How I Navigate a Healthy Relationship After Leaving a Toxic One

My relationship with love has always been complicated, dating back to the various Disney movies I consumed as a kid.

Not to put all the blame on Disney, but those films did create a false narrative of fairytale love for young girls like me. They depicted the type of love you travel oceans for, send handwritten letters back and forth for—and perhaps get you escorted out of school in a horse-drawn carriage. To my surprise, this is not what love felt like as a teenager. Not even close.

Aladdin: Aladdin and Jasmine on a magic carpet ride
(Aladdin via Buena Vista Pictures)

First Loves

When I heard the rumor that my middle school boyfriend had told Morgan he loved her in Spanish class, I immediately ran to the school nurse and had my mom pick me up. Love always seemed to result in a crying-in-the-shower type of pain and, for the most part, unrequited.

By the time I'd moved on to high school, little had changed, and I so desperately wanted a boyfriend. All my friends were lucky enough to be in and out of relationships, yet it seemed I couldn't even land one— which led to my desperation growing stronger and stronger. Once I got to college, I finally got a boyfriend—but, of course, that didn't make all of my dreams come true, either.

Shutterstock: silhouette of woman sitting on the bed beside the windows with sunlight in the morning
(via Shutterstock)


Toxic Relationships

Being charmed by the idea of a partnership, when I got into my first "real" relationship, it took me far too long to realize it was unhealthy. After two years of an on-and-off-again relationship, my partner finally called it quits. Looking back, I wish I'd had the power to remove myself from a situation that was only harming me, but I became addicted to all the games. I misconstrued anxiety for passion and stress for excitement, and I tolerated his poor behavior because I believed love was about accepting someone fully, flaws and all. All my friends were tired of hearing about my issues with him— including my therapist—and were relieved when they finally got the news.


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Lacking a Sense of Self

After making my toxic relationship my passion during the first couple of years of college, I had no idea what I was actually passionate about until my sophomore year. I poured everything into maintaining this falsified idea that I was in a loving partnership, which took all my energy. I spent so much time obsessing about loving someone and being loved that figuring out my dreams and aspirations was pushed aside. After cutting off communication with my ex, I was finally able to start exploring what I wanted to do with my life. I found writing and comedy, and a couple of months after our breakup, I put everything I could into building a career for myself. I engaged in the occasional fling after the split, but nothing stuck. After I graduated, I met my now-boyfriend of three years. After years of getting so close to relationships that didn't work out, I figured the same thing would happen with this new guy, but I was pleasantly surprised.

navigating healthy relationship
(via Unsplash)


Also read about: How Embracing Your Flaws and Practicing Self-Compassion Can Improve Your Life


The Journey That is Self-Love

Whether it was because I graduated at the beginning of a pandemic or due to the exhaustion that followed me from years of unhealthy situationships, I wound up developing a blasé attitude around dating. Because of this, I felt more comfortable expressing everything I expected from a relationship with this new guy, not even caring at the time if it would work out. I knew what I wanted and what I needed, and refused to put myself through the wringer, as I had in other relationships. I promised myself I wouldn't be the first to follow his friends on Instagram, the only one texting first, the only one making plans or the only one putting in the effort—all things that I did in previous toxic relationships. Through developing these boundaries, I was able to protect myself and create what is now a thriving relationship.

In my current healthy relationship, I often reflect on who I was in previous relationships and how I begged for love and kindness from my partners. I carry myself to a higher standard now, only accepting the behavior I deserve and never making excuses for people, because I no longer have the energy or desire to. Don't get me wrong; there are many times in my current relationship that anxieties and insecurities I developed from my previous relationship arise, like questioning his sincerity or his desire to be around me. I wish I never had to get through hell to experience what I am experiencing now, but here I am—with more knowledge and a boatload of love for myself.

Shutterstock: young couple baking cookies in the kitchen

(via Shutterstock)


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