The Power of Female Friendships

In the fall of my 18th year I made two life-changing decisions:  To marry my dysfunctional boyfriend and  join the Air Force.   I can’t even explain or rationalize my decision to get married to such an abusive, controlling person except to say I let myself be swept along with his wants.  The same with joining the military.  He thought it was a good idea for both of us to join, and I went along with it.   Looking back at my 18 year old self now, I hardly recognize her.  Who was this passive child-woman that allowed herself to be isolated from family and friends and controlled by an angry and suspicious boy who took out his anger on me with his fists? 

Relationship abuse was not openly or frequently discussed when I was in my teens.  There were no battered women’s shelters or hotlines to turn to, and admitting my ugly secret to anyone was out of the question.   By my junior year I’d abandoned my previous close relationships with my high school girlfriends in order to devote time and attention to my steady boyfriends and their needs.   At the end of my junior year, my parents sold our house and moved the family 50 miles away.  This meant that I was to leave the town I’d always lived in and the schools I’d always gone to, and start my senior year in a completely different school.  I don’t think my parents understood the impact this decision was to have on me – a normally shy person who didn’t make friends easily.   It also did not sit well with my boyfriend, who had not yet begun physically abusing me, but was exercising various forms of emotional control.   Shortly after the start of the school year, at my boyfriend’s urging, I ran away from home and went to live with him and his father.

To my parent’s credit, they didn’t force me to move back home and the restraint this took was not apparent to me until many years later.  My father, a firm believer in raising independent children, signed the emancipation papers so I could reenroll in my old school and finish my high school education.   In other words, my parents let me make my own mistakes, knowing that trying to prohibit me from leaving would be worse than trying to keep me home.  To this day, I have a great respect for my parents for the way they handled that situation.

So there I was, a teenage girl living with my boyfriend and finishing high school.  To say I had little in common with my girlfriends by then is an understatement, so when the physical abuse started I really had nowhere to turn.   When he blamed me for making him angry, I believed it.  When he insisted we get married, I agreed.  When he decided we should join the Air Force, I signed the papers.  

So in September of the year we graduated, we got married and he left for boot camp in San Antonio.  I followed 2 months later, and in those two months I noticed something different about myself.  I felt relaxed.  Even better, I began to feel the beginnings of happiness blooming inside of me. Being separated from my now-husband underscored the huge amount of control I’d been subjected to.  What on earth was I going to do now?

Boot camp was my first taste ever of female camaradarie.  Instead of hating basic training, I found it comforting and safe.   It was the first time I’d worked together as a team with other women, and I listened to them as they talked about their relationships with men – good men and bad men, understanding boyfriends and abusive bastards like my husband.  I realized for the first time that I didn’t have to settle for poor treatment.  That I deserved better.  I never admitted what I was going through, but I kept my ears open and learned. 

In the meantime, he had finished boot camp and was at training school in northern Texas.  But things were not going well for him – his anger and poor attitude were rearing their ugly heads again.   When my boot camp was over, I received orders to report directly to a base in Austin, just 70 miles up the road.  I moved into the female barracks (barracks were not coed back in 1975), and again found myself surrounded by women.  On weekends, my husband made the several-mile trip down to see me and we’d shack up in a motel.  Things had gone fairly smoothly between us for a few weeks, but it was not to last.  The inability to control my day to day life and the knowledge that I was making new friendships began to irritate, then enrage him.  During our final weekend together, he convinced himself I was sleeping with other men and proceeded to beat me until one of my eyes was blackened and my face was swollen.   The following day was Sunday.  I allowed him to apologize – standard procedure – and the apology was profuse.  I let him believe I still loved him – to do otherwise would only prolong his stay and I needed for him to leave so I could do what needed to be done.     He took me back to the barracks.  The next day I filed for a divorce. 

I’m telling this story because it emcompasses so many typical aspects of abuse.  But more importantly, it’s a story about camaradarie.  My first experience with the power of female friendships was literally life-changing and quite possibly lifesaving. The support and friendship I received from other women is what gave me the courage and the self-esteem to assert myself.  Without them, I would have been lost for a very long time. 

Over the years I’ve come to rely on my female friendships for many things – but most importantly for sanctuary.  Through the sharing of ourselves, we lift each other up.  When one of us cries, the others offer hugs and understanding.  When one of us rejoices we all celebrate with her.  The truly amazing thing is that this is true even in our blogging world, and I see it happen every day.   So thank you – my friends, my solace, my sisters.  I love you all!


19 Responses to “The Power of Female Friendships”

  1. 1 Deb September 30, 2007 at 6:19 am

    That was a really moving story. There are so many stories like this about the power of women joining together, it is sad that we don’t do it more often. I’m so glad to have met you in the blogosphere! 🙂

    It’s a wonderful thing when women can join together to support each other – instead of the cliquishness & competitveness that seem to rule the typical teenage female groups.

  2. 2 writerchick September 30, 2007 at 11:05 am

    What an amazing story, Karen. Thank God, that your path led you to those women and their friendships. I’m sure you are right, it saved your life.

