Over the past three years, I watched my best friend fall in and out of love.
Now, let me tell you a little about us. We have grown up together, side by side, for 10 years. Today, we are living in different cities, so when I open my eyes, the first thing I do is send a quick message to say “hello.” She is funny, weird and brave. She helps me in my futile attempts to pass as an adult in New York, taking me shopping for “work clothes” and encouraging me to cut my hair. My best friend, she knows her mind. She always has an astute opinion and is strikingly honest. We can spend hours on the sofa, just bickering and giggling. The last 10 years are a shoebox of memories filled with UK grime dance routines, chocolate-cereal cupcakes and disturbing faces made across the classroom. For real, I love her as a sister. Yet, watching her fall out of love was one of the happiest times of my life.
If she tried to leave him, he warned, “I’ll never love again”. He couldn’t imagine a life without her.
But, is that really love?
Because it can’t be love when you are silenced. Yesterday, my best friend and I, we stood up so tall, our opinions strong. Now, we’ve learned to hide our thoughts for fear of repercussion. How many nights spent on the phone with no words – just tears and caught breath. It’s not love when you manipulate. My friend – she used to be so funny and brave. Now, she is lost in confusion because her insecurities were played to bring us down. What we believed was true love was betrayed by the infliction of pain, whether mentally, emotionally or physically. I’ve never been so scared for my friend. I’ve never felt so angry.
I knew this could not be love. It’s not love.
Luckily, I got my girl back. She fell out of love. Last summer, she looked across the glittering skyline and said, “I feel so free again.” As a friend, I can breathe a sigh of relief. However, many women are not so lucky. Many women remain feeling trapped in abusive relationships, and things only get worse.
I want this to change.
Across England and Wales alone where I’m from, two women die every week due to domestic violence. When I tell some of my peers this statistic, they often look surprised; barely anyone that I know talks openly about this hidden epidemic. Severe violence against women is seen as something that happens “elsewhere,” yet this problem continues unabated in our own neighborhoods.
My concern for the issue of domestic violence increased after watching Murdered by My Boyfriend on BBC Three. This fact-based drama tells the tale of “Ashley Jones” (name changed), a 17-year-old who falls in love with a young man named “Reece.” In subtle ways he grows controlling, mentally abusive and physically violent. One evening Ashley dances in her living room. Reece is outside, banging on the window and screaming her name. For a moment, she is so alone and so free. The music is loud, her bruises are fading, her daughter is sleeping, safe upstairs. And so she dances. He calls her name. He screams his way back into her life. She was murdered at 21.
I think of Ashley, and I cry. I think about girls and women just like her: my friends, my cousins, myself. I think of all the girls who experience violence around the world.
I want this to change.
Somebody told me to hold onto what makes me angry. If used right, anger can be a great tool for creating change. So, I hold onto my tears, my anger and my frustrations. I know there is something I need to do. I want to tackle violence against women and girls and intimate partner violence early in schools. I met a woman who already runs preventative high school workshops, focused on reducing domestic violence in the UK. She asks her students to raise their hands if they think it is acceptable for their partner to “hit you if you cheat.” In many cases, she says, all the students raise their hands.
How does such violence in relationships become normalized among our youth?
In my school, I learned about algebra and photosynthesis, but I never learned about how to protect myself or my friends from the dangers of physical, emotional, verbal and sexual violence and abuse. We didn’t learn about relationships held together by force. The question of domestic violence was never discussed. We didn’t learn the early warning signals or how to notice the early stages of control and manipulation.
I want to help foster a “new normal” in love. I want Ashley to dance in circles and feel free forever. I want my best friend to fall in love again.
Mutual love. Real love. The kind of love I feel for her.
About the Author:
Rhianna Ilube is a 21-year old writer and student hailing from Richmond Upon Thames, Surrey, United Kingdom. She currently serves as the Youth Engagement Support Officer at Restless Development, a youth-led development agency focused on young people taking a leadership role in addressing the most urgent issues facing their countries and the world, and are supported fully by their governments, their communities, businesses and civil society institutions. Ilube is also the co-founder of OurStories, which is a space for people to share and discover books set in places around the world.