I Just Got Out of a Toxic Relationship.

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Since the end of May/beginning of June, those of you who have consistently followed this blog may have noticed that I briefly mentioned or skirted around some issues I was dealing with in my personal life- in particular- my love life. While the details were scarce and the specifics may have been flat-out omitted at times, it was probably obvious I was processing some stuff with undeniable difficulty.

I’ve been on the fence about writing this post for a while. I wanted to give myself enough time to reflect and heal so my thoughts and words would be clear and concise. I wanted the take away to be something positive- not negative or (ugh..) full of self-pity. More importantly, I wanted to make sure I approached such a personal and sensitive subject with the respect it deserved. A few weeks ago, there were only two ways to do so on my mind:

1. Not discuss the subject at all- and go about my merry way without so much as acknowledging that I spent a good chunk of my Summer being heartbroken, and then not-so-heartbroken as I pulled myself together (and up)– and moved forward. I could have continued posting recipes, and writing about makeup and movies and all the things I love about Fall- and not once mentioned what I had been through.

But I realized that wasn’t being honest- both to myself or the readers of this blog- and honesty is something I value, respect and encourage. The truth of the matter is this: as happy and as grateful as I am for the good people, things, opportunities and adventures in my life- everything is not always sunshine, rainbows, unicorns and kittens all day, every day. It isn’t for anyone.

2. The other approach- nearly decided in my state of anger at the time- was to be petty and not hold back at all. I was so tempted to share it all: full names, times, places, phone numbers, screenshots- everything. I wanted this post to be the first thing anyone saw when they Googled the man who had hurt me and wasted years of my life. I wanted to forward the link on my blog to his family, friends, co-workers. Everyone. It was the karma I thought he deserved.

But, just like option one- I had a realization (after I’d calmed down and took that aforementioned reflection time.) I am not a spiteful or vengeful person. I don’t want anyone to hurt or suffer permanently because I was temporarily upset. It isn’t worth it- and it certainly isn’t worth losing myself in hatred or payback.

Instead, in my moments of clarity- I discovered the previously unknown third option- this option:

I wanted to share what had happened to me this Summer and what I’d learned- both for the catharsis of writing it down and to look back on if I ever started feeling sad and needed a reminder of my own strength- but also to help any other individual out there who finds him or herself in the same position I was in and who may stumble on this post someday when they’re looking for help or some perspective on the matter.

This blog is a window into my life, after all- good AND bad aspects of it. I had opened up following my father’s death and the resulting anxiety/depression I was experiencing after the fact- and now I’m opening up again.

So, let me start by saying it plain and simple: A man I loved and trusted- a longtime friend and lover for years- changed to the point where he was unrecognizable. And the cost was a multi-years-long relationship.

To understand the present and what little I know of the future, you must first understand our past.

The Beginning…

I met my ex (who, to protect his privacy, will now simply be referred to as my “ex” in all things: ex-friend, ex-lover, ex-business associate- just “ex”) while we were in high school. He was two years older than me- a junior when I was a freshman and a senior when I was a sophomore. We belonged to a couple of the same clubs/extra-curricular activities. His father was a teacher at our school and I was a student of his for a brief period of time.

I thought my ex was cute when I first met him- albeit a bit eccentric and maybe even dorky to some degree (and this is coming from someone who had glasses, braces, and dressed like Hot Topic and a thrift store threw up on me every day- so that’s saying something) but there was a mutual attraction. He was funny, flirty, and had accomplished a great deal academically at such a young age. He was the valedictorian of his graduating class and had obtained a full-scholarship to an impressive university in Western Massachusetts. He was somewhat arrogant, too- which I thought was actually a bit deserved given that his drive and determination had worked out in his favor- even though he had difficulty spelling basic English words correctly- a trait that followed him all the way up through our very last correspondence this year (I swear to God that is my first and final cheap shot. I promise.)

We had only gone out a few times during our two years at school together before he’d graduated and moved away and I focused on finishing up my own high school career and finding myself.

We didn’t see or speak to each other again for another four years. At that point, he had graduated college and I was 22 and out of high school- having took off running the second I was handed my diploma. I had briefly foregone college to instead travel, meet new people and try new things while simultaneously figuring out what it was I wanted to do for a career. While he continued to try and hone his craft, create art and find reliable income (and residence)– I had turned into somewhat of a party girl- jet-setting to England, hanging around festivals in California, or staying up all night in New York City.