    Abusive men are cowards and villains but sometimes so hard to spot and easy to believe, especially when we are young.

    I am happy that you got out of that mess early enough in your life to find a new and happier one.

    I love you too, honey. Rock on, sistah!

    Sadly, I had to have a repeat of this lesson 10 years later, so I had not one but two bad marriages. I was supposed to be writing about my military experience, but that experience – for me- was about learning how to make a network of friends. It was about growing up and finding my way in the adult world with a group of people who were experiencing the same things, all of us so far from our homes. It was the exact right thing for me at the exact right time and I was so lucky to have had it all turn out that way! It’s been a long, long journey through this life of mine…sometimes I’m amazed I made it this far – but I’m glad I did!

  3. 3 Doktor Holocaust September 30, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    I’m glad you were able to ditch the toxic hubby. Pa Holocaust was in the Air Force for 24 years, and while he could yell like any father of a teenage son should be able to (with sufficient force to set off car alarms across the street, in other words) he wasn’t violent and did a splendiforous job (with the help of Ma Holocaust, resident queen of the undead and evil mastermind) raising a fully functioning if somewhat goofy son, and doing a similarly good job with my kid sister, as I understand.

    as a Doktor, I concur thatr supportive friends are the best thing to have around at times like that, as they can provide courage and assurance and sufficient mutagenic substances to foster the growth of a backbone and some chitinous foot-carapaces that were indeed made for walkin’.

    ‘…and sufficient mutagenic substances to foster the growth of a backbone and some chitinous foot-carapaces that were indeed made for walkin’.’ That sentence alone is worth the price of admission, folks! Ma & Pa Holocaust did indeed raise a fully functioning if somewhat goofy son indeed! And we salute you!

  4. 4 Doktor Holocaust September 30, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    side note: all my good supportive friends are women. i can’t even recall the last time I had a male friend.

    Well, we ARE pretty supportive. I only know a few men that are willing to have deep, meaningful conversations – most are unable to verbalize their feelings with any depth. And that’s not a criticism, just an observation.

  5. 5 Red September 30, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    *sniff* Not many entries make me boohooo, but this one did. Only because I see myself in it. I see my mother in it. And I hate that you had to go through it. You’re too good of a person to be treated that way.
    Thank you for sharing it. It needed to come out, even though it’s sad and a bit disturbing, and quite frankly, ugly. He was nothing but an ugly, pathetic bastid but in a way, HE also made you stronger. The women, yes, seem to have made the shift inside of you, but being with him made you a stronger woman yourself. I believe that. I’m so glad to know you got out, you made it out in one piece. I’m fortunate to know you .. sistah friend.

    I read your story about your sister yesterday. I couldn’t comment – not ready yet….I know you understand. This guy was evil in so many ways. I had nightmares about him for years.

  6. 6 Grace September 30, 2007 at 11:33 pm

    ((( OB ))) Your bravery and strength of spirit are so inspiring! What a journey you’ve been on! Thank you so much for sharing your story. While I’ve never been physically abused, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for 2 years – the one I ended in March. Isolating is one of the MOs of an abuser. They don’t have any ‘real’ friends, and they don’t want their victim to, either. They are afraid of what will happen if word gets out. What a blessing that you found such faithful women friends! My girlfriends are the Gorilla Glue of my life! 🙂

    On a side note, I totally get the impact that your move made on you. My folks moved just as I was graduating from elementary school – I spent the last 6 months at a new school with new kids before entering Junior High. It had a very significant effect on me…one that took years to work through.

    Great post 🙂

    That move was a defining point in my life. My parents didnt’ exactly know what was happening to me, but they had an inkling. We’ve never discussed it. I’ve never talked about it with any family members – but I went in and removed every photograph of him from the family photo albumns. That probably spoke volumes.

  7. 7 AnthonyNorth October 1, 2007 at 3:32 am

    Hi OB,
    Yes, isolation is the main tool of the abusive partner; and the comaraderie of friends or, if lucky, family, to save you.
    It won’t be any consolation, but the usual process, as I understand it, is that these saddos fuel their self-esteem by their control. Hence, when the wife has had enough and turns, they usually crack up.
    I suppose you can call it revenge.

    After I filed for divorce, he made a pathetic suicide attempt on his base, was hospitalized, then discharged with a mental discharge. Yes, he cracked up.
    I think I’m going to go ahead and write some more about my military experience and my liberation from control – where I swung in the complete opposite direction in my hasty 2nd marriage (noone can say I don’t believe in marriage! I did it enough times…)

  8. 8 V- October 1, 2007 at 6:34 am

    I’m so sorry that you had to go through such a terrible ordeal, but I’m so proud of you that you were able to escape it. I know the female camaradarie was very comforting and empowering, but don’t let it overshadow the fact that YOU had the strength and the brains to get out of the situation. You are an amazing and strong women. I admire you more than you know. The fact that you are sharing your very personal story is a testament to your bravery. Love you!

