On boundaries, rules, and those Jonah Hill screenshots
Content warning: This story contains descriptions of emotional abuse.
I have this weird trigger. It’s one phrase, three words in a particular order, that sends my heart rate skyrocketing. The phrase is “of fucking course.” (Emphasis on the course, not the fucking.) It’s what my ex-boyfriend, J, used to say when I disappointed him. Maybe “disappointed” is the wrong word.
I disappointed J when I broke the rules he’d set for our relationship — which ran for about two years, from the end of high school into my sophomore year of college. Those rules included not wearing makeup, not wearing any “revealing” clothing, not hanging out alone with straight male or queer women friends, and not drinking, ever, among other things.
When he believed I’d broken the rules — wearing a tank top on a hot day, or adding a boy from my dorm on Facebook — he’d be furious. Obviously I didn’t love him. Obviously I didn’t think he wasn’t good enough for me. Of fucking course.
When those rules weren’t enough for him to feel secure, he wrote new ones. We had to talk on the phone every night for at least an hour. He wanted to know everything I’d done that day, everyone I’d seen. He brought me along to a session with his therapist, who made me hold J’s hands, look into his eyes, and promise I was never going to leave him. I was 19.
If I took too long to text back, he checked in over and over. It didn’t matter if I was in class, at rehearsal, asleep. Five minutes between texts. Two minutes between texts. One minute between texts. Phone call. Voicemail. Phone call. Voicemail.
“Of fucking course you won’t pick up. You’re probably cheating on me right now.”
There were other disappointments. I wouldn’t let him propose to me his freshman year of college. I took on summer internships instead of spending all my free time with him. I didn’t drop everything to drive to his house and have sex when his parents left for work.
Of fucking course.
I didn’t have an iPhone when J and I were together. It’s been more than a decade since we broke up, and there are no screenshots to turn to for an exact recollection of his words.