When I think about my first long-term relationship, I think of two contradicting thoughts: knowing I was loved, and knowing that I was being belittled and coerced into being someone I wasn’t. This is how I remember a two-year relationship; something that I know was full of love, but one that wasn’t respectful. I knew both of those things while that relationship was still alive and thriving, and I didn’t do a thing to stop it.
I was afraid of speaking out for fear of being too much because I’ve always been too much. Too loud, too silly, too much. I was asked to lay on a bed and watch things I wasn’t interested in because the person I was with believed that every person liked them, so I should too. I was the butt of the joke in every group joke. The joke, usually based off of one of the ‘silly’ things I liked, would be said to make the group laugh. At the expense of myself, I joined in and tried to be a part of the joke. They aren’t laughing at you if you laugh along, right? So I gave a half-hearted laugh and kept quiet, never asking why I was being made fun of, never asking why I wasn’t allowed to be someone that I wanted to be.
Everything was open to being critiqued. This went from the music I chose to listen to, to the friends I had, to the beliefs I had regarding equality. I did speak up a few times; I rolled my eyes at some comments and asked for them to stop, knowing that they wouldn’t. But I thought that’s what love is — dealing with the jokes at your expense and putting whatever concerns or problems you had aside for another person. Not wanting to be an inconvenience and never wanting to be a girl who isn’t anything but cool.
When it ended, I didn’t really know what to do. It wasn’t particularly my choice and I put up a bit of a fight; I pleaded and asked for us to work on things as a couple. We were together for two years and he was the only thing I felt like I knew. I was completely entangled with him and I felt like everything began and ended with him. Between everything else that was deteriorating around me, he was something I knew. I knew the tone of voice he would make when he was ready to make a joke or the face he would have when he didn’t agree with something I believed in. I had to learn how to untangle myself from the ties that I attached to him during our time together; untying myself from a person who I built up and made space for while I shrunk smaller and smaller. I was so used to singing his praises, I could barely lip-sync mine. What did I even like? Who did I even want to be? I built him up and made space for his self-esteem while I was shrinking smaller and smaller. I was hollowed out.
The hardest part of it all was learning how to forgive myself after I willingly but unconsciously allowed myself to become so wrapped up in another person that I completely lost myself. For months afterward, I hated that I let someone change and shape me in a way that I didn’t even recognize myself when it ended. I hated myself for having to re-learn how to be alone after being in such an incredibly dependent relationship, even after I was so strong beforehand. I hated myself for continuing to doubt the things I like or the path I chose to take. I hate that even after all these years when I’m in a period of self-doubt, I hear his rasp of a whisper in my ear or his critical look that he would give me that’s still burned in my mind.
After I got over the initial heartache and the side effects of withdrawal from losing another person that seemed so important to my being, I was able to feel like my old, full self again. I look back on that time of my life with such sadness; I was so broken and so hollowed out — I was a complete shell of someone I used to be. I used my heartache as a way to not only restart my life but get back to the person that I once was — someone who would’ve never of hollowed herself out and disregarded all of the red flags just to keep another person happy and warm.