When I look back on one of my most intense relationships, the first thing I think is “that was toxic.” The second? “That was absolutely brilliant.”
I decided to write about this “relationship” for a memoir workshopping class. In reality, it was never fully a relationship, never consistent, feelings never allowed, with “nothing personal” and “don’t fall in love” constantly on the tips of our tongues. When I shared it with the class, somebody described our relationship — its highs, lows, secrecy, and scandal — as an addiction.
Those words have stuck with me.
My toxic relationship was a secret. I had just started at a new college, and the only person who I found myself attracted to was — you guessed it — my professor.
He was young and arrogant, a smartass who was completely knowledgeable on the subject he was teaching. We immediately butted heads — for every insult he threw my way, I had a sarcastic retort. In labs, my group would watch in silence as we challenged one another, jokingly taking sides until one of us backed down.
But there was always sexual tension simmering beneath the implied respect, and it didn’t take long to surface.
We broke almost immediately, and an illicit affair began right then. In public, we insulted each other more harshly than before, regularly engaging in verbal sparring and tormenting one another sadistically. Other students took notice, commenting on how hard he was on me, and I would agree and call him an asshole. But still, I would receive a “u up?” text at one in the morning every few weeks, and still, I would show up on his doorstep.
A toxic relationship is one of the most exciting, passionate, unpredictable, and addicting relationships. It leaves you constantly hovering on the edge, always worried that it will end, always tired of the push-and-pull while simultaneously yearning for it when it temporarily disappears. There’s a certain need to it, a greediness for the unattainable. There are withdrawals, where your skin crawls because they haven’t called in weeks, and when your phone finally lights up with their name, it’s a fresh injection directly into your bloodstream.
It’s a high you keep chasing, because you’re too scared to admit that, maybe, you might actually care more than you’re supposed to, and, maybe, if it ends, you might not survive the fallout.
Yes, a toxic relationship is its own form of an addiction.
As a close friend told me, “you will not stop until you are literally forced to end.” And that was the exact case — until I met somebody else.
It had to end. I knew it. But I was too scared to call it over, too scared to face his anger that would inevitably follow, too scared to say aloud that I was letting him go — the familiarity of distance seemed easier than the excitement that came with a true connection. So I blocked his number, wrote him out of my system, and slowly let him slip to the back of my mind, allowing myself to fall in love with my new boyfriend.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t still think about him on occasion. My writing folder is filled with songs and poetry about him.
The smell of tequila can teleport me back to his bedroom. I know he has called and texted me, but I refuse to unblock his number. This is what sobriety is for me — resisting the temptation for my own good. I have a relationship with somebody I never want to lose, somebody who loves me wholeheartedly, who has my best interests in mind, who treats me well and never, ever insults me because that’s the only way they know how to express their feelings.
He is my best friend, and I could not be happier with my decision to rid myself of the negativity I had become so accustomed to. I know my toxic relationship could be right around the corner if I wanted it, but relapsing is the last thing I want to do. I never want to hurt one of the best things about me.
There is something about toxic relationships that attracts almost everyone, and I think the passion that comes with it is the most enticing part.
Everybody wants passion — they want somebody who will fight for them, fight with them; somebody who will take them higher than they’ve ever been before, then cut them down; somebody who drags them along on a roller-coaster ride, because who doesn’t love the feeling of their stomach dropping as adrenaline courses through their veins?
But toxic relationships are not maintainable — eventually, you burn out. You take a hit that’s too strong for your body to handle. You let it pull you down, until you’re gasping for air and searching for a hold so you don’t drown. It’s extremely dramatic and anticlimactic at the same time — this feeling you thought you’d need forever is suddenly gone, as if it was never there at all.
I don’t regret my toxic relationship. It would be easy to, but he was such an important figure in my life during a very formative time.
I don’t think I would be the way I am without him and the mess we created. And while I could have gone without his callous ways of cutting me down, I must also thank him for smoothing out my edges and teaching me that, sometimes, passion can come from love – and solely love, without using abuse as a guise.
And, really — who better to learn from than a professor?