Feb 24, 2016

Posted by in Life & Musings | 1 Comment

Love and Romance: Lingering in a Bad Relationship

Every day we are faced with the judgments of our peers, and it seems for women this is especially true of our romantic situation in life. Probably owing in part that we are still changing from a very patriarchal society into something far less gender-oriented, and in part from the media playing up relationships all the time; women seem to be the key factor to all relationships. If it fails, clearly the female was the reason it did not work out. Not that women are never the cause, because we can be, but it takes two to tango and it’s dangerous to not see that men are equally to place fault on as well. Part of why it’s so dangerous though, and why we really ought to take a look at how we think about these things, is because we’re also quick to blame a woman who stays in a bad relationship, wondering why she didn’t leave sooner or get away. We are a society that just doesn’t want to completely open our eyes.

I noticed this, acutely, this past year when I was finally starting to open my eyes to the fact that the relationship I was in at the time, and had been for six years, just was not going to work out. The person I was dating at the time, we’ll call him John Doe because I’m not one for breaching privacy and all that, was truly a wonderful person when I met him. Or at least, he seemed like it at the time.

I was 19, and John was 29 when we met, truly met, again. I had known him briefly before I went away to college through my karate class, but I was in an equally destructive relationship with a girl at the time, and wasn’t really paying attention to most of my fellow karate-goers. He recognized me before I did him, and we struck up a friendship. He had his own dojo now, and I decided I would attend it. Like a cliche drama, student and teacher ended up getting into a steamy relationship, and the rest is history. Well, that’s how Hollywood would write it anyways.

We did start a relationship up within seven or eight months of starting the friendship, and I was quick to establish ground rules because I had been put through the ringer countless times already as I continued to repeat the same mistake. No, I would not move in until we had dated for at least 1.5 years, and don’t even ask me to marry you for 5 years with at least 1 year having us live together. I would not budge on that. I also made it clear that family came before everything in my life, as I am a very family-oriented person (I get it from my mother). That being the case, I’m also steadfastly loyal to my friends, and it hits me doubly-hard when something goes amiss between myself and them. I digress though, I did make sure he was aware of this right up front, and he seemed okay with that.

As the relationship progressed we went through our ups and downs. I already have been diagnosed with clinical depression, so I have my own shit to deal with, and at that point in my life I certainly wasn’t “handling it” like I wanted everyone to think I was. I was putting on a tough-girl persona, and I wasn’t smart enough to realize that this person whom I was trying to trust so completely wasn’t noticing this key thing. That should have been my first indication. Instead, I was constantly helping him back onto his feet after repeated physical injuries, financial crises, emotional blows, and the like. Not just me, either. Many of our mutual friends pitched in as well over the years, only to see it go to waste as things quickly slipped back into the previous state. Another red flag, but we all held out hope. Or perhaps my friends and family held out hope simply because I did, but that’s neither here nor there. He needed to get help of his own, and I couldn’t be it.

I told him as much one night as well. About two years before I ended things, and when I should have known it was over, he was sending me text messages saying that I was the only thing he had to be happy about, and the rest of his life was dismal. I was his only happiness, and without me he had nothing. This was the one warning sign I did see very early on, and I shut it down very fast. I told him I did not accept that responsibility. I refused to be his only source of happiness. I told him I was glad I could offer him happiness, but I refused to be responsible for it. He did not like that response one bit, and I was not about to budge. That was our first major fight. We eventually buried it under the rug and never spoke of it again. Had I been thinking clearly then, or maybe knew what was coming in the future, I’d have ended things with John right then and there.

The relationship went through violent ups-and-downs from that point forward. Each time the fights would get worse, and we both would get more stubborn. Now, I’m not saying I was perfect in any of this, but of the two of us I can say I attempted to be the most honest and open-minded. Any time I tried to speak to him of how I was changing, or my views were changing as I gained more life experience I was shut down, and reminded of why he was dating me based on who I was at 19, not who I was then at 25, almost 26. It had been two years of this, two exhausting years. And both years my depression was getting worse and worse, and I wasn’t dealing with it because I couldn’t accept that on top of everything else. I was the strong one, right? Strong enough to stand by his side?

I was wrong. I was actually weak and worried what people would think. Honestly, my ego was too much in my way to open my eyes sooner. People had told me from the beginning that a 10-year age gap was too much to overcome. Others told me while I was in the relationship that he “wasn’t the one”. And all this only served to make my resolve stronger. I had to prove them wrong, because that’s just what I did. Well, at least I used to do anyways. I don’t know where such a mindset came from, but in this case it was very destructive. Perhaps I was still in a rebellious stage, I’m not sure.

