Sex + Love

Bad Romance

If you’re caught in one, here’s how to get out of it.

Illustration by Cynthia

One summer, a long time ago, I found myself carted into a therapist’s office so that I could talk about my ex-boyfriend. It was very embarrassing. I had gone to a doctor for insomnia and he asked me when I had stopped sleeping well. I told him I’d had this bad break-up recently and that I was just, I don’t know, upset? And I started talking about it. And crying. He looked at me like, OK, no drugs for you, and walked me downstairs to a therapist’s office, where he booked me an appointment for the hour.

So I told the therapist my story, which I was quite convinced of at the time. It went like this: I met this guy and he was really smart and I wasn’t. I knew that because he told me so and, since he was really smart, it had to be true. Also, this guy was really cool and I wasn’t. I knew that because he told me so. Also, this guy really knew how to have fun. I didn’t know how to do that—he’d told me I was always getting in the way of fun. Also, this guy had a lot of problems and I didn’t do enough to fix them. I mean, I tried. But I was actually the reason he wasn’t getting anywhere in life. How did I know that? He told me so.

I felt so lucky to be with a cool, smart, fun guy. He was so generous to date me, even though I wasn’t cool or smart or fun. And then we’d broken up, and it was all my fault, and now I had a new boyfriend, but I didn’t deserve one because I was awful.

The therapist looked at me. She spent a while looking at me. And then she did me the biggest favor that anyone ever has: she cracked up laughing.

The story I was telling did not make sense. There was no reason I should believe it. And once we’d established that, we could talk about my actual problem, which was not that guy, and it wasn’t that I was awful, either. My problem was that if someone told me I was awful, I would believe it. And I would reorganize my entire life—including my feelings, thoughts, values, tastes, clothing, habits, and personality—and sit there wondering why I wasn’t happy.

People do this all the time. Every friend I’ve ever had has done this, at some point, to some extent. There are a lot of intense feelings—often sexy feelings!—that go along with first relationships. There are lots of stories about what it means to love someone and when you haven’t loved many people, you tend to believe them.

You tend to believe, for instance, that being in love is the most wonderful and important thing in the world. That being in love means you are pretty, even if your partner is unkind about your appearance. That being in love means you are likable, even when your partner doesn’t honor your thoughts and preferences. That being in love means you aren’t alone, so you want to stay with someone even when you feel lonely in the relationship.

And girls? Girls are supposed to play it cool and not be clingy, so I never asked for more when he didn’t bother to call me on my birthday. Girls were supposed to have a good sense of humor and not be nags, so I didn’t object even when he insulted me to my face under the guise of “constructive criticism” or “just joking.” Girls are supposed to be sexy, so I was endlessly responsive to his sexual needs even when that included denigrating or neglecting mine.

These notions are harmful. Lots of them entail losing yourself, or hurting yourself, or giving away your own power. But we tell these stories all the time. There’s a part in every Twilight installment where someone is like, “So, Bella, can we talk about how your boyfriend’s plans entail literally destroying your soul and sucking the very life out of your body?” and she’s like, “But he’s the sparkliest boy in school! I will love him forever.”

I get it. I’ve done it. And so have a lot of people. But if you’re in that situation, or if you’ve just gotten out of it, there are certain things you need to know to make sure it does not happen again.

1. Learn the Term “Gaslight”

The first thing to know about relationships is that they should never be about control. There are lots of ideas about what constitutes a good relationship, but, for the purposes of this article, we’re going to define “bad relationship” in one way: a bad relationship is one in which someone else attempts to control how you behave, think, and feel about yourself.

Sometimes, a controlling partner may be very obvious and extreme. They may keep track of how much you spend or tell you how to dress or tell you to stop hanging out with family or friends. They may threaten you with punishment if you don’t obey them. If any of this is happening, you need to walk away. This is abuse and it has to end.

