Note: this is a long essay about a bad relationship. I don’t blame you if you skip it, and if you make it through, well, then, good for you and thanks for reading!
I generally make no secret of the fact that I was in way-too-long-term of a relationship with someone who I don’t believe to be a bad person – but someone who wasn’t right for me. Our teenage romance lasted much longer than it should have, and I am more than a little resentful of some of the opportunities, milestones, and experiences I missed out on because of my choice to remain in that relationship.
That relationship ended nearly 11 months ago, and I have done more traveling, adventuring, growing, and being selfish in 10 months than in 10 years. It’s been great, and I’m enjoying it. The idea of dating pretty much anyone right now kind of gives me hives. I don’t want to be tied down now that I’m finally free.
One of the most toxic things about that relationship was that my boyfriend blamed me for everything. He never apologized; every time either of us got upset with the other, he somehow twisted it around so that it was all my fault, so that I was begging for his forgiveness. Anger was not an emotion I was allowed to feel (or at least show). I don’t think he did it intentionally; head-space is weird sometimes.
But regardless, he did do it. And at first, I just wanted to keep the peace, so I would apologize. Then, if I ever tried to defend myself, I was torn down so thoroughly that after a few years, I gave up. I eventually started blaming myself for everything. Self-blame became automatic, and self-loathing became a default setting. It isn’t to say that we didn’t have some great times – we really did! – but I have spent the last 10 years believing that I am a genuinely bad person for not being the person that he (or anyone else) wanted me to be.
Even now, I have to fight the urge to make excuses for him, to defend him. The person who emotionally manipulated me for almost a decade. “It’s not like I was faultless; I was distant and a little bit obsessed with work,” the back of my mind tells me. I can’t help it. It’s like a tic.
Now it occurs to me that I was distant because I’m a very independent and introverted person. I just need alone time; it’s how I recharge. Affection is important, but I don’t like being smothered by it. And I was obsessed with work because I am responsible and because I like having a roof over my head and food on my table.
Since I couldn’t be the capricious, overly-affectionate, devoted, subservient partner that he wanted, I was constantly berating myself and feeling bad. In the end, all of those resentful, bitter feelings consumed me. We gravitated in different directions, and I also fell into a pretty dark place. I’d tried my best, then given up trying, and the relationship failed.
(It is a little validating to think that it failed when I stopped trying. I’m not sure why, though.)
My ex and I didn’t speak since the day we broke up. I gave his stuff away a few weeks ago, and was very proud. I didn’t even feel that bad about it, because if he really wanted or needed it, he should have asked for it months ago.
Then, out of the blue, he contacted me and asked to speak face-to-face. I was taken aback, not sure what he wanted, and convinced it was going to be confrontational, him drunk, or someone (the dog?!) sick/dying/dead.
It wasn’t any of that.
He approached me, nervously but trying to seem confident, and told me, “You were the best thing that ever happened to me. I was wondering if we could have another chance.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking – what a load of shit, right? He treated her poorly, took her for granted, then gave up on her. Now he’s gone out and seen the world, tasted what else there was, and realized nobody else is going to put up with his crap. What a slimeball!
But I wasn’t thinking that. Remember, up until that exact moment, I believed that the distance between us, his unhappiness and mine, was entirely my fault. I genuinely believed that I am a terrible person and was an awful girlfriend. I told him a couple reasons why I didn’t want to get back together, none that involved him, but, perplexed, I also told him: “I wasn’t even a good girlfriend to you.”
To his credit, he looked genuinely pained and distressed. “Don’t say that,” he said, strain in his voice, “it wasn’t your fault. I wasn’t there for you!”
And that’s when I got really, deeply confused. Like, existential crisis levels. It’s like believing north is north and then you find out it’s really west. And it was scary, and painful. Because if it was his fault, then it wasn’t mine, at least not entirely, and my entire sense of self began to crumble.
At the end of the day, I was able to successfully reject his offers because I don’t want to date anyone – even if he had been Prince Charming incarnate – and, again to his credit, my ex was very gracious. He even told me not to apologize and that he wouldn’t want me to feel uncomfortable.
But I am uncomfortable. It’s been over a week and I am just now beginning to fully realize, accept, understand, and articulate my tangled up feelings. First, I feel bad for not giving him what he wants. Not just because he’s him, but because he’s a person who was hoping for something and is now disappointed. I have empathy for that. But, like I said, I really like being selfish.
Now that I’m doubting all of that self-blaming and self-loathing, I’m questioning everything. It’s like finding yourself again. Or if you go through an old photo album and look at yourself and think, “who was that person? Where did she go?”
The only conclusion that I can draw is that I’m pretty fucked up at relationships. I generally know how to be a good friend, inexplicably. I love my mom, and she loves me, but I’m not exactly the daughter she was hoping for. I have a needless amount of “daddy issues” that I should probably see a therapist for, but who has time or money or energy for that?
What’s scary is, I was in a relationship for ten years and I don’t know how relationships are supposed to work. I don’t even know what I like or want. Someone who isn’t all tangled up inside would probably just date to get it sorted out, but I’m pretty sure I’m emotionally stunted or something, because I just don’t have whatever it is that makes people crave companionship like that.
So, let this be a lesson to all y’all teenagers, young adults, old adults, and anyone else out there. I’d say, “Young ladies, never let a man change who you are or twist your way of thinking about yourself because you’re stronger, better than that,” but it isn’t just girls who are emotionally manipulated by boys.
Some people are just emotionally manipulative, and they might not mean to be. They might just be incredibly selfish. Everyone is entitled to be selfish to a degree, but if someone else’s selfishness is infringing on your sense of self, put on the brakes. Think logically. Defend yourself, without attacking the other person. But stand up for yourself, and if someone wants to change who you are, then they aren’t right for you and you aren’t right for them, and it’s not worth it to waste time pretending it’s all fine.
And, for fuck’s sake, don’t tear down and destroy the person you profess to love until there’s nothing left and they’re a depressive, anxious, antisocial mess.
P.S. Please don’t think I’m a wreck, because I’m okay in a “I don’t give a fuck! I do what I want!” kind of way (it’s pretty awesome). Here, I was upset and churned out an emo little poem about my feelings. I quit trying halfway, when I realized it is unsalvageable and quite terrible. Enjoy it!
I believed I was broken
You and I were two of a kind
If opposites count as a kind
‘Opposites attract’ and all that, right?
But I think we were more alike
Must be why I find you repellent these days
The good times were okay
The bad times, I wanted to die
Or for you to; either way
But most of the time
It was ‘eh.’
I grew up on the same saccharine stories
Where love conquers all
Where differences don’t matter
And people can change
You loved me
And I thought I loved you
But when it came down to it
I just couldn’t do it
I believed I was broken
And I am
Because of you