Allow me to paint you the picture of my first love: Nissan Skyline. Unemployed. Backwards cap. A two-monitor gamer kind of lad. The guy who introduced me to sex, drugs and hard liquor when I was 17. The whole thing – from the way my friends and family hated him, to his possessiveness, to the way he eventually cheated – is so clichéd it hurts. So how did an overachiever with no daddy issues end up obsessed and traumatised by an absolute dropkick? Oh, the usual way, i.e. by caving to the subconscious belief that no one else would ever love me. That, and sex.
I know, I know. In hindsight, this one comically screams bad boy. But here’s the thing; it’s SO much easier to judge a situation from the perspective of an emotionally uninvolved bystander than it is when you’re in the deep end – especially when it’s a ‘frog in a boiling pot’ type of situation. Like, I knew I wanted a guy who could fit in with my life and get along with the people that mattered to me. When he started off by taking me to parties, introducing me to new friends, chatting amicably with my mum, I thought it was awesome. Again, by the time he’d started beef with most of his and my friends, had to be kicked out of the house by dad, and whined to my mum on his weird suicidal shit whenever him and I were having problems, it was many months down the line and my loyalty was too far in. After all, he was my first proper boyfriend. The guy who was ‘my person’ to go do stuff with. The guy who could get me dinner, fuck me five times in a night (tmi?), wake me with french toast and more fucking afterward (still tmi?). That intimacy, that emotion, that sense of having something that’s well and truly ‘yours’ is what gets us to say (and also, as previously mentioned, sex).
It always starts so well. They act perfectly. We’re physically attracted. We fall fast. Time wears on, true colours start to show, but our sense of attachment means we’ll put up with shit we would never have signed up for at a first glance. A person can only be on their best behaviour for approximately the first three months of a relationship. After that, pretences start to slip, but we’re already loved up from the honeymoon phase. So what can we do? How can we possibly avoid unhealthy relationships if we can’t even see them coming until it’s ‘too late’? How do we switch off attraction to somebody that we know isn’t good for us?
If we experienced an abusive past, grew up around seeing unhealthy relationships as normal, or we know we’re prone to an attachment style that’s anxious, clingy or overly reliant on a partner (it takes some self-reflection to be able to avoid getting sucked into toxic relationships, btw), those are some of the more obvious signs we might fall for someone that’s a bad fit for us. There are more subtle cues, too. When we approach a new relationship from a place of emptiness, low confidence, or we’re rushing straight from one bad relationship into a new one without resolving our underlying personal problems, we’re setting ourselves up to fail. In any of these scenarios, we should try some counselling sessions, by the way. They’re free at university, so god, take the opportunity – it’s scary at first, but squeezing out the truth about our trauma/whack headspace into conversation with a clinically qualified stranger is a mental relief we mightn’t have even known we needed.
If you’re currently in a potentially toxic relationship, but you’re scared to pull the pin, listen up. Write a list of all the things this person has done/said/the way they make you feel/their qualities that you don’t like. Be SUPER honest. I know you’d rather repress it, but let’s say if they fucked your best mate while you were on a relationship break, then sweetie, you’re going to have to write it down. Look at that list and ask yourself – are these things you can seriously put up with for the rest of your short, precious life? Come up with another list, this time spelling out the qualities you’d want from an ideal partner. And if you’re not a list person, for some insane reason, just think about it. Do you seriously think the story you want to tell about your future wife involves having to skip parts where she would have weekly screaming tantrums and fling accusations if you hung out with your mates? Do you think this relationship would be a healthy model of what love’s supposed to look like for your children? Is the hurt you’ve experienced really worth it? While I’m sounding like a self-help book, let me say that when it came to getting out of my toxic relationship, it took me far too long to act on the doubts that were niggling at the back of my mind. Before it even started, when I realised he’d played a friend of mine (then lied about it and made her out to be the crazy one, as these type of people always do to shift blame) I should’ve saved myself some time and cut it there and then. In the end, it was my friends who helped push me. One night, after a (rare) movie trip where he packed a sad with me for not replying during the two hours I was in the movie theatre), they had a mini intervention to tell me that his behaviour wasn’t normal, that I was putting up with far too much and needed to break it off; that they would literally drive me to and back from meeting him so I could do it with support. That’s exactly what happened. And yes, for the next little while there were times where I was so heartbroken it was as if life was over. But then there was also freedom; the ability to rebuild the relationships I’d nearly destroyed along the way; the removal of the rose-tinted glasses and the realisation that he was no good; and, despite all of my unspoken fears that no one else I could be interested in would ever be interested in me, there were, of course, new love interests that came along in due time.
Fuck, let me say it again: life is too damn short. I know that the pure drama of the relationship keeps your life interesting, but please realise that you can have a super fulfilling life that’s insanely interesting (plus great sex) in a way that doesn’t have to damage your self-worth. You are better than your hormones, people. There are millions more people where this one came from, you just can’t truly open yourself to that possibility if you’re stuck on this one toxic crush (who ain’t shit). This person is insecure and acting out because they know you deserve better. Love is not supposed to hurt you, that’s not love – true love is easy, light, good for you. And if you’re considering spending your life with this person, you need to make damn sure they’re going to be around for you during the hard times (because there will be) and not the cause of your hard times (because if they’re completely wrong for you, they will be). You may feel like a lost soul right now, but you sure aren’t going to find your happiness in a trash person. Just because you love them doesn’t mean you have to stay. If there’s more bad and more doubt than there is good, leave. There’s so much more that could be said here, so I would encourage you to Google it, talk about it, reflect on it, start a fucking Pinterest quotes board about it. The phrase ‘taking time to work on yourself’ is super vague and unhelpful, but that’s what you need to do. Whatever you have to do, just don’t continue getting yourself stuck on a bad chapter; you have a choice. Don’t even start the chapter if you can tell it’s going to be a repeat of past mistakes. Turn the damn page.