I was madly in love with the man I dated until last year. Let me rephrase that. I was in a terrible relationship last year. I can say with complete certainty that walking away from it was the sanest decision of last year. It was unbelievably toxic in ways that I have listed too many times.
Among them, losing and giving too much of myself was among the main reasons. Claustrophobia is also up there in the top three. But my number one reason is him not standing up for me. Ever. Never stood up for me when his family called me terrible names. Never stood up for me when his family brought up marriage within a week of us dating. Never stood up for me when (even after saying yes) his family kept taunting me about how much they were adjusting for me and how their weddings were much grander. Never stood up for me when his family kept slipping it in about how their weddings were paid for entirely by the girl’s side — every two weeks!
Why was I with him for so long then? We had stuff in common, yes, but one sometimes tends to think that it can potentially be something more. In the next few weeks after my breakup, I questioned why I had to be in this relationship to begin with. He didn’t stand up for me from Day 1. For all my feminism, I bent over backwards to put his needs over mine. I think I really wanted it to work. Make no mistake, I fucked up too. I fucked up in giving in and taking that shit. I was dismissed by his family as a rebellious person, who was independent, yes, and could continue being that way, so long as the independence and sense of boundaries were outside the house.
Inside that house, I felt confined. Like there was no sacred space for him, and me, no conversation that we as a couple could have together without it being about his family or without his family being privy to it. Outside, he was okay with me being in charge but in front of his folks, he expected compliance. But compliant and submissive and malleable I was not.
It took me so long to get out of this stupor and take off the rose-tinted glasses I was wearing to see that all the condescending, “Oh, your girlfriend is so independent!” boiled down to nothing if I wasn’t being compliant. All it took was a resounding ‘NO’ for me to see it. All the praise and thinly veiled slights turned to venom and came raining down on me the day I said no.
Why did I not say yes to their demands again? Because it’s the first time I saw it with my eyes open. So far, it had never come to my self-respect because I was fighting my own battles. The moment it came to that sort of standoff, I knew which side he was on. It was the side he had always been on, the side he had always chosen — silence — implying later, in words, that he wanted me to comply — like always!
So I walked away from that burning building. And I did it with my dignity intact. I come off as a bit of a Loony Lovegood, all dreamy and lost in my own thoughts, but I can be remarkably centered if it involves my own self-respect. I knew I couldn’t be with someone, with whom silence was the only option, even if someone else was forcing me into submission.
Here’s the thing. As painful as it may sound, as much as it took me every ounce, ever fiber of my being to walk away from that relationship, I’m glad I did. Just before we broke up, I confessed to a friend — “I am terribly afraid of not being able to survive without him”. In truth, it was the best thing I did for myself. It was not easy. It was the most difficult thing I did for myself. But I did it for the right reasons.
There was a lot I heard from his folks and mine “how adjusting a little would make life easier for me”. Guess what? Everyone adjusts but sacrificing one’s self-respect is an entirely different matter. Not standing up for the people you love is something that will continue to remain unacceptable to me no matter where I am in my life.
I got detected with allergic bronchitis at the start of this year. It has been with me my entire life but was detected only in January. I have been on medication since and I have breathed easy after that. Not one episode of wheezing or feeling like I’m losing breath. Walking out of this relationship felt like that. It felt like I was breathing easy for the first time in my life.
Not having the pressure to succumb to any expectations meant that I could finally see clearly and could take my life’s decisions without anticipating the need to comply or submit. In walking away from what or who I loved most, I found the strength to put myself first, to muster every ounce of strength and courage I didn’t know I had and give myself credit for ever since I chose myself. It is the best decision I have made for myself.
We’re taught that love is this selfless, unselfish, sacrificial rite of passage that we must put ourselves through in order to make our lives happy. I have been taught some version of this too. The reality is that we have only ourselves to live with for the rest of our lives. If I sleep wracked with guilt about how I’m being anything but true to myself just to keep someone else happy, I don’t know how I’ll get through life. If you don’t take care of the most important person in your life — you — how will you ever be able to manage others’ expectations?
At many points in our life, we will be faced with this kind of decision. For love, work or anything else, really. It will be painfully hard to walk away from something you have put your heart and soul and a lot of tears into. But there is a lot of dignity in walking away from something that painful. You will learn from the experience. You will gain wisdom and strength and courage. And most importantly, you will heal and hope and learn to love and trust again. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I know I will one day and that is the hope that keeps me going.