MySpace (I feel like a fossil even typing that) is what brought my ex and I back together. I cannot for the life of me remember who sent the first message- but I vividly remember us making plans to meet up. I remember getting ready for our first date in years- and I remember feeling like no time had passed at all when we sat down for dinner (I also remember we hated the movie we saw that night- “The Eye” starring Jessica Alba.) We had both done and experienced a lot in the four years we’d lost touch- but there was common interest, mutual respect- and that same spark of attraction.

We made plans a couple days later- then again a couple days after that- and more a few days after that.

It didn’t take long for the relationship- whatever you want to call it or however you choose to define it- to become physical.

We carried on like that for just over four years- between him traveling to different cities or even countries for work or me taking off to visit friends across the country or go to a festival/show. We sent each other postcards, brought each other trinkets and knick-knacks. Sometimes if our schedule allowed- we’d take a day trip together. Other times (if we were lucky)– a weekend. He met my friends- who weren’t particularly big fans of his due to that aforementioned eccentricity and still prominent arrogance- but I ignored their criticisms. I met some of his friends. We spent a few holidays together- and if we couldn’t see each other during the actual holiday- we always caught a movie or grabbed coffee after our allotted time with our families was done. His father, whenever I’d come over- always treated me with such kindness. I never felt out of place or like I wasn’t welcome.

I look back with a sentimental smile. I was so happy then. I adored my ex. He was one of my best friends. I trusted him implicitly. I loved him and felt he loved me, too.

The Beginning of the End…

Things began to turn after my father died- and not just for the obvious reasons of losing a parent- but because it was the first time my ex had ever flat-out abandoned me when I needed him the most. I had phoned him in the early morning hours after my father had passed and I had, in a daze, come home from the hospital. I sobbed into the phone. I told him I needed him.

… And he told me his father would help me through my grief. I did not see him or hear from him again for eight months. Two seasons passed. The Boston Marathon had been attacked by domestic terrorists- and in the sunny afternoon hours of the day following the younger Tsarnaev brother’s capture and arrest- my ex reached out to me through my friend to talk- treading lightly and cautiously for obvious reasons.

Now, I’m aware that anyone in their right state of mind would tell someone who pulled such a stunt after a friend/lover they presumably cared a great deal about suffered such a loss- to go play in traffic- but at the time I really wasn’t in my right state of mind. I was still in mourning. I was coping with guilt and anxiety- and I was lonely. It was very easy for me to forgive and slip back into the comforts of the familiar embrace of someone who at one point had made me so happy and who I had trusted.

Again, it was like no time had passed and it didn’t take long for us to fall back into old habits. He was sensitive to the topic of my father and admitted he too, had felt the pain of my loss. He went as far as to tell me he carried my father’s obituary with him in a book (until the book was stolen some time prior to our meeting back up.)

He was going through financial hardships at the time- and I began to pay for things to ease the burden on his shoulders. I continued to pay for things for months. So much, in fact, that he began to jokingly refer to me as his “sugar mama”. At the time, I didn’t see anything wrong with it- but looking back- I believe it began to change his perception of me and my role in our relationship. I was starting to become less of a person in his eyes, and more of a commodity.

We almost moved in together until work took him out of state for nearly a year to New York in late 2014- and that’s where our friendship/relationship began to fall apart beyond repair.

Prior to my ex skipping out on me, the apartment we planned to share, and Massachusetts- we had become physical again- and while he was away- the physical aspect seemed to be the only thing on his mind. We exchanged risque texts, photos, and made plans for him to come back to Massachusetts or myself to come to New York for a weekend/visit that never seemed to come to fruition. He always told me he was too busy with work- although I only recently found out he had started dating a girl in New York whom he didn’t want me to know about or for her to know about how he was carrying on with me through what one may consider inappropriate photos or texts.

