Adulting: A Mini Series, Part III
I’m a little nervous to write this blog. I’m nervous not because of how you may think of me after reading this. I’m nervous because writing about my experience memorializes what happened and what kind of relationship I stayed in for far too long.
As a disclaimer, I am not about to write a blog about how my ex was a terrible person. It is not my intention to bash him, how he was in our relationship, or a chance for me to hypothesize on why he did the things he did.
Instead, I am using my personal experience as a way to illustrate the different ways I experienced this relationship- beginning when I was 23 years old and ending things when I was 25. I started this relationship in my early 20’s; I ended it right smack dab in the middle of my twenties, and here I am now, in my late 20’s making sense of it all- both for my own benefit and in the hopes that it might help someone else out there.
For confidentiality reasons, I’m not going to use his real name. I’ll refer to him from here on out as Brad.
Brad and I met right after I finished grad school. I was elated about having my Masters Degree and all of the opportunities that I hoped were around the corner. We met when we were both on vacation and you know how that goes- vacation mode on, reality brain off. We met, had chemistry, and as fate would have it (that’s how I literally told this story) he lived in the town that I was about to move to.
We began dating and things moved fast. Like talking on the phone for hours after only hanging out twice fast. I distinctly remember being on a girls’ trip not even a week after we met, being in downtown Palm Spring with my friends, and as we were walking past all the shops and bars, guess what I was doing? Talking to him on the phone. My friends point out this memory all the time, too. “Who even is this guy?” “Seriously, get off the phone!” and pulling all kinds of charades to distract me and get me to hang up.
Warning sign one: I was already prioritizing him over my friends.
Fast forward not even a month into our “relationship,” and his ex showed up at his house. I’ll spare you all of the Lifetime details, but trust me, it was every ounce of dramatic as you can imagine would happen on the Lifetime Movie Network. And guess what? I didn’t leave. In fact, I stayed at his place for a few days, just hangin’, ignoring yet another red flag, even inviting a friend over to talk about how dramatic everything once that had happened in his house.
Warning sign two: His ex was not his ex.
This woman ended up being a constant stressor- and not because she was some psychopath or he was- again, I’m not here to call people out, but to put it gently, there was another person in our relationship for the year we dated and ultimately ended up being the final reason I walked away.
For those of you following me on Instagram, you might have read a recent post in which I referenced the writing on a mirror that I ignored. She had been at his house the night before and wrote him a “feel better,” message over his bathroom sink.
I remember seeing it, my stomach dropping, going out to the living room and confronting him on it. I asked him, “Who in the world wrote that? It’s her isn’t it?!”
“No, I wrote that to myself. I’m doing this thing where I write love notes to myself to make myself feel better.”
I am not making this up.
And guess what? I stayed.
Warning sign three: I ignored my intuition. I knew she wrote the note.
Now, this madness didn’t go on every day. I mean I wasn’t that nuts, but over the year we were together I can remember so many incidences where I questioned my sanity. I knew I wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t being the friend I wanted to be. I had no boundaries. My schedule revolved around him. I felt myself constantly questioning my worth, my value, my ability to make something of myself for myself.
I second-guessed my career. I felt guilty for student debt that allowed me to do the work I do now. I compared myself to where he was financially, despite the fact that he was older than me and had privileges growing up that I didn’t.
Money had always been a sore subject for me- and it was a weakness that I was transparent about from the get-go. I mean I am a therapist after all. I’d say self-awareness is one of my strong suits.
And yet, despite telling him that money was a sore subject, he asked me how much debt I was in on our first real date. On my 25th birthday, he went around asking my best friends if they liked the cupcakes and told them how much each cost. Umm, hello- SusieCakes is worth every penny. And just a week later, when we were spending a weekend in San Francisco with my best friend celebrating our birthdays, I was off to go to one of the biggest Macy’s I’d ever been to, and he looked at me and said,
“Remember, jewelry doesn’t buy houses.”
So, what did I do? I rebelled. I bought jewelry and thought HAH! I’ll show him. Sounds like a super mature relationship, right? And still, I kept on.
He recognized a weak spot and instead of encouraging me to push past it and rewrite a story, he fed into the negative thoughts I had.
