Around this time last year I was crawling my way out of a stupid, abusive, and unwanted “situationship.” I had to break things off twice, because the person guilted me into staying the first time. Oh, that first time. I called them, after once again being admonished for not texting them as much as they’d like. I said something along the lines of, “I don’t think I can do this, I’m depressed and I need to work on finding myself again. I’m not at a place where I can give you what you want.” In truth, that excuse only made up 40 percent of my reasoning for bringing our death-on-arrival go at a relationship to a halt. The other 60 percent was that their constant critique of my looks and interests made me miserable, and had me questioning my self-worth. They would insult major aspects of my identity, yet become sad and make themselves out to be the victim whenever I hinted at wanting to leave.

I wanted to explain this that day, but they were pretty narcissistic and mean in a way that made them incapable self-reflection or seeing how their actions might negatively affect someone else. I envisioned them shit-talking me over the phone, telling me I had no right to tell them that they weren’t a great mate when there were so many things they didn’t like about me, but had put up with for the sake of building (their version of) a relationship. It was always “you’re the one who doesn’t give me the attention I want.” “Why don’t you do your hair like this?” “You’re the one ruining the relationship we could have.” It never crossed their mind that maybe I unconsciously wasn’t giving them the attention they craved because they were always putting me down.

Writing this now, I see how manipulative and abusive their words and actions were. Whether they knew it or not, they were instilling this, “you need to stay with me because if you don’t you wasted my time and that makes you a bad person, plus no one else will like you the way I do” mantra in my head. They thought they were the heroic protagonist in a story, when really they were the wicked antagonist—but they were too full of themselves to see it.

Is is really so bad, lying to someone about why you’re leaving them because you’re afraid they’ll bite back by listing everything they hate about you and have ignored for the sake of their unrealistic and abusive dream of being in a “real relationship”? If I was as “nonchalant” and unappealing as they said I was, why didn’t they leave or let me leave? I wanted to avoid having my feelings hurt for the 1000th time. They never really liked me. They just took interest in me; looking down on me as this depressed, angry, motherless girl who they wanted to “take care of.” It turned out that as soon as I broke it off I realized it was them who was making me depressed.

This person had me doubting my entire being and self-esteem, Am I a bad person for liking space? Am I some type of emotionless, cold-hearted freak for preferring to build a close friendship with someone before we start dating? Those questions rang through my head for months. I was essentially asking, Does being who I am, and doing what’s best for me make me a bad person? Today, I’m so happy to be able to to say, no! Preferring to take things slow and like the things that I like does not make me a stoic bitch. I’m not an immoral deviant who lacks empathy because I appreciate having space.

They would often say, “Thahabu we are working on a relationship.” What is this working? Is a relationship a a job? A relationship shouldn’t feel like a job, or, I don’t want it to. For me, if you have to work on a relationship before it’s even started it obviously sucks. People say that romantic heartbreak shapes you, that you become more seasoned and mature. That situation didn’t leave me heartbroken, what it almost did was break me. It didn’t shape me lead me toward some mind-boggling revelation. It excavated everything about me that I thought of as good and honest, and framed it as disgusting and heartless.

It still shocks me that someone bullied me throughout a relationship, then vilified me for wanting to leave them. In their eyes, I guess I wasn’t supposed to like myself because they didn’t like me. ♦