Growing up, my parents never really offered much education on dating and relationships. Having crushes in my household was actively discouraged, as they thought it would distract me from my schoolwork. I didn't date in high school or for most of college, in large part, because of this.
Eventually, though, I started sleeping with someone right before my senior year of college, and from there, I fell into a relationship with him. He loved me, and I thought that this was the most important factor in deciding whether to be with someone.
And while love is definitely important — probably one of the most important things in a person's life — it truly isn't everything. Love alone won't keep you happy in a relationship. If it did, I wouldn't be single right now.
If I had recognized some of these subtle signs my relationship was unhealthy, then I would have known that the relationship wasn't good for me.
1. I Had Tunnel Vision
Before I had entered my relationship, I had all sorts of plans for my future. I wanted to live in New York and then California. I wanted to get my MFA in Creative Writing. I wanted to write a novel.
But I rapidly gave up pieces of my dreams, bit by bit, for my relationship. While I recognize that it's understandable for couples to adapt to suit one another, I think a solid relationship requires change to happen on both ends. However, in this relationship, I was the only one changing. My boyfriend stayed at the same job and lived in the same city where he always had been.
I moved back to be with him and changed my career track, choosing to go into teaching because it seemed like a more reliable track than pursuing an advanced degree in writing. It wasn't what I really wanted, and the proof is that I work as a writer — not a teacher — today.
I loved him, but I allowed the feelings I had for him to completely take the wheel, ignoring the needs I had for myself and bending over backward to accommodate him. In return, he was not willing to make similar adaptations to improve our lives -- for that matter, he wasn't willing to make any at all.
2. I Overextended Myself
My boyfriend didn't have a driver's license, so I would drive him wherever he needed to go. At first, this was something that seemed effortless. A few years into the relationship, it exhausted me.
There were definitely things that he could have done to make things a little easier on me. Heck, he could have chipped in for gas. Even though I floated the idea of him learning how to drive out there, he didn't seem to have much interest in pursuing this skill that would have given him more independence and lessened the burden on me. He was open to me teaching him, but it was a stick shift, and I was worried about blowing out the clutch on a car I couldn't afford to replace.
One of the signs my relationship was unhealthy was that the favors began to feel more like restrictions and limitations. Resentment was brewing because of co-dependency, even though I didn't recognize it.
3. I Couldn't Be Assertive Without Being Angry
Because I was resentful, the small things that my boyfriend did blew up into major arguments. I wasn't actually mad about him eating food out of my fridge, but it subconsciously reminded me of the other ways he was putting me out.
It's natural to argue with someone whom you are so very close to, but there's a difference between a healthy conflict and an unhealthy one. Empty fighting was another one of the signs my relationship was unhealthy.
My conflicts took the form of shooting passive aggressive barbs or blowing up about something that didn't actually matter, like him liking an ex's Facebook post. There were very real issues in our relationship that I was angry about, boundaries that I needed to articulate, but I didn't have the skills to do that.
I couldn't state what I needed because I didn't understand my needs, either. I was too caught up in what he needed from me to examine what I was looking for from him.
4. I Was Jealous
Our relationship had gotten off to a rough start, with him still having feelings for his ex-girlfriend and with some of our relationship being long distance. Even after he had committed to me and we were in the same city again, I continued to be jealous.
We lived in a small town, where it's pretty typical to run into people you've dated before. I had only slept with two people in college, and both of them had moved away. My boyfriend's exes, though, stuck around. One of his old girlfriend's even came and visited him once.
The thing about my jealousy, though, was that I didn't actually feel threatened in my relationship. I knew that my boyfriend had committed to me fully, and he definitely wasn't the kind to cheat on me. He was a Methodist.
What I was actually jealous about was the fact that my boyfriend was more experienced than I was. We were planning to be together forever, but I had never been in a relationship with anyone else or explored my desires with different people. This was something I really needed before I could commit to marriage or moving in with someone, but I didn't recognize that it was a valid need, and that my monogamous relationship was preventing me from pursuing personal fulfillment.
5. I Lost Touch With Myself
Before my relationship, I knew who I was and what I wanted. A few years in, though, I had transformed into a person who wasn't really me.
In college, I had short hair and wore clothes that showed off my tattoos. I had a large social circle and loved going out dancing. I drank and smoked. Although those habits weren't necessarily healthy, I liked being wild in my early 20s, truth be told.
My boyfriend was from a Midwestern family. His dad was a Methodist preacher. He was obviously attracted to free-spirited girls, but in his heart, he was conservative.
It's totally normal to change while you are in a relationship. People influence you, and you become a product of who you meet. There's a difference between changing and shrinking, though.
Looking back, I realize how much I limited myself to fit his idea of who I was supposed to be. I started dressing modestly. I never went out, and I lost touch with my friends. On Saturday nights, I read while he watched football or baseball on TV.
I was 23 years old, but I was living the life of someone two decades my age. It wasn't mine. The transformation had taken so long to happen that I hadn't recognized what was going on.
When we broke up, I started dressing like I had before and quickly connected with a new, large circle of friends. I was the same person I had always been, even if my relationship had prevented me from recognizing her.
But she had been there all along.