"I'm stuck in a toxic relationship!" Kate* moaned to us on a cloudy Sunday afternoon, her faded denim-blue eyes welling up with tears. Her shaky hands lit a long, skinny cigarette as all four of us stared into our boot buckles, unsure of what to say next.
Our collective silence hung heavy in the humid air.
"I don't know what to do! Ryan* is, like, sooo toxic!" Kate's usually clear-as-day voice sounded as raspy as I would imagine Lindsay Lohan's voice does after a Lower East Side bender.
I snuck a glance at her as I stuck my hand into my oversized purse, clumsily searching for a pack of ciggies. She looked so vulnerable sitting on the park bench like that, her thin legs haphazardly crossed, a little 90-pound waif with eyes the size of saucers, hair so bleached out it frayed at the tips, bee-stung Angelina lips and pale yellow skin.
She was beautiful, in a tragic way. She was the kind of girl that skinny-armed boys with tattoos and guitars wrote songs about. She had a complicated-but-chic anxiety about her that men couldn't seem to get enough of.
We remained silent.
"Guys. I. Need. Help. I need to get away from Ryan," she whimpered. And just like that, she was weeping. Like a neglected stray kitten shivering behind a dumpster in an alleyway.
Our babe Kate might be wildly narcissistic and totally self-obsessed, but dumb she is not. Girl knew something was up with our lack of responses.
"You guys are like family to me. What the hell is going on? Why aren't you responding? I NEED YOU!"
Black mascara tears streamed down her face. Her paranoid eyes darting around to each one of us, before landing on me. She held my gaze. I felt a shiver go down my spine.
"Zara," she said, saying my name threateningly slow. "What's going on?"
I could feel a spark of rage fire up inside my body. My blood began to boil. Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
"Kate, you keep pointing fingers at Ryan... and I'm tired of it. We all are," I said. "We all know you well enough to know that you're the one who is being toxic!"
My hands trembled and my heart began to race.
"I'm sorry," I continued, despite this unexpected rush of feelings (I'm notorious for shutting down when the emotions set in, because I got a history of running from my feelings). "Maybe you'll hate me for this, but you're my friend and I have to be real with you. I'm sick of listening to you scream at that sweet boy Ryan like a goddamn crazy psychopath in front of all of us, and then going around telling us he's the evil one. You need to look in the goddamn mirror, OK? Stop. Playing. The. Victim. I saw you push him into the bar last night!"
I was really upset now. Irrationally upset. I could feel my fingers finally curl around the pack of cigarettes in my purse. As I smoked (I've since quit) and let the rest of the girls do the talking, I wondered why the hell I cared so much about my friend's relationship?
Why was I so triggered by her nasty, toxic behavior toward some random dude I hardly knew or cared about?
Someone once told me, "If it's hysterical, it's historical." Yeah well, clearly, I was acting so hysterical over this stupid situation because it was so deeply rooted into my own questionable relationship history. I mean, does this look like a girl who is nothing but a virginal angel to date?
Hell no. I'm many things, but a saint is not one of them.
No matter how hard we try to blame ourselves or blame our partners for our incessant fighting, the truth is, it will always take two to toxic.
And before we place blame on our partners, we might want to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves the epic question: Are we the aggressors of constant relationship mishaps? Are we faulting our boyfriends and girlfriends for the suffocating toxicity of our relationship, when really the problem is us?
The truth is, it will always take two to toxic.
I've had girlfriends where later I realized I was instigating all the drama and I've had girlfriends where I realized I wasn't the one acting demonic; it was them. However, when you're stuck in the blurry mess of a tempestuous relationship, things can get so confusing. It can feel almost impossible to tell what the hell is what.
So I've put together a few key components that might help you see the realities of your relationship a little more clearly.
But the only way out is through, right? You have to stare at your behavior, look that demon in the eye until you're so uncomfortable you don't want to stare any longer. But that's where the magic happens. That's when the truth sets in. And the truth sets you free every single time, right?
Here are some classic signs that you, my sweet kitten, might be instigating the toxicity of your relationship:
If your partner is afraid to tell you little things.
If my girlfriend were to come up to me and tell me she spent the night screwing a stripper and shooting up black tar heroin, I would totally understand if she might be a little afraid to tell me what she had done. Mainly because it's wildly out of character, and I would be understandably concerned and bewildered.
