Lessons Learned From a Toxic Tale
Jayde Atchison // Columnist
In 2016, I seemed to gravitate towards men that wanted my body but couldn’t appreciate my brain. I was left shaken after being told, “you’re not the kind of girl I could be in a relationship with, but if you want to just have sex, I would be cool with that.” Five different people had stood me up in six months, and my standards dropped so low, I considered it a successful date if the guy just showed up.
When I matched with a handsome guy on Tinder, my hopes were high, but my expectations were low. We had yet to meet, but I knew of him through mutual friends, so I felt safe agreeing to a date. The nature of the dating apps meant I had swiped right because I was attracted to his looks, but on this date I became attracted to his wit, intelligence, and life goals. It ended with a butterfly-filled kiss and a promise to see each other soon.
Our relationship began pilling like my favourite sweater, slowly becoming unwearable.
I thought maybe this was what everyone was talking about when they said, “when it’s right, you just know.” We sprung headfirst into a relationship, and three weeks in, we exchanged sentiments of our love. At a girl’s night, I found myself picking the lint off throw pillows just to hold myself back from gushing about the man I wanted to map out the rest of my life with.
We lived harmoniously, and I spent my 24th year feeling like the universe was finally on my side. Around my 25th birthday, something shifted; my rose-coloured glasses fell off and shattered beneath his feet. Slowly, I was being exposed to a different man, one that I didn’t recognize. The man who once appeared career-driven and goal-oriented became someone who pre-scheduled his tweets to make it look like he was up at five each morning getting a workout in, while in reality, he remained unconscious and hungover after another night out.
I still felt love for him, and we spent Sunday mornings discussing how many people we would want at our eventual wedding. When I hit my social meter on a night out, I would whisper in my partner’s ear if he wanted to leave soon to go home and cuddle, but more often than not, he chose closing out the bar over me. Our relationship began pilling like my favourite sweater, slowly becoming unwearable. Fights over how busy I was became a trend and turned into arguments about how the idea of drinking until 3 am, on the one free evening I had, was a more attractive option than hanging out with me.
Sometimes a flicker of our fresh beginning would show when I would find little cheesy notes on my apartment door. I would catch myself smiling before I was reminded of the argument we had the night before. Gradually, I would hear his plans to spend the night out with friends whose names I had never heard before. I found myself having to fake laugh and offer excuses when mutual friends asked why I hadn’t come to an event I was never told about it to begin with. I had given all my trust to this human, so I had never suspected cheating until these moments arose. When I would ask, he would accuse me of being crazy, jealous or a poor listener because he most definitely mentioned these outings or friends to me. I would anxiously pick at my nails and question my reality, trying to convince myself my gut feeling was just paranoia, and if he said he loved me, that was the truth.
He pulverized my idea of love, left me ruined and convinced that I was always going to be left alone. Each time I saw someone demonstrating romantic interest, I felt my stomach curdle like old milk.
Our relationship faded as many do, but it didn’t go gently into the night. It left stains like the uneaten dinners thrown at my feet during an argument. I told myself I had to stay—things had to work out; they just had to. He was the first person to utter those three pretty words to me, and I was scared that no one would say them again. I chanted internally that these rocky times were normal in every serious relationship, but maybe people never talked about it. Looking back, there was nothing normal about feeling the rush of air next to my face as a fist hit the wall I was leaning against. Normality does not consist of telling your partner they are boring and that they wished they had a better girlfriend than you. Being made to feel less than isn’t something healthy couples go through.
As we kissed our final kiss, wet from both our tears, I was scared for what lay ahead but relieved that I could start to breathe again. It took two hard years after the break-up to be ready to be vulnerable with someone again. It felt like I slipped down a gutter, left alone with a Pennywise-sized hole in my heart. He pulverized my idea of love, left me ruined and convinced that I was always going to be left alone. Each time I saw someone demonstrating romantic interest, I felt my stomach curdle like old milk. What if they also screamed at me on Denman Street that I would never be enough?
I recently had someone confirm all those “paranoid and crazy” thoughts I had about his new nighttime friends while we were dating. It hurt, but it taught me to always trust my gut and be confident enough to walk away when the time presents itself. Despite all the toxicity that came with my first love, I have rewired my mind and am open to beginning a healthy relationship with someone that celebrates my achievements instead of putting them down out of jealousy and resentment. I am excited to eventually start a new journey with a person that sees me for all my quirks and imperfections and still chooses me every night. In the meantime, I will remind myself I am worthy of love.