But many controlling people aren’t obvious or extreme. Some relationships exist on the continuum between “abusive” and “great.” They’re codependent or toxic or they rely on what is called “ambient abuse”—not overt, visible forms of harm, but subtle ones that gradually take away your ability to function. If people overtly harm you, you might leave them. Many controlling people know this, and have figured out ways to make their behavior seem like your fault, which is called gaslighting. It’s presenting someone with false information in order to make them unsure of what is happening and unable to respond correctly. If you’ve ever said something like, “What you said really hurt my feelings” and the other person responded with “I didn’t say that” or “You’re too sensitive” or “It hurts my feelings when you say I’ve hurt you,” you’ve experienced gaslighting. You’re being manipulated into thinking you can’t remember things, or respond appropriately, or that you’re a hurtful person, so that someone else can avoid apologizing.

The gaslighter may change the “rules” of the relationship very rapidly or create a no-win situation in which you’re told to do two contradictory things and will be punished for failing to do either. This can be overt: You’re lazy, so you should work harder on your homework, but you’re also uncaring, so I need you to pick up the phone when I call you during homework hours. Or it can be subtle: I need my girlfriend to have a good sense of style, so never wear a shirt that I don’t like, but also, if you have a good sense of style, you shouldn’t have to ever ask me which shirts I like. No matter what you do, you fail. And then this person punishes you for failing.

And here’s the thing: Gaslighting, the tactic, is named after Gaslight, the 1944 movie, which is about a guy who tries to get his wife diagnosed as incurably insane by doing this. It’s not always fully intentional, and it’s not always done primarily to harm you—alcoholics, for example, are almost invariably gaslighters, because that’s how they get people to enable or overlook their drinking—but it causes real and profound damage. It erodes your sense of reality, destroys your self-esteem, and reduces you to a depressed, fearful, self-loathing, hysterical person. At which point, the gaslighter tells you that they treat you badly because you’re hysterical!

2. Don’t Blame Yourself

Your first reaction, when you realize you’re being treated badly, may be confusion. You may spend a long time trying to figure out why they did it. So I’m going to do you a favor. I’m going to tell you why: because you are awesome. These relationships do not happen because you are a bad partner. They happen because you are a good partner and someone else used that against you.

As discussed, people who treat you badly often say you deserve it because you’re not giving enough, or you don’t care about their problems, or you’re too demanding. But here’s the rub: people who date mean or controlling people, or even overtly abusive people, don’t do it because they lack empathy or forgiveness or patience. People date mean or controlling people because they have too much empathy, forgiveness, and patience. You can see a good person in your partner even when other people wouldn’t, you can exercise an unusual amount of compassion, and this partner noticed that you would put up with things that other people wouldn’t. It’s awful. And now, it’s done. Because you are leaving.

3. Do Not Ride the Escalator

You can’t make this person be fair to you. I repeat: you cannot make this person be fair to you. And you do not have to try. You need to have your self-respect, your dignity, and your own firm belief in the fact that you are kind, fair, and trustworthy. I’ve lost that a few times. But I have never lost it more profoundly than on the occasions when I tried to get someone who was toxic to treat me nicely.

The fact is, people call these relationships “toxic” for a reason. They make you sick. And the longer you keep yourself entangled in one— whether that’s by forgiving the person, or by trying to get even with the person, or even just trying to get that person to understand the impact of his or her behavior—the sicker you become. I’m not trying to say that you should walk away from resolvable conflicts. We’ve talked about how there are good and necessary ways to resolve conflicts. You should try those. If you’re old enough, and this relationship is very serious, you can even ask that person if they are willing to get help with you to work through the relationship’s problems. (Although you should also get independent help to take care of yourself.) But if that’s not working, you need to leave before you start acting out.

It’s very hard to respond in a healthy way to an unhealthy situation. If someone keeps twisting your words, or blaming you, or manipulating you, eventually you’re going to start thinking that word-twisting and blaming and manipulation are the way to win an argument. If someone wants to prove you are a mean or weak person, they’re going to do and say things that would cause any reasonable person to feel upset so that they can watch you fall apart or lose your temper. You’ll become the one escalating the fight. You’ll scream awful things, you’ll cry for days, you’ll do mean stuff to even the score, and you’ll lose yourself completely—all because you thought there was some way to make this person be fair.

