My Story: The Consequences of Having Held Onto a Toxic Relationship

I was a freshman in college. Becoming emotionally attached to a boy wasn’t thought of, or even wanted. I had everything I needed: self sufficiency, independence, family and friends, and a great education.

 

On the night of my 18th birthday, I waited anxiously in my dorm hall lounge as my girlfriends tried to calm me down because that evening was going to be my first ever date. I knew little to nothing about flirting with men and spiralled into thoughts of whether I’d be boring, overly talkative, or too shy. But when he picked me up to take me out for frozen yogurt, we sat down at a school bench and spoke of everything and anything. We talked about our childhood, our families, our hopes, and silly things. When I returned to my dorm room after our date, I was unable to fall asleep. My waking life had suddenly become more magical than my dreams. While it may sound cliche, my spirit knew a new chapter had just begun and though I had no idea what to expect, I trusted in the excitement of it all.  

 

What followed were some of the most thrilling times of my life. I had never felt such joy and adventure in conversationally and emotionally unraveling another being. We’d speak of the pathways we had trekked before entering University. We’d speak of our plans to save the world, our fears, our secrets, our saddest and happiest moments. Our conversations were limitless, they knew no bounds. And despite having come from different walks of life, I felt a sense of having known him all along. He would continue to pursue me until I became his, falling deeply in love.

 

Shortly after that, he flipped the script - an unforeseen plot twist of suddenly displaying a lack of respect, consistency, and effort. He had morphed into everything he said he’d never be and everything I never wanted. I felt confused and hurt, and drove myself crazy questioning whether I had done something wrong or whether he had simply unearthed all there was to know about me. When I expressed such concerns, my worries were often dismissed or marked as overthinking. Though initially relieved, I knew things were taking a wrong turn when Valentine’s day rolled around. I was walked to the nearest seven-eleven where he bought me a card and a dollar bag of candy, to which I was then told I would grow fat. This incident marks just one of many red flags I dismissed.

 

While such treatment surprised me then, it soon became my new normal. I was told I was embarrassing to walk next to because of my choice of clothing. I was told I should lose weight, try new makeup styles, and be more flirtatious. At events that he would invite me to, I was never presented as his girl, or even really talked to by him. If he was hours late, it wasn’t him who wasted my time, the blame was mine for “choosing to sit and wait”. If I addressed his wrong doings or attempted to work through problems in our relationship, he would argue I was belittling his pride or he would apologize to pacify me, then claim I was ‘dragging’ issues on when I explained ‘sorrys’ didn’t equate to changed behavior. Throughout the relationship, I was under constant stress and anxiety, afraid that I would say or do something ‘wrong’ that would upset him.

 

I began to crave moments of appreciation and affection. In fact, I grew grateful for the times in which I was treated well. I was unable to recognize him as the person I had fallen in love with and as a young girl who had never experienced a relationship, I vainly believed - as many women do - that I would restore him and the joy he once felt towards me. To do so, I overcompensated my time, my body, and my patience, often entertaining his reasoning for disrespectful behavior. I myself would use his past traumas to justify emotionally deteriorating treatment and his lack of accountability. I started to confuse convenience with commitment, half-hearted attention with respect, and an over abundance of forgiveness with lack of self boundaries. I held onto expectations that led to dead ends and disappointments: my love for him was my perfect excuse. I allowed him to become both the individual who destroyed me and made me whole again.

 

Around me, I witnessed friends entering what appeared to be much healthier relationships filled with trust, sense of security, and respect. I didn’t want to admit to myself or others that the person I loved was no longer making me feel any of those ways. I wouldn’t reveal toxic aspects of my relationship to many people because I knew they would look at me with disbelief, questioning why I was remaining in an unhealthy situation. Frankly, I had convinced myself that the toxicity was worth it. One day, my unconditional love would change his behavior and make him realize my worth, and at that point, we would be perfect. Overcompensating for his shortcomings had crippling consequences that I still continue to work through.  I felt as though he had become the puppeteer of my emotions which led me into a deep depression. In the process of losing myself, I mourned the individual I was prior to meeting him.

