What follows is a piece of writing from a dear friend, following one of the hardest actions she’s ever had to take: ending a relationship that was breaking her down more than building her up. I had the privilege of seeing her through this process and I want you to know how brave she was, and still is. It took bravery to say goodbye, it took bravery to acknowledge what she had been through, and it’s taking bravery to continue to feel the feelings and the after-effects of leaving. While she ends her writing with an apology to her ex-boyfriend, I would argue that she owes nobody an apology, least of all him. I would argue that he’s not collateral damage, but she almost was. So, to her: I am proud of you, I love you, and I want you to always hold tight to the truth you found deep within yourself: that you deserve nothing short of wonderful.
To the one who saved me by letting me go
I have to start by saying that everything we had was real. The chemistry, the adventures, the shared values, the common interests, the good memories – it was all real. But somewhere between the giddy first dates and falling for you, something else happened. I don’t know exactly when, but toxicity crept in. And the self-doubt, manipulation, desperation and rigidity that grew over the next five years – so intense that I completely lost myself – well that was real too. For every high there was a lower low, and the cycle quickly spun out of control.
It wasn’t your fault that I was young, naïve, and didn’t know what a relationship was supposed to look like. It wasn’t your fault that I spent those first few months letting you call the shots without pushing back, because you were the experienced one. It wasn’t your fault that I went through personal challenges in the years we were together. And it wasn’t your fault that I was so blinded by wanting us to be perfect, that I didn’t notice how unhappy I was. But at the same time, you were supposed to show me what a healthy relationship looked like. You were supposed to ask for my opinion and make me feel like it was valued. You were supposed to support me through every challenge, even if you couldn’t make it go away. And you were supposed to show me that I could be honest about my feelings without getting defensive or judgmental. But you didn’t.
I’m still sifting through the distortions I have, trying to figure out which are my own, and which you put in my head. When I avoid the mirror, is it because my body isn’t good enough for me, or because it wasn’t good enough for you. When I turn away from the couple making out on the street, is it because I don’t like PDA, or because I’m jealous that you were never affectionate. When I bite my tongue from sharing my opinion, is it because I’m unsure of myself, or because I expect to be shot down. When I shiver seeing abuse on facebook, or in movies and songs, is it because I feel bad for the girl, or because I was her…
Ugh that fucking ‘A’ word. It took me a long time to be able to not just say it, but also recognize it as the label for what I went through. ‘Emotional abuse’ is scary and weighted and stigmatized and something that would never happen to me, but guess what? It did. And that makes me feel disgusting. Admitting how traumatized I am feels pathetic. Especially since I called you my protector. But here’s the thing, being willing to walk through fire for someone doesn’t mean anything if you don’t notice you’re the one burning them over and over. You always saw it as looking out for me, as keeping me safe, as validation of your love. But the saying, “it’s the thought that counts” is actually bullshit. In this case, your intentions, however pure you thought they were, resulted in standards I could never live up to, expectations I would never meet, and kept me so confined within the boundaries and rules you set, that I didn’t notice how submissive I’d become. But when the rose-colored glasses came off and I was able to see the truth for the first time, something clicked. So I’ve spent the past few months thinking about what I would say to you, and here it is: thank you. It seems odd after how much pain you’ve caused me, but I want to thank you for three things:
First, thank you for showing me how to love. How to be so head over heels for someone that no matter how much they drive me nuts, I still want to wake up next to them everyday and do my best to give them the world. Loving you the way I did enabled me to see exactly what giving myself to someone looks like, and showed me that I wasn’t getting that in return. Because the problem is, love, dependence and desperation are all different things. I loved you so hard because that’s how I justified how much it hurt. If I could convince myself that it was mutual, then all of a sudden, it was okay. But is love that isn’t shown or felt even real? I’m not so sure. Maybe you did really love me the best you could, but unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind of love that I needed.
Next, thank you for showing me what I need in my next relationship. It took me a while to differentiate being selfish from being honest about what I want. Wanting validation, support and encouragement isn’t selfish. Wanting to be with someone who makes me feel on top of the world isn’t selfish. And most importantly, wanting to know every single day that I’m good enough isn’t selfish.
So here’s what I want. I want to share taste in music, movies and TV shows like we did, but next time, sing along in the car without being yelled at. I want to road trip everywhere like we did, laughing and sharing stories, but next time, without periods of awkward silence after being snapped at for something small. I want to be asked about my plans for the week like you did, but next time, feel support and not guilt for being busy with friends or work or exciting opportunities. I want to spend time with my family and friends like we did, but next time, not have them tell me you treated me like shit in front of them. I want to lie in bed at night and thank god for the amazing day I had like I used to do, but next time, do it because most days are like that, and not because the good days are so rare. Next time, I won’t settle. I won’t confuse double standards for chivalry, rules and restrictions for caring, or jealousy for compliments. Next time, I will again give everything I have, but next time, I’ll get it in return.
So finally, thank you for letting me go. Ultimately it was me who made the decision to walk away for good, and to choose myself in a way you were never able to choose me, but the irony is that it was your hesitation that gave me the space to do it. Those first few weeks I was furious, I was hurt and I was confused. Now all I can say is I’m relieved. By letting me go, you saved me. I honestly don’t know if I ever would have been able to realize all the things that I needed to realize about you, about me, and about us if you hadn’t insisted that we break up to see if we really wanted to be together. Maybe they would have stayed buried and I would have never known that I was settling. Or maybe they would have built up until I exploded. Exploded one night after a fight in your house, the one you had an extra key to in your pocket the day I walked away. Exploded one afternoon planning the wedding I always thought I wanted, but for some reason could never quite picture. Exploded one day when it came time to talk about kids, the ones you didn’t want but the ones I know I needed. But I don’t have to wonder what would have happened, and if or how I would have reached my clarity, because thankfully I did.
This will come as a shock to you, but I haven’t cried. Since the day that you insisted you could change and begged me to let you and I said no, I haven’t broken down. And at first that scared me. I thought something was wrong. But then I realized that plenty of tears have already fallen. I was grieving the relationship while it was still happening and I didn’t even know it. I was crying for the things I needed that I subconsciously knew I wasn’t going to get, and crying for the things I didn’t want that you gave me all too often.
I don’t know if you’ll ever truly understand why I walked away. It might be too painful to accept, and denial is easier. You might be angry with yourself and taking it out on me or other people because that makes sense to you. Or maybe you genuinely don’t think you did anything wrong, in which case, I feel sad for you, because you can’t fix what you can’t see. Contrary to what you might think, I do want you to be happy. I want you to find someone who is everything you need, but by that I don’t mean someone who is a doormat. I hope you find someone who makes you throw your rigid box out the window, not because she asks you to, but because you realize she can’t and shouldn’t need to fit into it.
I really do believe that everything happens for a reason. Maybe you were meant to teach me to trust, to let someone in, and to give all of myself to someone else. Maybe you were meant to help me climb to the top of the cliff, so that when you pushed me off and I came crashing down, I would be able to build myself back up again. I’m stronger now because of you. I’m tougher because of you. I’m going to raise my standards because of you. I’m never going to settle again because of you. I know what I deserve because of you. Next time, I’m going to love harder because of you. And one day, I’m going to get from someone else the selfless love that I tried so desperately to give you. I’m still figuring out what’s next for me, but I only have this chance to truly find myself because of you. So while I’m sorry that you were the collateral damage on this journey of self-discovery, you letting me go allowed me to take it, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.