When his apartment was robbed in New York and he had to break his lease early due to his feeling unsafe on the premises, he turned to the law firm I worked for at the time for legal counsel. I personally handled every aspect of it- even getting him a full refund of his security deposit and a partial payment to cover his stolen belongings. For Christmas that year- I gave him the money to replace his stolen laptop since he needed it for his job. I mention it not as a slight against him for falling on hard times or to congratulate myself for being fortunate enough to spend money on someone- but because I really want to stress how I would have done anything for him because I simply wanted him to be happy and successful.

That was the last holiday season we’d spend together.

Upon his return to Massachusetts the following Summer (2015) after the expiration of his contract with the company he had worked for in New York, my ex came back a completely different man. Gone were the days of tender moments and spending time together solely just to see one another or enjoy each other’s company- replaced instead by sexual demands and no tolerance or patience for my emotional needs.

I was confused but complicit- feeling responsible for his change in some way and driven by guilt to make it up to him somehow. I was made to feel I had done something wrong. I loved him, and I missed my friend- the one I trusted and who I felt safe with. I wanted to get him back. I didn’t care what it took.

I truly believe by then my ex knew this- and used it to his advantage to get whatever he could out of me.

Throughout the remainder of 2015 and into 2016- our relationship became a mostly sexual one, unless my ex needed money or my legal expertise to further his career or business endeavors- although I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with it. The fog of sentimental memories had started to lift and I realized I was being treated like a toy or a personal ATM. He began lying to me- poorly and very obviously- about his whereabouts and what he was doing- using work as an excuse for never being around when I needed him, for being cold and for being distant. When I questioned it- I was treated like a burden. When I mustered up the courage to leave him and our past behind- he knew exactly what to say or what to do to give me a glimmer of hope that he still loved me and was just overwhelmed with his responsibilities. I was promised- multiple times- that things were going to get better and get better soon for us.

And once I had given in- he’d waste no time in sexualizing me and our relationship as soon as he could and the cycle would start all over again. My body and my money was all he cared about- a sad fact I only recently came to terms with over these past few weeks. At the time- my self-esteem was shot to Hell- and I fully admit I was too weak to turn my back on him.

By the end of Spring, I found out he was sleeping around with other women- a bitter pill to swallow when he barely had the time to treat me like an actual person who had done nothing but love and support him and his work for years- and when I told him I couldn’t continue on with him anymore: he assured me he had been safe each and every time (also a lie- and probably the most infuriating one of the many) and stressed how important I was to him. He told me he didn’t want to lose me- how he couldn’t bear it.

I had told my ex, more than once since his return from New York when things were indisputably different between us, that if either one of us had found someone new- someone we were serious about and someone we wanted to try and build a future with- then whatever we were doing had to stop. I never wanted to be “the other woman” if he was involved with someone else. I never wanted to be cheapened like that and I never wanted to play a part in deceiving another woman. I had boundaries- even in the weird, gray area I’d found myself pushed into by him.

I thought he understood, but just like so many other things- I had been wrong.

The Breaking Point…

And now, after all of that explanation- we find ourselves up to this past Summer- where a woman my ex had been dating since last November (right around the time I parted my ways with my former employer and he’d expressed faux-concern for me) contacted me after going through my ex’s phone, finding my social media- and this blog- and had put the pieces together. He was building a life with her while carrying on with me behind her back. I was forwarded hundreds of screenshots of things he had said, proof of things he had done- lies he had told each of us to our faces and via text.

We gave each other as much information as we could to get the facts in order and then confronted him immediately- and when blaming both her and I for his actions, then attempting to turn her and I against each other to lessen his accountability, and finally trying to make things right with each of us (only to continue to lie and attempt to seduce us both one at a time literally HOURS after giving each of us an individual face-to-face explanation and apology)– he finally caved.

And by “caved”, I mean he found some other unsuspecting woman to prey upon after blocking both myself and the other woman he had duped and used from his social media- presumably so we couldn’t warn his new girlfriend of what she was getting herself into.

Since June and up until the end of August, he has insulted me and my intelligence, tried to devalue me, discredited the 15 years we’ve known each other (and the 7 we spent as lovers) and get me to question myself and my self-worth. I have been degraded, manipulated, lied to repetitively- and then I’ve been sweet-talked, charmed, given sob stories, heard every pity party excuse imaginable- and have had empty promise after empty promise made to me. The other woman involved in this has experienced the same treatment from my ex- who wants to have his cake and eat it, too- by having us both while never being questioned or forced to answer for his behavior or his actions.