 

Eventually, our relationship became on and off. Often times, neither of us knew what to tell our friends when they’d ask about our status. “It’s complicated” became the best response even though internally, I knew love wasn’t supposed to be complicated. Make ups always consisted of me pleading for answers as to why he broke up with me, answers that often changed from break up to break up. I would then proceed to beg that he return to me. Convincing a man of my qualities and worthiness of his companionship was deeply humiliating. I was exhausted but his potential was my drug.

You are his light, but only in the privacy that darkness provides. Wanted and cherished one moment, unwanted and let go of the next, you long for and idolize the man he convinced you he was.
 
You refuse to admit his potential is your addiction. But every time he leaves, you undergo withdrawal to which you always return begging for his embrace. You negotiate your worth and lower your expectations because you accept that having the harshest parts of him is better than not having him at all.
 
When you attempt to address his wrong doings, the truth of his character belittles his pride. You learn to place his self gratifying wants above your own needs and soon lose grip of your essence every time you place your worth at his feet.
 
He lies to you when he lies with you, yet you believe him to be the prized possession. You know you lessen yourself by not accepting the lesson, that no man should be the root of your depression.
 
You are deeply and hopelessly in love with the idea of who he can be.

 

Two weeks before Sophomore year commenced, I was broken up with again via text. Later that day, my brother passed. Though technically broken up, I called him and on this traumatic day, he was by my side.

During my brother’s funeral service, I watched my ex meet my parents for the first time. I was suddenly flooded with feelings of anger and sadness as I thought of all the opportunities I granted him to meet my family prior to this day. I recalled all the moments my family expressed excitement to meet him and I thought of the effort I placed in building a relationship with his relatives of whom where thousands of miles away. The memory of my ex meeting my brother as he laid in his coffin is one that still taunts me.

Following my sibling’s death, my ex visited me a few times but I was soon told that if I wanted to see him, I would have to go on campus. When I explained my emotional inability to be in public, I was called lazy. On one occasion, I remember hysterically crying about my brother in my ex’s room, begging him for company. I was left in his room for hours as he went to play video games with friends because I was ‘too depressing’. Despite such wrongdoings, I continued to fight for a relationship that was virtually dead and inexistent.

The last breakup came two months later, except this breakup wasn’t a goodbye but a ‘see you later.’ He claimed he was unable to balance a relationship with school, but that if God saved me for him, we would one day be husband and wife because I was the love of his life. He fed me magical proclamations of love, such as vowing to travel the world together when the ‘time was right’. I would remain frozen in time, holding a grip on his words and promises.

The next two years would be some of the most tormenting times of my life. My mind would argue over whether he was wrong for stringing me along or romantic for declaring his supposed ‘love’. Despite travelling the world and accomplishing quite a bit, I would be unable to enjoy any present moment due to a fixation on the past and future. Continuing to be loyal to an absent guy, I would ruin opportunities to meet people who showed genuine respect and appreciation for me.

I had painted a picture of who my love was supposed to be, a portrait inspired by the being he presented initially. I was determined to bring this visual to life. Self-contradictingly, I also wanted badly to have the courage to let go. I knew my illustrations were false and baseless. I often cried to family and friends, nagging them for advice to which I was always told to run in the opposite direction. But despite how deteriorating to my spirit the entire situation was, I feared letting go meant missing out on a future he claimed committed too.

I would be driven to emotional madness, eventually taking prescription medication for depression and anxiety.

 

                   A Conversation with God:
 
Return me to myself
Take me back to the moment my eyes first studied his flesh, birthing the urge to discover all he was
 
Grant me a second chance to choose myself, to pick the path where he is unknown
Reverse the clock and set me free before knowing what it means to be captive and at war with myself
 
If the purpose of his presence was to leave me enlightened about the betrayals of life,
Revert me to naivety
Resurrect me back into innocence
Release me to myself
 
If time is linear and forward is the only direction
If yesterday is no longer an option
Then let the erasure of him be my remedy
Obliterate it all
Take possession of my memory
The records of his wrongs and rights that invade my mind are for you to keep and for me to forget
 
If destiny is fixed and the stars can’t be realigned so that I may have no recollection of his existence
and my grief
Manifest in me the power to forgive
Liberate me from anger that burdens my spirit
 
Then show me where he left my broken pieces
Show me where he spread my ashes  
Reunite me with myself and let the rebirth be glorious

 

At the end of this two year waiting period, I was notified he had entered a new relationship long ago. A feeling of being belittled to a mere moment in his past overpowered my body. I felt betrayed and devastated for the time I had lost waiting and for the sense of self I had given up to an individual who had shamelessly walked away with all I sacrificed. I was struck at how someone’s words could mean so little to them while they meant the world to you. Realizing that I was never ‘the one’ - but rather ‘the option’ - was shattering and gut wrenching. Towards his new partner I felt envy before I could feel compassion; compassion because of the potential of her being treated the way I was.

