I've had a really lovely response from you guys about my previous posts discussing being single. I hadn't really ever considered writing about relationships or anything remotely approaching personal things on here before, but that was before my life completely turned upside down (in the best way) one day in rainy January.
So... this is the tough one. I've talked about what you should be doing; well perhaps I want to back-track a little and have a think about what you shouldn't be doing - allowing your sense of self to be compromised. Needless to say this blog post is fairly personal, so only click through if you feel necessary.
I know this is a fairly deep one to be discussing on what is essentially a lifestyle blog - but I read an article in Stylist magazine that honestly took my breath away and rang so true in so many ways that there was no way I couldn't write about it. I can't say that what I experienced was anywhere near as severe - and unlike the man in this article, I honestly believe the person I dated has grown up and changed a lot. But the feeling, behaviors and most importantly - the red flag signs - are exactly the same. You should not tolerate this behavior. You should not allow your sense of self to be compromised.
If I think back... (and this is a while back, now) the signs were everywhere. It started fairly innocuously - the dress I wore when we got together became "that low-cut dress", and my gym outfits were "a little revealing". If I had male friends who would send me a text message, there was a presence on my shoulder, reading every word. Ever so slowly, I became aware that I was being monitored.
I was young and very much in love. I had been in what only can be described as the most boring, romance-less relationship for three years prior. I was very wide eyed and very näive - and I tolerated this invasion into my privacy because finally, here was someone who had swept me off my feet. Here was someone who thought I was a worthwhile person, worth buying clothes for, taking to restaurants other than Pizza Express (Yes... I know how to pick 'em...) I was, in short, bloody stupid.
As we continued, perceived 'negative' behavior (going out with girlfriends, meeting up with male friends, wearing provocative clothing) was met with temper tantrums and name calling. 'Positive' behavior (toeing the party line) was rewarded by being showered with love and affection. In a very difficult time in my life, I was slowly being conditioned - like Pavlov's dog - to behave.
After the first six months, the acting out got worse. The previously enjoyed gym sessions together became mandatory - and if I didn't feel like going, there would always be a reference to an ex-girlfriend's stomach and how I measured up. Food was closely monitored - we had always lived together, as I had moved into his university house prior to hooking up - and anything that might be considered remotely unhealthy was met with a sharp comment. I didn't have any male friends any more; and my female friends were constantly put out that I couldn't see them. Very slowly, and imperceptibly, I began to measure my worth upon a scale that was set up by another person. And inevitably, as I did not match up, I began to become someone who wasn't me.
Over the two years we were together my self-confidence, my friendships and studies all suffered. I felt like a ghost in a robot skin; I would look in the mirror and see someone who wasn't me. I dressed in black, grey and navy so as not to stick out (heaven forbid another boy might look at me) I stopped writing, stopped wearing makeup and largely stopped seeing friends. The few that stuck by me grew increasingly concerned at my step behind the arras - and inside my little robot self, I grew more disgruntled that I could not be the person they first met. I had nothing to offer and nothing to say. I was totally alone. The only person who would talk to me was my prison guard, who had successfully cut me off from any other nourishing source of affection.
I always knew something was wrong, but I think for a long time I struggled to put my finger on exactly what it was. For an awful long time, I thought the problem was me - that there was somehow something wrong with my personality or self - and this is why I had become a robot. I really, really tried - I strived to fight against the feeling, despite feeling like a shell of a human being. I started this blog; I poured my energy into work and getting a job. Ironically; it was this that saved me.
The moment that it crystallized that the only problem with me was the toxic relationship I was in was when I finally broke into my dream industry. I was over the moon; FINALLY I had made it. My mum had rung me in tears, my phone was buzzing off the hook. I honestly don't think I had been happier in my life. And when the recruitment exec told me what pay-packet I would be taking home, I had to go to the staff toilets and break down in tears. I had just got a huge payrise. My hands were shaking. And I called my boyfriend - the one person who I thought would be overjoyed, who had encouraged me to move job (because, I might add, he 'couldn't stand to hear me whinge about my current one' any more) - and my success was met with stony silence. I was earning more than him - only £3,000 more, I might add - and this, in his mind, was both ridiculous and unacceptable. I was gobsmacked; horrified.
It only took one more month for me to come to my senses.
I can't pretend my relationship was all bad; far from it. But the bad far outweighed the good - and if this is the case, you should ALWAYS be single. I hope if you've read this and you recognize these signs - get out. Get out and run and never come back, because that person is not ready to be in a relationship and is not going to change unless you leave them. You deserve to be with someone who does not limit your personality, demand you change yourself or bring you down in any way. They are out there - and in the meantime, being single is far more fun.