Warning sign four: He made me feel bad about my relationship with money and my overall worth and value.
I didn’t listen to my friends and family when they expressed concern. I rationalized, justified, and glossed over every red flag.
I tried to make life seem exciting and vibrant when really it was straight up crazy making.
It was two days into the New Year when he asked me to hold his phone and a message from his ex that had shown up at the beginning of our relationship made her appearance yet again. And then I was done.
By that point, I had had enough.
But let it be clear, I put up with all kinds of shenanigans that seem ludicrous to me now.
It was and is part of my journey and I am sharing it with you today because I believe this relationship represents so many of the pitfalls we can find ourselves in during our twenties.
In our early twenties, we don’t know who we are and yet we think we do. We think we know who we are and who we will become with 100% certainty. And yet I couldn’t be farther from that person than who I am now.
In the early stages of this relationship, I accommodated to his every move for fear of losing him; of losing a relationship; of losing a social circle.
I ignored the red flags. I thought the red could turn to white with enough communication, with enough time, with enough attempts to try and change him. Mental note: those red flags were far too bright a hue to dye any other colors lighter than red.
In our mid twenties, we become savvier. We start thinking long-term and play out our timelines of weddings, babies, and where we want to nest. It was during this time that I started to question the actual legitimacy and longevity that this relationship had.
I had been 25 for not even 2 weeks when the infamous “jewelry doesn’t buy houses,” incident occurred. And it was on this trip that larger concerns I had came to the surface.
The last six months of the relationship often seemed like an alcohol-soaked blur. He would drink himself into a stupor, I would have to babysit him, leave events before I was ready, and finally started calling out larger issues.
“Brad, I am not going to be in a relationship with you if you keep this up. I am not going to raise a family with a guy who can’t be sober on the weekends.”
I was beginning to find my voice as a woman.
And that terrified him. Terrified him into even bigger drunken stupors. It was on the birthday trip to San Francisco that solidified concerns about his drinking. It was our first night there so we naturally went to a gay bar. And if you know gay bars, you know they don’t mess around with their drinks.
He pounded a few, was super awkward when Britney Spears would play, and guys in thongs would walk by and caused a scene that resulted in me going home early, without my best friend on our first night in SF celebrating our birthday.
The entire walk home we fought. I yelled about his drinking. He yelled about my yelling. I’m sure the people around us were busting out their popcorn and enjoying the show.
The next morning we made nice, apologized, and he agreed that he needed to tone it down. Guess what? He didn’t. That night, the jewelry night, he got drunker than ever. We almost didn’t get into a club and yet again, I was playing babysitter, not happy-go-lucky birthday girl. Not cute.
When we were on our flight back to LA, I looked at my best friend and told her, “Things won’t be the same when we get home.”
And they weren’t. This was when I began to see the work that I had been doing since grad school begin to pay off. I was starting to become more comfortable and confident in my adulthood. Through this process, I began to value myself more and recognized what I deserved compared to what I was getting.
This discrepancy is ultimately what led me to leave. I realized that I could do better; that there was more for me out there.
And now here I am in my late 20’s. I am established in my career. I am in a relationship that fulfills me and builds me up instead of tearing me down. And who I am in this relationship is in large part due to who I was then. I have seen the downfalls of who I can be in a relationship and have made conscious efforts to do the exact opposite.
Because of that, I have no regrets about my past relationship. It taught me a tremendous amount about myself, my blind spots, and my strengths.
And so, if you are in a relationship that is less than ideal, ask yourself why you are staying. Challenge yourself to think of what a better relationship would look like, would feel like, and why in the world you’re not letting yourself have it.
Push yourself to think of how much happier you can be; how much growth is ahead of you; and how your future relationship will be that much better off because of your decision now to walk away.
If you are playing out your relationship story in your head as if it was happening to a close girlfriend and you are thinking to yourself, “GIRL. You gotta GO.” Then it is time. You are your best friend. You have to have your own back and respect your non-negotiables, pay attention to the red flags, and know when it is time to walk away- and then put on your big girl shoes and turn around.
Lose the negative story and rally for the goodness that’s to come. Your older you will be on the other end with a big smile, so grateful for what you did for her. I promise.