A couple days ago, me and my bestie, Amina, were having girl talk, as I unpacked my new apartment. Our conversation shifted to relationships and we both reminisced on the B.S. that we’ve put up with in the past. Just thinking about my past relationships made me a bit weepy as I was reminded of how low my self-esteem was and how much time I wasted being in something that I knew would bear no fruit. I knew I’d never marry my ex, but I had a bad habit of letting guys pressure me into relationships. After all, when you’re in the process of re-building your self-esteem and re-inventing yourself, flattery and attention can go a long way.
From Friends to Lovers
My ex and I, we’ll call him, Luis, met online (I used to be super embarrassed about this, luckily it’s a new fad.) We were friends for two years over the phone and cultivated a great friendship. We talked about our previous relationships, school, work, our family, everything. We became best friends.
After two years of talking on the phone, we agreed that it was time to hang out in person. I mean, I talked to his mom, he talked to my mom, he didn’t seem like a crazy person over the course of those two years, so, I decided to meet up with my “phone friend.”
Long story short, when we met, we both had butterflies, we heard Angel’s singing, we swore it was love at first sight. Needless to say, soon after, we became “an item.”
In the beginning, everything was great, as it usually is. He respected me, I respected him. He supported my goals and aspirations and I supported his. We appeared to be extremely compatible. It was perfect! If you were to ask me then, I’d tell you that I was madly in love!
He Didn’t Change, My Eyes Were Opened
Looking back, the red flags are clear as day, but at the time, I was oblivious. For one, when Luis got upset, he was very disrespectful. He’d talk down to me, curse at me and speak in such a way that made me feel inferior. After a heated argument, he’d apologize incessantly and I’d forgive him. He was also very manipulating. Whenever he wanted his way or wished to justify his unreasonableness, he’d make excuses for himself and make me out to be the bad guy. Often times, I believed him. There were instances where he threatened to hurt himself or humiliate me if I didn’t do what he said. Lastly, Luis was very controlling and jealous. He demanded every minute of my time that wasn’t occupied by school or work. There was no such thing as “me-time” when we dated. In his words, when I had “me-time,” I was cheating on him with myself.
Enough is Enough
Over the course of our relationship, I broke up with Luis several times. He’d treat me wrong. We’d argue. He’d cuss at me. I’d curse him out. He apologized. I let him back in. We continued this cycle until one day, I decided that I’d had enough. After a year of being in an emotionally draining and mentally abusive relationship, I mustered up the strength and ended it.
The breaking point for me was when we attended a church banquet together. Luis and I were at a table with a few other couples when the guy next to me (who happened to be like a brother, he was a few years younger, I practically watched him grow up) asked me an innocent question. I forget what the question was, but it was minute! I answered the guy’s question and Luis flipped the script! He began texting my phone (right there at the banquet) stating that I was being disrespectful by talking to the guy next to me and a bunch of other nonsense. After this incident, I knew I had to leave.
If I say I ended our relationship cold turkey, I’d be lying. I tried to wean us both off the relationship nice and slow. We tried the friend thing and even the friends with benefits thing, but it didn’t work. We needed a serious break from each other, the relationship and the toxicity.
Why I Stayed
As much as I don’t want to admit it, I was in love with Luis back then. The relationship began in a good place and at one point, we made each other happy. When things went awry, I stayed for several reasons.
I stayed because he was my friend.
I thought he would change.
I invested so much in the relationship and I felt trapped.
I didn’t want to hurt him.
I didn’t want to be alone.
He was a good person with a bad temper.
I was so comfortable around him.
He met my family and I met his.
He knew me so well and I didn’t think anyone else would ever accept me like he did.
I stayed for so many reasons but I left because I finally realized that the quality of my life had decreased while being in this relationship. I finally realized that the reasons above were not reasons at all. Some were valid points and experiences that I needed to accept and put behind me, while others were excuses I believed out of fear.
At first, I beat myself up for putting up with such a relationship. I was disappointed in myself for wasting so much of my time on a relationship that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I felt dumb because I kept going back to someone who clearly didn’t know how to treat me. I alienated myself from the people who love me most. I missed out on great friendships and new experiences all because I wanted to please and appease him. I made a lot of bad decisions while I dated Luis.
But you know what I learned?
1. We Deserve Forgiveness, Even From Ourselves. You deserve forgiveness for your mistakes, no matter how painful the consequences, for three reasons. 1) You made the only decision you could make, given your needs and awareness at the moment you made it. 2) You have already paid for your mistake. Your error led to painful consequences. 3) Mistakes are unavoidable. You come into this world knowing nothing. Everything you have learned, from standing upright to using a computer, has been accomplished at the price of literally thousands of mistakes. It makes no sense to kick yourself for something you can only avoid in the cemetery.
Paraphrased from Self-Esteem: A Proven Program of Cognitive Techniques for Assessing, Improving & Maintaining Your Self-esteem, McKay & Fanning page 143.
2. Availability Does Not Equal Suitability. My pastor used to always say this, and to this day, this is probably one of my favorite quotes! Just because someone is available, doesn’t mean that they’re suitable for you. For the longest time, I’d give guys the time of day just because they were there and interested. I didn’t necessarily want to be with them but since they pursued me, I felt sort of obligated to entertain them. This isn’t a good way to roll and my experience above, in addition to others, have taught me this.
3. People Will Treat You as You Allow Them To. After dating Luis, I can honestly say, this is so true! I’ve met guys over the last few years who I’ve had to cut off because of the way they think they can talk to me. At this point in life, I play no games. I demand respect but I also give respect. If someone isn’t treating you with the respect that you deserve, you have to let them know or let them go, depending on how they respond!
4. You Have a Right To Change Your Mind. Whenever I broke up with Luis, he’d often say “But you said you loved me. You said we’d be together forever.” These assertions had a strong affect on me! He was right, I did say those things. I felt bad changing my mind on him. I started to believe that I was wrong for changing my mind and “changing up” on him. People change, we change and we have a right to change our mind.
5. Pay Attention to the Red Flags. Many times we see the warning signs way before the crash! The question is, are we purposely avoiding and excusing the red flags. I journal regularly and whenever I get into a relationship I write down any perceived red flags. Over time, I visit these journal entries to see if I notice a theme. Don’t ignore the red flags, they’re usually very telling.
I’d Love to Hear From You:
Have you had a similar experience with a controlling ex? Please Share.
How do you set boundaries in your relationships?
Do you need to forgive yourself for putting up with a bad relationship?