It’s not very effective…
I have often jokingly heard, “If you don’t go through at least one toxic relationship during college, did you really go to college?”
I wonder what is it about toxic relationships that propel you go always to go back to them? Is it a sense of undeservedness towards happiness? Or is it an innate attraction to a state of turbulence?
There’s this girl in my life who I consider to be a very toxic presence. My toxic relationship that is supposedly the toxic relationship that defines my college experience. It was toxic in the sense that every time I talk to her, I would doubt my own sanity. When we were dating, I would try to establish what I consider to be boundaries in terms of my expectations and discomforts, and every time she would attempt to push these boundaries by displaying distress for any sort of boundary I attempt to create. Sounds healthy, right?
She told me that she loved me within a week of dating. If that was a red flag, I clearly did not see it. At the time, I appreciated her for her honesty. Then, she would guilt me into feeling horrible for not saying it back. I didn’t say it because obviously love isn’t something you feel from one week of dating, but she still found a way to make me doubt my own sanity. Throughout the entirety of dating her, I wondered if I was too being too emotionally distant for not saying “I love you” within a week of dating, as if saying “I love you” within a week was the norm, and I was the deviant.
As I am writing this, it becomes so abundantly clear in retrospect that this was so toxic. But, at the time, it was so difficult to see how I was the one being reasonable. Every fiber of my being was convinced that I was causing this girl profound distress and that I should be at fault for causing her all of this continuous misery. As someone who was raised to take responsibility for my actions, I took complete responsibility for someone else’s emotions regardless of whether I should have or not. It’s not that I wanted to fix her — this relationship doesn’t fall within that trope — it’s literally that I believed that I was such a shitty person that I sought out someone who acted in a way that confirmed this belief in myself.
I tend to keep my dating life apart from my friends, so I didn’t tell any of my friends about this girl (or any other girl for that matter). But, once I realized that it is probably “healthy” to let my friends into my love life — this is in the spirit of self-improvement — I told them about this girl. Their immediate response was that I was insane for staying in this relationship.
There is very little that all my friends agree upon, but this was one of them. To a certain extent, it might just be because they were my friends, and I was clearly exhibiting distress when thinking about this girl. But, after awhile of thinking about it, I started to realize that they were probably right. My feelings, as I come to realize — the anxiety I have when this girl texts me, the guilt I feel when I think about this girl — is more valid than whatever rationale I could muster to keep dating her. Something that was so obvious that took so long for me to see.
This is because rationale comes after judgement.
The way decision processes work, as I observed in myself, is that I tend to make a decision before I could come up with a justification for it. It is only after I have made a decision do I start to think of ways of justifying myself.
But feelings don’t lie. If you feel afraid, you feel afraid. Feelings don’t give a shit what your dick wants. Thank God for that.
It was clearly not a great relationship. It was so clearly not a great relationship. So, one day, I told her that I think we should return to being friends. Realistically, I just wanted her out of my life. I didn’t really care if she was my friend or not. I was just trying to be polite. She begged me to not break up with her, telling me about how she would change (where have I seen this trope before?). It would have worked if it weren’t for the multiple other times she said she would change (Ha! Fool me once…). At one point, she invoked some kind of logic that went along the lines of: I can’t can’t break up with her because she doesn’t want to break up with me. That almost got me.
A couple days after ending things with her, she told me that she was comfortable returning to being friends, and it was probably a mistake for me to believe that she was truly capable of being “friends”.
Despite genuinely wanting nothing to do with her ever again, when time passes, there’s a part of me that is just curious despite the fact that I know the conversation would just lead me to more distress. And, to me, that’s the feature of a toxic relationship. It’s that, in theory, I know that association with this person would lead me to profound distress. But, for some reason, I cannot feel the negativity I have experienced. For some reason, I am able to only recall the more pleasant moments: the conversations, the adventures, the sex — except the sex, in this case, was very bad. She was pretty hot, but I cannot emphasize how bad the sex was.
Every now and then, I would text her to see what she is up to. It would be one of those “hey, i haven’t talked to u in a while how r u doin?” texts. I consider these texts to be quite normal in a friendship, but every time I would send her these texts she would send me paragraphs about how it was offensive that I treat her just as “another friend.” I don’t know why I do. We’re clearly not dating — the thought of dating her literally gives me anxiety — and she says that she wants to be friends. I definitely do not consider her to be more than a good friend. Between the hierarchies of a friend to a good friend to a best friend, she would be somewhere in between a friend and a good friend. Most of the time, I am just so confused about what she wants.
Sometimes, I feel as if I am intruding in her life and forget that it is she that said that she was comfortable being friends again. But then I would remember it was she that said she wanted to keep in contact. But then I would remember why I ended things with her in the first place and move on with my life. It’s such a vicious cycle of nothingness. I highly doubt that I was offering her any service by being in her life, and I am certain that she was not offering any service by being in my life.
Literally, every time I reached out to her or responded to her reaching out to me, I would be shooting myself in my foot. Did I want to shoot myself in my foot? No. Did I still shoot myself in my foot? Yes. Why, you might ask, am I shooting myself in my foot. My answer: I HAVE NO IDEA.
I would say that normal relationships have around a 99-1 balance between positive to negative experiences. In this case, the balance between positive to negative was around 60-40. Sure, there were still a lot of positive experiences, but the amount of negativity I felt with this person was actually so statistically significant (I’m talking like 10 standard deviations above a normal relationship), but I am still unable to remember those negative moments. It’s almost as if there are some defense mechanisms that literally suppress these types of memories to help us move on.
But, in this case, that suppression is literally the reason I cannot move on.
Per anything toxic, there was never a guarantee for how she would feel. Every time we spoke, there would be a 50% chance that she would flip out and confess how much destruction I have caused in her life. At first, I was sympathetic to her feelings. I would listen and attempt to mitigate her pain in any way that I could. But after the 3rd or 4th time she had one of these outbursts, I could feel myself caring less. She also started to be verbally abusive. And, considering that we were friends for some time, she knew me pretty well. And because we were friends for some time, she knew what to say that would hurt the most. By the 6th time she started a tirade referencing my childhood to taunt and humiliate me all the while claiming all the chaos I have caused in her life, I would just ignore her.
I blocked her number. Then she sent me an essay detailing how I have ruined her life on WhatsApp. I blocked her on WhatsApp. Then she did the same on Skype. I blocked her on Skype. Then she did the same on GroupMe. I didn’t even know I had a GroupMe. I blocked her on GroupMe. You would imagine that she got the point after the third time I blocked her, but she kept finding new social media platforms I didn’t know I still had to communicate the same sentiment about how I destroyed her life. She liked the book Grit by Angela Duckworth, but clearly, there is a difference between perseverance and literally being creepy.
The thing I started to realize about abusive relationships is that abuse can take on my forms. I had traditionally only associated abusive relationships with the physical variety. Since she never hit me and I never hit her, it wasn’t abusive. But now I am aware of the emotional variety.
That being said, I’m sure I had equal amounts to blame for this situation. I am, by no means, a saint. I can’t speak for my role in all of this, but I’m very much to blame for this as well. I think the nature of toxic relationships is that it really brings out the worst side in everybody. Even though I am in a loving relationship now where I give and receive a lot of love, I recognize that this is a privileged state where toxic dynamics never develop.