Society Magazine

Both Hands: Reflecting On A Manipulative Relationship

Posted on the 25 May 2016 by Juliez
Both Hands: Reflecting On A Manipulative Relationship

What I learned from an unhealthy relationship

I started dating a guy about a week into my freshman year of college. He was, and still is, brilliantly creative and blisteringly intelligent. He thought I was unbearably pretty and we had our first sort of date in the rain under the awning of a bank. I was living away from home, in the middle of nowhere. I was starstruck.

We loved each other deeply and were happy for the first few months. We wrote poetry side by side in the library and, when I asked him about his intentions for us, he kissed my knee and said, “long term.

Our happiness, however, was delicate. He had a strict no PDA policy, which even seemed to include looking at me when we partied with friends, but these displays of affection were reserved in private, too. He touched me only on special occasions. We never had the kind of relationship in which cuddling and watching a movie was typical because I was never quite sure if I was allowed to lean on him.

Later, he decided he didn’t want a relationship because he had very recently broken up with a girl when we met me. I could see and think about nothing but him and how to make him happy. He became more distant as he realized that I still needed him although he just wanted to be friends. But the more he pushed me away, the harder I clung.

Our relationship turned into a cycle of irritation and submission. His emotional abuse and manipulation only increased as he got angrier with himself for treating me that way. In my brief moments of strength, I told him that if we broke up, he would lose me altogether. That kept him around longer than he should have stayed.

It is hard to explain how I became a shell of a person, a husk of what I had once been. My entire being was focused on him at all times. I fought for crumbs of his affection and felt gleeful when he got drunk or high and would let me lay my hands on his chest. I can even feel his skin under my fingers now. He was a drug to me — a drug that ultimately made me unbearably depressed.

I was unbearably sad when we broke up, but as the days passed I found I was not mourning losing him, but rather the relationship we never had and the love he never willingly gave to me. I was mourning the vast deprivation of love I allowed myself to feel for the few times he would willingly hold me.

I now understand how impossible it can feel to leave an unhealthy relationship. I didn’t. I wouldn’t have had not broken up with me on that Tuesday night not so long ago. I won’t pretend that I made the leap, that I found the strength to make the best decision for myself. But now that it has happened, I’m so thankful. I’m seizing it with both hands.

I can’t help but think of the many other women out there who cannot find a way to leave, either. To them I say, I understand. There are people who can help you, but right now, in this moment: Do your best to hold onto yourself — ideally with both hands.

If you or someone you know is dealing with an unhealthy relationship, visit Love Is Respect or call the National Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474.

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