Illustration Interaktion von Mann und Frau

It took me quite some time and courage to write this text. Somehow it feels like a part of me is still caught in the cobweb of this relationship. 

I’ll call him Aaron. It all started out really nicely, actually. Great compliments, understanding, someone who saw me beneath the flawed surface. I admired him and felt flattered to have someone like that care so much about me and my company. What I didn’t realize was that all the nice words were just an easy way to slowly but surely make me submissive. By the time compliments had turned into side-swipes and understanding into accusations, I was already so emotionally dependent and so convinced of his competence in life that I believed every word he said about me being too unreliable, too scatterbrained, too naive.

Three years went by. And I moved to another city, which he reproached me for, but we stayed together. Three more years in which he was the first thing I would think about in the morning, and the last in the evening. However, the thought didn’t leave me with a warm feeling. Did I reach out enough today? Is he alright – or does he need my help? He needed a lot of that. Emotional support, even when I was elsewhere in my head, having my own worries and problems. As if I had to make up for my physical absence with constant availability. Once I almost missed a train because I had to compose an email with him on the phone. He knew I was in a hurry. It didn’t even occur to me to dismiss him. 

This is an important aspect. A toxic relationship consists of not just one, but at least two people involved. He maybe would not have been able to manipulate someone else, but he could certainly manipulate me. I facilitated his behaviour by allowing it. Excusing him to myself and others over and over again. And I went along with it. After all, I thought he was much older, much wiser and, above all, more experienced than me. And I loved him.

He maybe would not have been able to manipulate someone else, but he could certainly manipulate me.

In retrospect, I realize how many relationships in his life have ended in a break-off: Ex-girlfriends, formerly good friends, even his parents. Actually a major red flag. But I didn’t see it. Or didn’t want to. Instead, I listened as these people who were smart enough to move on from him were discredited. During our relationship alone, I have seen at least four good friends come and go. The only one who always stayed was me.

And yet so often I was just on the verge of driving the relationship into the wall. What in retrospect would have been the best thing that could have happened to me seemed like a terrible disaster. Thus, I did everything in my power to prevent that from happening. I did everything I could to make him change his mind again. This way he kept bending me to fit his ideas of me. His idea of a perfect girlfriend. I faced insane accusations, which I questioned but never had the courage to defend myself against. As soon as I reacted defensively, I only gave him more reason to badmouth me. It was a vicious circle.

The worst thing about it: Except for the manipulating, he was, from my point of view at the time, the “perfect” boyfriend. At least the one from the picture book (my gut feeling said something else). Even though it felt wrong to me, he supposedly did everything right: he was there, he was available, he had my back, he wanted to see me every day, spend time with my friends. That’s what made it so hard for me to stand up to him. Even though I knew something was wrong – I couldn’t grasp it. What I saw as encroaching, he called protective, when I made it loud that I felt pressured, he asked if I couldn’t handle real love. “Have you ever loved anyone more than me?” he asked me. Constantly. What was beginning to feel like a straitjacket was disguised as a bouquet of roses that would have been ridiculous to refuse. Aaron made me turn on my friends. I revealed their secrets because “we tell each other everything” – but was no longer allowed to tell them things about Aaron. Conflicts of interest arose, and while everything in me wanted to stand by my friends, be loyal to them, I did what he asked me to do.

What was beginning to feel like a straitjacket was disguised as a bouquet of roses that would have been ridiculous to refuse.

At this point, I didn’t like spending time with Aaron anymore. I was relieved when he canceled or didn’t contact me all day – and at the same time worried that I might have done something wrong. He had taken over my whole life. I didn’t want to see him anymore, but I couldn’t find a way to get out of the noose I felt around my neck. Which I myself had helped to create. The encounters felt compulsive, and I tried hard to keep him out of my circle of friends. To get it over with quickly and unnoticed. This was in our third year. 

It wasn’t until the fourth and final year of our relationship that I noticed the lies. By now I knew he was manipulating me – I just didn’t know how to leave him without losing face. I don’t know why I even cared anymore. I had stopped believing anything he said. I had stopped telling him things. At some point, he was the only one talking while I tried to compartmentalize – which he didn’t even notice. He was content to have someone to unload everything on. It had little to do with the great love he always talked about. They were little lies, unremarkable ones. About the deodorant he used. What, in detail, someone had said. I dismissed it all these years as insecurities or as misunderstandings, unimportant – which, basically, it was. But then there were other, bigger, more worrisome lies. 

Those were the moments when I became completely disillusioned. From here on, I was just waiting for a good opportunity to leave him. I still didn’t have the courage to tell him everything I was thinking. He would talk his way out of it, he would blame me, he would manage to make everything look as if I were the one with the wrong perception. 

And that’s how it ended up being. But suddenly I didn’t care. All his insults just bounced off me. I was so happy to have finally found a loophole after four years. A clear mistake I could point to, even if it was only myself who believed it. He turned it all around, stating that I had fantasized what I had said, or that I was a liar who had made things up to make him look bad. That was the last warning sign, and this time I recognized it. It gave me the courage I needed to finally leave: I knew what I had seen. I knew I wasn’t lying. Even Aaron couldn’t convince me of that anymore. 

Of course, not everything about this relationship was bad. We had wonderful moments that I enjoyed at first, and would have enjoyed later if I hadn’t felt pressured to do so. And yes, I really loved him and to this day I keep thinking about Aaron and what he must be up to. But most of all, in those moments I wonder if he’s just doing the same thing again with a new girlfriend or friend. And even though I miss some things about him, an enormous weight has fallen off my shoulders since the relationship – and I don’t want to go back there at any price. We never spoke again.