Manipulative relationships are extremely easy to identify from the outside, but when you’re in one, your judgment is clouded and you can’t see how far you’ve fallen into something you normally wouldn’t tolerate for even a second. The signs were there along the way, I just couldn’t see them until it was too late. Since good ol’ hindsight is 20/20, here’s what I should’ve seen throughout that rocky, sh*t-covered road:
I thought I was too smart to get sucked in.
My first mistake was assuming I was too clever to fall into a manipulative relationship, because nobody is immune to this. It’s not like these dynamics start off miserably — no one goes from sex and snuggles to screaming and gaslighting in one day. The bad stuff doesn’t usually happen until you’re in too deep.
It happened slowly and sneakily.
It started with something subtle and innocent, like an offhand comment about the way I “overreacted” to something. It might have even been one of those “half-jokes,” but I didn’t notice because I was happy and wanted to stay happy. As long as we were smiling together, things were perfect, right? Wrong.
My ex used my vulnerability against me.
The longer you date someone, the more you learn about that person… and the more comfortable you get with sharing parts of yourself that you normally keep locked away. So once I started becoming more vulnerable with my ex, he would use those deep secrets and insecurities against me in an argument later. This was to undercut the crappy thing he had just done, which is why we were fighting in the first place. Yes, I’m convinced he was part pure evil.
I found myself judging other relationships just to feel better.
In order to make myself feel better about my human dumpster fire boyfriend, I would find mild joy in seeing other couples fight. It could be on TV or in real life, and it was a relief because it validated the misery I found myself in, even when I wasn’t ready to admit just how miserable I was.
He put me in an impossible position, wherein I couldn’t walk away.
This particular ex had a relative that was sick at the time, and whenever we’d get into really terrible arguments – to the point where my hands were thrown up in the air and I was confidently shouting, “F*CK THIS!” – he would cry and blame it all on the stress from watching said relative suffer. It was manipulative AF but it worked because, since I’d never been through something similar, I thought he really needed me. So I stayed… way longer than I should’ve.
Gaslighting became his main form of communication.
There came a point when pretty much everything I said was twisted around into things I didn’t say or mean, and I was left questioning my own sanity. I altered my behavior to avoid confrontations like this and constantly walked on eggshells.
I really should’ve listened to my squad.
My friends and family saw what was happening – even though my evil ex would usually save his idiocy for when it was just the two of us – and tried to intervene. They said I deserved better, that this wasn’t healthy and that he a controlling jerk. They were right. I didn’t listen, though, because I pulled the whole, “Well they don’t know him like I know him” nonsense. Pro tip: If this is your only defense, you need to dump his ass immediately.
I was anxious all damn day.
Every aspect of my life became a complete mess. My work suffered, my studies suffered, my friendships diminished and I never wanted to get out of bed. I was so deep into this mess that I began to rely on his opinions of me to determine how I saw myself. And since nothing made him happy, I hated myself most of the time. I sought his approval, and rarely ever got it, even though I was basically existing for him and nothing else.
I was willing to sacrifice everything just to keep him happy.
I had a close guy friend he didn’t like, so my ex didn’t trust me with him. He gave me an ultimatum, and I’d like to say that I told my ex to screw himself for making me choose, but guess what I actually did? I cut my friend out of my life to appease my ex’s fragile masculinity. Big mistake. HUGE.
When it ended, I felt free – and not at all sad.
The happy ending here is that we did break up. And when it ended for good (because we broke up a bunch of times that didn’t stick), I had nothing to mourn. We were only together for a little over a year and he wrecked me. He emotionally tortured me and made me hate all the parts of myself that I previously always loved. So when I got to say goodbye forever to his hideously mug, I smiled. I felt 1,000 lbs lighter. I repaired my friendships. I did whatever the hell made me happy. And most importantly, I resurrected those parts of me that he tried to snuff out. I now that I know how monsters like this operate, I will never find myself in this position again.