    Aw, love you too, cuz! I don’t know, I kept screwing up all kinds of relationships after that one too. Seems there were many, many lessons I needed to learn…probably still are.

  9. 9 anonymum October 1, 2007 at 6:43 am

    you know my thoughts on this type of “man” 🙄
    the little community we have happening from one side of the world to the other is a great little one to be in…distance means little when you have people like these…
    my hat is off to you for this story karen…it shows your true strength, in more ways than one

    You know how it is when you start out to write about one thing and it ends up being about something else? I try not to think about him at all, but here he was – the main subject! It’s hard to explain how I ended up in the military without talking about him, because that part of my story will always be linked to him. Really pisses me off!

  10. 10 pradapixie October 1, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    I know that the last 5 months of my life has been made bearable through blogging. Which I just do not have the words to express my gratitude.
    Other than through love, it is an odd type of reality, but i know where you are coming from. And you have my love back

    That experience was the first time I forged a group of relationships all at once – a social growth spurt. The blogging experience has been another. Quite remarkable!

  11. 11 joebec October 1, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    dammit Girl! i hate when i cry over one of my girls being hurt in ANY kind of way. we have shared alot with each other and i’m so very thankful for you! i’m sorry that you had to go through what you did but i’m very glad that it made you stronger, better and who you are today.

    hugs for you!

    Thanks sweetie! It’s been a long, long life so far – with lots of fun and lots and lots of tears – but it just keeps getting better all the time.

  12. 12 Doktor Holocaust October 1, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    salute, eh? can I get some jackbooted storm troopers? I wanna start my anarchogoofball-fascist dictatorship.

    as a man, i can say that while I am happy to discuss my feelings, most of them don’t require an in-depth discussion to convey. some of them need no more than a brief burst of obscenity (like frustration, irritation, or falling victim to my own stupidity) while others are better conveyed through performance art (like sleepiness, contempt for all human life, or lackadaisicality)

    Ha! So true for many of us. I have a vivid recollection of breaking my toe whilst kicking a door in frustration. Hurt like hell.

  13. 13 enreal October 2, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    It is amazing how much the human spirit can withstand. As I read your story I was inspired and amazed at the amount of courage eminating from your words. You seem to be one of the angles sent to help guide others along the way.

    Thank You, Namaste

    Thank you for your beautiful words, enreal! It certainly took a lot of years to get to this point, let me tell you. Thanks for stopping by, sweetie!

  14. 14 abarclay12 October 2, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    Wow. Crazy, honest story. I would never have imagined you were in any sort of an abusive relationship. You always seem strong, confident, and so funny. I’m glad you wrote part of your story for your readers. I totally appreciate it. And you’re right about the power of female friendship. There’s nothing like it.

    I guess it took a lot of crying to develop this wacky sense of humor!

  15. 15 Doktor Holocaust October 2, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    a lot of it may also be cultural beyond gender-stereotypes. I grew up in a house where feelings weren’t expressed, hung out with friends who regarded any actual expression of emotion other than fondness for one’s significant other (and only rarely, then) as a sign of mental illness, and eventually weaseled my way into a cubicle job where the expectation is to be a smiling emotionless drone.

    Of course, they’re so used to BELIEVING in fake smiles that they don’t notice the beatific smile of the daydreamer or the impish grin of the mischief-maker. they just know I’m smiling and don’t ask any other questions.

    I worked in a place like that once – everybody so straight and narrow-minded and definitely NO LAUGHING! I used to pretend I was a character in a TV show just to get through the day. Those people freaked me out.

  16. 16 Doktor Holocaust October 2, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    I giggle a lot. I have a cochort in mischief who lies to throw things at people, make wisecracks, etc. we had a paper airplane war going for a while.

  17. 17 Bella October 3, 2007 at 12:50 am

    How insightful of your parents; that was the only way they could help you. I see it first hand, someone asks for your advice, you give it and they do the opposite. Nobody likes to be told what to do (especially a high schooler). I myself, hate HATE hate being told what to do! I will usually rebel and do the opposite. My bad. The airforce, how exciting, and a little scary I bet but it sounds like it saved your life; these amazing women that you met! I’m so glad you didn’t let his abuse contine for years and years and years… usually abuse goes on for what seems like forever but you had the perfect intervention. I’m really glad you were able to ditch this guy! So glad for you!

  18. 18 RubyShooZ October 3, 2007 at 9:15 am

    Thanks for sharing about this Karen. I’ve always wanted to be part of a womens group of some kind but never have fit in – even in this online thing I find myself on the outside and I guess I just never will fit in. I really do long for a bunch of womenfolk I could call friends. It’s nice to know it works for some folks and I’m always amazed when I hear about it.

    I appreciate this, thanks OB.


    ~ RS ~

    Thanks Ruby! You know, you ARE a part of this wonderful group of blogging women, kiddo. And I think you fit in just fine; what would we do without our RubyShooz, huh? It would not be the same without you, sweetie…

  19. 19 curiousc October 4, 2007 at 6:58 am

    Yes, amazing post. Thank you.

    Thanks, you!

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