You cannot justify being cruel or inappropriate because of someone else’s actions. So you need to have rules here for what you will let yourself do or say, and you need to stick to them. You can’t make this person do, feel, or say anything, not even “sorry.” All you can do is believe the following:

4. You Have No Power Over Me

When I was little, I loved the movie Labyrinth. This was because my grandparents told me it was made specifically for me. It was about a girl who picked on her little brother. I also picked on my little brother. Clearly, this was an instructional film about how, if I were not nice to my little brother, he would be taken away by goblins. I tried to get my little brother taken away by goblins like 14 times after I watched it. Sometimes my grandparents’ plans backfired.

But Labyrinth is a very instructional film—it just happens to be about dating. The girl, Sarah, clearly has a crush on the David Bowie character because who doesn’t? And Bowie clearly has a crush on Sarah. Because of this, Sarah gets dropped into this complex and dangerous maze. There are rules, riddles, bogs, monsters, and awfulness, and David Bowie just stands there and says: “I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave.” That’s the actual line! That’s the line every toxic partner will always feed you. And that’s why this is so instructional.

Because it turns out that fearing him, loving him, or doing as he says is not necessary for Sarah. She didn’t even have to walk through the maze. What she has to do, in the end, is look him in the eye and say one thing. There’s a whole big build-up around it involving how much he’s put her through and how awesome she is—“through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here,” blah blah, “my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom is as great”—but that’s not it. That’s a waste of time until she says the one thing that counts: “You have no power over me.” She has to say those words and know how true they are. And then the whole maze falls apart. And she’s home.

You are going to get home. You already are: you are in control of your own life. All you have to do is remember that. Granted, in order to realize that, a professional therapist, who is hired to hear people say nonsensical and unhealthy things without reacting judgmentally, may have to actually laugh right into your face. Or not. Maybe you just read an article on the internet and things started to make more sense to you. ♦

56 Comments

  • stylepukka February 3rd, 2012 7:25 PM

    very inspirational and empowering article. thanks for these tips and insight on abusive relationships and such, before it could happen to many of us.

    stylepukka.blogspot.com

  • sobrina February 3rd, 2012 7:28 PM

    I actually teared up reading this. It was exactly what I needed to read right now. Thank you so much, Sady. Seriously. You Rookie people rule.

  • unefillecommetoi February 3rd, 2012 7:31 PM

    thank you.

  • Papergrrrl February 3rd, 2012 7:52 PM

    I love this article! Even if you don’t have a bad romance right now, you can just read it and learn about it.
    I’m from Colombia, Currently living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’m studying film in College. I’m interested in everything related to writing, fashion, photography, animation, illustration and cats. I’ve a blog, little words and photos (but everything’s in spanish, so.. I can traslate for you if you want) http://www.conanteojos.tumblr.com … you can find my personal works which evidence this interest.. if you liked let me know! if i can do something for you, it would be an honor! Keep doing this cool work cutiest girls.
    ps. sorry for my basic english
    x,
    Ann

    • Anaheed February 3rd, 2012 8:15 PM

      I love your blog, Ann! I just spent so much time staring at all of it.

      • Papergrrrl February 3rd, 2012 9:40 PM

        Thank you Ana! I’m glad you like it ♥

    • Miarele February 4th, 2012 7:10 AM

      I don’t really understand Spanish but the photos on your blog are simply beautiful! The colors and the whimsical vintage feeling are just great.

      PS. I love your hair color and your sense of style. too! I think you are a classic beauty :)

      • Papergrrrl February 5th, 2012 4:55 PM

        Thank you so much! I really appreciate your opinion, It means a lot.
        I’ve been thinking about translating my blog to english, soon I hope.

        Anyway, thanks again ♥

  • Vetra February 3rd, 2012 7:54 PM

    Thanks for share your story :) It makes me feel good now

  • I.ila February 3rd, 2012 7:57 PM

    This is a really well written and I love that you put in labyrinth, because I don’t think a lot of people realize that side of the movie as deeply.

  • Susann February 3rd, 2012 8:10 PM

    Oh my God, this was exactly what I needed tonight. Just came back from an event where my ex was and it was just horrible – but yeah “he has no power over me” though trying to prove that is the hardest thing and has got me in tears now that I’m at home and can’t sleep.
    I really think I understand some things better now, so thanks!

