True friends

So my last post wasn’t about running, or even about not running. Some of you noticed this. I wasn’t sure how it would go down and I’m pleased that (so far) I haven’t been publicly slammed for it. I’m a little disappointed in the response, though.
 Well, despite having way more hits than most of my recent posts, I got fewer comments across all social media sites. Some of you private messaged me, and I felt torn — touched by your concern, but angered by the silence that persists.
 Let me be clear: I am not angry with anyone, or disappointed in you. I’m grateful for each one of you who got up the courage to think about my post and especially for those who commented, ‘liked’ or shared my post, even in private. It scares me to make these stories public, but your support makes it worth the risk and gives me the courage to keep speaking.
 I am angry that abuse affects so many people, but we are too scared to talk about it — scared of the repercussions, scared of losing people we love, scared of disappointing others, scared of being exposed with only our words to protect us. At least, I think we’re too scared. I know I was too scared, otherwise I would’ve spoken out sooner.
 I guess some of you might also be upset at the prospect of hearing how I was treated, perhaps by someone you know, maybe even by someone you like. You might be questioning your assumptions. Or you may have just rejected my words because you’ve always been treated well by the same person.
 I know it’s a difficult subject. I know that for many people it becomes a case of ‘he said — , she said — ‘. But I didn’t ask anyone to side with me. I didn’t ask you to break off your other friendship. I just stated in non-negotiable terms that I wouldn’t accept the blame.
 Despite this, a few people felt it was their place to placate me, to encourage me to move into a space that would fit with what they already ‘knew’. To make comments like, ‘Sometimes two of the nicest people just don’t gel.’
 I felt awful about the way I responded, but it needed to be said:

…it’s comments like that I don’t need…nice people don’t call their girlfriends fat. They don’t call their girlfriends cunts. They don’t complain about everything their girlfriends do. They don’t blame everything on their girlfriends.
 By suggesting that this is just two nice people failing to get along you are doing what he does: you are telling me I deserve some of the blame and you are saying that his behaviour towards both me and [his previous ex] was perfectly acceptable, and that’s not right.
 That attitude is why one woman a week dies at the hands of a current or former intimate partner in this country.
 It’s good that you’re not judging, but by not judging his behaviour as wrong, you are implicitly judging me as being deserving of those actions…

What many people don’t seem to understand is that true friends don’t shy away from issues like this. Or, to steal from a major Australian campaign against drink driving: mates don’t let mates abuse their partners.

True friends recognise that an abusive partner probably didn’t set out to be a bad person who hurts the people he claims to love. True friends believe the abuser probably doesn’t like that part of himself, and would want to change if only he could recognise his problem.
 So a true friend speaks up, and says, ‘Mate, you’re tops alright and I know you’d never want to hurt anyone. But there’s a bit of a pattern here, right? Something’s going wrong in your relationships if these women think you’re hurting them. Maybe we can do something about that. Maybe we can talk to someone who can help you understand why these women might feel like that, so you can avoid it in future.’
 Note that this approach has no prerequisites other than genuine concern about both parties involved. You don’t need to take sides. You don’t need to believe his actions were deliberately or even unintentionally abusive. You just need to believe that his partner has genuinely been hurt by his actions, and that if he’s a good person he won’t want that. (And if you don’t believe that, why do you even want to be his friend?)
 Could you be that true friend? Could you start that difficult conversation?
 I think some of you could, and right now I’m going to shout out to a close friend I greatly admire, who has just stated her commitment to speaking up: Mandy-Lee Noble. Mandy is a fierce thinker. She constantly seeks new knowledge, questions the validity of the assumptions underpinning her world view. You may have seen her comment on Facebook or Google Plus:

Tamyka, I think this a brave post. We need to ask ourselves who we are trying to comfort when we trivialise mistreatment and then place it in the context of the positive aspects of the abusive person.

Wow. In just a few lines, she’s not only nailed my point but completely hammered it home. But offline, she said so much more:

…it highlights a silent but strong sexism…If a woman is being mistreated it is because of something she did. I hear this all the time. 
When setting expectations about behaviour within an intimate partner relationship, the woman is expected to consider the man’s entire life experience and how it may affect his behaviour, and the woman is also expected to consider how her behaviour may affect him. The reverse does not apply. It is everywhere and insidious: ‘She must have done something to warrant it’ or ‘but I know him to be such a nice guy’… 
I do not know the circle of friends who are directly involved with the post, and yet I am aware of some of the details which are not nice but were told to me by people who continue to be in a friendship with the person in question…In the past I have seen people treat others badly and continued my relationship with them because they were not treating me badly. 
In future I will be speaking up.

And that is the greatest thing any of you can do to help me. As I said earlier, I understand this is an uncomfortable subject. But if you feel brave enough (and safe enough) to make a comment publicly on FB or on the blog post itself, or share this post somewhere that others can see it, I would greatly appreciate your contribution to breaking the taboo.

Originally published at on April 13, 2015.

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