Before I started dating my current boyfriend of five years, I was in another relationship.
Actually, calling it a “relationship” is a stretch because there was never any real commitment involved.
Trust me, I didn’t like that we weren’t exclusive, but I masked my discomfort by telling myself that, “He’ll change.”
The First Red Flag
When I started seeing this guy, I was infatuated with the idea that I got the one who was supposedly hard to get.
While part of me enjoyed the chase, there were moments when his mystery was less appealing.
One day, a few months into our relationship, I was having a conversation with one of my coworkers at the pizza place I worked at in high school. During our conversation, I discovered that she was going to school with this guy I was seeing, so I asked her if she knew who he was. Rather than saying, “Yes! He’s great and you’re perfect together,” she groaned and said, “Yep. Everyone knows him. Be careful.”
I decided to ignore this red flag that was waving right in my face.
She just didn’t understand. I was different than the other girls he dated in the past. I was going to be the one who changed him.
Here’s what our “relationship” consisted of: he would lure me in with “I love you’s,” sweet texts, and invites to outings with his family. Then, a week or so later, there would be crickets on his end. This random act of silence would leave me feeling so confused and frustrated. I would lay in bed for hours crying and wondering what I did to make him not want me anymore.
Even though I knew he wasn’t committed to me, I still pursued him. Some days, it would feel like we were a real couple and he actually loved me. Despite how rare these days were, they fueled my hope. My desperate, dimly lit hope in this idea that I could be the girl who changed him.
The Magic Words
One day, after not talking to me for a while, he sent me a text that said, “Let’s hang out.” I dropped everything I was doing and drove to the restaurant where we decided to meet. As I was getting ready to walk in, he sent another text: “Sorry, can’t make it. Something else came up.”
Even though this unreliability wasn’t anything new, it still stung like it was the first time he stood me up.
Suddenly, my phone rang. It was my mom.
“Hi! I’m so sorry to bother you on your date, I–”
“It wasn’t a date. Either way, it doesn’t matter. I’m coming home.”
“Why? What happened? I thought you were going to dinner.”
“He can’t make it.”
After a long sigh, my mother spoke the words that set me free:
“Alana – you need to drop him. Look at what he’s doing to you. You’re not “that girl” who completely gives herself over to a guy like this. He doesn’t respect you, and, as a result, you are not respecting yourself by being a part of this relationship. He’s not going to change.”
Those words were the metaphorical slap in the face I desperately needed. Suddenly, I saw all of those big, bright warning signs that had been flashing in my face for the past year and a half.
I was done being the girl who dropped everything for a guy. I was definitely fed up with being the girl who sticks around to hear another “I love you” even though it was being said to four other women at the same time.
At that moment, I decided that I would rather be single than stuck in a toxic, rollercoaster relationship.
After we stopped talking to each other, I was sad for a while. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find anyone else. I questioned my decision to end things. But, each time the doubts arose, I brought myself back to the conversation I had with my mom.
This time, I pushed my discomfort away by telling myself, “I’m not that girl, and he’s not going to change.”
The Difference Between Real and Fake Love
Now, almost seven years later, I look back and wonder why I put up with so much disrespect.
I’ve been in a healthy relationship for over five years, and I can safely tell you that I know the difference between real and fake love.
Fake love presents itself in a pretty package, but the inside is dark and empty. It leaves you feeling hollow, confused, and worthless.
Real love looks like commitment, trust, and steadiness. It makes you feel valued and respected. Real love doesn’t always come with shiny wrapping paper, but the contents within will sustain you for a lifetime.
To the Girl Who Feels Stuck…
If you are wrapped up in a toxic relationship, know that you should not limit yourself because you’re afraid that you can’t find anything better. You should never put up with a relationship – romantic or otherwise – that makes you question your value.
You might be soothing yourself by saying that “He’ll change,” but what happens if he doesn’t? How long can you put up with worrying about the decisions he makes when he’s out with his friends? He may plead with you and say that he wants to be a better man, but, remember that actions speak louder than words.