Dear Girl at Panera Bread,

by Maggie Sutton

Dear Girl at Panera Bread,

I was sitting at a booth, playing with my phone, waiting not so patiently for my fiancé to arrive. You see, he was running late, and I was hungry. I happened to glance up at you and your boyfriend talking at the drink station across from me. I’m assuming he was just your boyfriend – you both looked about high-school age – but it’s just a guess.
While your boyfriend was in the bathroom, you got a phone call from a friend. Something big must have happened, because you exclaimed, “No way! What are you going to do?” in the phone.
Then, your boyfriend came back from the bathroom.
And he started cussing….
… Cussing at you.
“Can you not be so f*ckin’ loud? I can hear you all the way in the f*ckin’ bathroom! You are so f*ckin’ embarrassing – we’re in a God damn restaurant for Christ’s sake!”
And… he wasn’t finished yet.
“And another thing, what the hell are you doing talking on the phone when you’re out on a date with me? When you’re with me, you’re supposed to be ONLY with me…”
Sitting there, observing this exchange, took me back to a place I don’t necessarily like to go, nearly a decade ago now. It’s a story that I don’t much like to tell, but if it will help someone like you, then I’ll tell it.
Dear Girl at Panera Bread… I was once you.
Yep. I recognize that look on your face. A look mixed with shock and horror, but not of surprise. Looking around the room, panicking, hoping no one can hear this – when you know that, of course, everyone can. Trying to be calm, trying not to make it worse - “Would you just chill out, ok? I’m sorry…”
Everyone in the room is wondering why you’re with someone who will treat you like that, especially in public. But I know that there are a million reasons.
Maybe he’s your first big crush. At 16, it’s so hard to see anything beyond what’s happening right now. All you wanted was the high school experience like you’ve seen on T.V. – first kisses, first dances, having fun – you wanted to be a part of it all.
But, I’m willing to bet; there’s more to it than that.
Maybe everything was fine, at first. Then, something happened. Something terrible, that neither of you could control. His behavior changed. He grew mean and angry at the world – angry with you, because that’s easier than fighting his own demons. And now, you’re trying to hang on to what’s left. Maybe you’re afraid that you’re the only thing that keeps him from falling apart.
Dear Girl at Panera Bread... It may not be his fault, but it’s not yours either. You cannot save him if he drowns you, too.
Dear Girl at Panera Bread, it doesn’t matter if he’s never hit you.
I used to say, “Well he would never hurt me.” I felt exempt because my bruises were invisible to the eye. The damage is being done to your soul every single day – isolation, humiliation, breaking you down to nothing – it’s only a matter of time before you deteriorate completely.
Dear Girl at Panera Bread - You have to get out.
There are people that will help you. Your friends, teachers, high school administrators, church, community, and family – they may not say anything, but they all see it too. It doesn’t matter how isolated you have become. All you have to do is ask, and they will be there.
Everyone has their breaking point when they’ve finally had enough. I got lucky – I hit mine before it was too late.
Dear Girl at Panera Bread, in spite of everything he’s done, leaving will be hard.
You will have good days, and you will have bad days. Maybe you find it’s hard to let other people in again. Maybe it’s the opposite – you find yourself going from relationship to relationship, trying to temporarily fill the hole in your soul. Maybe you find you’re afraid that if you aren’t “taken,” he’ll talk you into coming back. Guard your heart. Be strong. Surround yourself with good people who love you, and care about you. It will get better.
You will learn that there are thousands of us out there – women and men of all ages who have been through this, like you and me. You’ll find support systems and networks. It doesn’t matter what kind of Hell you’ve been through – it’s all Hell. You’ll be surprised to find as many people you can relate to as you do. You’ll strengthen with each new hand you grasp.
And one day, perhaps years from now, you’ll be strong enough for the day that he comes to you.
A changed man, who’s found God, reformed in such a powerful way that only the blood of Christ can accomplish. He’s sorry – for real this time - he knows he was wrong. He’s so glad you found a man who could love you the way he wanted to, but couldn’t. That was the old person he used to be – he has been born again. It’s not fair to continue shutting him out – you were once so close. All he wants is to be friends - Can’t you at least just be friends? Isn’t that what Jesus would do?

Student Affairs - the First Years

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