We met one night at a bar, and I was instantly intrigued. I felt intrinsically connected to her the second we exchanged a provocative glance. (I've since learned that connecting with a person so quickly is a giant red flag.)
Within minutes of meeting me, she criticized my dark lipstick.
"The lipstick is too dark," she said as she slugged back her whiskey.
"It's my signature shade." I tapped my midnight-colored nails against my champagne flute.
She stared at me hard and rebutted, "You would be much prettier without it."
No one in my entire life had ever had the balls to question my makeup or anything I'd worn. I'm so outwardly expressive in my wardrobe, it's generally understood offering me fashion advice will be fruitless. No one messes with my style.
At that moment, I should've downed my tequila and strutted away in my over-the-knee boots, but for some reason, I stayed.
She went on to criticize my nose piercing, my hair extensions and my slutty attire (which I was apparently using to garner attention), and not only did I stay, but I even slept with her on the first date.
Six months later, Shay and I were in deep. So one day, I called up my ex, who happens to be a close friend.
"I'm in a bad relationship," I confessed, clutching my pillow while sitting in bed.
"It physically hurts me to hear you say that." My ex was so kind and empathetic, which made me feel even more emotional.
How had I gone from zero to 100 so quickly?
I hung up on her and sobbed into my pillow as I wondered how I ended up in this dark place.
One minute, she was telling me how much she loved me. The next minute, I was the scum of the earth.
My relationship with Shay was an emotional roller coaster. One minute, she was telling me how much she loved me. The next minute, I was the scum of the earth. One minute, she was telling me I was physical perfection. The next minute, she was telling me I had a "white-wine belly."
But because I'm a girl with a fire burning inside her all the time, I bit back whenever she pushed me.
We had the most dramatic lesbian fights in the history of dramatic lesbian fights — crying, screaming, emotional manipulation, rage, jealousy and possessiveness.
And it wasn't like fighting in music videos. I didn't look like sexy Megan Fox yelling in designer, denim, cut-off shorts. I looked like a pale ghost of a girl, clearly losing her identity, and it wasn't a good look.
Finally, I mustered up the courage to call my therapist whom I had ghosted several months prior.
You see, going to therapy is like holding up a mirror to your life, and I knew I wouldn't like what I saw.
"I'm in a toxic relationship," I mumbled to her as I walked along Fifth Avenue on a cold, winter night.
"I'm more concerned about the relationship you have with yourself," she said.
"I was in a good mental place until Shay came along, and I fell into this toxic dynamic."
"If you were in a good mental place, you wouldn't have accepted this kind of toxic behavior."
That's when I realized, Shit, Zara. Your toxic relationship isn't about your relationship with this person you're dating. It's about the toxic relationship you have with yourself.
Nothing is ever about what you think it's about.
Now, I'm no authority on mental health, but if you take any advice from me, let it be this: Nothing is ever about what you think it's about.
If you think (like I thought) your toxic relationship is about the other person, it's not. Every relationship we have is a reflection of ourselves.
It's so easy to place all the blame on the other person, especially if that person verbally abuses you, puts you down or is insanely jealous all the time.
Every relationship we have is a reflection of ourselves.
And while all those things are probably true, and no person should do those things, you chose to be with this person. You don't have a choice with your family, but you are free to choose your romantic partners.
Love is not some mystical force that sweeps you off the ground and magnetizes you to a bad person.
If you're choosing to be with someone who treats you like shit, chances are, there are some deep-rooted, underlying issues you need to resolve within yourself.
Love is not some mystical force that sweeps you of the ground and magnetizes you to a bad person.
In my case, I actively chose to be with someone who didn't approve of me. The low opinion she had of me matched my own low opinion of myself.
Subconsciously, I felt that if I convinced her I was awesome, I could finally convince myself that I was awesome.
And babes, it was absolutely toxic to have such low self-esteem that you date someone who treats you like the garbage you're convinced you are.
I now realize I'm in total control and that love in a relationship is conditional. I'm not going to love someone who abuses me just because I'm in a relationship with them.
Love in a relationship is conditional.
And after taking the time to figure out why my self-esteem was so low, I find I'm drawn to a very different type of person now.
I don't feel like shit anymore (at least, not most days), so if someone were to criticize my personal style on a first date, I would leave because that's rude. I wouldn't go and fuck their brains out that night to convince them I was good.
Of course, everything isn't perfect, and I still catch myself falling back into a toxic relationship with myself.
I'm currently depressed, I hate the way I look and I still don't know what my purpose is. It's no coincidence that this week I've also had more fights with my best friend than we've ever had in our entire friendship.
But now I know I'm not just fighting with her. I'm fighting with myself. When I tell her she's not there for me, what I'm really saying is, I'm not showing up for myself.
So your lesbian big sister has some advice for you, kittens: Don't blame your partner.
Yes, they may be dickheads, and you should totally dump them, but the bigger question is, why did you fall for a dickhead in the first place?
Why are you staying in a relationship that makes you cry everyday?
Why are you staying in a relationship that makes you cry everyday?
So gracefully walk away from your toxic relationship, baby. It's time to retreat back into yourself and ask yourself the realest of questions: Why are you fighting a losing battle instead of living your life?
The sooner you confront what's going on with yourself, the less time you'll waste in the tethers of toxicity.
After all, the only relationship you can really count on is the relationship you have with yourself. You are your own ride or die.
You are your own ride or die.
And once you build up your relationship with yourself, you will realize what real, honest, raw love is.
That's the kind of love you deserve, and it starts with feeling real, honest, raw love for yourself first.
*Name has been changed.