He also apparently didn’t realize this had since turned into a “sisters before misters” situation and both her and I had been sharing EVERYTHING with one another to keep the other from being manipulated or deceived.

At the very end of August, with more lies he’d told in the previous weeks being exposed- I had that “A-ha!” moment that many people in toxic relationships have before they get out for good once and for all. I remember sitting in my car, staring at my phone, and asking myself- out loud- “Ashley, is this really worth it? Is the stress, the pain, the turmoil and the tears REALLY worth the effort you’re putting into this guy who isn’t even the same person he was all those years ago? Is fighting to preserve your fond memories of the past and of someone who is long gone worth destroying your present or your future?”

And just as soon as I asked myself the question- I responded, again out loud- “absolutely not.”

The End…

The truth was finally apparent: I had allowed myself to be treated like a doormat for the better part of two years simply because I had a history with my ex. A history I thought I had to fight to preserve when it was clearly obvious- to everyone except me at the time- that I was the only one actively trying to keep it, and the relationship, intact. I was the only one who wanted things to be okay between us. I cared about him more than he cared about me. I was a distraction for him- something convenient to have around when he was bored or in need of comfort and/or support.

If my ex didn’t value me enough to be honest with me, to treat me with respect and compassion, to not use me solely for personal gain or sexual gratification- or care about me and my health enough where he would use protection while sleeping with other people after everything we’d gone through together and after everything I’d done for him- then he’d never value me or care about me enough to accept/admit accountability for his actions or change his behavior to be a better person and a better friend.

And that’s the type of selfish, irresponsible, immature, toxic and borderline-abusive person I can’t have around me. I couldn’t allow him to keep pulling me under with him as he drowned in a sea of his lies and deception. I had to break the surface and swim my way to safety, self-love and self-respect.

I texted my ex that day- one last time- to let him know he was not welcome in my life anymore. I asked him not to contact me again. He had replied, to insult me and try to once again pin the blame on me for our falling out- but I barely read the message before I’d deleted it and blocked his number.

I have returned any and all things he had gifted me over the course of seven years. Postcards, books, trinkets, clothing, and photos of us throughout our time together. I did not want mementos of him in my home or my personal space. I’ve erased all of our pictures from social media- a lengthy process if there ever was one- but it was remarkably refreshing to not have to be reminded of him and how happy we used to be or the type of person he had gradually turned into every time I signed onto any of my networking sites.

The Silver Lining…

I fully admit it has been a difficult Summer and walking away from someone I once loved with every fiber of my being for YEARS was not easy. I cried- a lot, and there were a few days where I couldn’t eat anything- but those tears have become less and less frequent and have been replaced with a newfound sense of strength (and also I’m back to eating everything in front of me- thank God.) I don’t stress out as much as I used to. When my phone beeps- I don’t immediately cringe worrying about what lie of my ex’s will be exposed next or what excuse he’s concocted to skirt responsibility he’ll throw my way. I have more time to focus on my work, my friends and my family- all of whom have shown me a tremendous outpouring of support and approval for my decision to do what was right for me and not what I thought was right for him.

More importantly: I’m able to focus on myself. In the days and weeks following the very final conversation with my ex- I realized how much of myself I’d lost leading up to and throughout this ordeal and what I’d given up for someone who couldn’t even meet me halfway. It made me sick. It was a wake up call and it’s been nice spending time alone and doing things on my own that make me happy.

It feels, like the first time in a long time, that I’ve finally stood up for myself. Granted, it was long overdue- but I did it and I’m proud of myself for not simply rolling over and tolerating being treated like an object or an afterthought anymore. In the 2006 movie ‘The Holiday’ (a cheesy romantic comedy and one of my absolute favorite guilty pleasures)– the late and great Eli Wallach tells Iris (a character I relate to in so many ways and who is played by the Goddess Kate Winslet)– who has just confided in him about the man she loves who has left her for another woman but keeps giving her false hope and leading her on:

“He let you go. This is not a hard one to figure out. Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.”

I’ve been thinking about that quote on and off since all this began to unfold this past Summer- and it resonates with me now more than ever. I’m a leading lady- and it’s about time I started being treated like one. Just like Iris, I put my foot down and told the man who was hurting me for years I was finished with him- and it felt amazing.

