I sat on my orange and yellow flowered bedspread, staring at my princess phone, willing it to ring. It was 6:10. He said he would call at 6:00.
He wasn’t going to call. Maybe I should call him? Maybe not. He got annoyed the last time I did that. My heart was racing and I felt like I was going to cry. Or throw up. Or both.
I was 16. I know now that this was the very first in a long line of my “toxic” relationships.
“He was just a lesson,” my best friend wrote in a card to me. She was hoping to cheer me up after he completely broke my heart. I always remembered her words. The problem was I didn’t learn from them.
I never did drugs. I have never been more than a social drinker. I don’t gamble. The addiction I had was to destructive relationships.
I was the girl who always wanted the unattainable guy. The bad boy, a guy still in love with his ex-girlfriend, the one that still wanted to play the field. And of course, the assholes – they were my favorites, and there were many of them.
I didn’t think I was out of the ordinary. I thought that everyone went through this – the anxiety and stress of trying to hold on to something that really isn’t worth holding on to.
Most of us have probably experienced this feeling to some extent – waiting for the phone to ring, or hoping that the one you are interested in likes you back. It is a part of dating at any age.
What I experienced time and time again was so much more than that. I chased after what I couldn’t have. The worse things would get and the more horribly I was treated, the more I would hang on.
I thought life was a romantic movie. If I waited long enough, the guy would come around and realize that he really did love me. He would chase me down in the rain and beg me to be with him, just like in the movies. He would change his ways for me and we would live happily ever after.
Those things do not often happen in real life. When a guy treats you like garbage, he is not going to turn into Prince Charming. I learned that the hard way.
The last one of these relationships was the most torturous. They were all heartbreaking, but this one was different. He declared his love for me over and over again. Great, right? Not so much.
He “couldn’t commit,” but at the same time wouldn’t let me go. I knew I was free to leave. I was not held against my will. But the promises kept coming, and I fell for them all. He loved me, and it would all work out. When he was ready, he would treat me like a princess.
When you want to believe something, you believe it. So, I did. I hung on to this relationship for so long I don’t like to think about it, even today. All the while, I was miserable without realizing how miserable I was.
I didn’t eat. I lost so much weight that I was unhealthy. My clothes fell off me.
I couldn’t sleep. I spent my nights ruminating about the relationship. Would it work out, or should I finally leave? If I left, would he chase me down in the rain, begging to come back to me?
I did leave. Twice. There was no rain, but he did come back crying. I happily believed him each time he said it would be different. It wasn’t.
When this relationship finally did come to an end, and he realized he “just couldn’t do it,” I was more devastated than I had ever been.
This was when I hit rock bottom.
I knew it was time to take a long look at myself. I needed to make a change. It was time to stop this pattern and make sure not to do this to myself anymore. I never wanted to feel that horribly again.
The funny thing was when what I dreaded happened, when I lost what I thought that I wanted so badly, I realized how blind I had been. Why would I want to be in a relationship that made me feel so bad?
The breakup was a blessing in disguise. It was as if a light finally turned on in my head. I knew that I never would have been happy with him, or in any of these toxic relationships.
I came to realize that it wasn’t the guy that I wanted so badly. It was the rush, the excitement that these relationships gave.
That feeling was like a drug to me. I knew that it was unhealthy, but I craved it anyway.
Once I discovered what the root of the problem was, I was able to help myself. I can now see the red flags in front of me, and therefore do my best to avoid them.
The good news is that the three most meaningful, long-term relationships I have ever had were happy and healthy ones. I now know the difference between love and pain. Those feelings do not belong together.
I think of those words in the card from my friend back in high school, that “he was just a lesson.” It took me a lot more than that one teenage relationship to finally learn my lesson, but now that I have, I know what it means to be truly happy in a relationship.
I am grateful to be in one now. I sleep, I eat, and I smile all the time. Being happy is a wonderful feeling.
Stacey Feintuch is a freelance writer who lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two boys. And she’s Stacey with an E opposed to this site’s co-founder, Stacy.