I consider myself to be a strong, independent, and successful woman. My family and schooling were structured around having high standards, where resilience and self-respect were essential components of daily living. These ideals enabled me to thrive as a young adult: leading various organizations, serving on panels, and even attaining the post-grad goal of my dreams. I did everything right to become a person who I, and others, respected, yet still lost myself in two disparaging relationships.
Being in long distance relationships made it easy to overlook signs of disrespect, lack of effort, and subsequent belittling from the people I dated. They weren’t physically there, so anything upsetting could be ignored by hanging up the phone or going out with friends. At the time, it didn’t feel like a sacrifice. Once I left for school, the first boyfriend became verbally abusive and accusatory. He eventually cheated on me as revenge for things he imagined I did. The second boyfriend would take long unannounced breaks from communicating with me, but became passive aggressive the minute I went out with friends who made the time for me instead. Because most of my friends were single, it took me a long time to realize other couples weren’t like this.
I had hoped that in opening my soul to someone, I could be honest about past experiences. I thought they would accept me, since my actions helped shape me into the person they claimed to love. Instead, I was often judged and criticized for my past. Dating jealous guys engrained the ideas that my innocent actions were unacceptable, I should feel ashamed for being myself, and that explanations were required for my social life. It taught me that honesty frequently backfires, and omitting details of who I was with or what I did, was often easier than arguing.
While I had doubts that this was how love was supposed to be, my persistent personality and emotions clouded my judgment. I had been training for a career in medicine throughout this, learning to do everything in my power to preserve the best quality of life for someone. Why wouldn’t I put the same degree of effort into my relationships, if it meant there was hope?
As it turned out, I encountered elderly patients who were kinder to me than my first boyfriend, even when they couldn’t fully comprehend who I was. I knew a couple with severe dementia that could barely communicate with each other, but they held hands from their respective wheelchairs, smiling for hours. They found a way to portray their love, even in the most extreme circumstances. Yet when I was living abroad, starving, sick, and alone, in rural Ecuador, my second boyfriend realized our e-mails weren’t transmitting properly, but made no effort to find out if I was okay through other mediums. These scenarios happened so frequently, that I didn’t expect better treatment. It had become my “normal”.
I’m not saying I’m completely blameless for the demise of my relationships, but I failed immeasurably by not committing to an honest one with myself. I allowed myself to believe these relationships were the most I deserved for years and that I had to put everything I possessed into preserving them. When you do that for long enough, the priorities and standards that were once pillars of your life lose significance. By the time I finally realized my current life, my current love, was less than I deserved, it was humiliating. I couldn’t understand how I could act so rationally in professional ways, yet accepted so little for myself personally.
After a few months of therapy and a lot of sunlight, I finally shed the burden of unrequited love. I felt lighter having acknowledged that this “personal failure” didn’t have to define me. My family and friends filled my life with so much love and positivity, that I started to feel like the only things I lost by becoming single, were feeling alone and disrespected within a relationship. I began to succeed on my own, and felt their debilitating actions crumble behind me.
My struggle to leave negative relationships doesn’t make me a weak individual. It doesn’t define me as being unsuccessful or unintelligent. If anything, it means that I am a hopeful person, willing to believe people can change, and that it’s worth offering those opportunities. It’s an admirable quality that I shouldn’t discard just because the wrong people took advantage of it.
I know now, that the right people won’t.