Thoughtful Thursday: Romance after Toxic Relationships.

As always, I’m late to the party when it comes to blog posting on time but for once – I’m actually happy this was happening late! At first this little blurb was to celebrate fluffy, decadent romance as an older woman for the month of Feb but decided to change my mind in the middle of it. The original plan was to talk about my newfound relationship and what quirks I’ve had to navigate as someone who hasn’t dated for over five years but after binge watching those Psych2Go videos on Youtube, the inspiration hit me. A lot of times I’ll watch them to challenge myself but they’re mostly just fun to watch until I noticed something: how do we navigate through a healthy relationship when we’ve experienced an abusive, toxic one? It was requested by many, including myself and I realized that there weren’t many videos explaining it. I spent the month debating if I was capable writing something that big but in truth, my qualifications met the criteria to the letter.

I’ve not been in a relationship for nearly seven years until now and I won’t lie, this was mostly done on purpose because my previous relationships were terrible for my health, heart and mind as I’ve come to experience physical/mental abuse, cheating, depression, gaslighting – pretty much everything that can set you up with a lifetime worthy trauma. The idea of being alone felt really comfortable to me after spending so many years trying to chase my partner down for validation, compensating for affection that wasn’t there and constantly putting their happiness before my own. Nowadays I could read and play otome games until dawn without having to answer to anyone, surrounding myself with loved ones for on my own terms and it was the absolute BEST! Everyday was mine and it was glorious.

Then something happened: I found myself yearning for someone. A person whose been in my life for some time, but things were shifting as they became a more frequent thought in my life: wondering if they ate, what kind of hobbies they liked and always blushing when I saw their picture. I actually wanted to invite this person into my safe bubble so I could enjoy these things with them and share their company. It was a magical, confusing and scary feeling all at once. It was like choosing to purchase a used book instead of brand new, if I was that used book,

 “Why wouldn’t you buy the new one? Can’t you see how scuffed my spine is? WHAT ABOUT THE CHEETOH STAINS ON MY LAST PAGE? Someone definitely took a bite out of me and I’m pretty sure I smell like mothballs. Are you sure, friend?”

All I could think about was how long would it take before I chased them off, what negative things about myself would scare them away because, in my eyes, I was “broken goods.” My previous experiences only gave me scars and emotional baggage so the idea of overwhelming someone with that was scary. No one wants to welcome someone into their life just to see a bunch of messy, broken objects and unfolded laundry. You want it clean, spotless and perfect.

You want to be perfect.

Sure, it’s cute and quirky when we see our favorite characters act on their flaws, but when did it ever turn out that flawless for us in the real world? How many times have we seen Usagi get overwhelmed with her duties as Sailor Moon and decide to sleep the day away with us thinking, “wow that’s so me!” yet when we do it – there’s no magical cat to wake us up. Only a killer headache, more anxiety and heavier heart. We don’t wake up with special powers to change the world, let alone our traumas.

Is there any hope for people like us?

Yes, BUT!

It will require a lot of work and self- reflection. We’re dusting off unpleasant memories we shoved in our attic, removing what doesn’t nourish us, and even remodeling the room if need be, like we’re spring cleaning the entire house. Yes, it will be scary and take a lot out of you emotionally, but we owe this to ourselves. We deserve to find happiness again and let go of things that weigh us down.

To help with that, here are some things I’ve put into practice when introducing myself to a new relationship, be it romantic or platonic! I didn’t list everything here because the list became long, so I’ve decided to split this post into two blog posts to better help others digest.

✧.* SIMPLE & CLEAN – When I was a little girl, so many adults used to gush about how loving their partner was “as easy as breathing” and that they’ve never fought in their entire twenty years of marriage. Their was so perfect that all they had to do was look at each other and just “know” what they were thinking about, no conversations necessary! Congrats to them, truly, but this isn’t a realistic love. I could wax on about how marriage has changed over the past 50 years due to the economy, women’s rights and status, but we’re not here for that!

Media is just as guilty, too. Your favorite movies or shows treat love like some magical quest that all young people must experience or be doomed to be some crochety old spinster with a house full of cats. If you didn’t find someone who could love you enough to fix their problems, then what was the point to even living?!

Never is a big promise, buddy.

This is obviously not true in the slightest. While there may be couples out there who state they’ve never fought before, cheated or had any reason to lay down boundaries because they were “just that chill and understanding” with each other, that is not something you should try to emulate. How someone sees an argument and boundaries could be wildly different from your perspective, and comparing your relationships to someone else’s is nonsensical, in the end. The “perfect couple” doesn’t exist, and if you see it often among friend groups or even on social media, you have to remember that you’re not seeing the entire picture. Every relationship has struggles, and that’s okay because it’s all about navigating with someone, accepting that you’ll both stumble, and that will just make you more ready to love (platonically or romantically) again.

