“Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy.” – Robert Tew
Cliché as it may be, it is a mantra I strive to live by. I love and respect myself, and I try to recognize harmful parts of my life and then find ways to either improve or walk away from them. It is important to know when to ‘vote with your feet’ and away from something or someone who is harming you. For me, this is a really important part of self-care, self-confidence, and self-love. But I wasn’t always this strong.
I didn’t always love myself this much.
I didn’t always hold myself so responsible for my self-respect.
Let me tell you about a relationship gone wrong, which ended with my past partner cheating on me, but had a big impact on who I am today and how I choose to live my life now.
It’s a long story, so hold onto your hats!
When I started university in September 2008, I met a boy who would later be my partner of nearly four years. He pursued me, though I didn’t understand it until the New Year, when we decided to try being together in January 2009. I had only had one moderately-serious relationship before, the same as him, and had some problematic ideas about what relationships should be like, mostly modelled after the media’s depictions of relationships. We both often expected each other to simply understand our feelings without voicing them, and were easily frustrated by our different lifestyles and habits. He had a very last-minute, low-energy lifestyle. I’m a very active and extroverted person, and was studying drama, English, and gender studies at the time. He was a very inactive person and was studying computer science. He had some anger issues and was often irritable and impatient. To his friends, he used excuses such as “dealing with Helen” and staying up late procrastinating and coding for assignments as reasons for his bad moods and aggression.
Our relationship worked for a few months, maybe a year, but then we started to struggle. I was changing at a rapid pace: absorbing all of my life-learning from university theories and experiences. I went from wanting to be a famous actress to wanting to use drama in classrooms and social programs to help people learn and grow. Community theatre is vastly different from performance. I also learned more about social justice and became a feminist, trying to live my life in a way that was open-minded and equitable. I became interested in travelling, and the diverse experiences it offers.
This past partner did not change and evolve along with me. In fact, he remained pretty much stationary throughout the three years we were together in the same country. His ideas, habits, methodologies, and perspectives did not change throughout the course of our relationship. He actively resisted my development, even going to far as to berate me when I called one of his friends or fellow students out on something sexist or racist they said or did.
He did not support many of my decisions. This included when I took a job teaching English in Italy for the month of June 2010, between my second and third year of university, because I was out of Canada for a month and we only communicated via email, Facebook, and Skype. Another choice he disliked was my acceptance of a job as a residence assistant in my third year from September 2010 to April 2011, because it meant I lived on-campus, was constantly on-call to support students, had a strict curfew and an extremely busy schedule. He didn’t like that I had less time for him. He didn’t understand my ever-evolving perspectives and interests, but often did not voice these frustrations until he was very angry, which lead to fighting. I could not read his mind and didn’t understand why these concerns were not being voiced until after the fact, after he had time to stew and settle into his negative feelings. Then he would explode and make me feel guilty and responsible for hurting him, but he was the one hurting himself.
Despite these arguments, we kept trying to be together for YEARS because it was our first serious relationship. We were each others’ first sexual experience, and it is so difficult to move on from that. Change is scary, it is easier to stay in the same ruts than risk a negative outcome if I make big changes or take on different challenges.
Things got really difficult when I returned to teach in Italy in the summer of 2011, and then went on to study for a year at a university in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was in Italy for four months, and then went straight to Scotland in September. I stayed in Edinburgh, studying and working, for eight months, and completed the fourth year of my degree there.
Before I left, I kept asking him what he wanted to do. I asked if he wanted to break up or stay together and try long distance. We had been together for two and a half years, so it made sense to try. We talked about how difficult we thought it would be and the ways we could keep in touch. He expressed a little sadness over my leaving, but did not explain that it made him feel abandoned.
He explained that to me over Skype nine months later, in March 2012. He said I had to return to Canada after the next summer in Italy, because he felt so alone. At this point, though I didn’t know it, he was cheating on me with another girl, who went to the same secondary school as me and was also studying drama at the same university two years below me. He felt alone and ignored, and sought attention elsewhere, without telling me anything about it.
I absolutely acknowledge that I probably was not as communicative as I could have been. But I also feel that he did our relationship and me an injustice by not telling me how he felt. And if he had truly cared about and respected me, he would not have led me on while seeing someone else. He would have ended our relationship rather than holding onto my long-distance affection to make himself feel good.
If he had, he would have spared me a lot of emotional pain. I had a very difficult year upon returning and realizing what was happening. I was trying so hard to keep our dead relationship going that I didn’t recognize that it was long over: time had passed, we had changed, and I deserved better. I was beating a dead horse.
I fully recognized this when we spent an intimate day together in September 2013 when I returned from abroad… and then he went out with the girl whom he cheated the very next day. I realized that I deserve to be treated better than that. So, a few weeks later, I gave him back all the romantic gifts he had ever given me and ended things between us. I removed him from my email contacts and blocked him on Skype and Facebook. This was not an easy decision to make, and, in fact, it was extremely difficult. A part of me did not want to go through with it. But I had to cut him out completely because a part of me still wanted to be with him and help him with his problems: I felt guilty and at fault. A part of me did feel like I deserved the treatment I received from him, even though I knew logically that I did not. Because there were still feelings and attachments as a result of our past connection, and because we were each others’ ‘first’ everything, I had to make a complete clean break. No trying to be friends. No connection at all. It had to end completely.
Because, at the end of the day, I and a few supportive friends forced myself to see that the relationship between me and this past partner was poisonous. I deserve someone who loves and respects me enough to always be honest and open with me. Someone who always tells me what is on their mind and brings up issues so that we can compromise and work on them together. Someone who doesn’t victimize themselves and guilt trip me into supporting them all the time. Everyone deserves to have people who truly care about and support them in their lives. If you are in any kind of relationship, not just a romantic one, with someone who:
- seems to put their needs above your own
- doesn’t ever ask for, care about, or listen to your opinion or perspective
- turns the topics of conversations to themselves and their feelings and their problems all the time
- tells calculated lies in order to make themselves and others sympathize/empathize with their ‘victimhood’
- doesn’t share their real feelings unless it is convenient or beneficial for them
- is dishonest about or manipulative of the feelings and actions of others
Then I strongly advise you to reevaluate where you stand and ask yourself if you really want to be treated that way. If not, something has got to give.
Poisonous people are a problem. They suck the life out of you by making you base your life around them, rather than yourself. Many of them are not purposefully manipulative. I highly doubt my ex-partner thought, “I’m going to go cheat on Helen now” premeditatedly each and every time he cheated on me. I think he instead spent all his time justifying his choices to himself and others so he felt entitled and justified in making those decisions. He manipulated not only me and others, but also himself. He convinced himself that his actions and mistreatment of those around him were justifiable.
They were still wrong. They did me wrong. But by doing the things he did, he unintentionally did me a twisted favour. He showed me what to avoid in the future. He showed me that I deserve better. And he showed me how to recognize when something or someone is poisonous to me. Now I am a much stronger person. I don’t put up with people mistreating me and I am usually able to pinpoint problematic situations and people in my life and walk away from them.
It is important to walk away from the things that bring you down, so you can always move onwards and upwards.
Have you been cheated on by someone you knew and trusted? Have you experienced a poisonous person or situation? What did you do about it? Do you think it made you stronger in the end? Leave me a comment and tell me about it!
If you found this post about my past problematic relationship interesting, let me direct you to my post about my current healthy long-distance relationship HERE.