Through the passage of time, what followed devastation was the start of liberation. I could finally begin to let go of him, the idea of him, and the idea of a future with him.

 

“One day at a time,” my father says as my tears drip into my morning cup of coffee.
“Papi, perhaps sadness and clarity are better than madness and hope,” I respond.
We both sense that the healing has commenced.
He is no longer my love, and soon he will no longer be my sorrow.

 

I never confronted him about the pain I had endured or about the apology that never came when I saw him on campus.

 

When I see you, I look in your eyes and smile.
“Everything is fine,” I reply when you ask how I’ve been since we last spoke,
Two years ago.
 
I want to scream and cry and find refuge in my mother’s arms.
 
All the things I wanted to say but never said and all the questions I wanted to ask but never asked. I promised you I would not speak of the past so I silence myself.
 
I wish I would have told you about the consequences I beared from loving you too deeply.
About all the repercussions I faced from the promises you made, that you knew couldn’t be made. Or how close my tears came to drowning my faith.
 
I wish I would have told you about the countless times I prayed to God to remove you from my heart, yet secretly hoped He would bring you back. How awful it was to love and loathe you all at once: regretting having crossed paths, yet questioning whether you were my second half.
 
I wish I would have told you how tormenting it was to mourn two losses at once. How many days there were when my sibling’s death became too much: how it felt like hell and I wanted to be held, by you. How much I hated you for having left and never looking back.
 
I wish I would have told you about the friends and family who watched me suffocate because waiting for you was like holding my breath. How terrible they must have felt to watch me turn blue.
 
I wish I would have told you how disappointed I felt when your family apologized to me on your behalf. How much of a coward I thought you were for failing to give a sorry for all you took, all you never gave and can never give back.
 
I wish I would have spoken of the men that came after you. The ones that loved me, that I couldn’t love in return. How everytime they listened, cared, and treated me as though they had discovered beauty itself, I was reminded of your words the night you held me on your lap, and assured me
 
I was it.
The love of your life.

 

At the end of it all, I was left with a shit load of lessons I never asked for but that I can use to move forward with my life and help others move forward with theirs.

 

My last take away is this letter of love to myself and to you my reader.

 

Dear (X),
 
If your friends, family, uber drivers, therapists and new friends at the nightclub bathroom are telling you your relationship is unhealthy - chances are, they’re right. Listen to your loved ones because those who know your value want what’s best for you. No relationship should ever endanger your self-worth. Common decency, sincerity, and respect should not be waited on. Know that it is wrong and manipulative for a partner to convince you you’re too dramatic for addressing behavior that hurts you or makes you uncomfortable. It is integral and healthy for partners to hold one another accountable, not from a place of seeking power but from a place of wanting a strong, honest connection.
 
Next, know the difference between someone loving you and them enjoying the way you love them. Someone can be infatuated with you, and not be in love you. Someone can love all that you have to offer, and not be in love you. Someone can feed you grandiose statements proclaiming love for you and not be in love with you.
 
Seek out the red flags in their patterns of behavior and forget the words that lose meaning the moment they are said. When you display unconditional love to someone who doesn’t reciprocate, your sense of self will deteriorate. You will drain your energy by constantly overthinking why they can’t practice what they preach, what their true motives are, and how they claim to love you yet continuously hurt you.
 
Questions were left unanswered and no real goodbye was provided, so give yourself the gift of closure. Acknowledge that you deserve so much more than someone who took for granted the amount of love you have. Make peace with the fact that someone hurt you. No amount of anger or suffering will change the past. You are responsible for putting yourself back together, nobody else.
 
You cannot control how someone feels about you or their behavior towards you, but you can focus on yourself by bringing agency back into your palms. Focus on your dreams, your values, and what fulfills you. Seeking “justice” or wanting revenge against your ex is the refusal to gracefully let go.
 
If you choose to spin gold out of pain, I promise you will manifest magnificence.