✧.* TRUST – This was the hardest hurdle for me to conquer because it meant that I had to trust two people: my partner and myself. Trust takes time to grow between two people who are exploring a new bond together, and when you consider exploring with someone who’s been through a toxic relationship, you have to practice even more patience, for yourself and them. They won’t understand what you’ve been through until you’re ready to explain. I had to remind myself that this new person I was exploring myself with was different, and they shouldn’t be punished for what someone else did. If I was still feeling unsure, taking a step back and asking myself these questions helped me a lot:

Do I have any boundaries?
Is this something I feel comfortable mentioning to them?
What things could I be flexible with?
Is it difficult for me to forgive?
Will it be hard for me to be honest?
How open am I to self-growth and improvement?
What things am I not flexible with?
Am I bringing previous fears and experiences from my previous relationship to this one?
Can I be vulnerable?
Can I trust my partner?

This was a great way for me to find out if establishing trust was possible with this person, which included pointing out some things that I may still need to work on. It’s easy to fall into unhealthy coping habits (pushing away, second guessing, etc.) without realizing it, so keeping some key questions in mind will not only help you stay on track, but also articulate what kind of concerns you’d like to bring up with your partner. When you open up to them, you’re already building a comfortable, safe environment for you two to speak your thoughts!

✧.* MULLING OVER VS JUMPING THE GUN – Picture this: you’re browsing Instagram, and bam, someone new comments on the hottest picture of your boo. Not only are they vaguely affectionate, but you’ve never heard of this person in your life! You browse their page, you see all sorts of curious pictures of them with your partner in the past, and you’re thinking, “Who the heck are you and what kind of relationship did you two have before me?!” Even though your honey is out with their friends, you REALLY need to know what’s going on – not now, but five minutes ago. Your thumb is on that text pad and you’re ready to blow up that phone like someone owes you money because there’s ten different scenarios playing out in your head and…and…

Yeah, I’ve been there before, and if you’ve experienced this, too, welcome to the club. You may have been cheated on or have a fear of being abandoned. It doesn’t matter how long ago this traumatic experience happened to us because the fear of having it done again remains with us, no matter what. This is especially true when we meet someone who we cannot bear to think of losing. Emotions that are inspired from this fear can be jealousy, anger, low self-esteem, even a little possessiveness. These emotions are natural for anyone, but it’s absolutely crucial that we pay attention to how we respond to these feelings!

How you express these concerns is important!

When entering a new relationship with someone, I had to be honest with myself and take ownership of what causes me to feel this way, and that included finding a healthy way to correct it. While it’s okay to feel upset, you can’t take it out on your partner. So, when something is concerning you, take the day to mull it over: write it down, go for a jog, play a video game or vent to a friend – do things that help keep your mind off things so everything can settle. Think of it like untangling a ball of yarn, tugging away the knots and straightening every strand until you can reach the center of your problems. Even if you’re angry and you NEED to talk to them THIS INSTANT so you can get your answers, remember that no one you’ll date will ever want to purposefully hurt you, and no one likes to be yelled at, humiliated or scolded. You owe it to yourself to take a day and really process your feelings before bringing it up.

✧.* BOUNDARIES – I used to believe establishing boundaries was about having a scary conversation with your partner about following rules that what will make or break your relationship if they weren’t followed but it’s actually quite the opposite. Consider it like a “gaming guide” for each other to help understand what can affect your relationship negatively or positively! Maybe you’ll want a certain day to be date night? Perhaps they have a D&D group they want to make time for? Would they want to have serious conversations in person or over text? How do you prefer to be approached when upset or suffering an anxiety attack?

When you set a boundary, the goal isn’t trying to change how someone else is behaving. If you’re creating boundaries with the intent of changing someone, you’re stepping into a place where we you no longer have control because you cannot and should not be wanting to control someone else. Boundaries exist to empower but also keep you safe, so when you make one, it’s important to uphold it! We can’t decide to have no boundaries and then suddenly have all the boundaries whenever we feel like it, so be consistent, and don’t be afraid to enforce them. Remember, boundaries keep you safe and help notify the people you care about what’s not comfortable.

And if you have a relationship that you feel doesn’t need any boundaries, unfortunately this could be a sign of infatuation or dependency. Your needs are NOT the same as your partners and there should always be a clear understanding of that to avoid this! Else, you risk losing yourself in the idea of a healthy relationship when it could be quite the opposite and overwhelm your own identity. This has happened to me, too, and when that relationship ended, I had to start my entire social life over again because I had completely lost sight of my career, my family and sense of self.

You are NOT their twin so don’t try to be!