On top of this, John had been gaslighting me for sometime without me realizing it. I never would have noticed, either, had my closest friend not stepped forward and simply said “I want you to read this article”. She didn’t share it with me until after all was said and done, but it was the right time for her to do it. As I read the article I realized points where I had done it to him (as I said, I am not perfect nor blameless), but I saw more and more where he had done it to me. Where he had questioned everything until I was questioning everything myself. To the point where I couldn’t trust my own memory of events, and where I just accepted what he said because it was easier. I honestly can’t say if he did it on purpose though, either. I think perhaps it’s just who he is as a person, and he uses it as a defense mechanism. He needs a lot of help, and I truly hope he gets it some day.

I believe the worst gaslighting he did to me though, was telling me that I was the reason he had to turn down good job offers in far away states. That because I was unwilling to leave my family (the thing I established at the beginning that I would never do), he had to turn down six-figure jobs far away. It was my fault essentially that he was in such a financial problem.

Sad as it is though, what broke us apart in the end was not anything major. I wanted to be able to enjoy drinks with friends, and he was so vehemently against alcohol he had essentially forbidden me from drinking at all. When he came out and damn near forbade me from going to a friend’s paint and sip party was where he crossed the line. Now the warning signs had sirens accompanying them, and I was all-ears. This was in March, 2015.

I first started talking to my friends about where this relationship was heading though, in December 2014. I was starting to get worried because it was harder and harder to be around John. Just being in his presence sucked the life out of me, and thinking about doing stuff with him was stressful. That’s no way to be. Then, when the deep part of winter set in around mid-January 2015, and we had one of the coldest winters in a while, I started to contemplate suicide for the first time in seven years. By February I had a plan laid out, I just needed one final push. I started to completely withdraw from all my friends. John still didn’t notice, in fact, he instead took it as a personal offense and turned it against me. Gaslighting.

Honestly, I think the only reason I’m still here is because by this point I knew subconsciously that it was over, but I hadn’t admitted it yet; however that meant there was hope. I was discussing it with friends, weighing the pros and cons and making sure I had my head on straight. By the end of February I spoke to my friends about the suicidal thoughts and instead of being waived off as the pest I thought I was, I instead received the support network I so desperately needed, and moved forward.

My first decision in the whole mess though, was that I would make no final decisions nor do anything until I rose out of this depressive funk. I wanted to wait until I was fully rational to make a decision. In reality, I think I was stalling. If I was rational enough to decide that, I already knew. However, it was still a responsible decision. It couldn’t get any worse, right?

It did get worse though. April of 2015 I went to that paint and sip, and I got trashed. For the first time in my life I just let loose and drank. It was not my smartest decision, but I don’t regret it at all. It was also one of the best nights of my life, and I had a lot of fun. I am truly thankful to the friends who facilitated it, and who made sure I was sober enough to drive before I walked out that door that night (we had some sober people in the ranks). I didn’t tell John right away though, because I knew he’d be angry and that’d be the end of it. I wasn’t ready to deal with that. And it ate me alive to keep a secret from him.

May 2015 is when everything exploded over something stupid. I don’t even remember what triggered the fight, but he ended up screaming, accusing my family of horrible things, throwing his phone in my general direction, and generally getting way out of hand. It’s the first time I was ever afraid, and it was the final nail in the coffin. I wanted to scream, to tell him to “Get the fuck out of my house!”, but instead I just cried. He left.

We would not speak again for two months, until I broke up with him.

July 11, 2015 I ended it. I asked him if we could get together to talk, and I let him go first. He vetted his frustrations, but ultimately he thought we could work things out. Then I spoke, vetted my frustrations and told him about getting drunk. He wasn’t pleased, but he was still asking if we could be together. I said no. It wasn’t easy, but I told him that I had changed, was going to keep changing, and I didn’t want to upset his moral values with who I was becoming. He said he could work around that, and I refused. It was hard, but I did it. And I tried to break it off as friends, because I had no ill will towards him. I still don’t, even after all this.

During those long two years, I had grown distant from John, but I hadn’t admitted it. Truthfully though, this relationship was over in 2013. We were done that night when he wanted me to be his happiness and I refused. Nothing was ever the same after that night, and we spent less and less time together after that, and that’s when the fights started. Even though it didn’t “officially” end until 2015, I had left that relationship a long time ago.