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com

  • maggiemadge February 3rd, 2012 8:20 PM

    Sady, I want to say your article could not have come at a better time than this. Over the past three months, I was in my first relationship with a guy that was 5 years my senior. I remember suppressing my thoughts, feelings and values just so that I could be with this guy. I had been seeing him on and off because I didn’t want to be alone, but yet I felt miserable being in this relationship. I would hope that someday he would be the guy I had always wanted. I am one of those people that tries to see the good in others. A few days ago, I received a text from him, basically saying that he tried to get over a girl that he dated over a year ago and thought he was over her. Well…. now he said that he was more confused than ever and believes he still has feelings for her. The worst part about it is that I am 90% sure that he is talking about one of my friends from school because she had told me about them dating at one point. Just talking about still makes me feel awful, the feeling that all I was to him was just a rebound, a filler, a 2.0 version of my friend. You want to know the slimy part about him? The very next night, he texted me “Hello” like nothing fucking happened. But I never texted him back. There are moments where I am lonely and miss him. The moments of being horny and just wanting to fill that gap of emotion. However, reading this has helped me remember is that I am much better off without him. That I am worth to be loved and cared for. I just hope I don’t forget. Thank you for writing this and Rookie for publishing this. <3

  • Mags February 3rd, 2012 8:26 PM

    YES.

  • Fanfanfarlo February 3rd, 2012 9:00 PM

    This was great! And it applies to all relationships; not simply romantic ones. I had the same experience of changing my tastes and views for one person, though the person was my big brother; it took me ages (up until just before my 18th birthday) to realize that we were different people and I was allowed to disagree with him. Yay self-confidence!

    • stellar February 8th, 2012 8:41 PM

      Fanfario,
      wow!! happened to me with my older sister; ironically once i started junior college she saw me as a new ‘rival’ and started copying everything i wore, listened to, etc.
      “to realize that we were different people”…that is the Truth!!! and the reason it won’t work to do otherwise in any *real* relationship.

  • marit February 3rd, 2012 9:54 PM

    hey rookie editors,

    i keep having a problem with the site, when i go on to check the 7:00 post every day, it appears like it’s not posted yet, but when i click “today” at the top, it appears. this has happened to me a bunch of times. i’m not sure if it’s just me or not though.

    also fyi the editor’s letter link at the top needs to be updated.

    but thanks for posting such great content! this article is really great, i’m glad i’ve never been in such a situation but it seems like good advice.:)

    xx

    • Anaheed February 5th, 2012 7:58 PM

      Hi, Marit. What time are you checking for, and not seeing, that 7 PM post?

  • suburban grrrl February 3rd, 2012 10:23 PM

    I’ve thankfully never been in a situation like this but I want to thank you for using the term “Gaslight.” I’ve been using it for awhile and everyone looks at ME like I’m crazy.

    http://sub-urbangrrrl.blogspot.com/

  • rebekah February 3rd, 2012 10:45 PM

    Thank you. I’m 30, and I just this evening broke up with someone who wanted to visit with me (read: have sex) but after 5 months still hadn’t introduced me to any of his friends. He didn’t make time for me because “he was busy” (I am busy, too); he didn’t introduce me to his friends, and when I asked about it, he evaded the question, and when I asked point-blank for him to be more engaged, attentive to my needs, or affectionate, he changed the subject.

    He did exactly what you said in the article: he took advantage of me because I was tolerant of his busyness, of what I perceived as his “commitment issues,” and I told myself that he just “wasn’t the type of person who showed affection easily.”

    I got off the phone tonight – the actual break up – and went on the internet. This article was literally the first thing that popped up in my Google Reader. THANK YOU.

  • janeeyre February 3rd, 2012 11:33 PM

    oddly enough, i haven’t been involved in any toxic love relationship but i am the QUEEN of toxic friendships.i swear i just get out of one to get knee deep into another one. since every bad friend break-up makes me needy and i always wind up falling into another shitty relationship, i’m now trying out a new technique which requires a lot of cynicism but works to preserve yourself: you just back away slowly.
    i just remind myself that i lived long and happily enough before meeting that one person and i will continue to do so no matter what, even if i don’t see that person ever again. it’s hard but i try to think that they’re probably not doing it intentionally so i don’t build up too much resentment and then just start to back away. it’s easy, start keeping a few secrets (like, in my case, stop telling my best friend EVERY single thing the boy i’m dating says to me), start losing the fear to disagree, identify all the moments (i write them down) in which you realised that person was fucking you up so you become even needier and make a list of all the people you know who have loved you and will continue to do so (like siblings, healthy friendships, cousins, parents, whatever works).

