I have realized how the trauma of domestic violence has affected my dating life. I am now actively learning how to heal and how to be intentional about creating a healthy partnership. In efforts of learning how to better communicate, affirm, and validate myself, I wrote this letter to a man I am starting to date.

Dear prospective novio,

I have moments of disbelief in which I feel lucky to have found you, someone so attentive, sweet, and understanding. Where I feel lucky I found a man who does not pressure me, who does not try to tell me what to do, who makes me feel pretty and wanted. I have been hesitant to commit to a romantic relationship with a cis-hetero man because I grew up with domestic violence. Men have made me feel trapped, angry, and scared.

What does dating look like when you have grown up with domestic violence? It looks like forgetting my worth and questioning if I deserve you and this loving treatment. It looks like having angry outbursts and expecting to receive angry outbursts. It looks like subconsciously gravitating towards what feels familiar. This means that sometimes abuse has felt like home. I have been with men who have coerced me, who have repeatedly put me down, who have prioritized their pleasure over mine, who have dismissed me, who have attempted to silence and control me, who have threatened me. Despite the fact that I am rebellious, intelligent, feminist, and chingona, I am not immune to being pulled into these situations. I am also not any less of that for falling into abusive relationships.

Unlearning abuse is a long process. I have worked so hard to rid myself of toxic environments, to be a better person, and not settle for less than what I deserve. This is me reminding myself that I am not “lucky” to have you. I am deserving. I deserve to feel supported, heard, and respected. I deserve to feel free, loved, and appreciated. I will consider your feelings, respect you, be faithful, show you love, and support you. I will not ask you permission for anything. I will not be submissive. You will not control me. I will not exist in relation to you. I will remain opinionated, independent, and vocal.

I vowed I would never be in a relationship like the one of my parents. I am not expecting you to be perfect. I am expecting a willingness to understand and communicate. I am expecting freedom from violence and control. I want to grow into a better person with you. I want to learn how to develop a healthy relationship in partnership. One that is nourishing, exciting, and liberating. Tell me, what do you need to feel free? What do you need to feel whole?

Rocio Z., our essay contributor is a smart and rebellious brown womxn who cherishes education. She is committed to uplifting her community and determined to thrive in a world where she was never meant to survive.