My new novel, Bad Romance, is highly autobiographical—though much of the story itself has been changed in order to respect people’s privacy and to allow the book to belong to my characters. One of the most difficult parts of writing the book was delving into the home life I had as a teen. Even then, I knew that part of my inability to get out of this horribly abusive relationship with my boyfriend was a direct result of the toxicity in my family.
Like me, Grace—my main character—has a difficult home life. Her dad has peaced-out and lives in a different state (drugs, alcohol, PTSD, lies, homelessness, and more), and her mom is married to a man Grace refers to as “the Giant.” He is very fee-fi-fo-fum, a man who hates women and makes no effort to hide that fact. Her home life is anything but happy, and it isn’t always safe, either. When Gavin—hot, charming, enigmatic—comes onto the scene, he’s a breath of fresh air. Finally someone is giving her the love she craves, the attention she deserves. When his jealousy turns extreme and he begins controlling and manipulating her, Grace feels like she doesn’t really have anyone to turn to.
One of the things I tried to show in the book is how much harder it is to get out of a bad romance when home is somewhere you want to escape. If you don’t have healthy relationships being modeled at home, how are you supposed to know what’s right and wrong in your own relationship? When the authority figures at home treat you like crap, is it any surprise that you let your boyfriend treat you that way too?
When I was in my bad romance for two years during high school, I wish my family and our home could have been a refuge. I wish I’d had a mom that would recognize the signs of a girl who’s being abused, controlled, and manipulated by her boyfriend. I wish we would have had more heart-to-hearts so that there would have been an opportunity for me to tell her what was going on. I wish I’d had a dad with a shotgun who wanted to protect me and who put the fear of God in my boyfriend. But I didn’t have that. I truly believe that one of the biggest reasons I stayed in that relationship was because I needed an escape. At home, there was smacking and yelling and name-calling, undiagnosed mental illness, and an endless list of chores and put-downs. There was so much tension that I could physically feel it fall onto me as I walked through the front door. I hated being home. I didn’t feel loved or valued there: I felt like I was in the way, a disappointing servant. It wasn’t all bad, of course, but I would see what home was like for my friends and it was like they were living on an entirely different planet. I was terrified of my mom and step-dad and the treatment I received at home made anything else seem preferable.
I was the perfect target for my boyfriend: low self-esteem that allowed him to control how I viewed myself, easily manipulated because I was starving for love and affection, and willing to put up with his bullshit because I had nowhere to run and putting up with a man’s bullshit is something I’d seen modeled at home, again and again, by my mom—who, later, I came to realize, had a lot in common with battered wives. I was lucky, though, in that I had amazing friends and a few adults in my life who provided endless support. It was through their cheerleading and the strength they leant me that I was finally able to get out of my bad romance. I wrote this book because there are so many teens out there who will only know they’re in an unhealthy relationship if they’re able to see one just like theirs, firsthand. I know many of my readers will see themselves in Grace. I hope they’ll be inspired by her journey out of the darkness and begin to see that they’re not alone—not at all.
One in three teens is affected by teen dating violence. My hope is that by telling our stories and being open about what’s happening, and owning our histories, that we’ll be able to strengthen the girls (and guys) that need our help. I’ve created a tumblr page for the book that has tons of resources, quizzes, inspiration and more. Even though I wish Grace and I had a kickass family, the truth is that many people in these relationships do have good families. Love is crazy-making and intense and overwhelming and it can be so hard to see outside it. I’m hoping that anyone in a bad romance can connect with this book and see that it’s possible to have a happy ending—it just might not be the one you imagined.
(image: Shutterstock/Yupa Watchanakit)
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