  • brynntheredonethat February 3rd, 2012 11:56 PM

    I love how the Labyrinth reference fit right in there perfectly. :)

  • puffytoad February 4th, 2012 12:41 AM

    “You’re too sensitive.” Wow, there must be an Abuser’s Handbook.

  • streetcreature February 4th, 2012 1:54 AM

    This is an AMAZING article for girls. In a world where our relationship advice comes from a magazine where the front page reads “1000 ways to get your man off” this is pretty damn refreshing. You girls should seriously create a real paper mag yourselves. I would so much rather subscribe to this than Cosmopolitan or Elle or whatnot. And god knows Tavi has the fashion sense to bring to the table. You girls can do it. Don’t stop here!!! xoxo

    http://street-creature.com

    • stellar February 8th, 2012 8:44 PM

      BUST is also an excellent mag for liberated females!

  • Olivia February 4th, 2012 2:52 AM

    this really couldn’t have come at a better time for me. this is awesome, thank you. <3

  • pawnshopsmile February 4th, 2012 3:55 AM

    Thank you thank you thank you. I tend to attract people who think they can push me around (and sometimes succeed in doing so), and “gaslighting” explains a lot for me. Thank you.

  • giov February 4th, 2012 7:00 AM

    I was only able to get away from my bad romance because he left for a trip around the world. Four months later, I am still pretty scared of what will happen when he gets back. I’ll come back to this article and remind myself that he has no power over me.

  • PussyGalore February 4th, 2012 8:35 AM

    This really hit home. I have to make some calls.

  • lilghostie February 4th, 2012 11:34 AM

    great article but it just made me more confused. i’v been with my boy for over a year now and haven’t exactly been the greatest girl friend. I cheated on him and have broken things off twice. but now he’s been treating me horribly and it sucks because part of me feels like i DO deserve it because of the shit i didn to him. gah. cheating makes everything so much worse and complicated. i’m in a horrible spot where i have no idea what i’m gonna do.

    • fullmetalguitar February 4th, 2012 3:17 PM

      Yeah no offense but I’d be tired of you too (personally cheating is an automatic break up for me). Break it off for good, you guys are obviously not good for each other. I’d say it’s more of a mutual toxicity there, which happens and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It just means you need time to yourself to figure out what you want, and a fresh start. Good luck!

  • fullmetalguitar February 4th, 2012 3:22 PM

    I can definitely identify with a lot of this article, since I did think it was my fault I didn’t solve my ex’s problems, and his treatment of me made me into an angry aggressive person. But I will also say that relationships like that are definitely a valuable learning experience. My current boyfriend spoils me rotten, and I can be demanding because of it (you know, I decide the snacks we’re eating, I decide it’s snuggle time, etc.), but I’m always extremely careful about making sure he knows how much he’s loved and appreciated! When you’ve been the one hurt, I think it makes you more careful not to hurt others.

  • Sparkie February 4th, 2012 3:48 PM

    I have never experienced that kind of relation ship : LUCKILY , though one of my friend had and it’s crazy how the person who is being abused won’t understand or believe that she is . I and various friends have talked to her about how the way she were being treated wasn’t healthy at all and she would just laugh at us or say things like ” you’re don’t understand ” She finally, after about two years understood how this relation was toxic . She was just craving for love or at least affection and got stuck into this stupid relation ship she even lived with him when she was only 15, kinda crazy isn’t it, now she realizes and is doing much better but you girls should remember that at the beginning of a relation ship you don’t see the bad things in your partners so TAKE YOUR TIME !

