We’re all just people who do bad things.
This is a recurring theme of sensation Colleen Hoover’s series “It Ends With Us” — novels that focus on the life and loves of Lily Bloom. Lily is a survivor of domestic abuse and a representative of all those who’ve chosen the wrong people to spend their lives with.
Lily grew up in an abusive household and has firsthand experience with love gone wrong. Her parents’ relationship haunted her all her life, and until she met her ex-husband, she thought she would never forgive a man who mistreated her.
But fate had other plans, as she met Ryle Kincaid. A relationship that she thought was rainbows and roses deteriorates step-by-step throughout the novel. It begins with a laugh that gets Lily slapped in the face, followed by a push down the stairs and ends with attempted rape for a long-forgotten magnet on the fridge.
Ryle, a man with a painful past of his own, is the main antagonist of the story. A brilliant neurosurgeon on his way to a golden career, Ryle meets Lily on a rooftop in Boston — both strangers who just had hard days.
They grow closer over time, and as they finally start dating, Lily is the happiest she’s ever been. But one day, Ryle touches a hot pan with the hand he performs surgeries with, and a drunk Lily laughs at him. The next moment, she’s on the floor, her eye is stinging from falling on a door handle and Ryle says, “Goddamn it, Lily… This hand is my fucking career.”
That’s all it takes for Lily’s life to slide downhill. Lily knows that what he did is unforgivable, that history is repeating, but her love for Ryle and his gaslighting convinces her to believe that it was her fault. And when Ryle apologizes profusely, showing his regret and love, this belief strengthens.
Lily thinks to herself, 'Why did I laugh? Why wasn’t I concerned about his hand?' Then comes resolve: 'He wouldn’t do it ever again. Those 15 seconds were a nightmare, and it’s past us.' This cycle repeats throughout the book, even after Ryle pushes her down the stairs after discovering a note in her phone case with her ex-boyfriend Atlas Corrigan’s number for an emergency like this.
We’re all just people who do bad things.
Ryle lives by this belief, citing childhood trauma for whenever rage makes him black out and hurt others. To an extent, he’s right too. But what Lily saw in Ryle to fall in love with him does not excuse the things he’s done. Even if he’s not all bad, it does not give him permission to take his anger out on anyone, least of all Lily. Hoover is excellent at depicting Lily’s realization that she didn’t deserve any of it. Nothing she could have ever done could warrant what she’d been through, and no past trauma of his could ever excuse it. After spending the whole book excusing Ryle, trying to help him through his rage and covering for him, there comes a point where Lily sees that she is becoming her mother. She was letting Ryle get away with things that would stand against him in a court of law.
We are shown how difficult it is for Lily to come to this point: How her love for this man hinders her ability to perceive and acknowledge that Ryle was abusive. In part, this piece of her story also provides an answer to why people stay in these relationships.
Common answers to this question are that the victims are weak, they don’t know better or they don’t have enough courage. But Hoover, whose own mother was a victim, answers it with the words “hope” and “love.” Many people underestimate the power of love in relationships, even those that have been mangled beyond repair.
When we fall in love with someone, we choose to unsee their flaws. We tend to focus on what we love about them, and this may come back to bite us in ways we’re not prepared for. Even when we know this may happen again, our hope that it won’t, that the abuser’s apology is sincere carries the victim through the relationship.
Another answer is the lack of resources for battered women. Even now many survivors cannot get help and leave their partners because of lack of financial resources. Many have young kids and have been completely dependent on their spouses for money, isolating them even if they want to leave.
Lily’s marriage is a reality for millions. Abuse isn’t something that happens for big, dramatic and earth-shattering reasons. It is often for tiny things, like not washing the dishes, not calling your partner back or simply for laughing at the wrong time. It stems from a lack of respect and taking your partner for granted, assuming it’s okay to treat them however you’d like. Abuse is also a power play — a way to show the other person that you control resources like money, without which they’d never be able to escape you.
There have been many movies, books and TV shows that portray abuse accurately, like the TV show “Maid” — based on a memoir by Stephanie Land — and the movie “Darlings,” which both show the struggle the protagonists face as they fight to get away from abusive partners who control the financial resources at home. They also fight to get their self-respect and self-esteem back, another problem many victims face. Often, they think it’s their fault they’ve been abused, and that they deserve the treatment received. Society also encourages this thinking, often victim-blaming and siding with the abuser.
In the end, Lily finds a way to divorce Ryle, co-parent their child and still pursue a relationship with a man who’s good to her. In “It Starts With Us,” she manages to shake free of the pain and fear Ryle instilled in her, and reach for her own happiness. The duet depicts her story realistically from start to finish and gives the reader hope that no matter what struggles you face, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“It Ends With Us” and “It Starts With Us” are available in major bookstores, and “Maid” and “Darlings” are available to stream on Netflix.