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Please read this disclaimer before reading this story. 

DISCLAIMER: In this series, we will be covering stories on Toxic and abusive relationships. This may be a triggering topic for some. This particular story mentions instances of emotional abuse. There are also mentions of abortion. Kindly remember to be mindful of your mental well-being and that of others when reading and sharing this story.

I’ve not thought about my situation with L in a while, and doing so now makes me anxious.

L and I were together for roughly one year. We had known each other for four months before we started officially dating, and everything crashed a year later. When we first started getting to know each other, in the four months before everything became official, it was all very nice. He was very thoughtful and vulnerable with me; it was lovely.

In the beginning, our values seemed to align. There was a period where I’d look at L and think how we connected on so many things, like being kind and how much we each valued our families. One of the things we connected very strongly on was the fact that I wanted to do certain things for my family; they were my priority. He would also talk about how he was doing stuff for his mum and the vision he wanted for his family. So it seemed like we were really connected on that. 

It also seemed like we both valued honesty, transparency, and communication. At first, would talk about anything and everything. We’d go on walks, talk, share and be open with each other. It seemed like we were on the same page, but it wasn’t the same over time. For example, I noticed that he started talking about his family differently – he’d talk so much shit about his mum and brother. It was a very weird shift for me. Even honesty and communication wasn’t present any more. We weren’t talking the same way we used to. He became very shut off.

After four months of getting to know each other, I started living with L for some time because he was helping me out. At first, it was nice, but then I noticed how things changed. Like I’d be in the house the whole day, he would come in from class or work, open the door, and pass me by without a word. He’d go sit down and start watching YouTube or Netflix. L’s house was a bedsitter, so there were no other rooms, and I’d be thinking to myself that even a hello would be nice. It wasn’t like we had had a fight or anything; he’d just come in and act like I was not there. When I brought it up with L, he told me I was being dramatic and that he just wanted his space. All I wanted was a hello or a hug – something to acknowledge I was there. I wasn’t asking him to come and profess his love to me daily. So I definitely started noticing the shift in him when we started living together.

The changes in L happened gradually. I didn’t catch up to things until they were literally in my face, and I could no longer ignore them. There were a few moments that stood out to me. For sure, we weren’t talking to each other or acting the way we used to, but I thought that it was a result of living together and being in each other’s spaces.

There is this one time we were both chilling – L was doing his own thing, and I was doing mine – and I brought up the fact that he was being hurtful to me. He looked up at me, then just looked back to whatever he was doing and completely ignored me. I left that day and went to my friend’s house. He knew he was hurting me; I told him as much, but he just ignored me. The next day L called me and asked me if I was coming home, and then he showed up at my friend’s place with flowers and chocolates asking me to come back and saying that he missed me and it wasn’t that serious.

With L, I always felt like I was overreacting. I was going through a lot at the time, and that’s why he was helping me out, but he termed everything I brought up as me being reactive. The particular phrase L would use was that I was ‘bleeding on him’ to mean that because I was hurting, I was ‘bleeding’ on him. So he’d dismiss me whenever I told him that I was uncomfortable with something or didn’t like something. He’d tell me I was either asking for too much, being too much, or not thinking straight. He would tell me I was dumping my emotional burden and hurt on him.

I tried to bring up date ideas or ask him to come up with ideas so we could do things together, and he’d tell me I was asking for too much. He’d say to me, “You go do the things, and if I see that it’s fun, I’ll come and join you.” All I wanted was for him to take some initiative and spend time with me. We never did anything, and when I asked him to do something, we woke up, and he suddenly didn’t want to do it anymore. Sometimes the day would drag on until 5 pm, and he just acted like he couldn’t remember we had plans.

Eventually, L’s narrative became that I was being too emotional. I remember him clearly telling me that he didn’t want any mushy things. He wanted ‘power couple vibes’. He wanted us to hustle together and make money together. We went to town to run errands once, and it was a stressful day. We were walking from here to there, doing so much, and I remember L was so happy that day. He told me, “This is what I love to see. You’re here with me, working hard.” So he’d applaud that, but if I told him I loved him or anything emotional, he’d be cold and dismissive. There were certain things I knew I could tell him and others I knew I couldn’t even bring up with him because what was the point?

Any emotional stuff had to be done or spoken about on L’s terms. If he felt like telling me the sweet, emotional things at any given moment, then that was the time we’d have to talk about it, but if I tried to bring up things – once I suggested this game I thought would be fun, ’36 questions to fall in love’ – he’d be like, “No, are you a child?” That relationship was not a safe space to be in, to be honest.

The thing with L is that he had gone through something similar to what I was going through at the time and gotten out on the other end. He went through the thing a certain way without being emotional, so he expected me to be the same way. I’d try to tell him that things were hard for me and I didn’t know how to go through it, but he was so hard on me. His words to me were always, “You’ll be fine. I went through it, so let’s not talk about this. It’s going to pass.”