  • teilashae February 4th, 2012 6:36 PM

    I have a serious problem with toxic relationships because of the toxicity of my family. Recently I’ve been trying to decide whether my boyfriend is a “toxic person” or if that is just what I am expecting.

    http://friendswithbenefitsforever.blogspot.com/

    • stellar February 8th, 2012 8:48 PM

      teilashae,
      toxic families can definitely play a part in not being able to tell the difference between ‘healthy close relationships’ and unhealthy close relationships, because close relationships in a setting where they should be is so idealized. people blame themselves when they aren’t, and so on it goes…no examples of honestly good relating to practice in real life outside of that.

  • taste test February 4th, 2012 7:44 PM

    wow. awesome post. rookie has so many posts that I just want to print out and give to everyone, I swear.

    this can totally apply to friendships, too. I used to be friends with a chick who gaslighted me all the time. I wish I had this article then so I could have recognized it sooner and responded more civilly to this than I actually did. as it is, I tried to ignore it, but finally snapped during a ridiculous chat argument about whether or not I was really oversensitive and sent her a vituperative wall of text about how much she was driving me crazy. after that, I cut off all communication with her outside of seeing her irl in school. I still feel kind of bad about that, but at least I got out of it?

  • anhiebananhie February 4th, 2012 9:03 PM

    thank you again sady!

    the tigerbeatdown has been kind of sparse lately, so it’s nice to see more of your writing.

  • Toastbat February 5th, 2012 2:22 AM

    We once had a HUGE fight over my “not doing nice things for him.” Because I’d asked him to download something for me when I didn’t know how and it wasn’t fair that I hadn’t done anything like that for him but it had to be something I just thought of that he didn’t ask for…I tried for months to think of him as constantly as I could and find nice things to do for him. I bought him Pixies tickets with the $ I made nannying part time while caring for our baby because he’d always said they’d probably never play together again but was dying to see them. Still, we argued over my not showing him that I loved him. Every argument, no matter what specific thing it started about, became a listing of my faults. I could never seem to hold my ground or get my point taken, and I ended up apologizing 100% of the time, even when I was the one who had I totally had a complaint/been hurt. At one point I wrote a Post Secret that said “I don’t know if I’m really wrong all the time or if you’re manipulating me.” Because I really couldn’t tell. And I loved him so I trusted him more than I trusted my manic-depressive self. There were many times when the truth of our relationship–he didn’t love me anymore, he could hardly be bothered with sex, we weren’t happy–got put down to my being crazy. And if I was sad, he was ANGRY that I was sad. I was sad–how did I think that made HIM feel? He frequently accused me of making him out to be an asshole when I went to pains to cover it up. Luckily, he cheated and we’re divorcing. Pure rage tends to clear away the gaslighting fog, and we’re all happier now.

    • Runaway February 5th, 2012 4:04 PM

      I’m glad it’s all over for you. :) You deserve to be treated with respect and love, and your baby deserves to grow up in a healthy home.

  • Raven February 5th, 2012 2:58 AM

    As someone who has been in one or two toxic relationships since puberty, this article really hit home for me. I actually started crying while reading it. I’ve been there. And it’s true; all of it. I’d never felt as powerless as when trying to figure all of it out. Thank you for writing such a wonderful take on such an important issue that is often overlooked.

  • mdemariah February 5th, 2012 10:35 AM

    Reading this made me understand so many things about my past relationship! I had been with this guy for 9 months, and every time I didn’t do what he expected me to, he said it was my fault, he had the ability to twist my words and make them sound terrible or insulting.
    Some weeks he didn’t even speak to me, so I thought I should play it cool and do the same, but I missed him. So I ended up giving in and calling him. If I didn’t, he’d say that I WOULD NEVER CALL HIM, and that he didn’t call for that reason.
    We were just like in a maze, just like in Labyrinth, and he wanted me to be his slave, but he didn’t enslave himself to absolutely anything, and he said so many contradictory things that I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, say, or be anymore.

    For some reason, one day I gained some strength, thanks to my friends, and decided to dump him. And this has been the hardest thing I have ever done, because he kept calling me and saying he missed me, and sometimes it was so difficult to resist the urge to tell him I was sorry (FOR REAL, I FELT I HAD TO APOLOGIZE) and that we should go back to being together.