However, our partners should never ever be afraid to tell us who they're hanging out with, where they're going or what they're doing. If your partners are lying to you about small menial things like, say, they tell you they're "going to be with family" when they really just want to hang out with their friends at a bar, you need to ask yourself WHY they're keeping that information from you? Have you not created a safe environment for them to be honest and real? Is their knee-jerk response to fib because you've screamed at them so many times or have irrational issues regarding their personal relationships with their friends?
One time I was dating a girl who was so insanely jealous all of the time, I would get very real anxiety about telling her little things about my day. I knew she would jump down my throat and question me like a police officer over every single detail about what had happened.
So it became easier to just lie and tell her I was "busy at work" rather than to tell her I Skyped my best friend for two hours. I'm not saying I was right lying to her, but I never lied because I was doing anything to betray the integrity of our relationship. I lied because I was scared of her.
If I told her if I was feeling depressed, she would accuse me of taking drugs behind her back. If I told her I was hanging out with friends, she would conclude that I was cheating on her with my ex. I got into the habit of keeping things from her, just to not get yelled at (however I own that I was horribly toxic for letting her treat me that way. Article coming soon about our responsibility as avoiders in this dynamic).
Bottom line: You want to create a safe space where your partner can be open with you about anything in the world. That's what partnership is about. It's impossible for your partners to feel safe about telling you vulnerable secrets, if they're afraid to tell you day-to-day simple things.
If you can't ever pinpoint what you've done wrong.
If you feel like you're always the innocent victim of every single fight, you, my lovely dear, don't have any self-awareness.
If you aren't at all aware of your behavior, for example, why you acted irrationally or how you could've reacted in a more understanding way, you're in no place for a relationship. I know this, kittens, because I used to be one of these totally unaware people sifting through the world blind to my own behavior.
When my ex-girlfriend and I got into a fight, I would genuinely think it was all her fault, when really I was the one to blame 99 percent of the time. I was the one acting out and being overly emotional and overly drunk and overly aggressive with my words. I just couldn't see it. I couldn't see anything. That was my problem.
If you can't figure out how you were in any way responsible for a squabble or acting unreasonable, you're being toxic. I mean, if you're unaware of your faults, how can you ever be aware of anything?
If you feel yourself bringing up the same thing over and over again.
One time when I was a teen, I became deeply fixated on my ex's ex. I was obsessed, like single white female gone psycho lesbian obsessed. One time, I found out they had hung out once behind my back and she hadn't told me about it (which was totally my fault because I had made her so anxious about anything to do with her ex).
Oh, I punished the poor girl for lying. Punished her as if I'd never sinned a day in my life. I brought the situation up all the time. It was like I had come down with a incurable case of emotional Tourette's. Long after we had kissed and made up and vowed to leave the past in the dark shadows of the past, I kept talking about it. One glass of wine and BAM.
"Remember what you did?" I would viciously coo.
But I couldn't stop myself, I was like a goddamn obsessive compulsive robot or speed junkie or any kind of addict of any kind.
If you're unaware of your faults, how can you be aware of anything?
If you're bringing up the same thing again and again and again, let me assure you, you're acting toxic AF.
Look kittens, we all make mistakes in this life, both big and small. You've got to either forgive your partner for their wrongdoings or break up with them. Because constantly bringing up an issue long after it's been resolved is not fair to a person. It doesn't allow your partner to progress and evolve and become a better person, because you keep dragging them into the past.
Leave the past in the past or move on and move out, lady.
If you're trying to fundamentally change him or her.
It's so boring and so cliché, but it's goddamn truer than anything else in this screwed-up world. You can't change a person, babe.
A person can come into his or her own, evolve and grow, but you can't change the foundation of a person. If you're obsessed with turning your partners into people they're not, that's horrendously toxic.
Because it means you don't authentically love them; you love the idea of them. But people are far more multifaceted than an idea you dreamed up in your sweet little head. People contradict themselves, they're hard as hell to figure out and they don't always make sense. But that's what makes people so fabulous.
Either take your partner with his or her quirks, flaws, salacious behavior and wild opinions or set them free. Because otherwise robbing them of finding someone who will love them exactly as they are. Keeping your partner from finding true love is the most toxic thing you can do. It's putting a chokehold over one of the most precious parts of life: their love life.
And by the way, if you're stalking your partner, like hardcore stalking them -- going through old Instagram pictures from five years ago, combing through expired Facebook pictures, spending hours and hours and hours and hours down a bottomless k-hole where you're tracking his or her ex, you might want to look into that, too.
Because chances are, you're living in your partner's past rather than enjoying the moment with him or her. And if you have one foot in the past, your relationship will never be in balance.
And health, whether it's mental or physical or sexual, is all about balance, babes.
*Names have been changed.