I’m sad to say that during the course of my university experience so far, I’ve known many of my friends to be trapped in unhealthy relationships without them even knowing it. The first time I realized that I was a witness to an unhealthy relationship happened in my first year. To this day it is one of those things that keeps me up at night, how a sweet and innocent girl could end up in such a mess.
The closest friend that I made in first year lived in the same residence as me. Sophia* and I met over breakfast one day and we just clicked. We had similar majors, similar interests, similar goals, and a shared sense of sarcastic humour. We were the type of students who needed more than just classes to occupy our time, and so we joined a student leadership organization that operated in our residence hall.
Things were great with us for a while, we were practically inseparable since we shared all our core science courses and we both played major roles in our residence hall council. Her high school boyfriend, Aaron*, would occasionally travel to Guelph to visit her, and he made the effort to get to know me because he could see how close Sophia and I were.
I, of course, was always there to listen to her when she needed to talk about how it was growing difficult to maintain her relationship with her high school boyfriend due to the physical distance between them. They had been each other’s first serious relationships, so there was a sense that Sophia wanted more than to just end up with her high school sweetheart.
The start of second semester is when everything changed, and it was definitely for the worst. Sophia and I met Simon*. Simon was on the council of a different residence hall, and so Sophia and I would interact with him frequently through residence hall council activities.
In the beginning, Simon was great. He was funny, charming, and he had a connection with Sophia that was undeniable. I was rooting for him at this point because from what Sophia told me, Simon clearly understood her in ways Aaron would never. Ultimately, Sophia broke up with Aaron; and a part of the breakup can be attributed to increasing pressure from Simon for Sophia to be with him.
As soon as Sophia was free of Aaron, Simon made his attack. In as little as a few weeks, Sophia was wrapped around his finger. Her entire day would revolve around what Simon was doing. Before I realized it, she was skipping our classes to play video games in his dorm room all day and she would later email her TAs with every story under the sun for her absences to be excused. He would guilt trip her into paying for his meals because he didn’t have money left on his meal plan. She had to unfollow people on social media that Simon didn’t approve of (his explanation is that although he trusted Sophia, he didn’t trust those “other guys”).
My days would go back and forth between not seeing her at all or her knocking on my door and crying in my dorm room until 3am because they had another fight. At this point in time I was realizing that something was wrong. Love wasn’t supposed to be about constant fighting, jealousy, manipulation, and emotional abuse- and yet these were the major plot points of Sophia’s relationship with Simon.
As time went on, I saw less and less of her because she spent most of her days hanging out with him, while they both skipped their classes. She was completely under his spell, and her life was a mess for it. She’d catch him texting other girls, and she’d swear up and down that she was done with him, but she kept going back.
Myself and her other friends tried to hold friend-terventions, but she ignored our constant barrage of warnings to cut him out for good. In the end, Simon had managed to isolate her from all her friends. Sophia and I went from being practically inseparable to merely waving at each other in the cafeteria. Her goals, ambitions, and desires came second to those of Simon. She’d spend her day servicing him in any way she could.
Of course, this was extremely hard for me to watch, I had known her longer than Simon had and I knew that the way she acting wasn’t the Sophia that I met all those months ago. What was left for me to do? I had made myself the enemy in Simon’s eyes after I made it clear that I was anti-Simon, and so I assume he poisoned her thoughts against me. Sophia wouldn’t listen to anything bad I had to say about Simon. Simon had won, and the rest of us could see him for what he really was- an emotionally abusive boyfriend who preyed on Sophia’s innocence and desire to please.
Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. Simon and Sophia are still together, and we haven’t talked since first year. Whenever I see Sophia around campus she doesn’t make eye contact with me. Although this is a sad story about the loss of a friend, I learned a lot from this. I am no longer the naive girl I was in first year. I’d like to believe that not only did I learn a lot about how to spot unhealthy relationships, but I also got a very close look at the thoughts that are going through a victim’s mind when they are in a manipulative relationship. I’ve learned to look out for my friends and who they’re dating, because sometimes it takes an outsider to see whether a relationship is strong and healthy, or if it simply brings out the worst in both parties involved.
*names have been changed to protect the privacy of certain individuals