    Luckily, I didn’t. And half a year after that, I started dating this amazing guy, who cherishes me, and loves me, and takes care of my needs and wants me to be so happy! And now, I look back to those dark 9 months, and the only thing that comes up to my mind is…
    WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?

    So thank you for posting this, because I just remembered what a twisted and awful relationship I had been in, and how not to be in one ever again!

  • Jessica Vixenelle February 5th, 2012 2:04 PM

    This is really a nice thing to read, especially when I don’t know what to say to a friend, who’s been in a relationship with a person who keeps hurting her and not being honest–she finally decided to break up with this person, but they threatened to either kill themselves or move away if they really do want to break up. I told her that this is wrong, and that she should talk to someone older who she can trust, but she’s telling me she wants to see what extent this person goes to try to win her back. This just seems so wrong and terrible to me, but I can’t seem to get into her head about how she can be happy without this person constantly tearing her down.

  • Cosmo Beatrix February 5th, 2012 2:35 PM

    Applicable also in girl ‘best friendship’

    Why do girls hate one another even when there best friends?
    This article is ecsellente but one directed at hate in girl bestfriendships would be appreciated sooooo much,

    Thanks always Rookie!

  • Runaway February 5th, 2012 3:54 PM

    Something similar happened to me with the first guy I felt in love with. He was, or so I thought, one of my best friends at the time. The truth is he only wanted to get into my pants…and when I didn’t respond the way he wanted me to (I idealized him, but at the same time, saw how horribly he treated the girls he hooked up with), the gaslight got even worse…till I snapped. The funny thing is that he told me I had mental problems for snapping the way I did. The truth is that I had been struggling with depression for a while before he said that to me, so you can imagine how his words made me feel. Like the most miserable being on earth. Now it’s clear to me that I wasn’t the one who was really messed up; it was him all along.

    And I agree that this post can totally be applied to friendships, too. My ‘best friend’ in elementary school was a bully. I can’t help but wonder if it’s that childhood friendship that got me into this self-destructive habit of getting involved with the worst kind of people while sort of ignoring the ones who are kind to me. It’s just like Sady said: they have a way of making you needy. You realize they’re crap, but you still struggle to please them so that they apologize and start to treat you kindly.

    I’m also a little bit scared after reading this…I know my mom adores me and wants me to be happy, but now I think she can be a bit of a gaslighter, too. She can sometimes be a bit hurtful with her words, not just with me, with everyone. I don’t think she does that on purpose, but still…

  • DeEtta February 6th, 2012 11:21 AM

    I think an important thing to remember is that many guys don’t even realize they are doing this. I just got out of a relationship of almost 4 years, and generally speaking, he was a good guy. I definitely wouldn’t classify him as abusive and he could be very attentive. Sometimes when we had important discussions about our issues we had amazing talks and were able to communicate in an incredibly respectful way. But there were other times when i think he was unconciously manipulating me into thinking what I was feeling was wrong. I think it is something that he very obviously learned from his parents relationship or other relationships he’s been in but it definitely wasn’t a self aware, “I’m going to manipulate her into feeling like shit about how she feels” type of deal.

    I think it is important to realize that even good guys may do some form of emotional manipulation. It seems to be far to common in our society to allow that sort of behavior in the form of movies/tv/stories (OMG, TWILIGHT!). And the key is to stick up for yourself and in hard times refer back to this article. I know I will.

  • carolko February 6th, 2012 6:01 PM

    Absolutely fabulous blog. I just sent it to my daughter. I am watching the muppet she is living with do exactly this. I am also watching her confidence wilt and drop like a dying flower – and I basically want to smash his face in.
    The reality is that this isn’t a new thing. I spent years of my life with a person that told me that I was fat, stupid and ugly. He was the one lacking and so saw it as his mission to destroy my confidence.
    It took a long time to see the truth, but then, they are experts in this.
    Relationships are never easy, but they shouldn’t be destructive.
    http://datingahunchback.blogspot.com.au/

  • mrselaine February 6th, 2012 6:01 PM

    Wow..I couldn’t have found this article at a better time..(“..it’s the FORCE..”) Just had a big blowout with my guy and this really hit home.

