It’s that time of the year again – Valentines day! I hope everyone is enjoying it, whether they are single, coupled, or not physically in the same place (aka long distance like myself). But rather than focusing on enjoying singledom or enjoying coupling today, I wanted to approach the topic of toxic relationships, why we stay in them, and why we should sometimes make the break – even if the one who hurts the most might be yourself. Because on this day we are celebrating love, we should also remember that someone we often forget to treat well is ourselves.
Unhealthy. It’s a word we most often associate with food and less with people, but why? In my experience, it seems we are more likely to call someone “emotionally manipulative” than labeling a relationship “unhealthy,” not so unlike our reluctance to name a friend or lover “abusive” emotionally. Why is that when it’s so clear to a third-party? “Emotionally manipulative” makes it sound like it’s the other person’s problem. He or she is in the wrong. However, openly acknowledging a relationship in your life (lover, friend, family) is unhealthy brings into question your own role. Just like that third piece of pizza you consume, you are making a choice while knowing, deep down, this might not be the right thing. Because you see, it takes two to tango. It’s just like the word “abusive.” Once it’s spoken aloud, it’s hard to go back because you have openly admitted that you care about someone who is toxic for you. This is why, I assume, it’s so hard for us to say someone we for whatever reason have feelings for is an unhealthy relationship.
In my experience, most of my friends have come to me for help on their relationships. Nowadays people tend to take my relationship advice less seriously because I am in a happy relationship. I get the sense people don’t want me to hear what I have to say because I’m one of “the lucky few” and don’t understand. But that’s the thing – I do understand. Before my current relationship, I had a very toxic on again off again friendship with someone who I desperately cared about. There were a lot of varying factors that got it to get as bad as it did, but the stark facts of the matter was I had a friendship of five years that had gone from good to bitterly sour.
Someone recently asked me to explain what I thought of this friend, who I will call Fred. I had been taken aback by the question. Another friend at the table who knew both Fred and me quickly answered, “A jackass.” But I said, “No. It’s more than that. Imagine Fred is a guy who is offering you a big slice of chocolate cake. You’re like, wow, cake, thanks! You go over and take a bite of the cake and then Fred suddenly knees you in the balls.” This prompted a whoop of laughter from my listeners. “And then you’re like, ‘Dude, you just kneed me in the balls!’ But Fred will look at you, bewildered, and say, ‘Uh, no, I just gave you chocolate cake.’ Once you finally get him to recognize that he had kneed you in the balls, he’ll sheepishly say, ‘Sorry’ and expect to be forgiven. Whenever you try to bring up how he kneed you, he’ll go, ‘Well yeah, but I gave you cake.’ And then he’d do it all over again.”
Finally, after years of this, I made the break. I cut ties with him. At first, it was really difficult and I had really missed him, this person who I had grown used to talking to every day. But – surprise, surprise, my life became so much better. That unhealthy blob of unhappiness eased away. I found someone who made me happy and, for the first time, have a truly healthy relationship. Sometimes when you’re not in a good relationship (and really, this could be anyone, including a family member), the heart that you need to break might be your own. Time and past happiness are not reasons to stay close to someone abusive. Sometimes the right thing to do for yourself is to make that break, even if you’re the one who hurts the most from it.