It's Always There: How To Find A Toxic Relationship's Silver Lining


I was 19 when we first met. You were the new kid on the floor and had all the girls' attention, including mine. In my doorway, we locked eyes and I swear I felt my heart explode. We went out to a party that night.

The room was spinning, and the dusty basement I had graced so many times before never felt more alive. I kept my cool, admiring you from afar. I remember thinking, “That’s the kind of guy I’ve always wanted.”

In that moment, I allowed myself to ascend from reality, but quickly came back down to Earth when I caught the glimpse of you kissing my best friend.

With my hopes shattered and ego bruised, I placed you carefully back on the shelf and went home. More tragic things have happened, and I steadily reminded myself, "this too shall pass."

I didn’t expect us to share a lecture come spring or to sit casually outside the hall, making jokes at strangers in passing. I didn’t expect to laugh as hard as I did, or to retain these unexplainable, yet palpable feelings I had for you.

It was a mistake, you said. I fell in love with you the night you threw rocks at my window. I did, however, expect to f*ck it all up by succumbing to obscure anxieties and self-doubt as I tried harder to hold on to you than my own well-being.

I couldn’t fault you when we stopped talking, but in my eyes, this time, I was the one to blame. The truth is it was easier that way. I could beat myself up; you were nowhere to be found.

Months went by, and still, the ghost of what we should have been haunted my thoughts.

Despite the disappointments plagued by your presence, I somehow maintained the utmost sense of faith that someday soon, you’d give me what I need. I moved on, but I never let you go.

We continued life this way for quite some time, separate, but still intangibly connected. We both pursued abroad programs during junior year, yours to the Irish homeland, mine on a ship around the world.

My heart broke all by itself the day my financing fell through. Still, the defeat was swift. I took that semester off and decided to work toward my own international adventures.

Equipped with the tenacity to make my dreams come true, I booked a round-trip plane ticket to Dublin.

You had asked me to come, and I listened. I told myself over and over again that the journey was for me and me alone; but the idea of finding you in an enchanting, ancient European city and finally allowing the chemistry to bond between us carried me 3,000 miles.

I pretended to be aloof, unaffected by your nonappearance, but in no time at all, it gobbled up the few morsels of self-esteem I had left to consume.

I gave you the name of our hostel in Budapest, along with the dates of our stay, and pretended to ignore your check-in there — the day after my departure.

I spent my last night in Europe alone in a hotel outside Dublin, painstakingly wishing for this sad and empty story to no longer be my life. You returned home in June, apparently ready to give us a real shot.

I had promised myself that this was the end, but then, you asked me on our first date and I reluctantly loyally agreed. My faith in you had been restored, if only for an instant.

You gave me the bracelet from Cobh, a symbol of my place within your heart. By my 21st birthday and the dawn of our senior year, our spark had once again died out. I admit, I was surprised when you started dating her after the new year arrived.

We had been friendly at the start of college, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to hate her. She was nice, and I was sad. So, I laid down my instincts, repressed my troubled feelings and let you be.

My only remaining solace had been that there was never anyone else. Inevitably, even that speck of trivial comfort receded to dust. Your relationship didn’t last, of course, and I was right there, waiting for another chance to prove myself to you.

Your opportunity to make me real came and went, and I escaped to the ease of Southern California, desperate for relief from this never-ending cycle of disillusionment and self-inflicted torture.

There, I found palm trees, endless sunshine, attractive boys with open hearts and the vast realization that paradise is a state of being, not a place.

Now back in New York, my home, I am once more faced with the bare bark of our relationship’s inevitable winter. Although this time, I can only hope that I’ve finally managed to push you too far.

My devout pursuit of truth tirelessly tipped you over the edge to a dimension of intimacy incapable of adoption. While it’s true the answer has been here all along, I wanted more than anything to hear it from you.

I sought the words, total confirmation of your indifference that would be skillfully designed to pummel my heart. For only then did I believe I could truly move forward. I was wrong, so I decided to do for myself.

I accept now that I am not the girl of your dreams, nor am I the one who got away. I accept that with you, I will never fully be the woman I want to be, and for that, you’ve done me an incredible honor.

I accept that perhaps you tried to love me and simply couldn’t get past your own ego. I also accept that maybe you never cared enough to try.

I accept that fractures within my own identity have allowed this backward, ludicrous excuse for a romance to continue for as long as it has, and that it is completely up to me to mend.

Lastly, I accept the certainty that I am not, in fact, a difficult person to love at all. So, I choose to do what you refused. I choose to close the door on this torturous game and finally grant indulgence of what I crave most: acceptance.

I claim acceptance not in the failure to make you love me, but in learning to love myself.