I Left A Toxic Relationship With A Man Twice My Age
If I had a chance to redo the 20 months spent with you in a toxic relationship, I would.
I would take back all the times I spent justifying your behaviour towards me. I would invest more in people who actually cared about me.
Heck, I’d even learn to act more like my age.
But that’s all a thing of the past.
So here’s one to my lost youth, and to you—the lover I wish I never had.
How we met
Fresh out of junior college, I was a free-spirited child with time to spare prior to the beginning of a life-changing ordeal: university.
Most of my friends and I spent this time seeking jobs, hoping to earn some extra cash before classes officially began. We knew socialising in university was going to be costly. Thus, securing a part-time job was deemed indispensable among girls of my age group.
While many ventured into internships and administrative jobs, I somehow landed in the service sector, which was where I met you.
How we started dating
You were twice my age. Thirty-six, to be exact, when we met.
Unlike boys my age, you displayed maturity and confidence. Conversations with you always went down the intellectual path. We talked about our world views and opinions on serious issues around us.
Despite the age gap, it seemed like little differences existed between us. We hung out all the time and never ran out of topics to talk about. We watched movies, went to cafes and dated like couples my age would.
Naturally, you appealed to me. You didn’t play games like 18-year-old boys would, and you had a sense of self.
You also knew how to care for me, particularly in ways a woman would desire, which wasn’t surprising given your dating experience.
Thus, when the time came for us to become a thing, I jumped into it. I felt ready for us, because I was convinced that with you in the equation, I had nothing to worry about.
But what I wasn’t prepared for was the way in which you manifested toxicity and control through your actions, which you called your ‘love languages’.
These small acts eventually laid the foundation for our relationship, and for your dominance over me.
How I lost myself
While others often said I was too young and immature for you, you usually let these comments slide.
That gave me assurance, because I saw that you had faith in us. As a result, I worked hard to become more “grown-up” for you.
I stopped putting on clothes that “made me look like a kid”, as you would have called it. No tight jeans, crop tops or even outrageously dyed hair.
Instead, I changed into sensible clothes, clothes you would nod at approvingly. You even took the initiative to hold my hands in public because I didn’t appear “too young for you”.
I also learnt to distance myself from friends whom you felt were letting me act like a normal 18-year-old. “Stop hanging out with them,” you would say, “you are not like them.”
Gradually, I began to think of a career path that would best match our needs when I graduated. You often told me about your plans of retiring early, which somehow got me wanting to take on jobs that would allow you to fulfill your dream of doing so.
Thoughts of settling down together became more and more concrete over the year. We were both equally convinced at the idea of sharing our lives together.
But amidst the surface optimism, I somehow lost track of what it meant to be 18. I lost sense of what I wanted, and who I was.
And it didn’t stop there.
How I tolerated your abuse
“Stop, please!” I yelled at you.
Your hands were on my neck, and you laid your weight on me to stop me from fumbling about.
Funny how if someone had told me a year back that love meant tolerating abuse, I would have disagreed immediately.
I was too proud of a person to let anyone disregard my existence in any way possible. Growing up, that was also a philosophy I held on tightly to.
But with you, all of what defined me came loose.
It was a peaceful afternoon in your home, until that phone call came. Unsatisfied with the outcome of the conversation, you took your anger out on me when I tried to placate you.
“Get out of my house!” you screamed at me, along with many other insults.
That day, you erupted like a madman, which was the worst of all the explosive episodes you had in the course of our relationship.
But stayed I did. For another 8 months, in fact.
How I decided to love myself
For over 20 months, I spent every waking hour convincing not only myself, but also the people around me, that you were the one for me.
Despite all the warning signs and advice thrown my way, I was persistent in justifying your manipulative and abusive behavior. You somehow convinced me that I was always wrong and you were always right, given your experience in life.
But all that came to an end the day I decided to love myself. I left you not because everyone advised me to, but because I loved the person I was before you came along.
Before you, I was fun-loving, spontaneous, optimistic. I was many things, but never depressed.
My closest friend from university saw how I had changed. He sat me down and directed me to step out of my bubble, just for a minute.
From there, I saw how I was forcing myself to grow up, while everyone around me was taking time to pursue their passions.
I saw how my friends were slowly learning about their quirks and identity through a series of activities. I saw how isolated I was from my immediate surroundings.
More importantly, I saw how I was pushing myself to become right for you, even when I didn’t know what was right for myself.
It was then when I picked up the remnants of what was left of me, to walk away from this toxic relationship.
I Left A Toxic Relationship With A Man Twice My Age
Looking back, I believe it was the lack of self-confidence that compelled my desire to rely on an older man for security. I wanted to feel protected and cared for. Yet, as I grew alongside you through our toxic relationship, I realised how crazy it was to let someone dictate how you should lead your life.
The way I was able to dress, act, speak, or think, all seemed to fall under the whims of someone who claimed to “love me”.
I learnt through the hardest way possible that all these factors should be decided by me, and no one else.
Cover illustration by Asher Mak