TW: abuse, manipulation, mentions of suicide
I once read an article which said that most of us will have three great loves in each of our lives: the hard love, the love that seems right, and the love that lasts. That article has lingered in the back of my mind ever since, but I only recently realised how true it has been for me.
My first, like many of us, was a high school fling. In hindsight, I didn’t love him, but I thought I did at the time. I’ve always been a quiet person, so you can imagine that I was rather low in the high school pecking order. I wasn’t used to getting attention from anyone except my friends, so when a boy finally started paying attention to me, I giddily rushed into a relationship with him without knowing him properly.
From the beginning, I knew something wasn’t quite right.
He’d often do and say things which would make me uncomfortable, and coerce me into doing things I wouldn’t have otherwise done. And when I ended up inevitably getting upset, he’d tell me that I was being too sensitive. It was good for me to get out of my comfort zone. Each time he hurt me he’d apologise and buy me gifts to make up for it, but he’d never make an effort to change his ways. I didn’t know what a healthy relationship looked like, so at the time I didn’t know I was being manipulated.
I felt trapped. Every time I expressed doubts about our relationship, he’d cry and beg me to stay with him. I remember breaking down in the bathroom after I broke up with him for the first time because he told me he was going to kill himself because of me. So, being young and naive and believing he was going to do what he said, I went back to him. The same thing happened three times.
From the outside, our relationship seemed like any other healthy one. But he was slowly pushing me away from my friends and family so that he could have me all to himself, as if I was his possession.
One of my friends noticed that I was losing weight and getting increasingly more unhappy and helpless, so she convinced me to break up with him for good, which involved blocking him completely and ignoring him when he tried to talk to me at school. It took months for him to stop harassing me. He even sent letters to my home and left things on my desk every morning. It was hellish, and I truly don’t know what I would’ve done without my friend’s help.
My second love was unrequited. We met through a mutual friend and, although we lived 100 miles apart, we hit it off immediately. I was completely enamoured with him, and I would frequently travel hours to see him. My relationship with him was a stark contrast from my previous one – nothing about it felt unhealthy or wrong. He made me feel truly alive. Our relationship seemed perfect – except for one obstacle. His parents were extremely strict, so we had to do everything we could to keep our relationship hidden. It was hard but we tried our best, and for the most part we were successful.
I would’ve done anything to keep us together, but our relationship could never have lasted for as long as I wanted.
Part of the reason why it inevitably ended was that he couldn’t hide such a big part of his life from his parents anymore. But it was also because he’d changed dramatically since we first started dating. He’d become more popular, and I guess he decided he didn’t need me anymore. I didn’t expect the breakup at all, and it hit me like a tonne of bricks.
By the end of our relationship he seemed like a completely different person to who I thought he was, and he acted in ways which I would’ve never expected from him. Needless to say, it ended badly. It left me wondering if I ever knew him at all.
My third, and current, love, is different. It feels deeper, more permanent. With him, I feel truly myself. I don’t have to hide or sugar-coat anything because I know that he’ll never judge or hold anything against me. In a way, it feels like he is my reward for getting through the bad times.
He’s like the calm after the storm.
I don’t feel that kind of intense, giddy love for him at all times, and I don’t get butterflies every single time I think of him. But there’s a constant feeling of warmth and security knowing that he’s mine and I’m his. And that feeling is only multiplied when he makes me a cup of my favourite tea in the morning or cooks me something he knows I’ll love or watches out for scenes in movies which could make me anxious. In fact, that feeling is all the more precious because it’s not constant. He thinks of me in everything he does, and I do the same.
We’re two different people with two very different lives, but somehow we just fit. I feel complete with him. A year on, I feel the same as I did at the beginning of our relationship. And I know, somehow, in some deep part of myself, that we’ll be together for a very long time.
Although my past experiences with love have been turbulent to say the least, I wouldn’t change them for the world. They’ve taught me important life lessons about respecting myself and knowing how I deserve to be treated. Without them, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today.
It seems that perhaps we have to learn what love isn’t before we can truly understand what it is.