To say I was a late bloomer is an understatement. I didn’t date at all in high school. I had terrible self-esteem and disordered eating, which led to self-sabotage. I dated briefly my freshman year of college, but that relationship ended when I found out he was cheating on me with my best guy friend. After this, I closed my heart and avoided connecting with men outside of friendship for the better part of a decade. I wanted that to change, but for a long time I wasn’t willing to do the work to heal. It was easier to fantasize about the perfect relationship from afar.
Once I did start to put myself out there in an attempt to date, there were definite growing pains, but I persisted. I believed I was unlovable for a long time and it took a great deal of work in therapy to unravel those beliefs. I worked on my relationship with myself, yet I still yearned for a partner to love me too. I believed that any love would be enough. I thought that having someone to take care of, would fix the rest of my wounded heart. If someone would just love me, it would be alright.
We met through a dating app and he seemed nice and fun. We had a lot in common, he was attracted to me, our lives had intersected in many ways and it felt like a good omen. We went out on a couple of dates and he asked me to be his girlfriend within weeks. It seemed fast, but wasn’t this what I had been asking for? Wasn’t this how it was supposed to go? The first time he spent the night, we both got drunk and had a very upsetting fight. I felt uncomfortable, but in the morning, he was so sweet again and we both laughed it off. He told me he loved me not long after and I decided I loved him too. It was nice to get a text every morning and talk on the phone before I went to bed. I liked telling people in my life about my boyfriend.
After a month, it became difficult to see each other. We would make plans and he would cancel at the last minute. His father was ill. There was a family emergency. He had to stay late at school and had too much paperwork to finish. I realized I wasn’t getting what I needed, but he was always quick to apologize and tell me how grateful he was for my support. He would say he was lucky to have such a great girlfriend. When we did see each other, he would drink too much and lash out emotionally. He would talk about how terrible his life had been and how my love was changing that. I felt extreme pressure not to let him down, like everyone else had.
He talked about marriage almost every night on the phone. At first it felt wonderful to think that someone wanted to marry me, but the more excuses he made when he couldn’t see me, the more I became weary. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t want to see it. I wanted a partner so much, that I put my emotional health and stability in jeopardy. Despite my misgivings, I stayed for several more months.
I never thought I would be someone who settled in a relationship, but my family talked me down whenever I expressed my doubts. My friends didn’t like him, but were afraid to tell me. I seemed so happy, they didn’t want to ruin it. I seemed happy because I was lying to myself about what was really happening. I thought that I had healed my beliefs about being unlovable and in many respects that was true, yet I still didn’t understand that I deserved better.
I learned that love isn’t always enough. It certainly is not enough in a toxic relationship, even if he wants to marry you. I ignored major red flags from the beginning because he said he loved me.
I let him pressure me into sex because I didn’t want to lose him. I overlooked major differences in our values and justified all the months of excuses for not meeting my needs. I pretended it was okay because I worried it was the best I could do. I was afraid if I didn’t marry him, I would never be asked again. As a strong independent woman who had worked so hard to heal her relationship with her mind and body, I was embarrassed and ashamed. I had never been a girl who needed a boyfriend to be happy. I just wanted love. I got everything I had asked for, and was shocked to discover I had asked for the wrong things.
I was able to end the relationship and move on, but it was harder than I care to admit. Even our toxic love, was love that I had been desperately seeking. I was under the illusion that it wasn’t so bad for quite a while after our break up, but distance and time gave me perspective. I am grateful for this relationship because it taught me a lot of things about dating and love and what I don’t want in a partner. It opened my eyes to places where I still needed to work on healing myself. It allowed me to see what I was responsible for and how to hopefully avoid going down a similar path in the future. I deserve so much more and will continue to do the work to find it with the right partner who is emotionally healthy and willing to grow with me in love.
[Featured Image: Individual sitting outside with long brown hair and resting chin on hand. Pexels.com]