Let me reiterate: realizing you are worth it and you are deserving of happiness and love feels AMAZING.

Surprisingly, one of the better things to come out of this is the friendship I’ve developed with the other woman who was hurt in all of this, too (I’m still not revealing names for privacy reasons- but I would like to state that calling her “the other woman” makes me feel really bad since that’s not what she is at all. I just don’t know how else to refer to her without posting her name!)  It’s unfortunate but fairly common to see women turn against each other in scenarios like these- leaving the actual at-fault party free of blame while they’re too busy bickering or going out of their way to tear down the other- but this time the women actually teamed up to hold the person REALLY responsible accountable.

Since her and I have met in person (and she’s truly lovely)– we’ve hung out a couple of times. She’s bright, funny, and someone I have a lot in common with apart from our questionable taste in guys. I may have said goodbye to a 15 year friendship- but I gained a new one- and it’s based on honesty and support. I don’t regret that one bit.

handleit

In Addition…

Despite the occasional aggressive or angry undertones scattered throughout this post- I don’t want to vilify my ex. That was not and never will be my intention. He hurt me- badly, and his behavior was downright deplorable and reckless at times- but I don’t wish anything bad on him or for him. Our entire friendship and relationship wasn’t ALL bad. We did have good times- and I will always cherish those memories and in some way, I will always cherish him for being a part of them.

I just can’t have him in my life or anywhere near me anymore.

I admit I am not a perfect person- and I’m sure in many ways I was not the ideal friend/girlfriend/lover/whatever- but I tried my hardest to be and I fought as valiantly as I could to keep things together. I accept my share of blame and I take responsibility for those less-than-perfect things I did/said throughout the years. I own up to my mistakes and I have learned from them. Just like I’m learning from this now.

I hope my ex gets the help he needs. He has some deep-rooted honesty and commitment issues that I truly think he needs a professional to help him work through. He is surrounded by “yes!” people- meaning that the people in his life enable him and allow him to continue to act the way he has leading up to this point and they refuse to hold him accountable for any wrongdoings- and it has taken a toll on him and the relationships he has with those who care about him and who can’t sit back and not keep him in check from time to time.

I truly do wish him the best in all things. I wish him love, happiness and success in whatever path he chooses. I hope he has a long, healthy and fulfilling life. I really and honestly do- but I also hope this whole situation has taught him a valuable lesson- similar to the lessons I learned for myself. It would be a damned shame to walk away from this without at least gaining some perspective.

This post was to give everyone an in-depth and unfiltered look into what has been going on in my life this past Summer, and in some ways- the last couple of years. My detailing the history of the relationship was not an attempt to tell any sort of sordid or salacious tidbits- but rather to help those following along better understand why I was so reluctant to walk away from this relationship at first and the emotional, mental, and at times physical toll this had taken on me. I loved him, and I was heartbroken- and I tend to disappear when I am sad so that I can work through things without burdening those closest to me with my tears or overall lethargy.

I want people who find themselves in the same situation that I was in to take a long and hard look at it and ask themselves the same question I did: is it worth it?

Knowing someone for a long time isn’t a free pass for them treat you however they want. Sleeping with someone doesn’t mean that sex is all you’re good for. If someone you’re dating/friends with can’t respect you enough to show you common courtesy and treat you like a human being they value and appreciate- then you need to respect, value and appreciate yourself enough to know when to move on to people who DO. It’s perfectly acceptable to put yourself, your needs, and your emotional well-being first once in a while.

I did what was right for me- as painful and as difficult as it was- and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

And you have to do what’s right for you, too.

You owe yourself the chance to be happy. Believe that.

xx

2 thoughts on “I Just Got Out of a Toxic Relationship.

  1. Ashley, this was a really great post and such an in-depth look at survivor’s of emotional abuse and neglect. I’m sorry you went through that but like you said – it was a silver lining. It taught you so much about yourself and in the process, you gained a friend. It’s not easy to admit our mistakes and defeats when we take a lot at the entire picture but you did it and you made it through. For that, I admire you greatly and you’re a beautiful person inside and out. Self love is the best kind of live. Keep prospering!

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