So I should not have felt so terrible when I started having desires for others while I was still connected to John (though I never acted on them, much to my sister’s chagrin), and more so having them after everything ended. About a week after, I began loosely seeing someone else. We were not anywhere near official at this point, but we were both longing for something physical and were attracted to each other at least on that level. It would do for now, and as adults we went into that contingently.

I told no one. Not even my closest friend whom I should have feared no judgment from. I think this happened for a few reasons, many of them due to the kind of society we live in. The first was a base fear of being labeled a slut. The second was that I was moving on too fast (which would have been a sound worry, but if it had been John doing it I don’t think he’d have been met with the same level of concern necessarily. Think, when’s the last time you told a guy he was moving on too quickly?). Third, there was an age gap again, only larger this time, so the same issue. So on and so forth. Essentially, my anxiety driven by societies expectations caused me to clam up for some time, until I finally did come around and tell everyone one-by-one. I’m terrible about keeping secrets from those close to me. No one judged me as I feared, but they were concerned which was to be expected.

I would receive one last angry communication from John before everything was over though. And in this communication he would accuse me of lying to him, cheating on him, being an alcoholic, being an abuser, being a pothead (and yet I am allergic to cannabis), ruining his life after he gave everything to me, etc. It was honestly terrible. And he cited two people in this information, one being a close friend, and the other being my present friend-with-benefit’s ex-wife. Now, he never liked the ex-wife before this, and they certainly didn’t communicate. So she went out of her way to track John down and feed him whatever story as they commiserated in their lost relationships. That karma is on them. But my other good friend, when I spoke to her about this, she was pretty upset. He had taken her words of “I suppose that’s easier to believe than that it just wasn’t working out” when he had spilled all his pondering to her before to be a “yes, you’re right on all those counts”. If I had been in her shoes, I’d have been upset too. Needless to say, the friendship ended then, and I was very hurt. I had gone out of my way to break this off in such a manner that things would not be awkward between us if we ended up at an event together, or if a mutual friend wanted to invite both of us over to some place. Apparently he didn’t feel the same way.

In the end though, I had to give up on some things.

That was worrying about how society would judge me in all this. I had some beautiful friendships (or I thought so at least) among John’s family that I did treasure. To this day I still wonder about them, and hope they’re all doing okay. But I’m also sad to think of how John’s probably dragged my name through the mud to them because of all this. I have to stop myself from that. From worrying about what his family and friend’s think of me, because in the end it doesn’t matter. If they think ill of me, then they are not people I want in my life anyways. I also had to stop thinking about if society would judge me for being happy in my new relationship, and what they would think of how the whole thing went down. Society will not make me happy. I must make myself happy. And I am happy. That’s what matters here. But it’s not easy to let go of what society thinks because we’re grown up indoctrinated with that. I also had to let go of the idea that it was my fault. It wasn’t. There was nothing I could do to salvage that relationship short of changing the core of who I was, which was unacceptable.

Instead of being bitter about this, I’ve also chosen to see it as a lesson. I learned a lot from John, and it wasn’t all bad. It just wasn’t meant to be, either. So instead of continuing to foster hatred about the whole situation, I chose to forgive him and move on, even if he never knows it. I will try to learn the lessons given to me in that time, and use them to achieve better things. I will still cherish the good times that we had, and look back on them fondly. Just because the relationship went sour does not mean that, in those moments, we weren’t happy. And I’m glad I can do that. Unlike what society has taught me, I also recognize that just because we’re no longer in a relationship doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun at some point and time together. The good was good, and the bad was bad. The bad just started to outweigh the good is all.

Now, from the ruins of that relationship a new one rises, and it is a beautiful thing. I’m extremely happy, and I feel supported. Things I didn’t know I was missing until now are coming to light. And in this new relationship I’m realizing just how much I was allowing to manipulate and change me that I shouldn’t have been. It’s frightening, but I’m glad for the growth, too. It’s nice too, that my friend-with-benefits is now my lover, built on mutual affections and interests that were discovered in amongst everything else.

And somehow, society has not been able to judge me the slut I feared it might. Probably because my friends know me better than that, which is why they stand by my side.

Now if we could just get society to be that way too, perhaps many other women would feel safe in stepping forward and saying “this is bad for me, and I am not making this up” like we’d otherwise want to believe.

Just maybe…

  1. Always proud to be your non-judgmental friend 😉

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