NORFOLK, Va. - For nearly seven months, Old Dominion University senior Mary O'Brien kept silent about the end of the only relationship she'd ever had. Despite her parents' coaxing and roommates' encouragement to speak, the psychology major was determined to keep the status of her relationship to herself.
But sometimes, silence hurt too much. Sometimes, a person just needs to speak, no matter how shameful it might be so to do.
After all, that relationship - the first and what she'd certainly thought was her last, lasted nearly eight years. After all, for all her money, she'd thought it was the perfect relationship. She was wrong.
Breaking her silence last week, O'Brien spoke of her relationship with Jesus, its abusive nature and how she hopes that in speaking out, she'd encourage other women to do the same.
"I realized that I wasn't alone," said O'Brien. "If I was a victim, I knew that others were too. I wanted them to know that it was okay."
Her story, O'Brien said, started at a very young age, in which family members - who considered themselves close friends of Jesus, introduced them.
"I was about 3 years old at the time," she said. "He just came into my life and provided the love and comfort that not even my mother or father could."
But the relationship didn't start there. In fact, so careful were her parents of her potential commitment to him that they encouraged her to wait - and wait she did.
But a girl could only wait for so long. At 14, on a particularly hot summer night, O'Brien decided to give herself to Jesus.
"He'd been there for me for so long," she said. "In my heart of hearts, I thought it was time I gave myself and my life to him."
So, that's how the relationship got started. At first, it was like falling; it was like flying. It was, in her words, "magical."
And that's not to mention the morning after, when she woke up with a feeling of total bliss, knowing that he'd always be there for her and was always just a kneel and prayer away.
"It was amazing," she said. "I was glowing with excitement, and the relationship I was in."
They'd talk every night - in fact, she did most of the talking and he simply listened. Whatever went on in her 14-year-old mind was poured out to him, and he was there, always listening and, according to O'Brien, he sometimes talked back.
For four years in high school, she was consumed by the relationship. He was everywhere she was. He had the answers to all her questions. She would sing songs about him, and shared with her friends the "awesomeness" of his character.
While other friends busied themselves with Friday-night charades, she spent time with Jesus. To his credit, she said, he was the one thing that kept her out of trouble.
But keeping an innocent 14-year-old out of trouble is one task; keeping a college student from questioning herself is another.
It all started her freshman year in college, O'Brien said, on a particularly rough day when she was faced with decisions about drugs, sex, and alcohol.
"I knew these issues weren't unique," she said. "Every freshman had to deal with them. But I wanted to talk to him."
She spoke - and spoke some more. The conversation continued for a week. To her surprise, he never answered. It seemed, O'Brien said, at her most vulnerable moment, he was never there.
"I was a mess," she said. "There were questions I wanted answers to, but he never answered. I talked my head off."
It seemed, O'Brien said, he was too busy appearing on tortillas in Mexico.
"I was watching the news, and saw that he'd made an appearance in a village in Mexico," she said. "Apparently, a tortilla was more important than I was."
That was when she began questioning the relationship. Was it, she wondered, worth her time and effort to be with someone who never gave her the time of day.
Previously, it wasn't so important to her. But now, it was. While classmates were dating accomplished upperclassmen and fraternity members, she was dating a carpenter. It didn't matter at first.
It didn't matter that he never cut his hair, hung out with prostitutes, or had a penchant to turn anything he saw into wine - a sure sign of an alcoholic. It didn't matter, either, that he had no formal education or broke many of his promises - she was dangerously and "stupidly," in love, she said.
But she was beginning to question him.
"The one thing that stood out for me is that I was never treated as an equal," she said.
"He was always the authority figure in the relationship - I was always the child."
ODU's relationship expert and outspoken Jesus critic, Andrew Beck said like others with whom he's spoken, O'Brien's case is not an unusual one.
"Mary is a classic case of a relationship with Jesus," Beck said. "All the victims I've spoken with seem to detail the same story.
"In an ideal relationship, you're supposed to learn from one another and give and take. It didn't happen here. He was always the "expert" on everything, whereas whatever she thought was true, was always rebutted by him."
Furthermore, he seemed secretive. Whenever she questioned his actions, the answer was always the same: he worked in mysterious ways, and she wouldn't understand, so don't question.
"A relationship is supposed to be built on trust," O'Brien said. "How could I trust him when the answer to everything was that I was too stupid to understand?"
Eventually, O'Brien left. It wasn't an easy decision. She didn't want to, she said.
"It was one of the toughest decisions I faced in my life," she said. "It was either continue to have a relationship with an egotistical loser, or move on and find something for compatible."
She chose the latter, and he didn't care.
Unlike other break-ups, there were no promises to be "just friends," and he never dropped by to get his stuff back - probably because in their 8-year relationship, he never bought her anything.
"I never heard from him again."
Just was it was hard to break off the relationship, it was also hard to tell her parents about the break-up.
"I didn't want to tell them at first," she said. "They thought it was the perfect relationship. But they didn't really see the real Jesus."
When asked about the status of their relationship, she would simply say it's her personal relationship, and avoided talking about it.
One night at dinner, however, after being asked to say grace, O'Brien broke down.
"I just couldn't fake it anymore," she said. "So, I told them."
At first, her parents wanted to send her to a relationship counselor - their pastor. They then blamed her association with "college boys" as a reason for the break-up. Eventually, they gave up.
To her parents delight, however, her younger sister, 16-year-old Sara, is now in a relationship with Jesus.
"I would warn her," O'Brien said. "But she seems so happy."
Like other relationships, she said, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. No amount of warning is going to make a difference.
"When you're in a relationship, you suffer from tunnel vision," she said. "Nothing that other person does can be wrong."
Because of that, O'Brien said she'll let Sara "make her own mistake."
"I love her, but the only way she can learn and grow as a person is to make her own mistakes," she said. "But I'll always be here for her when she needs me."
As for Jesus, O'Brien said while she no longer loves him, she has no hatred for him either.
"What's over is over," she said. "I have no feelings for him either way. As far as I am concerned, he's dead."