, it seems.

Gina, you should be writing a memoir, girl. Have you read The Glass Castle yet?

lisa curry said...

I dated "the Scary Boyfriend" the summer after my freshman year of college. Obviously, he didn't kill me when I broke up with him, but he did hit me -- the s.o.b. I agree with Tory's assessment of what makes a girl susceptible to this kind of guy, but now what I want to know is what kind of circustance/family dynamic creates a guy like this? Interestingly, my scary boyfriend's mother was even scarier than he was. She was one of those mothers who clearly thought no woman would ever be good enough for her boy; but meanwhile, to him, she was pretty much generally scornful and contemptuous, and I recall distinctly that he feared her disapproval. Is that by any chance typical, Dr. Butterworth?

Anonymous said...

I dated one guy like this in college - not for long. BUT, at first it's so flattering to your ego that you have THAT MUCH power to influence someone's actions. Then you realize it isn't YOUR power. It's HIS nuttiness!

Scary story - for both families.
Arkansas Cyndi

Tory said...

Lisa: I'm afraid I can't be too helpful here, as I've never worked with the "scary boyfriend," just the women he dates.

Nancy said...

I always felt the Scary Boyfriend was mentally abused at home--abandoned by his mother and pretty much bullied by his dad. He was looking for someone to adore him unconditionally, I think. But the only way he knew how to keep my kid around was to bully her--in an assortment of ways. Bullying was the only interpersonal skill he learned at home, maybe, Dr. Butterworth?

Annette said...

I had one scary boyfriend who stalked me after I broke up with him and threatened to kill himself. At that point, my response was "go ahead!" I think what saved me from further threats was the half dozen "big brothers" who worked with me on the ambulance service at the time and who threatened to assist him in his suicidal tendancies should he continue to bug me. Nice having friends who looked like a bunch of linebackers from the Steelers.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that parents should take part in their kids relationships. It's really not normal that most of girls are afraid of meeting boyfriends parents, it's their life, so there is no need to meddle in there...