    Thanks so much ♥

  • Hedwig February 7th, 2012 10:03 PM

    I might channel this towards my mom…

    • Hedwig February 7th, 2012 10:04 PM

      That’s a lie. I have and will

  • stellar February 8th, 2012 8:54 PM

    been there, been thru that–early on, i was smart enuf to split when i noticed the “red flags”, and then one of my “friends” told me i was ‘bad’ for leaving a guy, even if he was wrong for me…after that, i made the same damn mistakes over and over again!!
    points about media advice on how to ‘please’ a guy important; learn to put down those mags and find an alternative mag that’s more supportive of what pleases YOU.

  • katycruel February 16th, 2012 4:38 PM

    This gave me chills… Great writing.

  • Annelalala February 16th, 2012 10:15 PM

    Though I have yet to experience a toxic relationship, this can so easily be applied to toxic friendships.
    The story was so simple. Best friends since kindergarden, told each other EVERYTHING (like, down to how-*he*-flickered-his-hair-behind-his-ear-at-lunch sort of thing). And we had some great years. Until, all of a sudden, there was this other girl. Then two. Then three. Three other girls that my best friend would tell everything, including my innermost secrets.
    I confronted her. She told me that I was being too ‘sensitive’ – and implied that my secrets weren’t that big of a deal, that they were childish and not worth keeping. Of course I didn’t tell her that – I was scared she might shut off.
    She shut off anyways. She stopped telling me stuff about her life and acted uninterested whenever I tried to tell HER something.
    I brushed it off. I told myself that she has ‘never been good at showing emotions or sharing’. Even though I knew that she was – with three other girls.
    Because every time I had manned myself up to do something, she would respond, with words or just a simple look, that I was taking myself too seriously, that I was seeing too much in things.

    That was a year ago. I moved, found new friends and became happy since then. Now she wants me there for her – now that she does not have me, she texts me, calls me, writes on my Facebook wall.

    It’s typical, isn’t it?

  • Annelalala February 16th, 2012 10:20 PM

    I wanted those moments, moments of undivided attention and affection, few and far between as they were. I wanted whatever time you could give me. No matter how much it hurt me.

    You leaned on me. I felt like you found comfort in me. And maybe I wasn’t your first choice, or second or third, but at least I was somewhere on that list. Right? That made me feel good. Because in my head, we were still…us. Even when you wanted to keep me at an arm’s length. Even when I wasn’t a priority to you.

    But I cared – care – about you so much, I can’t even explain it. I have seen the best and the worst of you. I have seen you in tears. I’m pretty sure I am the only one who has seen you cry. I love you.

    I love the way you can tell me exactly what I am thinking. I love the way you can tell me a story so I actually listen. I love you for convincing me, with a joke or by simply looking me into the eyes, to stop taking myself so seriously, to just…chill.

    Nothing can make me regret what I feel about you, not even the knot in my stomach whenever I think about you now. Loving you, even though you no longer love me, is not a negative thing. Because you’ve taught me so much.

    I kind of hated you. For months and months, I was so angry with you for leaving me behind. But now – now I can look back at the memories we shared and feel happy. Happy that I got to experience so much with you. I can forgive you.

    I think I needed to get away. I needed to leave you and get some distance. Some perspective.

    I needed to see that I can be happy without you. And you will always have a special place in my heart.

  • cheesesandwich February 18th, 2012 4:28 AM

    I cried all the way through this. Thank you.

  • surrah March 21st, 2012 5:28 PM

    This is great. It is important to remember that in a relationship the other person DOES have power over us. That is normal and natural. So, depending on the level of commitment, etc, it can be impossible to tell somebody they have no power over you because they do. And ending the relationship is the only way to get past it. Also I am a guy and this definitely happened to me in my marriage. I yelled a lot. People probably thought I was a bad guy but my wife gaslighted the shit out of me constantly. This article would have been helpful back then. Thanks for writing it.

  • smash April 18th, 2012 1:37 AM

    thanks so much for this. i feel like this has completely illuminated so much of my current (unraveling, disintegrating) relationship. i will read it every day until i can accept the lessons with my heart as well as my brain <3 i wish this website had existed when i was a teenager.