✧.* ACCOUNTABILITY – I know there’s a prompt out there on Twitter going around talking about some, “give us three reasons why NOT to date you”. Y’all are braver than me, being able to own your flaws like that, but I respect the heck out of you. It isn’t easy owning up to things about yourself that can contribute negativity in your life, especially when someone else is pointing it out to you. Most of my childhood was full of strict rules and high expectations, so whenever anyone gave me constructive criticism or pointed out something that I did wrong, I’d shut down. My entire world felt like it’d end because I failed this person or hurt their feelings in the process, which crushed my self-esteem and made me want to crawl in bed and hide for a few days. This way of thinking was very destructive, and it took a long time for me to realize this because it felt safer to not try anymore: if people are disappointed in me, at least I don’t have anywhere else lower to fall, right? I was miserable, but everything remained the same. No surprises, no more unexpected pain.

It’s easy to believe that if someone points out your flaws or brings up something that upsets them, you’re screwing up in the relationship, but a friend gave me wonderful advice by stating: Someone wouldn’t be giving you feedback if they didn’t care about you.

This statement obviously doesn’t apply to strangers or that weird fact-checking uncle you meet every holiday dinner, but for your partner, this rings pretty true. If someone didn’t want to continue this bond with you, they would’ve walked away or called it quits by now. Instead, they’re acknowledging something is up and bringing it to your attention so that you both can find a way to fix it. It’s complicated because while you may want to be heard, your anxiety might have completely convinced you by then that your partner was going to get frustrated and leave because things are “too much” or “overwhelming them”. To be honest, I can’t promise this won’t ever happen to you again, even when you take strides to overcome your trauma, but in my experience, it’s much better to leave a relationship that would put you in a position where you can’t share your concerns and needs. It’ll never be worth the heartache and hiding these feelings will just turn into something far uglier…

Reaching out is a risk you must be willing to take.

Totally picking on myself this time, but if I had to say what one of my, uh, “habits” are, it’s that I’m perceptive to routine. If it’s a daily thing for my partner to text me good morning and chat a little throughout the day, I associate that as “normal”. So, when there’s a day where they suddenly don’t text me for a long time or don’t respond as affectionately, I’m immediately wondering what caused this change, and that’s when the anxiety kicks in. At first you think, “Okay, they just must be busy with something!” until you see them making new TikToks or uploading pictures on Facebook. Uh oh.

“Are they okay? Did they not see my text? Why wouldn’t they answer me if they had enough time to play online? Did that semi-serious conversation we had last night rub them the wrong way? Maybe I’m being too clingy and they’re sick of it. ARE THEY DUMPING ME- grablarlhtoahtoahta..” – My brain.

Because I didn’t want to cause any waves or stress out my partner, I used to hold all that anxiety in and just went with the flow. I tried to be casual about it on the outside, but everything inside felt miserable day after day until it came to a point where it just all exploded at once: the moment we were on the phone I was just flooding them with assumptions, questions and quickly getting emotional. They had no clue where it was coming from and were justified in being confused if not a little upset, too. Now we were both upset and every single concern that I felt before was just my insecurities rearing its ugly head like a hangry godzilla. I’ve never felt so embarrassed or ashamed…

I got upset because my brain was programmed to believe my partner should just “know” these things and there shouldn’t have to be such an in-depth explanation about every little detail about myself. If Ikki from Amnesia can catch on about me being jealous over his female fans, why couldn’t my partners? They should know better, right?

Whatdya mean I gotta tell you my preferences?!

Wrong! How people perceive relationships are different, and they might not have any experience, so don’t think these moments of clarification are gestures of failure. Love isn’t easy, and neither are relationships. You won’t magically stop freaking out overnight, and you’ll have to hold yourself accountable more than once to address these anxieties. Mistakes will happen, and learning from them will help you and your partner grow. Accountability is a tool to help you both evolve into the best versions of yourself, and your partner is there to help you. If you remain open to criticism and communicate, you’re on the right track to building a stronger bond.

✧.* IN CONCLUSION – Like I said earlier, a lot of things were written that I had to cut out just to make this post more digestive and I’m considering making a part two that will focus more on personal hangups, but I’m satisfied with this. I sincerely hope this helps anyone else who experiences these same feelings and know now that you’re not alone. What we went through isn’t easy, but we don’t have to tell ourselves that we don’t deserve a second chance in finding love for ourselves. Please remember that I’m not a professional therapist in any way, these are just personal thoughts that helped on my own journey. If things still feel too overwhelming and you don’t feel like you’re in a healthy space, always consider therapy. I am, too! Seeking help is not a sign of weakness but inner strength because you’re admitting to difficult feelings and reaching out to someone.

Please take care & find your miracle romance,

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