I knew I couldn’t bring up how I felt about things I was struggling with because he’d ask me why I was bringing it up with him. First of all, he was basically my best friend. He was the only person I could trust with those things at the time, but he’d tell me to cultivate a relationship with my mum and siblings and talk to them about those things instead. Thinking about it now, I can’t believe it.

A few months into our relationship, I found out that I was pregnant. I reached out to L and told him what was going on. I wanted us to talk about it. But L, which is so weird, already had the number of Marie Stopes. There was no discussion or anything. I didn’t feel like I could bring it up with him, but I found the courage to ask if we should discuss the situation. He said no and booked an appointment for the very next day.

I had just moved out of L’s place and moved in with my sister, but I didn’t want her to be involved with those things. She’s younger than me, so there was a level of first-born protectiveness. So I stayed over at L’s place that night. I had just found out I was expecting, and literally the next day, I was due for an abortion. I was obviously terrified. 

L and I had not spoken about it at all. I didn’t even get a hug from him, no handholding. He didn’t even ask me how I felt or if I was okay. My opinion didn’t matter. That night, I was on Google, trying to find out how the whole thing works, if I’d need to go through surgery and if I was at risk of death, stuff like that. I kept telling him what I found and how I was terrified, and he turned to me and told me, “Get over it; you’re going to be fine.”

That night, I couldn’t stop crying. We were in bed together, and he was on the phone doing whatever and eventually, he slept like a baby. I was right next to him, crying, and he was unmoved. Finally, I left the bed and went to the bathroom, where I stayed up all night crying my eyes out. I didn’t sleep at all.

The next day before we went to the clinic, I told him that whatever he did to me the day before was one of the worst experiences of my life and that I didn’t know if I wanted to continue our relationship. With tears in his eyes, he started telling me how he had a rough childhood and didn’t know how to be a shoulder to lean on. He promised that it wouldn’t happen again. This became a pattern in our relationship where if I opened up to him about how he’d hurt me and I wanted to end the relationship, he’d tell me how he wasn’t sure how to love and be emotionally there for me as a result of his childhood. It made no sense to me because he was alright at the beginning of our relationship. He was the most emotionally intelligent person I’d ever met, and now here he was saying these things. But I also felt like I couldn’t be mad at him because he evidently had some childhood trauma. After the abortion, we were still together, but everything felt so weird.

After my relationship with L, I can’t have a relationship in the future without honesty. There’s some PTSD I feel I have now where I can’t trust if people are being honest with me. I always wonder how I’ll know if someone is being honest with me because I feel like I might get shocked one day the way I just found myself shocked by L. 

I need honesty at every single stage. If you feel like you want to see other people, please just say so. If you feel like you don’t want to be here anymore, just say so. If you don’t like me, say it and don’t be with me. I may be hurt, sure, but no one will kill you. I’d rather know now than think I am in this thing with someone when the reality is that they’re not there with me.

Kindness is also really important to me. Kindness goes a long way. Even if you want to say something harsh, kindness in how you say it or in how you approach a situation and handle someone else goes a long way. It’s something that is very needed. I don’t think I had that in my relationship with L for a long time, and that fucks you up. In your head, you have these two ideas: this person loves me, but at the same time, they’re not treating me kindly. It’s a bit of a mindfuck, and that’s what kept me confused in my relationship with L, and that confusion is what made me stay. I think if it was clear that this person hated me, and then I’d be like, why am I with them? But he said he loved me even though he wasn’t treating me kindly. It wasn’t a good place to be.

If a friend of mine was to find themselves in a situation like the one I was in with L, I think I’d ask them to step away for a minute and to take some time away from the relationship. Being in that space keeps you in a loop, and taking a step back gives you time to reflect. Even a week or a month can do much for you in the long run. 

If you can as well, please go to therapy. If not, truly expressing yourself to your loved ones and listening to what they say would also help you immensely. You need to tell them exactly what has been going on without gas lighting yourself or sugarcoating anything. If I had told someone who cared about me everything that had been happening, my eyes would have been opened a lot sooner than they were, and it wouldn’t have been such a rude awakening for me. 

On the other hand, though, I think I should have been more open to listening and taking criticism. There was one time a male friend of mine said to me that I was in a situation-ship and that L didn’t really love me and I was convinced he was only saying that because he wanted me. I thought he had ulterior motives, and I didn’t want his vibes. I always think back to that conversation and realise that my friend was seeing something I wasn’t and that I should have listened to him.

I also didn’t have a model relationship in mind. There was no relationship I could look to as a guide to what a good relationship should look, feel or be like. So going into my relationship with L, I convinced myself that everything happening was the ‘tough times’ people talk about. I thought that was what people meant when they talked about ‘working through things’. I excused many things because I didn’t know they didn’t have to be that way. Having a model relationship or a clearer idea or list of values I could crosscheck my relationship with L against would have helped me out.

Honestly, I don’t regret how things happened, but I wish it didn’t take me as long to realise what was happening.